Be social

Language learning. public speaking, and teaching are essentially practical skills.  You have to DO IT to get better at it.

This post is a babble of things I picked up from a video about linguistics.  I am thinking about how language is taught, and how I can structure my own learning by applying some of the techniques.  The ideas are new to me.

From this video conversation between Jeremy Harmer and Scott Thornbury, I learned a bit about CLT and the SPEAKING model.

Traditional methods for learning a language assumed that students were aiming for mastery of the target language, and that students were willing to study for years before expecting to use the language in real life. However, these assumptions were challenged by adult learners who were busy with work. Educators realized that to motivate these students an approach with a more immediate payoff was necessary.

Communicative language teaching (CLT) is an approach to language teaching that emphasizes interaction.   In other words, DO IT.  Be social with language.

“There are rules of use without which rules of grammar are useless.” – Dell Hymes

Social linguist Dell Hymes says that in order to speak a language correctly, one needs not only to learn its vocabulary and grammar, but also the context in which words are used.  Hymes developed the SPEAKING model of linguistic interaction.


Dick Alwright, applied linguist, developed a teaching method called Exploratory practice (EP).  Basically, give the intermediate student a task to do that is relevant to what they need and set them off.  Don’t correct their grammar or teach them vocabulary, but put them in settings where they have to learn to manage with the language themselves.

Trying to get ESL students ready to study at an English university, the students did not need more grammar.  The students needed to do the tasks they would need to do at the university.  Dick Alwright proposed if the language teacher’s management style was devoted exclusively to getting students to solve problems in the target language, then language learning will take care of itself.

Deep-end strategy.  If you spend all your time focused on the bits, students will never get a chance to use language.  Jeremy Harmer says

“It is the DOING and the USING and the PROBLEM SOLVING that makes you a successful language learner.”

“What people want to do through language is more important than the mastery of language as an unapplied system.” – David Wilkins, linguist, Notional Syllabuses

David Wilkins focused on teaching items according to the notions (concepts) and/or functions (uses) required by the learner.  N/F (notional/functional) courses were for situations where learners needed to have their grammatical knowledge activated.  In other words, put what you know TO USE.

Language actually performs things.

So CLT is trying to teach “what you use language for”.

How can I apply this to language learning?

What has worked for me are my “missions”.  These are tasks I want to accomplish that send me into the fray of real-world Korean websites in search of something I desire.  It might be using Naver dictionary, finding song lyrics, seeking a recipe, watching a video, researching a cultural reference, learning about history referred to in a Korean drama, browsing photographs, reading poetry, or delving into more information about a place in Korea.  For now, all my missions have been reading internet sites or writing in Korean to my pen pals, but could I activate my grammar by setting tasks that required me to speak?  If the choice was learn to order in Korean or starve, I would have to learn to speak enough Korean to eat.

I am intrigued by the idea of creating situations where I have the desire to communicate with someone else.  Jeremy Harmer described an activity where several items were put in order, and you had to speak to your partner to try to put your items in the same order.  It is a simple exercise but has the effect of creating a desire to ask and answer questions.

Describe and draw sounds like a party game.  So too does information gap, where each person has different information, and you can only solve the puzzle by communicating together.  I tuck these nuggets away to use with a fellow student when next we have study group.  It may be that interacting socially with my fellow student is so helpful simply because it is social with the unpredictability of human interaction.  It is far more satisfying to speak and have someone actually understand what I said than it is to write out exercises in a workbook.


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