Monday, October 29, 2012

VanPatten Chapter 5: Frequently Asked Questions

VanPatten, Chapter 5: Frequently Asked Questions, pg. 77-99
This chapter considered some interesting frequently asked questions including: What about first language use in the classroom? Don't imitation and repetition play a role in acquisition? Do learners develop bad habits if they aren't corrected? Doesn't giving learners rules help?
My gut instinct when I read the first question about L1 use in the classroom was that first language use is unacceptable in the second language classroom. However, VanPatten points out that learners' development of an implicit system does not depend on their ability to produce output. Output is necessary to develop skill in speaking and writing. However, beginning learners may need to use the L1 because "they have not built up the output processing abilities... or because they are trying to get a fix on a task or seek clarification from their classmates" (VanPatten 80). Once learners gain more familiarity with the tasks they are expected to do and develop the production strategies they need in the L2 to produce output their L1 use is likely to drop off. 
Imitation and repetition are mistakenly thought to play an important role in language acquisition. It is true that repetition can increase a learner's speed at performing a task but they won't be able to create new, original sentences. Learners should not be corrected overtly because that won't produce a lasting change in the implicit system. Rather, learners should be corrected indirectly. This can happen if the teacher recasts or rephrases what the learner says. This is definitely going to influence my language instruction. Rather than telling students directly what they are saying incorrectly, I will rephrase what they are saying back to them using correct language and syntax.
Finally, rules help learners "produce output... because they sensitive learners to input" (VanPatten 87). However, learning rules is still explicit learning and therefore does not lead directly to acquisition. Another reason rules are helpful is because they enable the learner to produce certain types of speech while the learner is still acquiring the language via the natural mechanisms. I still don't quite understand how this fits in. How can rules be taught explicitly without interfering with the natural acquisition process?

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