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Tuesday, February 10, 2004

 
More Wisdom From On High
If you may recall, last semester our lucky MATESOL and linguistics departments got a lecture from Michael Long. Today, we got one from Batia Laufer. I'm sure most of you haven't got a clue who these people are, but let me just state that it helps having one of the pre-eminent names in the field of second language acquisition as our department head to draw all of these people. I am not kidding when I say they are big names in the field. It's very strange to actually be meeting in person the authors of all these articles I keep having to read for class.

Batia Laufer's talk was on the best methods for vocabulary acquisition in second/foreign language learners. While this may not sound so exciting to everyone in the world, we all found it to be a very entertaining talk, particularly because what she was saying actually corresponds to what many language teachers and learners know works, as opposed to something that research says should work, no matter how counter-intuitive. To explain in more concrete terms, Long and his colleagues would have us believe that the best way to correct students' grammar is to gently recast their erroneous utterances into correct English, the understanding being that said students will internalize the correction and it will not impede the flow of communication. There is little room in their view for explicit grammar teaching or correction.

The gist of Batia Laufer's talk on vocabulary, though, was that students learn vocabulary better, and retain it for longer, when they take a more intentional, explicit approach. This means that memorizing vocabulary lists works better than picking up vocabulary from context out of a book. The average person only learns 10 new words per book, which is itself hundreds and hundreds of words long. She offered lots of evidence for her hypothesis, and miraculously, her talk was quite short, which left plenty of time for question and answer.

During the question and answer session, someone asked what she thought about grammar teaching, as an extension of what she had to say about vocabulary, and she said, "Well, I wasn't talking about that here today, but since you asked... Yes, explicit grammar teaching has a place! Of course it does! I have tried to learn many languages, and I have to have a system. All my students are the same way." And then we all applauded. Yay for someone who supports explicit teaching as having a place!

These are the controversial subjects of my field. Fascinating, no?

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