METHODOLOGICAL ECLECTICISM IN TEACHING ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE (TEFL) 'Eclectic', remarks Atkinson (1988, p. 42), 'is one of the buzz words in TEFL at present, in part due to the realization that for the foreseeable future good language teaching is likely to continue to be based more on common sense, insights drawn from classroom experience, informed discussion among teachers, etc. , than on any monolithic model of second language acquisition or all-embracing theory of learning... '. One problem with this position is that your 'common sense' and your 'insights' are apt to be different from mine. Another is that 'discussion among teachers', though valuable, is often a futile exercise in the blind leading the blind.
No one with some knowledge of pedagogy and psychology would advocate a 'monolithic model' of anything in teaching today. However, unless one has some theoretical foundation to one's knowledge, one cannot construct a methodology of anything -- including of foreign language teaching. The aim of this paper is to examine such foundation, and to propose an eclectic approach to teaching English to speakers of other languages. Learning theories and TEFL 'It appears counterproductive to dissect language in the same way that biology students might dissect a frog' (Maurice 1987, p. 9). Learners do not expect curriculum designers and teachers to dissect language on the basis of pure linguistic science, but they do expect them to dissect language on the basis of applied linguistics and psycholinguistics to the extent that such analyses throw light on how language is applied and on who will do the applying.
The foci, then, are on teaching methodology and learning capacity, rather than on the intricate works of linguistician's. Notes that teachers, moreover, need a functional dose of anthropology, sociology, and cybernetics if they are to grow as professionals. It does not hurt, of course, if they know more than one language and have been in close contact with other cultures. Now 'discussions on teaching methods tend to be plagued by overgeneralization's both with respect to the way they are classified and with respect to the way they are evaluated' (MacKenzie, Eraut, & Jones 1972, p. 124). When one compares pedagogical methods, some startling facts come to light.
One, for example, is that methods vacillate between a behavioral approach which considers the learner as a programmable mechanical device, and a humanistic (or pseudo-humanistic) approach which is undisciplined and considers the learner as a malleable self-directed positively motivated and intelligent social and cultural unit. Talk about monolith ism! Two curricula and methodologies are essentially teacher-centered or pre-determined curriculum-centered, as opposed to being learner-centered. They are developed on the basis of a linear and group-addressed program, rather than on a semi-linear or even random program derived from individual learners' feedback. They illustrate the traditional top-dictated organization structure of pre-democratic societies, business management, and state education.
Yet, 'language is a social as well as an individual phenomenon... It mirrors the culture... is culturally acquired' (Finocchiaro & Bonomo 1973, p. 1). Three, in practice, student's overt behaviors are observed and measured, whereas covert behaviors are ignored or lightly passed over or deplored... when perceived or intimated by those whose job it is to help modify behavior.
To behaviorism, overt behavior is the very subject-matter of psychology, precisely because one can observe it, measure it, and shape it. It is an atomistic theory for which reflexes and the conditioned reflex are the basic units. The trouble is that the human being, though composed of atoms, is a complex system all parts of which are dynamically interrelated. 'Atomism is in essence an analytical doctrine. It regards observable forms in nature not as intrinsic wholes but as aggregates' (Encyclopaedia Britannica 1974, p.
2/346). Educators, unfortunately, are not in a position to embrace an atomistic view, because they do not have the tools to identify, analyze, and modify all the overt behaviors which lead to learning or not learning -- all the more the covert ones. It makes sense, therefore, that they hew closely to holistic theories which explain the parts (known and unknown) in terms of the whole. The learner is a whole organism, not an aggregate of parts, and the whole may or may not be greater than the sum of its parts. Functionally, the learner is little concerned with surface structures (unless his goal is exclusively to pass a traditional State examination, or he is studying linguistics).
Rather, he is eager to negotiate meanings, that is, to interface meaningfully with deep structures. Structural linguistics' prime concern is the production of 'a catalogue of the linguistic elements of a language, and a statement of the positions in which they occur' (McArthur 1992, p. 991), but it fails to refer to meaning -- the substance of communication. Even generative grammar focuses on form at the expense of meaning: it is concerned with membership in sets of grammatical sentences (cfr Chomsky). It took the communicative shift of the 1980 s in Europe and North America, with its emphasis on the cognitive-code approach, to reject behaviorism and the audio lingual and direct methods.
Thus, structuralism, with its exclusive concern with form, gave way to the communicative methods, with their stress on meaning negotiation. The Strategies 'In response to the perceived weaknesses of both structural and notional / functional syllabuses in producing communicatively competent speakers, the current literature stresses the importance of providing language learners with more opportunities to interact directly with the target language and to acquire it by using it rather than to learn it by studying it' (Taylor 1987, p. 45). The Council of Europe Languages Projects, initiated in 1971, concentrated on the needs of learners, and provided contents for sylla bi intended to serve as bases for a Europe-wide scheme (notional / functional approach).
In this scheme, some items were to be learned Productively, some receptively. Language, it stated, should center on the learner, be relevant to the learner's life, not remote academic goals, be part of permanent education, be based on participatory democracy, and be communicative. As is often the case with grandiose projects (particularly, of course, political ones), ideals turn somewhat sour when practice shows them to be at loggerheads with vested interests or ingrained traditions. Furthermore, to express themselves in terms of certain notions and functions was to limit learners to threshold levels of a watered-down structural approach, but structural all the same.
In this case, the tradition of structural linguistics has been hard to displace, with mixed results in applying a communicative and fully functional approach. It seems as if there is no way out: to learn a language is to learn to communicate creatively, comprehensibly, however laborious the effort. Being learner-centered, in the communicative approach 'we take the students' communicative attempts in the target language as the starting-off point for our instruction, rather than the rules or the structure of the language' (Taylor 1987, p. 57). Thus, the modern approach is to holistic functional communicative methods.
Does this mean that the structural school is doomed? Increasingly, teachers -- if not linguists -- are finding that there is something to be learned, adopted, and adapted from both extreme approaches -- structural and communicative. Rogers (1983) already had remarked that 'The goal of education is the facilitation of change and learning.' Change has dynamic structure; structure has both atomistic and holistic aspects. If language-learning is specific behavior modification-not change, it perforce must consider atomistic structure and analysis. At the same time, if language-learning is holistic apprehension of cognitive, affective, social, and cultural codes, it must also deal with holistic concerns. In other words, language cannot be learned without learning form and acquiring meaning, if only because there is no substance without form -- though the reverse can be true: the medium -- McLuhan notwithstanding -- is not always the message. Form is best learned through structural methods, because intrinsically it has no meaning, because by definition form is structure.
Meaning, on the other hand, is best learned through communicative methods because by definition it is communication, it is substance carried through the carrier-wave of form -- the medium. Hence, the need for eclecticism in language learning and teaching. Hence, the inadequacy and paucity of either structural methods or communicative methods on their own. Keeping in mind this learned-centered approach, one needs also consider the medium of instruction. A key role -- that of facilitator of learning -- is that of the teacher.
The trouble with teachers, and their principal asset, is that they too are whole persons, individual dynamic entities interacting with the environment, as any other organic form does. A teacher's style of teaching is as much his or her prerogative as a learner's style of learning. It is the teacher's expression of his or her personality and belief system. There is no reason to try and change this condition... unless it is clearly out of place in education.
The way to judge a teacher is not by the method he or she uses, but by the results he or she obtains. If results are poor, the teacher will have to justify the methodological approach, or change it, or leave. 'Perhaps the best method varies from one teacher to another, but only in the sense that it is best for each teacher to operate with his or her own sense of plausibility at any given time' (Prahbu 1990, p. 175). Possibly central to any theory of methodology is what Phillips (1981) calls the four principles of EST methodology, viz. (1) reality control; (2) non-triviality; (3) authenticity; and (4) tolerance of errors.
If there is no one methodological approach to foreign language learning and teaching, there is no one method which necessarily and significantly enhances or impedes learning for all learners. But there are methods, though successful with a majority of learners, which fail with individual learners -- not through flaws in the method, but through inappropriateness for an individual's style of learning. The variables are too many to confine learning / teaching to any one method for groups as well as for individuals. Let us now comment briefly on some currently used methods, listing their pros and cons in light of an eclectic approach.
The Methods The Grammar-Translation Method (also called the classical Method) has as its fundamental purpose reading classical literature ('good books representing the best in our culture') which it considers superior to the spoken language. Communication is not its goal. The primary skills it develops are reading and writing. The teacher is the authority.
No errors are tolerated. Native language equivalents exist for all target language words. Comparative analytical techniques facilitate learning. Form precedes meaning and, therefore, is learned first. Deductive application of explicit grammatical rules are the way to learn structure, and structure must be foremost in the mind of learners. Audiolingual techniques (such as rote memorization and drill) are preferred for learning verb conjugations and other grammatical paradigms.
Clearly, the method is restricted to learning how to read and write. Phonology is of little or no concern. So is communication. Though not a method of choice if communication is the goal, there are teachers who use translation successfully: they feel it teaches structure and disciplines the mind, while ensuring accuracy, if not fluency of comprehension and expression. Writing, moreover, adds the kinesthetic sense to listening, speaking, and reading, and doubtlessly constitutes a valuable reinforcer for all sensory apprehensions. The Direct Method proscribes translation.
Meaning is connected directly with the target language. Reading is taught from the outset of instruction, together with speaking. Language is speech, and it exists only in a specific cultural context. Referents are associated with the target language.
First language use is taboo. The teacher demonstrates rather than explains or translates, thus enhancing referent-meaning connections. Students are to think in the target language early on. Language is communication; therefore, students communicate in the classroom. Phonology is fundamental: pronunciation is taught from the very outset of instruction. Self-correction places the onus of learning on the learner.
Conversation is authentic and the major medium of instruction. Grammar is learned inductively. Writing is developed parallel with other language skills. Curricula are based on topics or situations rather than on linguistic structures. If time is of the essence and the goal is restricted to basic functional communication (as, for example, in total immersion instruction), then the Direct Method may be indicated.
Its audio lingual stress, however, does limit it to simple communication -- such as 'tourist' English. On the other hand, its insistence on teaching all skills simultaneously and on contextually centered conversation is an asset to any approach. The Audiolingual Method is a modified form of the Direct Method -- or is it the reverse? It inherited its techniques from advances in descriptive linguistics and behavioral psychology. Language forms exist only in context. Every language has its idiosyncratic system and, therefore, should be taught as a unique entity.
The teacher constitutes the role model for language competency and proficiency and for the target culture. Language is habit formation. Errors produce bad habits and therefore must be always and immediately corrected. Language is to communicate. Speech is structured with a finite number of patterns.
Positive reinforcement includes over learning, i. e. the creation of automatic responses. The primary objective of language learning is learning structural patterns; vocabulary comes later. Second language is learned the same way as first language.
Linguistic rules are induced. Speech is basic; writing / reading is a derivative. Language is culturally conditioned. Essentially behavioristic, the Audiolingual Method is very limited in its methodology and in its behavioral objectives. Even as in the Direct Method, drill and memorization may have their places in an eclectic approach. However, as techniques they have failed to teach people to communicate, except at the very basic level.
The Audiolingual Method is wrong when it states that second language is learned the same way as first language is; it is wrong if only because the starting points are different: one starts from tabula rasa, the other from a fount of acquisitions. Whether errors should be tolerated is a moot question: yes, errors are imprinted in the brain cells and may be hard to extinguish; no, errors are inevitable, a way to learn, and an insistence on frequent correction may lead to avoidance reactions. Yes, automatic responses are inherent in every language, but to extend automatism to all or even most utterances is to disregard the complexity of language and the ability to create, i. e. to communicate meaningfully in a variety of situations. The Silent Way challenged the idea that language learning equates habit forming.
Cognitive psychologists and transformational-generative linguists argued that speakers induce rules which gives them the tools to create utterances. Language thus is rule formation, rather than habit formation. Thinking is involved in language learning; language is not mere acquisition of conditioned reflexes. Audiolingual drilling is a form of brainwashing with very limited scope. Cognition renders learners responsible as well as creative. Errors are tolerated as expressions of hypotheses' testing.
All skills are taught from the start. Caleb Cattegno's Silent Way states that 'teaching should be subordinated to learning'. New knowledge is founded on existing knowledge, not on a 'clean slate'; therefore, one learns from the known to the unknown. The teacher, as facilitator, interferes minimally in the heuristic approach of the learners. Students develop their own 'inner criteria' for correctness, and rely only on themselves and each other. Learning involves transfer of knowledge.
Silence is a tool which fosters autonomy. Meaning derives from perception which, therefore, ought to be focused. Errors are inevitable. Progress, not perfection, is the expected outcome of learning. Practice must be meaningful, not repetitive. Language is for self-expression.
The syllabus is constantly recycled and is non-linear. Each language skill reinforces the others. There is little one could argue against in most of these 'verities', except that the method tends to disregard the advantages of in its restricted uses, that it stresses transfer from the known (such as native language) to the unknown (target language) -- a belief not shared by most methodologist's today, that autonomy is everybody's cup of tea and is easily acquired, that learners can be left to their own devices rather than carefully guided and supported into discovery. The Silent Way's stress on non-linear sylla bi, on fostering autonomy, on tolerating errors constitute good pedagogical assets. As to 'silence', one would have to see it in action, i. e.
assess its frequency and uses before passing judgment. Some teachers believe that hyperactivity keeps students on their toes; others believe that there is a time for reflection. Lozanov's Suggestopedia has found few takers, not only because it seems bizarre, but because some of its premises are not supported by empirical evidence. It is based on Lozanov's belief that psychological barriers are the prime reason for difficulty in learning a new language. Learning is facilitated in a relaxed atmosphere. Peripheral learning is fundamental.
Psychological barriers are 'de suggested' by providing a non-threatening environment and by activating imagination through music and relaxation. Self-confidence is thus developed. Students assume target-language cultural identities. Conversation is utilitarian.
Attention should focus on communicating, not on form. The teacher explains grammar and vocabulary summarily and in the native language. Translation clarifies meaning. Consciously, learners attend to linguistic messages; subconsciously, the music assuages anxiety. Pseudo-passive state overcomes psychological barriers. Fantasy, through dramatization, activates learning material.
Music and movement reinforce linguistic material. 'Infantilization' opens self to overcoming learning handicaps. Errors are tolerated. There is no doubt that anything that tends to overcome psychological barriers is valuable, and that, indeed, anxiety over failure to dominate the new environment, the new task, is very common. Whether relaxation or maintenance of an appropriate level of anxiety is better remains to be proved, although the latter position has more empirical evidence and theoretical foundation than the former. Whether ',' likewise, is better than a mature cognitive and affective facing of reality is equally an unproven assumption.
Whether assuming a foreign identity reduces the distance between native and foreign cultures or, on the contrary, alienates the learner is another moot question. The consideration of conscious and subconscious learning is well worth investigating. There is no doubt that peripheral acquisition is at least as powerful a mode of apprehension as deliberate learning. Again, these are techniques worth considering as part of an eclectic portfolio. Community Language Learning looks at learners as whole persons, even as whole language looks at language holistically. A close derivative of Charles A.
Curran's Counseling-Learning, the method echoes Lozanov's in its belief that the learner often feels threatened by the unknown. The answer is for the teacher and the environment to be sensitive to such anxiety and turn it around into positive energy. The relationship between teacher and students and among students is crucial. Language is for communication. The teacher counsels rather than teaches. Native languages are used to clarify meanings.
Autonomy is fostered. Time for reflection is allotted. Situational and learning control is developed in learners. Discriminatory perception is honed, so similarities and differences among target language forms enter awareness during communication.
Cooperation is encouraged so as to create a spirit of community. Material is best remembered if neither very novel or very familiar. Basically, students design the syllabus, at least at the beginning of instruction. Nobody is likely to argue against the fact that fundamental to learning is a 'good relationship' between teacher and students.
Nor does one doubt that change, new learning experiences, can be anxiety-producing. That language is communication is a given today. Whether native language should be used to clarify meaning is debatable, although, increasingly, it is seen as a valid technique that puts the learner at ease and telescopes the learning process. To stress target language form discrimination is highly valid if the teaching of structure is considered important. To stress target language meaning discrimination is certainly more important, because form without meaning is... meaningless.
It remains to be seen whether one can be pedagogically dissociated from the other -- currently a gratuitous assumption. With regards to competition vs cooperation, there are different opinions. As the trend towards political democratization goes forward, cooperation is seen as more constructive than competition. Whether the competitive spirit should be encouraged and for whom and under what circumstances is a book in itself. For students to design the syllabus on their own seems far-fetched; that they participate in its construction seems more reasonable, because students do not have a repertoire of known linguistic strategies and of the structural complexities of the target language vis-a-vis the native language.
The Total Physical Response Method (also known as the Comprehension Approach) stresses listening comprehension -- the way native language is acquired. Students are allowed to use their native (or classroom) language to answer the teacher who speaks in the target language. Errors are tolerated and corrected unobtrusively. Students listen and respond to the target language commands of the teacher. Meaning can often be conveyed through physical actions.
Memory is activated through learner response. Beginning instruction addresses the right hemisphere of the brain (that which controls nonverbal behavior). Language is presented and learned in total utterances rather than in fragments (such as words in isolation). Understanding precedes speaking. The imperative mode is effective and efficient as a tool to direct learners' behaviors. Students learn by observing, listening, responding, and acting out demands and responses.
Feeling of achievement is the key to success. Memorization is out. Learning is fun. Speech precedes reading and writing. Students speak 'when they are ready.' There is no doubt that the method is very effective with young children: fun, action, impact, high rate of behavioral events. This is the stuff of which television commercials and musical videos are made.
With adults, who already have cognitive faculties, knowledge, maturity, and experience more developed than those of young children, it is doubtful the method has merit. Moreover, its effectiveness is bound to wane as linguistic structures become more complex. The use of the native language-not if restricted -- prevents the acquisition of ambiguous or erroneous meanings. Kinesthetic learning is a wise addition (as Montessori well demonstrated) to other sensory learning. One wonders, though, how it can be adapted to more complex and to adults. The Communicative Approach stresses the negotiation of meaning at the expense of the learning of form.
Authentic language is fundamental and is used even for communication in the classroom. A variety of linguistic forms are presented together rather than piecemeal. Students work at the discourse and supra sentential level, learning about cohesion and coherence, the binding ingredients of language. Games are valid didactic instruments and give teachers immediate feedback.
Opportunities are given for self-expression. Errors are tolerated. Fluency is given the same importance as accuracy. Form is learned inductively from contexts. Opportunities are provided for students to develop appropriate learning strategies. There is little in this method that cannot be found in other communicative approaches.
Authenticity, variety, error tolerance, operation at the supra sentential level, inductive learning of form are hallmark strategies of communicative methods. The only criticisms one might make are if the method is used exclusively, or if it is used for mature students, or if it does not desist once fundamental structures have been acquired. Conclusions Eclecticism is in, because no one method has proved comprehensive and appropriate enough to optimize learning for everyone. Two schools face each other: behaviorism and communicativeness. The former stresses the learning of formal automatism's, the latter holistic and heuristic apprehension of authentic language. It would appear that some subject-matters may be better learned through conditioning, though most are probably better learned through acquisitive holistic heuristic approaches.
Individual learning styles and end-product functions determine choice of methods perhaps more than methods per se. Teachers' teaching styles enter into the equation. An eclectic approach is bound to fail if it is an attempt at avoiding one's responsibility to select appropriate pedagogical methods -- appropriate to learner, to teacher, to goals, to target culture, to target language structure and particular genius. It is likely to constitute the best approach if it is constructed on the basis of a needs analysis and of clearly defined goals and objectives. References Atkinson, D. (1988, Autumn).
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