Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 31

CHAPTER

Understanding
Second
Language
Teaching and
Learning

LEARNING OUTCOME
Upon completion of this chapter, you should be able to:
1.

understand and differentiate the different theories/concepts


underlying second language learning and teaching;

2.

identify the various traditional and contemporary views of


language teaching and learning;

3.

discuss relevant research related to second language teaching and


learning; and

4.

compare and discuss the similarities and differences of learning


English as a second language (ESL) and English as a foreign
language (EFL) and understand its implications to teaching;

Understanding Second Language Teaching


CHAPTER 1
and Learning

INTRODUCTION
What we understand of language teaching influences how we teach. Language teaching can be
conceptualized in many ways. Richards (2002: 19), states that language teaching can be conceived
as a science, a technology, a craft, or an art. If we believe that teaching language involves lots of
practice and memorization, then it is most likely that the activities we use to teach language will
reflect our beliefs. For instance, we will focus on the use of drills and pattern-practice in our
lessons if we believe that language learning is mainly about practice and overcoming learned
habits. Therefore, it can be said that a teachers practice - the approaches, methods and
techniques s/ he uses to teach language is closely related to what the teacher believes and
understands about the underlying theories of the nature of language, of learning in general, and
of language teaching. It is thus important for teachers to have a thorough understanding of the
concepts of language teaching and learning and of the views on it that have changed over the
years. In addition, it is useful to know what research says about language pedagogy and whether
there is a difference in learning a language as a second or foreign language.

1.1

THEORETICAL CONCEPTS OF SECOND LANGUAGE


TEACHING AND LEARNING

It is useful for us to know the origins of second language teaching to help us understand and
decide on our own methods of teaching. First, what do we know of the theories of teaching in
language teaching? As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, language teaching can be
conceived in various ways: as a science, a technology, a craft, or an art (Richards, 2002).
Basically, we can think of language teaching as falling into 3 categories (Zahorik, 1986 cited in
Richards, 2002: 19-25):
i.

science-research conceptions,

ii.

theory-philosophy conceptions, and

iii.

art-craft conceptions

Each conception of teaching will make us think and understand differently about what skills are
important in teaching. The following is an explication by Zahorik on the three categories of
language teaching:
1

CHAPTER 1

Understanding Second Language


Teaching and Learning

.......................................

i. Science-research conceptions
As the name implies, science-research conceptions of language teaching originated from research
which are supported by findings obtained through experiments and empirical data.
A. Operationalizing Learning Principles
Often, in research, learning principles are operationalized to help the researcher measure what
constitutes learning; or a model of learning is proposed and tested; or observations of what
effective teachers do are conducted. All these constitute research on teaching and results provide
implications for how to teach language.
In operationalizing learning principles, teaching principles are derived from research on memory,
transfer, motivation, and other factors important to learning. Examples of such research include
Mastery learning and Programmed learning. In the field of Teaching English to Speakers of
Other Languages or TESOL, three examples of methods and approaches to language teaching
based on learning research are:

Audiolingualism,

Task-Based Language Teaching, and

Learner Training

Audiolingualism, for example, originated from research based on behavioral psychology (Brown,
2001; Celce-Murcia, 2001; Nunan, 1999). Laboratory experiments on animals show that
successful learning can occur by determining 3 elements: a stimulus which elicits behavior ; a
response triggered by a stimulus; and reinforcement which can maintain the response or
suppresses it, depending on whether the response is appropriate or otherwise. This finding was
transferred to language teaching via the Audiolingual Method or ALM (Brown, 2001; Celce-Murcia,
2001; Nunan, 1999). In this method, language learning is perceived as habit-formation whereby
pattern-drills, dialogs, and memorization of structural items are commonly used in a language
lesson.
Because learning is believed to be that of habit-formation, thus drills and practice are needed to
get over the old habits of the native language.
Another example of the translation of findings from learning research into teaching
methodology is Task-Based Language Teaching (a more recent method). The premise of the method
2

Understanding Second Language Teaching


CHAPTER 1
and Learning

is that successful language learning involves the negotiation of meaning by learners. In


negotiating with native speakers of the language, the learner is provided with input which
facilitates learning. Therefore, the suggestion for classroom language lessons is that there should
be tasks which allow students to negotiate meaning. This should be the basis of language
curriculum wherein both language forms and functions (communicative) are practiced.
Researchers study the types of tasks which can facilitate learning of specific language structures
and functions. For example, Prabu (1983 cited in Richards, 2002: 20) implemented this approach
on a large scale in schools in India. A syllabus and materials were developed based on 3 major
tasks:

information gap tasks

opinion gap tasks

and reasoning gap tasks.

Lastly, the Learner Training approach involves observation of learners; learners introspecting on
their learning strategies; or using other forms of probing cues. Upon identification of particular
successful strategies, these are taught to other learners. Thus, this approach is based on the
cognitive styles and learning strategies of learners.
B. Reliance on a Tested Modal of Teaching
This approach relies on the findings of empirical or experimental research to teaching. According
to Zahorik (1986 cited in Richards, 2002: 20), what is perceived as good teaching is based on
logical reasoning and past research and good teaching is determined by specific acts of the
teacher. One such research conducted was on teachers questioning patterns and wait time.
Research findings therefore help to facilitate better classroom interactions (Long, 1984 cited in
Richards, 2002: 20). A direct application of these findings is in training teachers to discern the
differences between display questions (answers are known beforehand) and referential questions
(answers are not known). Trainee teachers are also made aware of the advantages of longer wait
time after posing questions to students. Research of this type helps teachers identify specific
behaviours that facilitate or impede learning.
C. The Practice of Effective Teachers
In developing a theory of teaching, researchers often look to practicing teachers and determine
the teaching principles of these effective teachers. An effective teacher is defined as a teacher
whose students perform well on standardized tests. Researchers observe teachers to examine
3

CHAPTER 1

Understanding Second Language


Teaching and Learning

.......................................

how instruction is organized; how they structure their activities, and help enhance student
performance on tasks. Teachers are sometimes interviewed and asked about the underlying
theories behind their teaching, methods and techniques used. Research clearly shows that there is
a relationship between teachers effective teaching and student performance on exams. For
example, a teachers ability is to clearly specify the aim of teaching and the ability of students.

Research conducted in this area found the following characteristics of effective teaching
(Blum, 1984:3-6 cited in Richards, 2002: 21):

A pre-planned curriculum is the guide to instruction.

High expectations of student-learning.

Students are oriented to lessons.

Teachers instruction is clear and focused.

Learning process is monitored.

Students are re-taught if they do not understand.

The focus of class time is on learning.

Classroom routines are smooth and efficient.

Instructional groups are formed based on instructional needs.

Standards for classroom behaviours are high.

There are positive interactions between students and teachers.

Use of incentives and rewards to promote excellence.

According to Richards (2002), approaches to teaching which reflect these principles are known
as Direct Instruction or Active Teaching.
4

Understanding Second Language Teaching


CHAPTER 1
and Learning

ii. Theory-Philosophy Conceptions


This approach relies on the idea of what ought to work or what is morally right (Zahorik,
1986: 22 in Richards, 2002: 22). The conception of what should work in teaching is basically an
approach which is theory-based or rationalist. On the other hand, approaches derived from
beliefs of what is morally acceptable are value-based.
A. Theory-based approach
In this approach the theory underlying the method is determined through use of reason or
rational thought. To support the method, systematic and principled thinking and not that of
empirical evidence are used to support the method. Examples of such approaches are
Communicative Language Teaching and the Silent Way.
B. Values-based approach
Another approach to the theory of teaching proposed by Zahorik (1986) is based on a teaching
model derived from the values about:

teachers,

learners,

classrooms; and

the role education plays in society

From this perspective, certain ways of teaching and learning are regarded good because they are
educationally justifiable e.g. politically justifiable but other ways of teaching may be seen as bad
or not morally, ethically, or politically supportable. An example of a value-based approach is the
teaching of literature in language curriculum, school-based curriculum development, or teacheras-action researcher approach (Richards,2002: 23). Others include team teaching, humanistic
approaches, learnercentred curriculum, and reflective teaching.
Team-teaching is the view that in working as a team, in collaboration with a peer or peers,
teachers work better and that the interaction is beneficial to all. Humanistic approaches to
teaching language stress the development of human values, selfawareness, understanding others,
sensitivity to others feelings and emotions, and active involvement of learners. An example of
this approach is Community Language Learning by Stevick and Moskowitz (Brown, 2001:25). The
learner-centred curriculum is based on the idea that learners are self-directed, responsible
decision-makers (Richards, 2002:23). Learners are seen to be diverse and have different needs
and interests and thus learn in different ways. Teachers should use a differentiated approach to
5

CHAPTER 1

Understanding Second Language


Teaching and Learning

.......................................

teaching students to cater for individual differences. The final view on the teaching of language
based on a values-based approach is reflective teaching. This view is based on the belief that by
reflecting critically on his/her own teaching experiences, a teacher can improve on his/her
understanding and on the quality of teaching.
iii. Art-Craft Conceptions
The third view of teaching is the conception that teaching is an art or craft which is seen as
dependent on the teachers skill and personality. Zahorik (1986 cited in
Richards, 2002:23) points out that A good teacher is a person who assesses the needs and
possibilities of a situation and creates and uses practices that have promise for the situation. In
this approach, the aim is to develop teaching as a set of personal skills used in different ways
appropriate to the specific situations. Thus, the teacher is not restricted to one particular method
of teaching because this may get in the way of the potential of the teacher.
The three theories or conceptions of language teaching provide implications for the classroom
teacher. Richards (2002:24), outlines the following essential skills required in teaching according
to the different conceptions of teaching respectively:
1. Science-Research Conceptions
Need to understand the learning principles.
Develop tasks and activities based on the learning principles.
Monitor students performance on tasks to determine the desired performance.
2. Theory-Philosophy Conceptions
a. Theory-based conceptions
Need to understand the theory and principles.
Select syllabi, materials, and tasks based on the theory adopted.
Monitor teaching to ensure it conforms to the theory.
b. Values-based conceptions
Need to understand the values behind the approach.
Select only the educational means which relate to these values.
Monitor the implementation process to determine that the value system is being
maintained.

Understanding Second Language Teaching


CHAPTER 1
and Learning

3. Art-Craft Conceptions
Each teaching situation is unique.
Identify the specific characteristics of each situation.
Try out different teaching strategies.
Develop personal approaches to teaching.
The three conceptions of teaching language provide different perspectives on what the
important skills of teaching are. They each represent what the idea of teaching is andhow
teachers should approach their own teaching in class. Richards (2002:25) states that these
conceptions can however be seen as a continuum. Novice teachers who have just joined the
profession need technical knowledge of teaching and the confidence to teach following the
established principles. Richards (2002), further adds that these teachers could begin from a
science-research conception and as they accumulate experience, they can modify and adapt initial
theories of teaching into more interpretive views implicit in theory-philosophy conceptions.
Ultimately, as the teachers develop their own personal theories of teaching, they can teach from
an art-craft approach and create approaches in accordance with the needs of the particular
situations in which theyteach. In this way, teacher development becomes a process of constant
self-discoveryand renewal and this makes teaching less of a routine task and more of a challenge
and rewarding endeavour.

Draw a mind-map of or diagram-out the three conceptions of teaching.


For each conception, provide a definition and the characteristics of the
conception of teaching. Think of an activity that reflects the particular
idea of teaching.

1.2

TRADITIONAL AND CONTEMPORARY VIEWS OF


TEACHING AND LEARNING

The preceding section has introduced us to some general perspectives on the conceptions of
teaching language. We will now look into past and current views of teaching language. But first,
before we discuss ideas on traditional and contemporary views of language teaching, let us
review some terminology related to language teaching, in particular, in the field of second
language teaching and learning (TESL).
7

CHAPTER 1

Understanding Second Language


Teaching and Learning

.......................................

In a majority of texts on TESL, theorists and experts concur that a distinction is often made of
the concepts of method, approach, techniques, design, and procedures. Edward Anthony (1963
cited in Brown, 2001) was the first person who provided us with a definition that is still being
used today. Method refers to the overall plan for systematic presentation of language based on a
selected approach (Brown, 2001:14). An approach is the set of assumptions or theories on the
nature of language, teaching and learning. According to Anthony (1963), techniques were the
specific activities used in the classroom consistent with a method and approach.
After Edward Anthonys definitions, other experts began to reformulate his earlier description of
the concepts. For instance, Jack Richards and Theodore Rodgers (1982, 1986 cited in Brown,
2001) proposed a modified view of the concepts. They consider method as comprising approach,
design and procedure. Thus, a method means a general over-arching concept to specify the
connection between theory and practice.
An approach defines assumptions, beliefs, and theories of the nature of language and language
learning. Designs specify the relationships between theories and classroom materials and
activities. Procedures are techniques and practices derived from an approach and design
(Richards, 2001:14). In redefining the ideas, Richards and colleague provide us with two relevant
and important ideas about the concept of method (Brown, 2001:15):
a. The necessary elements of language-teaching designs are specified to help us understand
the concept. They used a diagram to describe method namely important features of
designs such as objectives, syllabus, activities, learner roles, teacher roles, and role of
instructional materials.
b. Richards and Rodgers have made us become aware of the futility of thinking that
methods are the essential base of methodology. Thinking in terms of approach as
underlying our curricula (realized through the procedures and techniques), enables us to
realize that methods alone are too restrictive and pre-programmed. What teachers do in
the classroom cannot be conventionalized into a set of procedures that are appropriate
for all contexts
This new conception or rethinking of methods allows us to distinguish between method and
methodology. Methods are specific classroom techniques such as the Audiolingual method or
Suggestopedia. Another confusion is the use of the term designs in which we often think of
8

Understanding Second Language Teaching


CHAPTER 1
and Learning

curricula or syllabuses. Thus, the appropriate term to use is methodology when we talk
about pedagogical practices in general (including theoretical underpinnings and
related research). In addition, whatever considerations involved in how to teach is
considered methodological. (Brown, 2001:15). Technique refers to the wide variety of
exercises, activities, or tasks used in the language classroom. (For a better understanding
of method, see Richards and Rodgers classification of elements and sub-elements of method in
Figure 1.0)
Celce-Murcia (2001:5) defines an approach to language teaching as something that reflects a
certain modal or research paradigm a theory. Whereas a method is a set of procedures
a system that specifies in detail how to teach a second or foreign language. A technique is an
activity or classroom device such as dictation, limitation, and repetition or specifics such as using
cuisinaire rods in Gattegnos (1976 cited in Brown, 2001) Silent Way.
1.2.1 Traditional Views of Teaching and Learning
Prior to the 20th century, language teaching views teaching, in particular, views related to
methodology, had focused on two types of perspectives: emphasis on the use of language among
learners and the stress on the analysis of language per se (Celce-Murcia, 2001:3). In the study of
foreign languages and the classics such as Greek and Latin, the methods used emphasized the
study of its grammars characterized by translation, memorization, and verb conjugations. A
popular method used was the Grammar Translation Method (GTM). Later, the emphasis turned to
the use of language rather than on the analysis of language. The following figure provides a
classification of the terms method, approach, design, and procedure (Richards & Rodgers,1986):
The Direct Method became the alternative choice to GTM. Another method which came about
after the Direct Method is the Reading Approach to language teaching which emphasizes reading
skills. In the early 1940s (when World War II broke out), foreign languages were taught using the
Audiolingual Method (ALM) which is based on structural linguistics and behavioral psychology.
The equivalent of the ALM in Britain was the Oral or Situational Approach with its emphasis on
organizing grammatical structures around situations which provided learners with maximum
opportunity to practice the language. Brown (2001), provides a detailed account of the different
types of traditional methods used in the pre-twentieth century period. These methods reflect a

CHAPTER 1

Understanding Second Language


Teaching and Learning

.......................................

traditional model of learning and teaching language. (For a thorough description of the various
traditional and contemporary methods refer to Brown (2002) and Richards & Rodgers (1986).

Figure 1.1: A traditional view of language teaching and learning

1.2.2 Contemporary Views of Teaching and Learning


A discernible change occurred in the views of teaching and learning in the final period of the
20th century as reflected in the different approaches to teaching and learning. The focus shifted
to learners as the center of any teachinglearning situation. Learning is seen as a process of selfdiscovery and involves much experiential learning (Nunan, 1999:5). These ideas are deeply
rooted in humanistic psychology.

Figure 1.2.: Contemporary view of language teaching and learning


Change within language education occurred because of the dissatisfaction with traditional
methods of teaching and learning. Nunan (1999: 70-91), elaborated on the changes in
methodology in relation to approaches to teaching, role of learners, texts, resources, classroom
organization and assessment. They are of the following:

10

Understanding Second Language Teaching


CHAPTER 1
and Learning

Ineffectiveness of traditional approaches


A common complaint of the traditional method such as Grammar-Translation is that learners
were unable to use language effectively despite the years of learning English as a second or
foreign language. The students often know a lot about the language, but are unable to use this
knowledge to communicate effectively. Learners exposed to the Audiolingual Method were
found to be able to imitate responses in predictable ways and situations, but fail to communicate
within the real world context outside the classroom.
Many researchers and practitioners in language education concur that there needs to be new
methods to language teaching and learning. Language is not a string of grammatical rules and
words. Language as communication involves the active use of grammar and vocabulary and thus
needs to be learned functionally.
Nunan (1999:71) argues that language learning has an important role in education for he believes
that language is the defining characteristic of human species and that the mark of an educated
individual is that s/he possesses the knowledge and skills necessary to use not just one language,
but an additional language as well.
Furthermore, in an era of globalisation, the ability to communicate effectively is crucial. Nunan
points out that language teaching is relevant to general education in that language as learned
today involves active interaction of students and the use of cooperative learning principles which
could be extended to other subject-matter classes.

Changes in syllabus design


Curriculum development often deals with syllabus design, methodology, and evaluation (Tyler,
1949 cited in Nunan 1999:73). Syllabus design has to do with the selection and sequencing of
content. Methodology looks at the selection and sequencing of appropriate learning experiences.
Furthermore, evaluation has to do with learner appraisal and determining the effectiveness of a
curriculum in general.
Contemporary views of teaching and learning see communication and interaction as crucial in
language learning. Traditional syllabuses were determined with the class in mind and not in
reference to the actual communicative needs in actual real world situations of the learners.
11

CHAPTER 1

Understanding Second Language


Teaching and Learning

.......................................

Because of this, learners often have difficulty applying what they have learned in the classroom.
Grammar translation and Audiolingual drills by themselves are insufficient for the
communicative needs of learners. With contemporary approaches, it is difficult to separate the
content and process in a communicative syllabus. The content becomes part of the process in
learning the language.
In addition, the development of syllabuses in contemporary approach focuses less on the listing,
sequencing and integrating of target language items. The primary focus is no longer on a
structurally graded list of linguistic items, rather it begins with an inventory of target skills.
Learners needs are determined in relation to which particular skills are required and
consequently, a syllabus is built around the needs.

Approaches to Teaching
Nunan (1999: 74-77) discusses three main issues in relation to changes in the approach to
teaching language. He describes models of learning, high-structure and low-structure learning
situations, and role of learners. The first issue refers to two models of learning: transmission
versus interpretation models.
i.

In traditional classes, the focus is on the teaching about language and its rules. Learners
do not learn about how to use language to communicate ideas or to do other real life
tasks such as talking and writing to others, reading and listening to authentic language
and learning to work with others. In this transmission model, learners are passive receivers
of knowledge fed to them by teachers in a structured, step-by-step, teacherfronted
methods of learning.

ii.

In contemporary communicative classrooms characterized by an interpretive model of


learning, the teachers primary role is as facilitator in providing opportunities for learners
to make decisions on how to structure their learning. The aim is to help students become
independent learners and be able to use language beyond classroom situations.

The second change affects the teaching situations in language classes. Current communicative
views of teaching are characterized by a low-structure approach to teaching whereas in
traditional views, teaching reflects a high-structure approach. Nunan (1999), defines highstructure teaching situations as those in which the instruction process is highly-controlled by the
12

Understanding Second Language Teaching


CHAPTER 1
and Learning

teacher. Consequently, learners have very little control on the content or process of learning. In
contrast, low-structure learning situations provide learners with various opportunities and
options and the autonomy in learning. Biggs and Telfer (1978 cited in Nunan, 1999:75) assert
that all decisions made about instruction can be placed on a continuum - from high-structure at
one extreme to low-structure at the other end of the continuum.
The third issue discussed by Nunan (1999) is on the roles of learners. The roles of learners also
take on a new dimension in language classes. Learners in a transmission model of learning play
the role of passive receivers of knowledge. They spend time reproducing language provided by
the teacher. There is little opportunity to use language creatively and authentically. Contemporary
approaches with an interpretive model of learning see learners roles as active participants in a
language learning situation. Language learning and language teaching emphasize the creative
construction of knowledge by learners.

Approaches to language
The Grammar Translation Method and Audiolingualism treat grammar in language lessons
differently. The Audiolingual Method (ALM) was developed as a reaction to GTM. The
Grammar Translation Method relies on a strictly deductive approach to grammar learning. Whereas
in the ALM, rules are gathered instead of taught, which is the characteristic of an inductive approach
to learning grammar. In ALM, rules are derived; students learn by analogy; language is learned as
a set of habits; and what is taught is the language per se and not about the language. However,
both methods isolate the teaching of grammatical form from communicative meaning and
assume that the acquisition of a second language (L2) is a linear process. For example, learners
are initially taught the simpler items before moving up to the more complex or difficult items in
a step-by-step fashion.

Teaching grammar in a communicative way


In current teaching methodology, grammar and vocabulary are taught communicatively so that
learners can see the relationship between form and function. Grammar is learned meaningfully to
communicate ideas learners want to convey.
The following are some responses of teachers when asked to freely associate with the words
grammar and communication (Larsen-Freeman, 2003:9).

13

CHAPTER 1

Understanding Second Language


Teaching and Learning

.......................................

(Source: Larsen-Freeman, D.(2003).Teaching language:From grammar to Grammaring. pp. 1-10.


Massachusetts: Newbury House)

Texts used in classrooms


Traditional classrooms usually adhere to specially written texts. These texts are prepared with
grammatical points and vocabulary which are taught to students. In contemporary language
classrooms, students are not fed an exclusive diet of such texts (Nunan, 1999:79), but are
instead given opportunities to learn from various types of texts which help them see how
language is used in real, authentic situations beyond the classroom. In communicative
classrooms, various authentic materials are used and brought from outside the classroom by both
the teacher and the students.

Figure 1.3: Traditional classrooms use specially written texts


Facilities for learning
Another change apparent in contemporary language classrooms is the availability of facilities for
learning the target language. In traditional classes, the textbook is the main aid to learning.
Current teaching materials range from realistic and authentic texts accompanied by teaching aids
such as instructors manual, video, CDs, computer software with multimedia facility and the
14

Understanding Second Language Teaching


CHAPTER 1
and Learning

Internet. For instance, with access to the Internet, the world can be literally transported into the
classroom. Students can communicate via electronic mail (e-mail) with students from various
countries or chat with them through the Internet.

Figure 1.4: Current language teaching is accompanied by teaching aids


Students not only learn language, but also learn to interact inter-culturally and build their
intercultural competence with students around the world. Feedback to students from teachers is
also immediate and efficient through the use of e-mail.

Approaches to learning
In traditional classes, students are often not independent learners upon leaving school. They
have not been given the opportunity to be creative with language. In comparison, in
contemporary classrooms, the agenda is to make students aware of better and more effective
ways of learning. Therefore, students are exposed to learning strategies which they could practice
and eventually adopt. They are also taught to use metacognitive strategies to monitor their
learning. Students are taught to use the strategies in language learning not just within the
classrooms, but also to apply them to situations beyond the classroom.

Organizing the classroom


Traditional classroom was organized in a teacher-fronted way, that is, learners sit in rows facing
the teacher. Time is spent in class doing repetition exercises and choral speaking and reading.
The set-up of the classroom conforms to the nature of class lessons. Desks are arranged in rows
since there is little physical movement among the students. Students do not interact in groups to
share ideas in communication.
15

CHAPTER 1

Understanding Second Language


Teaching and Learning

.......................................

Figure 1.5: Traditional classrooms are always organized in a teacher-fronted way


The contemporary view of learning and teaching, with its emphasis on interaction, organizes
classrooms such that there is ample space for students to move around. Because cooperative
learning is a feature of such classrooms, students often sit in groups or work in pairs on language
tasks. In interacting with others, students learn to negotiate meaning, a factor absent in teacherfronted classrooms. These skills of interacting and communicating in groups are also required in
the workplace, therefore, students will benefit from how learning is organized in a contemporary
classroom.

Figure 1.6: Seating arrangement in the contemporary classrooms often promote interaction and cooperative
learning among students.

Changes in assessment
Standardized tests are a common feature of traditional classrooms and are often determined by
outside authorities. Teachers do not have much say on what is assessed and examinations form a
large part of the curriculum. In such situations, learners do not get the opportunity to develop
their own ability to assess their learning. In contrast, in contemporary views of language teaching,
16

Understanding Second Language Teaching


CHAPTER 1
and Learning

learners are taught to assess their own learning progress. Progress reports and evaluation are put
into a student portfolio or a profile of the learners progress is compiled to inform the learners
of their strengths and weaknesses. Thus, through self-assessment, learners learn to monitor their
learning and take responsibility on their own learning process.

Extending language use beyond the classroom


Learners are seldom encouraged to use language outside the classroom in traditional classes.
Practice is mostly conducted in class. Research shows that good language learners find
opportunities to use the language they are learning. In comparison, contemporary approaches to
language teaching stress learner-involvement in role-plays and practice simulations. These
activities prepare learners in developing the ability to use language later in real world situations.
Nunan (1999), further outlines a number of possible out-of-class activities:

Peer review sessions whereby learners work together with another student to review
assignments and projects

Doing dialogue journals with the teacher using e-mail

Taking part in conversation exchanges whereby learners become a conversation


partner with another person who is learning the native language (this is possible where
the target language one is learning is a native language in the country)

Projects and surveys conducted in the target language

The following is a summary of the changes which occurred to theory and practice in the field of
language teaching (Nunan, 1999:88):

learners practice skills they require outside of the classroom

there is active involvement of learners and they learn through doing

learners communicate authentically and learn to use language appropriately

focus on communication of meaning expressed in various ways using correct grammar


and vocabulary

learners learn to read a variety of authentic texts

learners are trained to use strategies that will help them learn

learning takes place in cooperative groups

learners are taught the skills of self-assessment and evaluation

learners are encourages to use language learned beyond the classroom


17

CHAPTER 1

Understanding Second Language


Teaching and Learning

.......................................

teachers cooperate with learners to develop a varied program of instruction

teachers assess learners performance consistently and keep a detailed profile of learners
skills

Table 1.1 displays in detail a comparison between the changes which occurred in traditional and
contemporary language pedagogy in the past three decades.
Table 1.1: The traditional and the contemporary pedagogy in language education

(Source: Nunan, D. (1999:89). Second language teaching & learning. Massachusetts: Newbury House.)
This section have looked at some traditional and contemporary views of teaching and learning
language. We have traced the changes that occurred in relation to methods of teaching and
learning from traditional methods to current practices of teaching. In summary, the accepted
idea about teaching and learning language today is that learners should be given the opportunity
18

Understanding Second Language Teaching


CHAPTER 1
and Learning

to be involved in curriculum decision-making, selection of content, learning activities, and so


forth - in short, to be given the responsibility of managing their own learning. A learner-centred
curriculum provides the learners with roles that will eventually help them in learning how to
learn.
1. In what way is Edward Anthonys definition of method, approach, and
design similar to or different from Richards & Rodgers definition?
Give a brief explanation.
2. What

is

your

understanding

of

the

terms

method

and

methodology?
3. Select an ESL text used in your school or one you have used before in
your own class. Examine its contents and determine which approach it
seems to adhere to. Support your decision with examples. Is there any
mixing of approaches?

1.3

RESEARCH EVIDENCE OF SECOND LANGUAGE


TEACHING AND LEARNING

Theories and ideas on teaching and learning languages have contributed much to instructional
practice. Changes in how we teach and in how we understand about learning has been largely
influenced and driven by empirical evidence through research. Changes in pedagogy can also be
brought about by re-conceptualizing about teaching and learning. It can also occur as a result of
solving problems identified in actual practice. However, new ideas need to be tested through
research. Findings from research can influence our understanding of the nature of language,
learners, and the learning process. In this section we will explore some ideas about research
issues on second language acquisition and those related to teaching and learning a second or
foreign language.

Assumptions of language teaching


First, let us examine some common thinking about what is involved in second language or
foreign language teaching. As mentioned in the previous section, a re-examination of what is

19

CHAPTER 1

Understanding Second Language


Teaching and Learning

.......................................

involved in teaching occurred in the past decades which have resulted in a re-conceptualization
of the nature of language and of language learning. Six common assumptions remain within the
field of second language pedagogy, either consciously instilled in teachers or taken as a given.
Before we discuss them, test yourself the extent to which you believe in some of these
assumptions.
The following is a list of the issues as described by Cook (2001).
i. Students learn best through spoken, not written language.
In the nineteenth century, the emphasis on teaching was on the spoken language. This can be
seen in the methods which place importance on the primacy of speech such as the ALM. Spoken
language was presented prior to presentation of the written form. Methods which were
developed later also stressed the spoken form. Communication in the communicative method is
often through speech. The Total Physical Response method uses spoken commands. This is
evident in the great amount of time spent on pronunciation than on spelling. Many current
practitioners and language experts concur that written language has its own characteristics which
differ from that of the spoken language.

(Source: Cook, V. (2001). Second language learning and teaching. p. 3. New York: OUP)

20

Understanding Second Language Teaching


CHAPTER 1
and Learning

ii. Teachers and students should use the second language and not the first language in
the classroom
The use of the first language (L1) is still considered undesirable. The argument in support of this
idea is the fact that when children acquire the L1, they had no L2 to fall back on. Thus, L2
learning is considered to be similar to L1 acquisition. In EFL classes, many teachers tend to
avoid the use of the L1 for fear students may use mixed language to communicate.
How did you do on the test in the previous section. If your response has been mostly agree,
then you are said to be sharing the common assumptions of teachers for the past 120 years!
(Cook, 2001:3).
iii. Grammar should not be discussed explicitly.
Grammar is presented through drills or integrated with communicative exercises, but should not
be explained. Grammatical rules could be explained through substitution tables and situational
cues.
iv. Language should be learned as a whole rather than split into fragments
Language is taught as a whole instead of in discrete units such as words or verb paradigms in
current teaching methods. Students do not study separate tenses, but do so within sentences or
texts. Fragmenting language for teaching purposes is termed rule isolation by Krashen (1985
cited in Cook, 2001:5). He compares this to natural language acquisition process where language
is dealt with as a whole. Discrete parts of language are only used in teaching pronunciation and
vocabulary.
v. Language should be presented to students through dialogues and texts
Language teaching has always involved the use of language within contexts rather than in
isolation. For example, the ALM stressed the use of new language in dialogues; the
communicative method focused on communicative exchange; and task-based learning
emphasizes the tasks. Present-day teaching has reduced the use of prepared dialogues and is
much dependent on the interaction among students.

21

CHAPTER 1

Understanding Second Language


Teaching and Learning

.......................................

vi. Language consists of four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing
According to Cook (2001: 6), the concept of language skills came into teaching through the
ALM beginning in the 1940s. In the ALM, the spoken skill is given priority compared to the
other skills. Arguments against the idea of these four skills include the argument that four is too
few since the present four skills themselves comprise various differences; the word skill does
not distinguish it from such physical skills as riding a bicycle and so forth.
Many of these assumptions are questioned by second language research (SLA). An example is
the issue of avoiding the use of L1 in the classroom. In terms of the other issues, SLA research
does not have conclusive answers to them. However, these assumptions form the foundation to
many teachers teaching of language.
The following are some pertinent issues addressed by past research and continue to be concerns
of present-day research in second and foreign language research.
a. Is learning the first language similar to that of the second language?
Psycholinguistic considerations
The early 1970s saw an interest in whether there are psycholinguistic differences in the process
of acquiring a first (L1) and second language (Ervin-Tripp, 1974 cited in Nunan, 1999:39). Dulay
and Burt (1973) conducted a study to examine whether there is an order in the acquisition of
certain structures by children learning a second language (L2). They found a common order of
acquisition for certain structures in children learning a second language. They conducted further
research on the similarities between L1 and L2 and found that their hypotheses of similarities
between the two process cannot be conclusive. They state that the manner in which children
construct structures in L1 and L2 are somewhat different.
Acquisition of syntax
Studies conducted recently into first language acquisition based on Chomskys work suggest that
the first language is an innate capability of the human species (Cook, 1993; Hatch, 1983; Nunan,
1999; Steinberg, Nagata, & Aline, 2001). All human beings are capable of acquiring language.
This Innateness Hypothesis has been supported in psycholinguistic research through
experiments conducted on animals and studies which looked at isolated children. The findings

22

Understanding Second Language Teaching


CHAPTER 1
and Learning

strongly support for the innate ability to acquire the first language. However, after the first
language has been acquired, the learning of a second language is not as facilitative.
Innateness Hypothesis
The innateness hypothesis suggests that the ability to acquire language is a facility unique to the
human species. We inherit this ability genetically in the same way as other species inherit things
as the ability to migrate to certain parts of the world to mate and breed.
Discourse Acquisition
Nunan (1984 cited in Nunan, 1999:40) conducted a study on processing of discourse between
first language (L1) and second language (L2 ) learners. He found similarities between their
perception of semantic and discourse relationships in written texts. Although the L2 readers
experienced overall difficulty processing the texts, in general, it was found that what was difficult
for the L1 readers was also a problem with the L2 readers. Similarly, what was easy for the L1
readers was also found to be relatively easy for the L2 learners.
Various studies in second language acquisition (SLA) used experiments or quasiexperiments to
compare performance of L1 and L2 learners. Similarities and differences were found based on
these comparative studies.
b. The role of chronological age on acquisition of a second Language
Differences due to the age factor
The question raised on this issue is whether younger learners are better at language acquisition
compared to older learners. Most researchers find this to be a complex issue and research
findings have not been conclusive. Ellis (1985 cited in Nunan 1999) asserts that we have to be
clear about the effect of age on the route of acquisition (whether learners acquire language items
following a common order); the rate of acquisition (how fast learners acquire) the language; and
the eventual attainment of the language (how proficient the learners become in the end). Ellis
concludes that age affects the rate and success of acquiring the language, but does not change the
route of acquisition. The results seem complex. For instance, adults are found to be better in the
rate of acquisition and adolescents out-perform both adults and children. Ellis found that
number of years of exposure to the language and the age at which learning occurs affect the level

23

CHAPTER 1

Understanding Second Language


Teaching and Learning

.......................................

of success in acquiring the language. This is particularly true in the case of communicative
fluency and pronunciation.
The critical period hypothesis
Age-related issues are supported by a biological mechanism argument. That is, the construct
critical period is used to explain why adults are not as facile with language learning as younger
learners. This concept refers to a limited time period for the acquisition of language. Many
researchers agree that learning a language should begin as early as possible when the brain is still
plastic. The critical period is linked to the lateralization of brain functions. Once neurological
changes occur, acquiring a second language becomes more difficult.
However, there are counter-arguments to the hypothesis. For instance, it is not quite true that
acquisition is easier for children. Children seem to be better at pronunciation and reasons
provided are inadequate to explain why plasticity affects only pronunciation.
Some studies show adults as successful learners compared to younger learners (Asher & Price,
1967).
c. The effect of instruction on acquisition
Because much of second language learning goes on in classrooms, a pertinent question
practitioners and researchers ask is on the relationship between instruction and acquisition. What
are the effect of tasks and activities conducted in language classrooms? How is the class to be
organized such that learning occurs? The following are issues researchers often investigate to
address the preceding questions.
Morpheme order studies
Krashen (1982) is one of the influential scholars well-known for his studies which examined the
relationship between instruction and acquisition. His studies, called morpheme order studies,
investigate whether there is a natural sequence to the acquisition of L2 grammar. His findings
show that learners from different L1 backgrounds seem to acquire morphemes in English in
similar order. The conclusion to the findings is that it was the nature of the language learned and
not because of the differences in L1 and L2. In addition, his studies found that instruction did
not affect the order of acquisition of English morphemes. It was also found that knowing
grammatical rules do not necessarily facilitate use of the rules in communication.

24

Understanding Second Language Teaching


CHAPTER 1
and Learning

Learning versus acquisition


Krashen (1982), argued that there are two mental processes in L2 acquisition: conscious learning
and subconscious acquisition. The focus in conscious learning is on grammatical rules.
Subconscious acquisition is different from conscious acquisition and it facilitates acquisition of
rules at a subconscious level (Nunan, 1999:43). Krashens controversial proposition is that the
two processes are different and thus learning could not turn into acquisition.
The significance of comprehensible input
Comprehensible input is a hypothesis that learners will acquire language best whenthey are given
the appropriate input. The input should be easy enough that they can understand it, but just
beyond their level of competence. If the learner is at level i, then input should come at level i+1.
Comprehensible input is an essential component in Stephen Krashens Input Hypothesis where
regulated input will lead to acquisition so long as the input is challenging, yet easy enough to
understand without conscious effort at learning.
The other meaning is much more specific: In Krashens acquisition-learning hypothesis, learning
involves a conscious study of the form of language. According to Krashen (1982), learning will
not lead to rapid, fluent, and natural speech. This does seem to be the case in much of ESL
learning whereby learners who had excessive training in grammar were unable to engage in the
simple conversations.
In the acquisition-learning hypothesis, adult second language learners can develop second
language learning. One method is through learning, a conscious study of the forms of
language. The other method is through acquisition or just picking up a language the way children
do without conscious attention to forms. Krashen further argues that acquisition is far more
beneficial in terms of producing fluent, natural communication in another language. Krashen
also asserts that learning cannot change into acquisition.
Acquisition will occur when a learner is exposed to meaningful, comprehensible input.
One problem with this hypothesis is that i and i+1 are impossible to identify, though arguably
teachers can develop an intuition for appropriate input. That is, teachers develop an intuition of
how to speak to be understood.
(Source: http://bogglesworld.com/glossary/comprehensibleinput.htm)

25

CHAPTER 1

Understanding Second Language


Teaching and Learning

.......................................

The relevance of comprehensible output


A hypothesis has been developed by Swain (1985 in Nunan 1999) in reaction to the
Comprehensible Input Hypothesis. Swain argues that comprehensible input is necessary but not
sufficient for language acquisition. Learners also need opportunities to produce comprehensible
messages in the language.
(Source: http://www.itpasia.com/itpasia/itpaelt/gloss.html)
Swain (1985 cited in Nunan, 1999:45) conducted research on immersion programs in Canada
whereby the children receive content instruction in another language. These students therefore
receive large amounts of comprehensible input, however, their language development was not
impressive. He observed that in the classes, the teacher was the one who did most of the talking
and students were not given the opportunity to produce language.
Stages of language development
Various research were conducted on the difference between effect of instruction and acquisition.
Studies on speech processing found that what is learned is dependent on the developmental
stage of learning of the learner. This is termed the teach-ability hypothesis. According to Nunan
(1999:46), grammatical structures can be categorized according to the demands they make on the
learners working memory. Therefore, the greater the demands on memory, the harder it is to
learn the item
d. The relationship between interaction and acquisition
Many researchers are interested to find out about the types of curricular organizationthat can
result in successful language acquisition. For instance, Spada (1990) examined a number of
studies on the issue and found that classrooms that were communicative and have
opportunities for explicit teaching of grammar were better than traditional classrooms that
focused on grammar and to immersion programs that avoid explicit grammatical instruction. In a
longitudinal study on the relationship between the extent to which learners use the target
language and the qualitative and quantitative aspects of acquisition, the findings show that
learner participation in class is related to improvements in language proficiency. That is, the
more the learner uses the language, the more progress s/he makes in the language.

26

Understanding Second Language Teaching


CHAPTER 1
and Learning

e. Other issues examined in second language acquisition research


The focus of research on second language learning and teaching has been largely on issues that
relate to the nature of language, the learners, and the learning process. Other studies examined
issues such as the relationship between learning strategies and acquisition which focused on
learning and learner strategies, learner types, and strategy-training. There are mixed findings on
these issues, but in the majority of the research results what seems to be common is that learning
or acquisition occurs when the learners are at the centre of the learning process and are given
opportunities to participate in their own learning
This section discussed some issues related to research in SLA and its implications to teaching
and learning. The study of SLA focuses on the learner and this provides teachers with
information on what learners do or do not do and thus what can and cannot be taught. Knowing
about what research has been conducted on teaching and learning informs teachers of findings
that can assist teachers decision-making in determining how to approach teaching the target
language. Implications from research can also help teachers in examining the syllabus to find out
whether the content is geared towards the learners level of ability. However, not all findings
from research have a straight forward application to teachers teaching. The good news is that
findings from SLA studies provide teachers with a variety of concepts and descriptive accounts
that can help teachers interpret and make better sense of their classroom experiences and
provide ideas for classroom use (Haley and Rentz, 2002:1).
1. Is Second Language learning different from first language
acquisition?
2. Is there a distinction made between learning and acquisition?
3. Try to draw a concept map of the main ideas and supporting ideas
in this section.
4. Define the critical period. Is there a critical period in learning a
Second Language?

27

CHAPTER 1

1.4

Understanding Second Language


Teaching and Learning

.......................................

ESL VERSUS EFL TEACHING AND LEARNING

Figure 1.8: English is often learned in a context


If there are similarities and differences, what are the implications for teaching and learning?
Brown (1994) states that the English language is closely related to the sociopolitical environment.
English can be categorised into a number of types based on the context in which it is learned and
used. Other than being a world lingua franca, the English language is also a second language; and a
foreign language.
English as a second language often means that it is learned in a context whereby the language is
spoken or written by the community. An example is an Arab who learns English in the United
States. Another context is learning English within ones own native culture where the second
language is an accepted lingua franca used for education, government, or business within the
country. An example is the learning of English in the Philippines, India, and Singapore. A third
distinction is learning English within the context whereby one learns English (a non-native
language) in ones own culture and that there is little opportunity to use the language within the
environment. This context is termed learning English as a foreign language.
Often, researchers and practitioners use the word second and foreign language
interchangeably. However, Brown (2001) cautions us not to over generalize the terms because
their differences are important to teaching. Second language contexts are those where the
language is readily available once the learners step outside the classroom. In other words, the
language is spoken and used in the environment.
Teaching English in the UK, USA, and Australia are some examples. On the other hand, foreign
language contexts teachers teach the language to learners who get limited exposure to the
28

Understanding Second Language Teaching


CHAPTER 1
and Learning

language outside the classroom. The environment does not provide a ready-made context for
learning.
What are the pedagogical implications of these contexts of learning for the teacher? For example,
in learning English as a second language, the students have a greater advantage to a foreign
language situation for they have an instant laboratory available throughout the day (Brown,
2001:116). In planning for English lessons in an ESL context, teachers can use some of the
following ways to facilitate students learning:

Provide learners with homework which requires them to speak with another person
outside the classroom, listening to the radio or TV program, reading the newspaper,
writing a letter, etc.

Encourage students to look for opportunities to practice the language.

Encourage students to get corrective feedback from others.

Ask learners to keep a log or journal of their extracurricular activities.

Plan and conduct field trips and visits. e.g. museum, zoo, etc.

Arrange for a social mixer with native speakers of the language.

Invite speakers into your classroom.

Teaching via the communicative approach for the foreign language teacher can be very
challenging. Intrinsic motivation is a problem with learners because they cannot see the relevance
of learning the language.
In teaching English as a foreign language, teachers need to be even more resourceful because of
the limited availability of the language in the environment. Brown (2001:117), lists the following
guidelines to assist the foreign language teacher.

Use class time for optimal authentic input and interaction.

Dont waste class time on work that can be done as homework.

Provide regular motivation-stimulating activities.

Help students to see genuine uses for English in their own lives.

Play down the role of tests and emphasize more intrinsic factors.

Provide plenty of extra-class learning opportunities, such as assigning an Englishspeaking


movie, having them listen to an English-speaking TV or radio program, getting an

29

CHAPTER 1

Understanding Second Language


Teaching and Learning

.......................................

English-speaking conversation partner, doing outside reading (news magazines, books),


writing a journal or diary, in English, on their learning process.

Encourage the use of learning strategies outside of class.

Form a language club and schedule regular activities


1. In groups of four, think of some ESL and EFL contexts in teaching and
learning in Malaysia. Think of some other ways to help overcome the
limitations of the contexts of teaching and learning in ESL or EFL. Share
your ideas with other groups.
2. Examine the official policy on English. Are there unofficial policies in
business, education, or social circles? How does the policy of English in
Math and Science affect the teaching and learning of English in schools?
3. What are some ways teachers can help motivate students to learn English?

SUMMARY

This section discussed the relevance of being aware of the difference between learning and
teaching ESL and EFL. Although some practitioners and educators use the terms
interchangeably, we need to be cautious though when we consider the terms in the context
of classroom practice because it affects how we approach our teaching and what materials
and activities we decide to use. In Malaysia, English is the official second language next to
Bahasa Melayu. In terms of teaching and learning, there are contexts for both ESL and
EFL. For instance, in rural schools, the teaching and learning of English is that of an EFL
situation whereas in urban parts of the country, it is more of an ESL context.

30