Nov 10, 2010

got it right by mistake?

The other day a student came up to me with a question - or more of an observation, really. She told me that when she'd been talking to her husband about how her English was coming along, she'd confessed that when she spoke English she 'cheated'. She didn't refer to a rule of grammar - she relied on her intuition, and this clashed with her ideas about what learning and studying another language involved (she's a retired school-teacher).
A lot of people would probably love to be able to follow their intuition rather than have to halt and re-call rules (and maybe opt to say nothing if their recollection is unsure) but if she felt that this was somehow 'cheating' it might mean that the course she was doing was in a way cheating her.
Here is a section from the Teacher's Notes in the new edition of Unit5 (it accompanies a section on 'articles') which addresses this very point.

The following explanation is very important as it addresses one of the main aspects of SpeakYourMind – that students learn grammar through:

a) A focussed introduction of one defined area
b) Plenty of useful practice through examples and questions spaced over an interval of time
c) A successive introduction that takes the grammar a bit further (this is then followed by plenty of practice before the next bit comes along).

The most important part (and the one that learners may need most ‘educating’ on) is the ‘plenty of useful practice’. The SpeakYourMind course basically provides learners with a 'good language experience’. When we talk about something ‘sounding right’ or ‘sounding bad’ we are relying on our ‘language experience’ – an accumulated store of evidence of language which allows us to decide if a piece of language ‘conforms’ (we have heard it many times) or not.

As native speakers we all have a highly developed ‘language experience’ of our own language, but as learners of a new language what we can rely on?
Grammar books provide ‘concepts’ but little in the way of ‘experience’. At the other end of the spectrum, exposure to unfiltered flows of 'natural' native speech is a highly baffling experience and can turn out to be a very long and unreliable process in terms of ‘learning’.

SpeakYourMind creates, in lessons and over the course as a whole, a ‘language-learning environment’ which exposes learners to (and invites them to use) constantly accessible ‘good language’ – and a constantly expanding environment of ‘good language’.
Of course – learners will make errors as they begin to learn new things, but this is not ‘harmful’ in any way, as long as they are made aware of the mis-match between their trials and the ‘model’ as provided by the teacher, through correction and ‘highlighting’, as well as through reading the course material.
Many learners will ‘want the rules’ – and SpeakYourMind doesn’t deny them explicit explanations of grammar. However, all learners benefit from ‘plenty of useful examples’ which, over time, will build up and blend in to form their ‘good language experience’.

No comments: