Extrapolating from rules… does it work?

This to me is at the heart of the controversies in foreign language teaching. Teachers believe that teaching the intricate grammatical, phonological and syntactic rules of L2 will allow the student to create his own original utterances in L2.

If we had the money to finance research where we could compare classes taught via rule getting, etc. with communicative classes of one stripe or another, we might settle this. But as long as people can point to a hodge-podge of techniques in every classroom, they can always claim it is the one that fits their theory that brought about acquisition. That is, in a typical classroom the teacher speaks L2 and teaches grammar rules, so one person can say, “It’s the speaking of L2 that did it, providing input,” and the other person can say, “It’s the clear presentation and practice of grammar rules that did it.”

In all of this, we overlook a big item: how many students actually do reach any level of proficiency in L2? From my experience and from the experience of others and from research, the grammar method produces very low proficiency. Anyone claiming to have gained proficiency through grammar study can be shown to have been exposed to a lot of input, through travel or reading or other connections. That is my way of pointing to the communicative element in the learning process while someone else may say, “Hey, withou the grammatical foundation, the input would have had no meaning.”

So who learns and why?

This was occasioned by the following post:

I undertand the difference between learning and acquisition. But does acquisition imply the student can use the vocabulary or simply understand it? Or are there levels of acquisition? There’s lots of French I can understand but I can’t produce it. Does that mean I’ve acquired it or, again, am I at a particular acquisition level?

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