This Post is in two parts; Part 1 is here and Part II you'll find in the next post.
An Introduction to models in ELT—a somewhat in-depth description
This write-up is addressed to three groups of readers:
1. students wishing to take up ELT as their profession or merely interested in the happenings
in the ELT world
2. teachers who have just entered their teaching careers
3. teachers who are experienced but have a vague idea about developments in ELT.
In this write-up, I’ve done my best to give as error-free as possible representation of thoughts related to the several concepts. Yet if readers should find errors, I seek pardon.
Models for Language Learning
Here models for language learning are described and discussed in relation to learning English.
There came a time when life became complex with trade and commerce, with thoughts related to life and death and when human beings could no longer hold within themselves knowledge they gained through experience and had to give it some kind of permanence, they invented writing and began to preserve it in parchments and much later of course through books publication, which was facilitated by the advent of the printing press.
Once writing began, it had to be followed by reading and slowly schools and teachers appeared; however, the majority learnt through individual tutoring and only a few underwent schooling. Of course, the medium was the language they were using. The method was memorisation, and as learning/ language skills, the three R’s came into being: arithmetic, reading and writing. Speech was given importance through training in rhetoric only to the extent of getting learners to master oratory.
In ancient Rome, students went to grammar schools where they learnt Latin or Greek or both and studied grammar and literature. Grammar consisted of the study of declensions and conjugations and the analysis of verbal forms. Both Greek and Latin literature were studied. The teacher would read the work and then lecture on it, while the students took notes that they later memorized. For nearly a thousand years after the fall of the empire, Latin continued to be the language spoken in commerce, public service, education, and the Roman Catholic church. Most books in Europe until about the year 1200 were written in Latin.
Through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Reformation, universities were established and literature was the lesson content, but, in schools, learning of grammar, syntactic structures, along with rote memorisation of vocabulary, translation of literature and rhetoric continued through Latin to ‘train the mind’ despite efforts by humanists such as (1) Comenius who felt that children should be taught differently from adults through pictures or images, and (2) Locke who felt that knowledge should be gained through faculties like perceiving, discriminating, thinking, comparing and recalling, and (3) Jean-Jacques Rousseau who felt children were different from adults in the quality of mind, and according to him, "We are always looking for the man in the child without thinking what he is before he becomes a man."
The one significant change in the 16th century was the ascendancy of vernaculars like English replacing Latin study though the pattern of teaching remained the same. The study of classical Latin became the model:
“Children entering “grammar school” in the sixteenth, seventeenth,
and eighteenth centuries in England were initially given a rigorous
introduction to Latin grammar, which was taught through
v rote learning of grammar rules
v study of declensions and conjugations
v practice in writing sample sentences
sometimes with the use of parallel bilingual texts and dialogue” (Kelly 1969; Howatt
1984). Textbooks consisted of statements of abstract grammar rules, lists of vocabulary, and sentences for translation. Speaking the foreign language was not the goal, and oral
practice was limited to students reading aloud the sentences they had translated. These sentences were constructed to illustrate the grammatical system of the language and consequently bore no relation to the language of real communication.
Grammar-Translation Method (known as Prussian Method in the States) (G-T method)
This originated from the classical method empoyed to teach Latin.
As the title indicates, the method focuses on sentence grammar learning and sentence translation from L1 (mother tongue / regional language) to L2 (English) and vice versa. Grammar is taught deductively. Words are learnt through bilingual words, dictionary work and memorisation. Grammar rules are memorised, too. Naturally students are trained to read literary pieces and write compositions, and speaking and listening are never serious contenders. Accuracy is the goal because the written language is far superior to the spoken language, which is thought to be corrupt.
This method is based on a theory of language that saw the target language as a system of rules and related these rules to the rules of first language. It is based on a theory of learning that viewed learning as an intellectual activity (mental training) (H H Stern 1987:455).
This method ruled the roost for a century, and even today this is being followed in some parts of the world in some modified form or in conjunction with other strategies (H H Stern 1987:454).
I use this term for the period towards the second half of the 19th century when several began to be critical of the G-T method and proposed fundamental reforms in the teaching of foreign languages.
Marcel, Pendergast and Gouin tried to turn the attention of all those concerned with teaching towards how children learn languages but they did not experience success for there was no common forum, vocal or written, through which their thoughts could be disseminated to a wider circle. But the Reform Movement they had started took shape as more teachers and linguists began to think along the lines of changing the teaching method.
Henry Sweet in England, Wilhelm Vietor in Germany, and Paul Passy in France began to
provide the intellectual leadership needed to give reformist ideas greater credibility and acceptance. They and other like-minded teachers proposed what was to become the cornerstone of the methods to come. They gave primacy to spoken language, felt pronunciation needed to be taught, wanted words to be contextualised, decided to teach grammar inductively, said learners’ L1 should be used sparingly.
The Direct Method
The Direct Method was developed by Maximilian Berlitz towards the end of the 19th century as a reaction to the G—T Method though he himself called it Berlitz Method. It’s also known as the Reform method, the Natural method and the anti-Grammatical method. The word ‘direct’ implies that meaning should be derived by direct use of the target language. The method believes that a language can best be learnt by using it actively in the classroom because second language learning should be similar to first language learning. This method encourages lots of oral interaction, spontaneous use of the target language, doesn’t use translation, hardly allows analysis of grammatical rules and syntactic rules. Meaning and grammar are to be derived through action and demonstration and examples and illustrations. Listening comprehension and correct pronunciation are practised. The following techniques are used:
v Action and demonstration
v Reading aloud
v Question-answer exercise
v Student self-correction
v Conversation practice
v Fill-in-the-blank exercise
v Paragraph writing
Earlier, Gouin, Montaigne and Sauveur had thought along these lines. Sauveur and other believers in the Natural Method argued that a foreign language could be taught without translation or the use of the learner's native tongue if meaning was conveyed directly through demonstration and action. The German scholar F. Franke wrote on the psychological principles of direct association between forms and meanings in the target language (1884) and provided a theoretical justification for a monolingual approach to teaching. According to Franke, a language could best be taught by using it actively in the classroom. Rather than using analytical procedures that focus on explanation of grammar rules in classroom teaching, teachers must encourage direct and spontaneous use of the foreign language in the classroom. Learners would then be able to induce rules of grammar. The teacher replaced the textbook in the early stages of learning. Speaking began with systematic attention to pronunciation. Known words could be used to teach new vocabulary, using mime, demonstration, and pictures. These natural language learning principles provided the foundation for what came to be known as the Direct Method, which refers to the most widely known of the natural methods.
This is based on a theory of language that gave priority to phonetics and treating grammar scientifically. It is based on a theory of learning that emerged from associationist psychology.
The regimentation recommended through the Direct method led to problems. Teachers had “to go to great lengths to avoid using native tongue when sometimes a simple brief explanation in the student's native tongue would have been a more efficient route to comprehension” (Richards and Rodgers 1999:10-11). The other problems were non-availability of time and limited skills of teachers to teach pronunciation and conversation skills. Coleman’s recommendation of reading as a reasonable goal was accepted in the States. In England, Sweet and other applied linguists were in favour of sound methodological principles as base.
Such dissatisfaction and certain other factors led to the birth of Audio-lingual Method and the Oral Approach and Situational Language Teaching.
The Oral Approach and Situational Language Teaching
The early 20th century saw a concerted effort from linguists and specialist teachers in England to provide a scientific base to language teaching which was lacking in the Direct Method. They applied certain principles and procedures to the selection and organisation of content of a language course. Since the content would be vocabulary and grammar, they studied frequency of words in written texts and prepared a guide which later took the shape of a General Service of English Words, which became a standard reference to textbook writers. Applied linguists studied English and came up with sentence patterns. They applied selection, gradation and presentation as three criteria to the selection of vocabulary and grammar items to be taught at several levels.
The Oral Approach Method, which later came to be called as Situational Language Teaching, presents carefully only in the target language selected vocabulary from the general service list finalised by Michael West and carefully graded grammar items through appropriate situations in oral form first and then in sufficient knowledge of vocabulary and grammar.
This method is based on a theory of language that stresses presenting structures in appropriate situations. Though appearing to be based on habit (conditioning), the theory of learning on which this method is based, focusses on the process of learning. “The meaning of words and structures is not to be given thorough explanation in either the native tongue or the target language...” (Richards and Rodgers 1999:36) but is to be learnt inductively through given contexts and to extend such learning to new situations, as happens in learning a native language.
The Audiolingual Method
This method developed in the States around the same time that the SLT developed in England. It differed from its British counterpart in that it relied on contrastive linguistics.
Participation of America in the Second World War meant soldiers and other personnel had to travel to and stay in foreign countries and survive there, and for this the Army had to make its personnel conversant in foreign languages and since the then curriculums—reading-based, a modified direct method-based or reading-oral method based—couldn’t meet its requirements, the Army developed its own method.
While the Army method led linguists to think in terms of an intensive oral-based approach, there were other factors:
(i) linguists began to show interest in the teaching of languages in schools,
(ii) foreign students entering universities needed a strong base in English before they
could start their studies,
(iii) linguists developed an Aural-Oral Approach method
(iv) the American government provided funds for the study and analysis of foreign
Language teaching specialists developed the Audiolingual Method based on the insights drawn from structural linguistics theory, contrastive analysis and behaviourist psychology.
This method is based on a theory of language that assumes that learning a language entails “mastering the elements or building blocks of the language and learning the rules by which these elements are combined from phoneme to morpheme to word to sentences.” (Richards and Rodgers 1999: 49). Language is primarily speech or verbal behaviour and is no longer thought of as symbols written on paper. It is based on a theory of learning drawn from behavioural psychology which proposes that learning occurs through a (mechanical—automatic) habit-forming process of stimulus-response-reinforcement. Combining these two theories, this Method uses dialogues in the target language aurally and orally to contextualise words and structures to be learnt and practises them through drills or repetition and memorization so occurrence of mistakes is kept to the minimum. Reading and writing are used to fix what students have learnt orally.
Learners listen and merely reproduce words and structures they’ve heard, repeat it mechanically to the point of perfection, without worrying their heads about meaning being conveyed and are not allowed to initiate communication for fear of their making mistakes. The teacher has absolute control over learning and is wholly responsible for the success of this method—for accurate reproduction by the learner and for avoidance of mistakes.
Two significant things happened in the mid 1960s, one in psychology and the other in linguistics. A criticism of behaviouristic principles of learning led to the birth of cognitive theories of learning, while a criticism of structural linguistics gave way to transformational grammar. These attempt at refining the processes of language and learning and resulted in how a language is to be looked at and how learning takes place in the learner.
Reaction to behaviouristic model
Great strides were made in psychology as to how children learn. They are reflected in the learning principles inherent in Gestalt psychology, Information Processing model, schema theory, cognitive structuralism by Piaget, rote meaningful learning of Ausbel and insightful learning by Bruner.
Behaviourism put forward the Theory of Association. Conditioning—Stimulus-Response connection. reinforcement, reward, extinction were its major constituents. Learning was purely imitative and mechanical. The learner is a mere instrument to be manipulated by external agency. Behaviourists were given to precision and objectivity, and hence ignored internal changes in the learner and accepted only what they exhibited for observation. Environment is the key to learning. It is basic to learning. No thinking on the part of the learner is involved.
Cognitivism put forward the Theory of Cognition. Cognitivists assert that learning is not just an automatic habit formation or practised behaviour, that learning is problem-solving and a discovery process, that the learner possesses a ‘cognitive map’ into which they integrate new learning experiences after analysing each of them in totality, that they redraw the map, that the learner is an active participant and uses their perception and forms insights, that the learner learnt rather from knowing they are making mistakes than from not being allowed to make mistakes. Environment has only a subordinate role to play. It is the understanding of the environment that is important. Thus this forms an essential part of the ‘nature-nurture’ debate.
2. Transformational Generative Grammar (TG)
Structural Linguists had concentrated more on phonology and morphology but less on syntax. With his syntactic structures, Chomsky provided a new look into syntax. He contended that ‘a statement about syntactic structures should therefore not be a summary of generalizations about specimens of ‘parole’, a collection of utterances already produced.’ (Stern 1987:141)
Thus was born the Theory of Innate language structures. It stresses the importance of genetic character. Language learning is a process of biological growth with the help of Language Acquisition Device. Language learning is not a gradual discovery if the surprising speed with which children seem to learn language is taken into consideration. It’s claimed that the child already has the rules at birth, exposure to language data only confirms the rules that are genetically built into him. Findings from neurology seem to support this Theory.
It might be pertinent at this stage to take a look at how language has been viewed by linguists and practising teachers.
3. Perceptions further to Noam Chomsky’s
Ferdinand de Saussure’s (1915) distinction between langue (language as a system or structure) and parole (use of that language while speaking) has been seen differently. This came to the fore when Skinner stated that a scientific study should deal with only what is ‘observable’ (parole). Like Saussure, Chomsky stresses competence over performance as the subject of linguistic study. But unlike Saussure who saw ‘langue’ as a static system of signs, Chomsky’ sees ‘competence’ as a dynamic concept, as a mechanism that will generate language endlessly. A paper, entitled “Important term? According to Chomsky (1965 1, p.h ...) at www.wpic.pitt.edu/.../Biometrics%20Archives%20PDF/618Salzinger197...,
‘According to Chomsky (1965:4), competence refers to ‘speaker-hearer’s
knowledge of his language’ and performance (the other side of the coin)
refers to ‘the actual use of language in concrete situations.’ Furthermore
he tells us: “Linguistic theory is primarily concerned with an ideal speaker-listener,
in a completely homogenous speech community, who knows its language
perfectly and is unaffected by such grammatically irrelevant conditions as
memory limitations, distractions, shifts of interest and attention, and errors
(random or characteristic) in applying his knowledge of the language in actual
performance.” While actual language use may provide some evidence as to
the mental reality underlying language behaviour, he continues it “surely
cannot constitute the actual subject matter of linguistics, if this is to be a serious
discipline.” (page 4)’ (Chomsky, N. 1964. Aspects of the theory of syntax M.I.T.
Cambridge. Mass.) Chomsky later replaced the terms with I-language (internalized
language) and E-language (externalized language) and also termed linguistic
competence as Universal Grammar (UG). He thus makes a fundamental distinction
between competence (the speaker-hearer's knowledge of his language) and
performance (the actual use of language in concrete situations).”
This started the competence-performance debate and led to the birth of communicative competence and its varied descriptions.
Habermas argued that in order to take part in normal discourse, the speaker must have in addition to his linguistic competence basic qualifications of speech and of symbolic interaction at his disposal, which is communicative competence.
Earlier, Halliday had proposed that “...the description of any language required four fundamental theoretical categories: unit, structure, class and system.” (Stern 139) And had argued for a linguistic description at three levels: substance (phonic or graphic), form (grammar and lexicology) and context (semantics). (Stern 139-140).
He described (1975: 11-17) seven basic functions that language performs for children learning their first language:
1. the instrumental function: using language to get things;
2. the regulatory function: using language to control the behaviour of others;
3. the interactional function: using language to create interaction with others;
4. the personal function: using language to express personal feelings and meanings;
5. the heuristic function: using language to learn and to discover;
6. the imaginative function: using language to create a world of the imagination;
7. the representational function: using language to communicate information.
But it was Hymes’ proposition that caught the imagination of linguists and applied linguists. He proposed a theory which is rather complementary than in opposition to Chomsky’s linguistic competence. He said that communicative competence is not only “the tacit knowledge of language structure” in the Chomskyan sense but competence of language use appropriate to other participants of the communicative interaction and appropriate to a given social context and situation. Simply put, it is the socially appropriate use of language. Hymes concludes that a linguistic theory must be able to deal with a heterogeneous speech community, differential competence and the role of socio-cultural features, taking into account the interaction of grammatical (what is formally possible), psycholinguistic (what is feasible in terms of human information processing), socio-cultural (what is the social meaning or value of a given utterance) and probabilistic (what actually occurs) system of competence.
Hymes proposed a S-P-E-A-K-I-N-G model:
S - Setting and Scene
P - Participants
E - Ends
A - Act Sequence
K - Key
I - Instrumentalities
N – Norms
G - Genre
At this juncture, it’s good to take a look at two writings.
1. Geoff at https://canlloparot.wordpress.com/sla/hymes-and-chomsky/ who says Hymes and
Chomsky knew clearly what they were talking about.
2. Ahmet Acar’s The “Communicative Competence” Controversy, published in Asian
EFL Journal, where he takes a critical look at Hymes’ concept of communicative
Halliday developed a socio-semantic approach to the speaker’s use of language. In his approach, he defines the notion of ‘meaning potential’, sets of semantic options that are available to the speaker-hearer. This notion relates behavior potential to lexico-grammatical potential. That is, what the speaker can do, can mean, and can say. These three stages display systematic options at the disposal of the speaker. Besides, he adds that his ‘meaning potential’ is unlike Chomsky’s notion of competence, but is not unlike Hymes communicative competence although it is developed on grounds of Chomskyian sense of what the speakers, which is different from his sense of what he can do.” (Munir Midoul’s
A synthesis on Communicative competence 2011: 5)
Canale and Swain proposed four competencies:
1.grammatical competence: words and rules
2.sociolinguistic competence: appropriateness
3.strategic competence: appropriate use of communication strategies
Canale (1983) refined the above model, adding discourse competence: cohesion and
Bachman (1990) has these components:
1. organizational competence: grammatical competence and textual competence
2. pragmatic competence: illocutionary competence and sociolinguist competence
In Vol. 8, br. 1, 2007, page 94-103, Bagaric and Djigunović say
“Widdowson (1983) made a distinction between competence and capacity.
In his definition of these two notions he applied insights that he gained in
discourse analysis and pragmatics. In this respect, he defined competence,
i.e. communicative competence, in terms of the knowledge of linguistic
and sociolinguistic conventions. Under capacity, which he often referred
to as procedural or communicative capacity, he understood the ability to use
knowledge as means of creating meaning in a language. According to him,
ability is not a component of competence. It does not turn into competence,
but remains “an active force for continuing creativity”, i.e. a force for the
realization of what Halliday called the “meaning potential” (Widdowson,
1983:27). Having defined communicative competence in this way, Widdowson
is said to be the first who in his reflections on the relationship between
competence and performance gave more attention to performance or real
(Widdowson, H. G. (1983). Learning Purpose and Language Use. Oxford: Oxford University Press.)
They also describe Savignon’s interpretation of communicative competence:
Like “ ...Canale and Swain or even Widdowson, Savignon (1972, 1983) put a
much greater emphasis on the aspect of ability in her concept of communicative
competence. Namely, she described communicative competence as ≪the ability
to function in a truly communicative setting – that is, in a dynamic exchange in
which linguistic competence must adapt itself to the total informational input,
both linguistic and paralinguistic, of one or more interlocutors” (Savignon, 1972:8).
According to her, and many other theoreticians (e.g. Canale and Swain, 1980;
Skehan, 1995, 1998; Bachman and Palmer, 1996 etc.), the nature of communicative
competence is not static but dynamic, it is more interpersonal than intrapersonal
and relative rather than absolute.”