Thursday, July 16, 2009

Some ELT Terms Defined-Part 2


Interlanguage is the type of language produced by second- and foreign- language learners who are in the process of learning a language. In language learning, learner’s errors are caused by several different processes. These include:
a. borrowing patterns from the mother tongue (language transfer or interference)
b. extending patterns from the target language. (overgeneralization)
c. Expressing meanings using the words and grammar which are already known(communication strategy)

Since the language which the learner produces using these processes differs from the mother tongue and the target language ,it is sometimes called an interlanguage or is said to result from the learner’s interlanguage system or approximate system.
An interlanguage is idiosyncratically based on the learners' experiences with the L2. It can fossilize in any of its developmental stages.
Larry Selinker proposed the theory of interlanguage in 1972, noting that in a given situation the utterances produced by the learner are different from those native speakers would produce had they attempted to convey the same meaning. This comparison reveals a separate linguistic system. This system can be observed when studying the utterances of the learners who attempt to produce a target language norm.

Critical period hypothesis

The Critical Period Hypothesis refers to a long-standing debate in linguistics and language acquisition over the extent to which the ability to acquire language is biologically linked to age. The hypothesis claims that there is an ideal 'window' of time to acquire language in a linguistically rich environment, after which this is no longer possible.
The Critical Period Hypothesis states that the first few years of life is the crucial time in which an individual can acquire a first language if presented with adequate stimuli. If language input doesn't occur until after this time, the individual will never achieve a full command of language — especially grammatical systems.

The evidence for such a period is limited, and support stems largely from theoretical arguments and analogies to other critical periods in biology such as visual development, but nonetheless is widely accepted. The nature of this phenomenon, however, has been one of the most fiercely debated issues in psycholinguistics and cognitive science in general for decades. Some writers have suggested a "sensitive" or "optimal" period rather than a critical one; others dispute the causes (physical maturation, cognitive factors). The duration of the period also varies greatly in different accounts. Steven Pinker, in his book The Language Instinct, states that “acquisition of a normal language is guaranteed for children up to the age of six, is steadily compromised from then until shortly after puberty, and is rare thereafter” .

In the process of L2 acquisition, IL continually evolves into an ever-closer approximation of the TL, and ideally, a learner’s IL should continue to advance gradually until it becomes equivalent, or nearly equivalent, to the TL. However, it has been observed that somewhere in the L2 learning process, such an IL may reach one or more temporary restricting phases during which the development of the IL appears to be detained (Nemser, 1971; Selinker, 1972; Schumann, 1975). A permanent cessation of progress toward the TL has been referred to as fossilization.
Fossilization includes such items as pronunciation, vocabulary usages, and grammatical rules. It has also been noticed that adult L2 learners’ IL systems, in particular, have a tendency, or propensity, to become stagnated or solidified i.e., the language learners make no further progress in IL development toward the TL, and become permanently fossilized, in spite of the amount of exposure to the L2.

The concept of fossilization in SLA research is so intrinsically related to IL that Selinker (1972) considers it to be a fundamental phenomenon of all SLA.

The grammar translation method

In applied linguistics, the grammar translation method is a foreign language teaching method derived from the classical (sometimes called traditional) method of teaching Greek and Latin. The method requires students to translate whole texts word for word and memorize numerous grammatical rules and exceptions as well as enormous vocabulary lists. The goal of this method is to be able to read and translate literary masterpieces and classics.

At the height of the Communicative Approach to language learning in the 1980s and early 1990s it became fashionable in some quarters to deride so-called "old-fashioned" methods and, in particular, something broadly labelled "Grammar Translation". There were numerous reasons for this but principally it was felt that translation itself was an academic exercise rather than one which would actually help learners to use language, and an overt focus on grammar was to learn about the target language rather than to learn it.

The grammar-translation method of foreign language teaching is one of the most traditional methods, dating back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was originally used to teach 'dead' languages (and literatures) such as Latin and Greek, and this may account for its heavy bias towards written work to the virtual exclusion of oral production. As Omaggio comments, this approach reflected "the view of faculty psychologists that mental discipline was essential for strengthening the powers of the mind." (Omaggio 89) Indeed, the emphasis on achieving 'correct' grammar with little regard for the free application and production of speech is at once the greatest asset and greatest drawback to this approach.

The major characteristic of the grammar-translation method is, precisely as its name suggests, a focus on learning the rules of grammar and their application in translation passages from one language into the other. Vocabulary in the target language is learned through direct translation from the native language, e.g. with vocabulary tests such as:

the house = das Haus
the mouse = die Maus

Very little teaching is done in the target language. Instead, readings in the target language are translated directly and then discussed in the native language, often precipitating in-depth comparisons of the two languages themselves. Grammar is taught with extensive explanations in the native language, and only later applied in the production of sentences through translation from one language to the other, e.g.

Do you have my book? = Hast du mein Buch?
Ich weiƟ nicht, wo dein Buch ist. = I don't know where your book is.

As Omaggio describes is, testing of the students is done almost exclusively through translation: "students had learned the language well if they could translate the passages well."
Obviously, there are many drawbacks to the grammar-translation approach. Virtually no class time is allocated to allow students to produce their own sentences, and even less time is spent on oral practice (whether productive or reproductive). Students may have difficulties "relating" to the language, because the classroom experience keeps them from personalizing it or developing their own style. In addition, there is often little contextualization of the grammar -- although this of course depends upon the passages chosen and the teacher's own skills. Culture, when discussed, is communicated through means of reading passages, but there is little direct confrontation with foreign elements. Perhaps most seriously, as Omaggio points out, the type of error correction that this method requires can actually be harmful to the students' learning processes: "students are clearly in a defensive learning environment where right answers are expected." (Omaggio 91)

Despite all of these drawbacks, there are certain positive traits to be found in such a rigid environment. Although far from trying to defend or reinstate this method, I must still say: my highschool German class was almost entirely grammar-translation based, with the exception of a few dialogues from the textbook, and I don't really feel it "harmed" or even hampered my acquisition of the language -- and it certainly gave me a strong grounding in German grammar! For left-brained students who respond well to rules, structure and correction, the grammar-translation method can provide a challenging and even intriguing classroom environment. For those students who don't respond well to such structures, however, it is obvious that the grammar-translation method must be tempered with other approaches to create a more flexible and conducive methodology.