>"To be (a corrector) or not to be (a corrector), that is the question!’ (with apologies to Shakespeare)

>Krashen tells an interesting story of the time he studied French. He talks about how his “excellent” teacher taught grammar and taught vocabulary and corrected errors — and how they learned through comprehensible input.

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A Summer as an Intermediate French Student

By way of conclusion, I would like to report on some recent personal experiences as a student of French. The class I attended in the summer of 1978 in Los Angeles was a private class, with a small number of highly motivated, highly intelligent, and mature students. The official “method” used was the Pucciani-Hamil approach (Langue et Langage), used with much apparent success at UCLA and at many other schools. The method is “inductive”, that is, students are led to induce, or guess, the rules. In a typical lesson, the teacher asks what are hopefully meaningful, interesting questions of members of the class in hopes of preparing a context for the target structure. The following exchange is a good example (taken from the instructor’s manual, Pucciani and Hamel, 1974; p. 321). The purpose in this exercise is to teach the conjunction “bien que” and the fact that its presence requires that the following verb be in the subjunctive mood:

Teacher: Fait-il beau aujourd’hui?
Student: Non, il ne fait pas beau maintenant.
Teacher: Irez-vous cependant à la plage pendant le week-end?
Student: Oui, j’irai cependant à la plage pendant le week-end.
Teacher: Irez-vous à la plage bien qu’il ne fasse pas beau?
Student: Oui, j’irai à la plage bien qu’il ne …

My excellent teacher followed this sort of pattern, and often tailored questions to individual students’ interests. For example, one member of the class was a dedicated beachgoer, and the example given above was actually used with this student. My teacher also allowed some “free-play”. If the student did not give her the structure she was looking for, she tolerated some “conversation”, as long as it was in French (a cornerstone of the Pucciani-Hamil approach is the exclusive use of the target language in the classroom). Indeed, despite the fact that the class was a first-year (third quarter) level class, it often had the flavor of a conversation class.

The explicit goal of the class was learning, conscious control of structure. There was error correction, and after enough examples of the above sort had been elicited, there was explanation of the rule (in French), along with further examples if necessary.

What is particularly interesting is that many of the students felt that the obvious success of this class was due to grammar work. One excellent student (a man in his sixties) felt he needed to “firm up” his grammar before doing conversation in French, and he told me that he felt our teacher’s finest quality was her ability to explain complex rules of French grammar. My hypothesis is that much of the success of the class was due to the teacher’s use of teacher-talk, her ability to provide a simple code that provided nearly optimal input for acquisition. The class was conducted entirely in French, as mentioned above. Besides the actual pedagogical examples, such as exchanges of the sort given above, teacher-talk included explanation of grammar and vocabulary, the teacher’s participation in the “free play” surrounding the exercises, mentioned above, occasional anecdotes, classroom management, etc. My fellow students reported that they understood nearly everything the teacher said in class. The teacher-talk, not the grammar per se, was probably what motivated the same student who needed to firm up his grammar to comment: “She gives you a feeling for French … she makes you want to speak French.” This is language acquisition, not language learning.

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