Linguaphone and the place of grammar 1954

Here’s my first quote under this new category. My aim is to show through selective quotes from material written more than 30 years ago, some going back into the 19th century and even further, that fl teachers recognized that language is acquired rather than learned through analysis and grammar study.

Linguaphone’s Norwegian course has a very neat book titled Explanatory Notes. It’s the sort of thing I love, similar to Barker’s Urdu course: lots of comments on usage embedded in culture. The purpose, of course, is to relieve the confusion anyone experiences when encountering another language or dialect. To me, this is pure fun and I read things like this for languages I’m not even studying. Weird. I know it.

Here it is:

p. 3
It hs long been recognized, by both teachers and students, that no grammar manual, no matter how well arranged, is capable, by itself, of teachng a language. What is required is a course in which the student finds himself immersed, so to speak, in the speech of the people whose language he wishes to learn, hearing it as spoken by them amongst themselves in their everyday life.

Yet some aid in gaining knowledge of the grammatical structure of the language is necesary for the attainment of a complete mastery of it within a reasonable time. Although a man who hears a foreign language spoken constantly will in course of time learn to speak it himself, he will do so much more quickly if he has a friend at hand to help him over the grammatical difficulties and idiomatic snags which he will inevitably encounter, and to simplify intricacies which he would be unable to disentangle unaided.

If we look at the posts on listservs like flteach, we find teachers essentially espousing this pov: lots of input with support, scaffolding, etc. However, we see more teachers who focus entirely on grammar points out of a sense that somehow hammering these abstract formulae into students’ heads will result in their ability to produce L2 by applying the rules. This has been, as we see, questioned for a long time. Unfortunately, the strict grammar approach arose out of an intellectual climate modeled on certain sciences and on certain cultures, particularly the Prussian, the source of much of our early educational theory and practice. The application of industrial principles, often called “the factory model”, to learning languages was an unfortunate misstep we are still making. Allied with behavioral psychology, the factory model washed over all of us.

Moreover, once the classical languages adopted this misguided approach, the modern languages, to get accepted into the curriculum, had to model themselves on them. All these years later, we are still dealing with the sequelae. That’s how tenaciously even a pernicious notion can attach itself to our collective mentality, polluting our profession.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *