Sweet Words vs Monstrosities


More than a century ago, Henry Sweet wrote The Practical Study of Languages and through it, criticized the existing methods of the day, much as we still do now.   The book's myth-busting objectives reviews phonetics, alphabets and pronunciation issues before diving into methods, grammar, vocabulary and texts. 

In fact, while scanning through the text, I honestly couldn't help but think I bet he'd have been a blogger if he were around today.  His prose is tight, easy to read and the language direct.

His obvious annoyance at the 'insufficient knowledge of the science of language' (1899:3) like my own, literally jumps off the page.  Given that this post is part 2 of No Evidence for a Fixed Aquisition Order, I'll hone in on this one quote which I wanted to share with you, for reflection, as it neatly wraps up the debate on authenticity vs manufactured texts:

...the dilemma is that if we try to make our texts embody certain definite grammatical categories, the texts cease to be natural: they become either trivial, tedious and long-winded, or else they become more or less monstrosities' (1899:192).

Really sounds like he was describing Headway long before it ever arrived to influence all the other copy-cat productions from then on and into today.  The question is though, will it influence tomorrow's or can we teachers at least try to stop it before it does?

Best,
Karenne

Image credit
Wikimedia commons, wolf in sheep's clothing

Reference
Sweet, H. (1899). The Practical Study of Languages.  London, UK. J.M. Dent & Co.
(Available for free online from Google Books)

Fixed Acquisition Order? = No Evidence

I'm busily packing up the stack of books I used for my MA assignment on Methods and Approaches while looking into authentic materials, yet before I take them on back to the library, I thought I'd share a little snippet I came across.

It's this:

"Very briefly, there is substantial research evidence to support the use in language learning of the linguistically rich, culturally faithful and potentially emotive input supplied by authentic texts. What is more, there is little evidence of a fixed acquisition order, which is the rationale for the use of phased language instruction and which is often used to repudiate the use of authentic texts for language learning.  (Mishan, 2005:11)

So not to harp on about all this again but what gets me when I read this is if publishers and textbook authors aren't simply churning out carbon copies of each other, albeit with ever glossier, shinier pictures than the last lot, then why do these tomes always start off and carry on virtually the same way?

Why do teachers teach the verb to be, there is/there are, present-tense followed by present-continuous, question words, prepositions of time and place and adverbs of frequency* and so on and so forth, ad infinitum?

And to top it all off, horror of all horrors, why do so many students think this must be the way to learn a language?


Did we come to this ideology because the holy books have logos on them, thus convincing us that there were at some point, a bunch of wise and saintly academic authorities who like monks in monasteries, researched language acquisition before writing up their commandments?  Who made this "order" - who publicized it? Who pushed it?  Where did it come from?


Have our beloved and not so loved at all textbook authors ever done any research into whether this "order" works or not, feel free to state your claim if so, or have they too assumed it to be so because their editor (or his boss) said so?  I do really want to know... if this phased language instruction has ever been tested scientifically, systemically, qualitatively, quantitatively, longitudinally and by whom because I'll happily eat my hat if you can prove it so.  Show me, please, where are the peer-reviewed research articles documenting the processes that occur and don't occur - why folks must learn just so?  Surely, truly, it can not be that with almost one third of the world now learning English and millions of others learning other languages that we still can't answer this rather simple and professional question? 

Or is our industry made up of snake-oil salesmen dancing in pale moonlight?

Of course not.  But nonetheless, I'm not kidding, be it down to good intentions or not, this billion-dollar grossing industry can not really have just been compiled on good faith alone, or can it?

Because it seems so.

Today, despite that I now have access to fields of journals I will tell you that not for a want of trying can I find one single verified report showing brain scans done on language learners proving on any kind of level that the brain receives and organizes grammatical structures this way.  Countless snoringly dull case studies and endless fascinating assessments to wade through that go into the depths of our practices and into what makes a good language learner and what doesn't, what strategies teachers can get students to employ, the effects of motivation, aptitude, age and gender studies and how there really is no best method, no there isn't... and yet, nope, nary a word on this so called fixed acquisition order, stage by stage and step by step, despite the fact that so many of us somehow continue to hail the god of grammar.



Were we sold a Brooklyn Bridge and made to sell it on classroom by classroom?

Time to wise up, folks, methinks.



K

Image credit:
The Brooklyn Bridge in New York City by Webfan29 at en.wikipedia

References:

Mishan, F. (2005). Designing authenticity into language learning materials.  Bristol, UK: intellect.
Prabu, N. (1990). There Is No Best Method - Why? TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 24, no.2.  161-176.

Other posts
Reasons I don't like textbooks


 

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