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About

Cart before the horse?

horse-cart-759743A lot of teachers have been reading a previous post entitled "Faking it". There I outlined my belief that a lot of students and teachers were, "playing school" and that not as much learning as possible was occuring.

I have another thought to add.

I recently took a poll on EFL Classroom 2.0 about the relative importance of productive vs receptive activities in the classroom. Here are the results.

input output

Most teachers believe that more learning occurs through productive activities. Not a surprise to me but I think it unfortunate. Also, a major reason why so much English language teaching is ineffective. I believe that our teaching should weigh on the side of reception (especially in the beginner - intermediate levels) and not production. I think we have the horse before the cart.

I'm reminded of Krashen and a statement he made that has stuck with me over the years. Probably the one statement that really puzzled but then informed me and my own teaching. He said (and I paraphrase);

"speaking is a result of language acquisition not the cause"


Now this IS a contentious issue (and see my Canadian compatriot Merrill Swain's research on CO - or comprehensible output) but I do agree that most teachers have it wrong, do it wrong. Reception and input (comprehensible input) does lead to quicker and stronger acquisition of language.

 

I think teachers wrongly have the mindset that speaking and writing are "better" due to several things;

 

1. they are more "active" and so there is the appearance that acquisition is taking place.

 

2. a misunderstanding about the difference between learning and acquisition.

 

3. they want to be "a teacher" and there is a belief that a teacher just doesn't let the students read books or listen. There is a belief that a teacher must be in control, command, order, engage etc.....

To gain fluency, of course you need to speak and write - but this is the icing on the cake - not the cake itself! It comes later in the process of learning a language.

 

If you want to be a fluent writer - read a lot.

If you want to be a fluent speaker - listen a lot.


It is that simple and I think a lot of our schools, our teacher training programs etc... have it dead wrong. Also, this is why I believe self directed learning and the use of technology is very effective for learning languages (but like everything, only if done well - and that is where the teacher comes in).

 

Now maybe I got it all wrong??? Let me know your thoughts please.

Views: 71

Comment by George Swen on January 22, 2011 at 9:16am

No, I don't think you got it wrong. Not at all, I believe it too. To say the truth I am a bit surprised that it could be seen otherwise.. and I love your comparison to a cart before a horse, it hits the nail on the head.

 

I will repeat myself, but a baby who is learning to speak waits and spends almost two years listening. Then, at school they must read many many texts before they are asked for any composition. And I know it from my own experience/school - the people, bookworms, are usually better writers. And - writers often read a lot, which of course affects and enriches their writing.

 

The writing, IMO, stands on the top of language learning. Quite a sign of a student maturity. You need to be precise, pay attention to grammar and everything (while in speaking it is more "loose") and what's more it all must give a sense! A lot of things..., plus once put down, it cannot be easily taken back.

 

Anyhow, an interesting article.

Comment by Anne Smith on December 7, 2013 at 3:11pm

I am relieved to read this... my beginners become so frustrated when trying to "get the words out" and I feel like a failure!  They are much happier with listening activities and reading, where the words are provided for them.  Your article has removed my feeling of inadequacy. Thank you!!! 


Supporter
Comment by Carolyn Cote on February 3, 2015 at 7:12am

However, at some stage anyway, it's only through 'output' that I will 'notice' what I lack and therefore what I need to find/learn/input to be successful.  So too with writing...yes to reading and reading and reading, and then I must write (or maybe I write concurrently) and I will notice how very much I lack.  Interestingly, though - I will learn not by reading more but by writing and writing and writing.  Hmmmmm

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