Are there disparate paths to acquisition?

Justin, you’re a genius. Why? Because you took the words right out of my mouth. 🙂

Last night I slapped myself in the face and quoth (is that the 1st person sg?) “nevermore” will I get into these cognitive code vs communicative teaching arguments.

But when I read Rose’s post this morning, I just had to get in one more word. Then I read your post and saw that you have gone to the heart of the problem.

The point I and Robert and others try to make is this: Rose studied grammar. What she learned was grammar. She also acquired Latin but that was not through studying grammar; it was through all the reading she had done. The reason we so often cite “research” is b/c a lot of research has shown that when students receiving grammar instruction are compared with students receiving input only, the input students also use grammar just as well as the grammar students. They may not know the labels and paradigms, but they read L2, Latin in our case, like anyone reads a language: not parsing, not translating, not analyzing – just reading for comprehension.

So why do people think they learned L2 through grammar study? B/c that’s what they’ve been told. Why is there a correlation between good grammar students and achieving proficiency in L2? B/c the students who do all the classwork on grammar are the same ones who keep giving themselves input by reading the assignments. The key is, however, in how students who do the reading and listening with no grammar study achieve levels of proficiency not normally achieved by students studying grammar. That’s the research. We have our own experience to go on as well.

Now to combinations: very few persons advocating communicative teaching deny any value for grammar study; those who do are called ’non-interventionists’. The latter see any time taken for grammar instruction as time taken away from input for acquisition. Most of us see value in building a kind of awareness of language called the monitor (Krashen’s term). We use the monitor even in our native language when we think not only about WHAT we are saying but about HOW we are saying it, as I am doing now. That, however, is not what beginning language students need; they need to get the input that leads to the development of an internal model of L2 so that they say, “That doesn’t sound right” or “That sounds right” as they do with their native language without being able to explain in grammatical terms what is right or wrong. Explicit grammar instruction doesn’t get them there. If you think it does, give us the research and surveys that prove it. That’s all we ask. What is really tough to swallow is teachers saying, “I am a veteran teacher and if I say my students are proficient, then it is not your place to question that.” That’s the very opposite of academic integrity.

This leads us to another huge gap between grammar-oriented instructors and communicative instructors (I know that latter term upsets grammar-oriented instructors b/c they believe they ARE teaching ’grammar for communication’): the one on results. Grammar-oriented teachers insist that “good” students DO learn L2 while those of us in the communicative camp point to many, many decades of failed fl instruction. That’s another argument that could fill volumes.

My only point in all this has been to try to show why statements about there being various paths to the same goal, and about some people learning better one way than another, while well intended as a kind of compromise, do not make sense to those of us who see no efficacy in grammar instruction. We’re not mean, we’re not stupid, we’re not ignorant, we’re not just being contrary….. on the contrary, we have come to our views on language acquisition through the study of language acquisition and our own personal experiences as well as the testimony of many, incl. many on this very List.



>”Acquisition” has a very specialized meaning in the context of language

>teaching, as does “knowledge” or “knowledge about” a language. Before we go

>any further, I’d like to ask that we all clarify what we mean by these

>terms, particularly for the sake of our newer participants in the list.


>Gratias maximas antequam,


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