Good Old Timothy Mason

Back in the 90s, Timothy Mason was a frequent contributor to flteach. He has a series of responses to the battle between Krashen and Ron Sheen that he calls “thunks”.

I read them at the time and have just reread the first thunk. I remember Timothy generally as one of the bright lights of flteach and particularly for his gentle reprimand of me, saying I should read Bourdieu before “hitting people over the head with the cudgel of theoretical linguistics.”

For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out where I had invoked theoretical linguistics since I have a very amateurish knowledge of linguistics generally and esp of the theoretical kind. But I took his advice to heart and bought Bourdieu about 5 years later and have it on my shelf to read.

But in reading his first thunk, what occurred to me is that Timothy misses, at least in that thunk, what exercises me about fl teaching in the U.S. and elsewhere. I really don’t agree with him that Krashen posits that people learn their second language by much the same process that children learn their first language. Krashen does give place to learning about language; he calls it the monitor and he says you need to use the monitor.

I’ll be honest: I think what 90% of fl teachers in this country will do with the notion that learning rules consciously can “aid” in acquiring L2 is to go right back to memorizing and practicing grammar rules and grading students on that rather than cultivating communicative competence or proficiency.

Why will they do that? Because, #1, it’s easy to teach and test and grade and use to control students’ behavior. #2, it fits with what other teachers are doing in other academic disciplines. #3 , it is often the way they learned the language.

One of the saddest things I see is teachers who learned the language they are teaching as a second language but learned it or acquired it communicatively trying to teach American younsters using grammar rules. They are so perplexed as to why the students do not seem to be able to use L2. I have had the wonderful opportunity to ask some of them how they learned L2 and the look that comes over their faces is revelatory: they see that their students are not getting the same experience.

However, they are using the textbook which offers all these rules and the district test is based on that and the department chair expects that, so……

This is what happens, in the U.S., in China, in many other places where language acquisition languishes. We still need to read Krashen.

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