Thursday, January 14, 2010

Learning and Theory (part 1)

I guess here's a small blogging arch that deals with linguistics.


I was viewing Kaufman's semi-recent video blog on how theory muddles education and I was getting the vibe that he just doesn't think that we should be doing any research into how people learn languages, or if we do we should keep it to ourselves.

That's just all a bunch of hogwash, because theory divorced from practice is useless, and practice devoid of theory (why we do what we do) is dangerous! (or at the very least bad pedagogy).

I was going to write just one blog post as a response to this video blog, but as I was taking notes to myself on the things that I disagreed with, I saw that there were a lot! So, I've broken them up.

One of the issues was that research on second language acquisition is taking place in English speaking countries (or maybe it's predominantly English speaking countries). OK, I would agree with this to some extent, there is a lot of research done in English but there are many journals and professional associations (like EuroCALL) that are not all done in English Speaking Countries. I guess the criticism here is that people are wasting effort trying to find out how people learn languages in monoglot countries whereas they could be spending time in polyglot countries studying children learning naturally.

Well, if we did that, it wouldn't be called Second Language Acquisition, it would be called First Language Acquisition, or just Language Acquisition (it doesn't matter how many languages you pick up as your first, as far as I am concerned anyway). I think that it's more effective to look at monoglots learning a second language to see what works and what doesn't. Children have a long time to learn a language and they are probably care free. Adults need to learn languages faster, for specific purposes some times, and they don't always have the same amount of time on task that kids do.

Another comment mentioned was that some research contradicting other's research. Well, that's how we learn! We think we know something, we hypothesize, we test, we theorize and we accept a certain theory as truth until someone else comes along and looks at the holes in our theory in conjunction with their observations, then the cycle starts all over. At one point we thought the earth was flat and that we were the center of the universe. Do we think this still? No, we don't, but at one time it was the accepted truth.

Why would one not use accepted truths or theories in their everyday life including teaching? It is our job, as teachers, to look at theories, see if we agree or disagree with what is being said, experiment on our own and reformulate theories (or form our own) from our experiences. Teachers and researchers need not be two separate jobs. We do it subconsciously anyway so why not make a concerted effort?


More to come later :-)
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