It is disconcerting to note that when language learning processes are considered or discussed, even in the wake of the 1980s ELT ‘communicative revolution’, which purportedly advocated firstly the active participation of language learners in the experience of acquiring a foreign or second language, and secondly the practical application of knowledge assimilated during that experience, there is still a tendency to view such processes as somehow passively endured by the learner: Linguistically, one talks of students ‘cramming’, ‘absorbing / taking in facts’, and generally being ‘given’ an education; socially it is not uncommon to find, even today, teaching pursued in the apparent belief that the job of the teacher is to push, or pour, knowledge into an otherwise empty and passive container (Low 1988: 126). Such a perspective gives rise to a central problem concerning foreign or second language learning and teaching. If we view language as a tool, something which can be used in much the same way, to use an analogy made more than a hundred years ago by the linguist Henry Sweet (1899), as a carpenter uses his or her tools to build a piece of furniture, it should be possible to teach it through practical experience, in much the same way as a carpenter learns his or her trade. However, learning a language has implications which go beyond those of acquiring discrete, quantifiable skills or knowledge. What is acquired is mapped onto an already existing identity and language itself can be an extremely powerful tool in defining an individual’s self-image and personality. The current global status of English is particularly significant in this respect.Three centuries of colonialism and economic domination by English speaking powers, and the consequent prevalence of English in many areas, are being consolidated by the process of what is commonly termed “globalisation”; according to Crystal (1995: 106), for instance, “80% of all the information in electronic retrieval systems is in English”. For the purposes of this paper it is argued that the globalisation of Englishhas significant consequences for those who are constrained to use English as a second language as part of their daily lives. but that foreign or second language learning can represent a form of ‘emancipation’ or ‘empowerment’ (Pennycock 1994:295), economically, politically and culturally, depending on what use the language users need to make of their second language. This point is neatly illustrated by Norton’s (2000) longitudinal study of the difficulties which immigrant women in Canada found in integrating linguistically in their newly adopted environment, through the gradual building of self-confidence through improved linguistic competence in the English language. Thus, the second language is not only a practical tool, wielded as immediate necessity dictates, but it may also enrich the user’s social, cultural and professional identity. Here, the second or foreign language is not learned as an abstract set of concepts or ideas, but with a purpose. Furthermore, the learning process, if the knowledge acquired is to be used in any way, will have an effect on and interact with the learner’s own self-image and identity. It is for this reason that the concept of “second language teaching” appears severely limiting. Barro et al. (1998: 76) point out: Ironically, the notion of ‘communicative competence’ lost its anthropological moorings as it became assimilated into the thinking of foreign language education. It became to be interpreted rather narrowly as appropriate language use rather than a competence in the social and cultural practices of a community of which language is a central part (the italics are mine – I can’t find any italics!). Note that in the above quotation, two terms of interest are highlighted. Firstly, “foreign language education”. The present writer would here argue that what is referred to in this case is “language teaching” in its most mechanical and schematic form, i.e. an abstract and generic grammatically-based syllabus. “Language education”, on the other hand, would seem to imply a more carefully constructed path of discovery, as envisaged by Dewey (1938, cited in Kolb 1984: 5) some sixty years ago, with reference to educational processes in general, not specifically language teaching: To imposition from above is opposed expression and cultivation of individuality; to external discipline is opposed free activity; to learning from texts and teachers, learning through experience; to acquisition of isolated skills and techniques by drill is opposed acquisition of them by means of attaining ends which make direct vital appeal; to preparation for a more or less remote future is opposed making the most of the opportunities of present life; to static aims and materials is opposed acquaintance with a changing world. Here the learner is provided with the freedom to explore his or her potential in what could be defined as a “holistic educational experience” which goes far beyond the fragmented nature of many modern educational processes (Hargreaves 1994: 238), for example in uncoordinated modular approaches to teaching at university level. The aim of the holistic educational experience is that of “enhancing the knowledge creation capacities of the individual” (Eraut 1994: 57), tuning the process to personal needs and development throughout his or her life, i.e. the concept of “lifelong learning” (Candy and Brookfield 1991), and not merely the provision of knowledge input. Such ideas could be applied in the more specific case of providing a wider language education for students. Secondly, the term “community” may be taken in its most general sense as “the users of the target language”. This is, however, a severely restrictive view, since it fails to distinguish among different types of language users, the reasons why they use the target language and their respective roles in society, regional and geographical disparities and cultural diversity. In an educational context, it would seem apparent that the learner needs to focus attention on the type of language which is useful for him or her for successful integration in a specific language community, for instance, working in the tourist industry, piloting a plane, programming computers or, perhaps of more relevance in this paper, working / studying in an academic context.

The whole learner: exploiting the learner's potential to the full

WADE, JOHN CHRISTOPHER
2006

Abstract

It is disconcerting to note that when language learning processes are considered or discussed, even in the wake of the 1980s ELT ‘communicative revolution’, which purportedly advocated firstly the active participation of language learners in the experience of acquiring a foreign or second language, and secondly the practical application of knowledge assimilated during that experience, there is still a tendency to view such processes as somehow passively endured by the learner: Linguistically, one talks of students ‘cramming’, ‘absorbing / taking in facts’, and generally being ‘given’ an education; socially it is not uncommon to find, even today, teaching pursued in the apparent belief that the job of the teacher is to push, or pour, knowledge into an otherwise empty and passive container (Low 1988: 126). Such a perspective gives rise to a central problem concerning foreign or second language learning and teaching. If we view language as a tool, something which can be used in much the same way, to use an analogy made more than a hundred years ago by the linguist Henry Sweet (1899), as a carpenter uses his or her tools to build a piece of furniture, it should be possible to teach it through practical experience, in much the same way as a carpenter learns his or her trade. However, learning a language has implications which go beyond those of acquiring discrete, quantifiable skills or knowledge. What is acquired is mapped onto an already existing identity and language itself can be an extremely powerful tool in defining an individual’s self-image and personality. The current global status of English is particularly significant in this respect.Three centuries of colonialism and economic domination by English speaking powers, and the consequent prevalence of English in many areas, are being consolidated by the process of what is commonly termed “globalisation”; according to Crystal (1995: 106), for instance, “80% of all the information in electronic retrieval systems is in English”. For the purposes of this paper it is argued that the globalisation of Englishhas significant consequences for those who are constrained to use English as a second language as part of their daily lives. but that foreign or second language learning can represent a form of ‘emancipation’ or ‘empowerment’ (Pennycock 1994:295), economically, politically and culturally, depending on what use the language users need to make of their second language. This point is neatly illustrated by Norton’s (2000) longitudinal study of the difficulties which immigrant women in Canada found in integrating linguistically in their newly adopted environment, through the gradual building of self-confidence through improved linguistic competence in the English language. Thus, the second language is not only a practical tool, wielded as immediate necessity dictates, but it may also enrich the user’s social, cultural and professional identity. Here, the second or foreign language is not learned as an abstract set of concepts or ideas, but with a purpose. Furthermore, the learning process, if the knowledge acquired is to be used in any way, will have an effect on and interact with the learner’s own self-image and identity. It is for this reason that the concept of “second language teaching” appears severely limiting. Barro et al. (1998: 76) point out: Ironically, the notion of ‘communicative competence’ lost its anthropological moorings as it became assimilated into the thinking of foreign language education. It became to be interpreted rather narrowly as appropriate language use rather than a competence in the social and cultural practices of a community of which language is a central part (the italics are mine – I can’t find any italics!). Note that in the above quotation, two terms of interest are highlighted. Firstly, “foreign language education”. The present writer would here argue that what is referred to in this case is “language teaching” in its most mechanical and schematic form, i.e. an abstract and generic grammatically-based syllabus. “Language education”, on the other hand, would seem to imply a more carefully constructed path of discovery, as envisaged by Dewey (1938, cited in Kolb 1984: 5) some sixty years ago, with reference to educational processes in general, not specifically language teaching: To imposition from above is opposed expression and cultivation of individuality; to external discipline is opposed free activity; to learning from texts and teachers, learning through experience; to acquisition of isolated skills and techniques by drill is opposed acquisition of them by means of attaining ends which make direct vital appeal; to preparation for a more or less remote future is opposed making the most of the opportunities of present life; to static aims and materials is opposed acquaintance with a changing world. Here the learner is provided with the freedom to explore his or her potential in what could be defined as a “holistic educational experience” which goes far beyond the fragmented nature of many modern educational processes (Hargreaves 1994: 238), for example in uncoordinated modular approaches to teaching at university level. The aim of the holistic educational experience is that of “enhancing the knowledge creation capacities of the individual” (Eraut 1994: 57), tuning the process to personal needs and development throughout his or her life, i.e. the concept of “lifelong learning” (Candy and Brookfield 1991), and not merely the provision of knowledge input. Such ideas could be applied in the more specific case of providing a wider language education for students. Secondly, the term “community” may be taken in its most general sense as “the users of the target language”. This is, however, a severely restrictive view, since it fails to distinguish among different types of language users, the reasons why they use the target language and their respective roles in society, regional and geographical disparities and cultural diversity. In an educational context, it would seem apparent that the learner needs to focus attention on the type of language which is useful for him or her for successful integration in a specific language community, for instance, working in the tourist industry, piloting a plane, programming computers or, perhaps of more relevance in this paper, working / studying in an academic context.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11584/22083
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