Tuesday, August 18, 2009

On ESL and critical thinking - some reactions

I was reading a post titled Language learning, critical thinking and the role of the teacher on the linguist the other day and I was really surprised. Now granted I am not a member of his list-serv, perhaps I should be to get the whole story, even though ESL isn't my immediate field of interest.

Now long story short here, it appears that some people have their feathers ruffled because of the belief that critical thinking should (or should not) be included in the foreign language curriculum. Personally I think that critical thinking activities should be part of the curriculum in any language learning situation because when you are learning a language you are also learning about many other things that influence a language - such as culture, history, popular sayings, predispositions of the natives, and so on. Language is not used in a vacuum and simply learning more vocabulary doesn't mean that you will necessarily be getting more comprehensible input.

Yousef writes (in the comments)
I don't think it's outright racism, but there is certainly an element of cultural superiority and just plain smugness.

Perhaps, perhaps not. The point is that when you are learning a new language, your Weltanschauung changes, or has the potential to change. Some (bad) teachers will be smug about it. Most teachers that I've come in contact with are not smug about the way they think (critically or not). They wanted to help me and my classmates learn.

I find it funny that Steve writes
I would ask them to listen on their MP3 players as much as they can, and to try to reduce their exposure to their native language , so that the brain has a chance to develop an ability to handle English.

It is quite possible that the learners of a foreign language do not have access to playback devices like MP3 players. If all depends on the context of the language learning, the who, why, where and by whom.

I also disagree with Steve about only interacting with texts that are of interest. If you only do that, you are handicapping yourself because you aren't picking up vocabulary and grammatical structures for other situations that you will need to know about. If we all learned about topics we were predisposed to want to learn about in school, we would never be exposed to things that we may like, or that we should know. Situational language, something Steve apparently does not like, is a good springboard to other topics while grounding the learning in something concrete that people will use.

As far as the original question goes: "Is no one here just interested in improving the learners' language skills?"...well it depends on what you mean by language skills. What are your rubrics? Without rubrics how will you know how improved your learners are?
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