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Friday, October 03, 2003

 
Rubbing Elbows with On High
This afternoon, after teaching, I went to a talk by *ahem* one of the most recognized names in second language acquisition (drumroll) Michael Long. He delivered an hour-long talk on the effect of recasts on language acquisition. Since we had just read one of his more recent papers on it for SLA class, everyone there was pretty familiar with the topic.

For the uninitiated, though, I will clarify. Recasts are instances where the more experienced language speaker involved in a conversation with a language learner, be that experienced person the instructor, a native speaker, another student, or the far more general designation of interlocutor, provides a correction of a mistaken utterance by rephrasing (or recasting) it correctly, but in the course of normal conversation, rather than by drawing the student's attention to the mistake. To get all technical, this is known as implicit, as opposed to explicit, feedback. The focus of the conversation stays on the meaning or content of the conversation, but a correction of the grammatical or lexical mistake has been provided for the learner's mind to take notice of, if it registers.

There is huge debate over the efficacy of recasts as a form of correction in the language classroom. Michael Long is very much of the opinion that they work, and work well. The highly amusing thing about his talk was that he structured basically all of it around refuting all his colleagues who have doubted the effects of recasts. "She's a very dear friend of mine, and a lovely woman, but she's wrong." "He usually does very solid research, but in this case, he just has such blinders." "The study had no pretests to establish a baseline, so..." His points were very convincing, but it kind of reminded me of being in history class, being told that the best way to come up with a thesis was to find something to disagree with, and then finding lots of evidence to back up your own opinion.

Afterward, there was a reception at the ELC, where I talked to another one of the other ELC instructors, Matthew, who has been out of grad school for several years. He said it had been a long time since he heard a talk like that, so much information packed into one sitting, and it reminded him of how tired he had been all during grad school. He marveled that Long could rattle off such long lists of authors and studies. I pointed out that he either co-wrote them, knows all of the authors personally, or supervised most of the others as their MA or PhD thesis advisor. So he's in a much better position to remember all the studies than us lowly grad students. As are our professors. Prof. Gass, for example, edits an SLA book series. She knows everyone in the profession because she either co-publishes with them, or edits their work. Ah, specialized research subjects. It's a small world. Perhaps someday *I* will be so blessed.

The best part about the night, though? For me, it was being able to out-jargon Mark at dinner.

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