Definitio – practice

practice – I have had arguments with highly knowledgeable people over the use of practice in fl learning. These were people who were totally on board with communicative teaching, acquisition, comprehensible input, and so on. So I figured there must be something in the definition that produced the divide between us.

For me, you practice something that can be learned by repetition. A good example is physical or motor skills like a tennis stroke or golf swing. I don’t think that using the 3rd person singular of first conjugation verbs over and over leads to acquisition. It possibly leads to learning in Krashen’s sense of learning vs acquisition, but then it goes away.

However, when one acquires the 3rd p. sg. of the 1st conjugation, it is due to using it for genuine communication, which, to me, could be in the form of input or output. No amount of repetition can make that grammatical feature a part of one’s Linguistic Acquisition Device, one’s internal model of the TL.

Do I stand in contrast to the tprs folks? They say repetition is absolutely required for acquisition, at least 80 reps! Again, I think there’s a difference in how we hear ’repetition’, which is a word in my definition list. To hear and comprehend – big addition – a grammatical feature or word 80 times is not what I would call practice; I am not even sure I would call it repetition. Why not?

Because to my mind, the words practice and repetition conjure up the vision of the exact same thing being done over and over, like a golf swing, to induce muscle memory (I am way out of my league here – help). But having a word or grammatical feature in one’s LAD, in one’s inventory, comes from its saliency in an act of communication. It “clicks” in.

To get very subjective here, I have felt that click, I know when I have been struck with a use of some feature of the TL; it’s like an aha! experience. It is almost physical. “Bam!”, “Socko!” into the old brain it goes, permanently locked in to the LAD.

Of course, I’m speaking in similes here, as if there is a physical LAD located somewhere in the brain or that we can actually feel the synapses synapsing or snapping. So when we say this process is unconscious, I don’t think that’s true in all cases; I think in some cases we can actually feel the feature finding a foothold in our minds so that it is easily accessible the next time we see or hear it or need it to say or write.

Examples come from myself and a friend. My friend, Brian describes how he was walking down a path in Mexico and saw a man on a roof. No fiddle but he did ask him the time. The man replied, “Seran las seis.” That use of the future to mean probably stuck at that moment and never left Brian. Sure, he had studied it as a grammar feature, but now it was his.

I had studied the way the word y (= and) changes to e before words beginning with an i sound (and o changes to u before words beginning with an o sound), but it was not part of my usage until one day a native speaker “recast” my “y ingles” to “e ingles” under his breath. “Wow!!” I thought, “it really matters.” The other day, after reading Spanish, which throws me into thinking in Spanish, I muttered something to myself and found myself saying “e inicial” or some such; a few minutes later, I said to myself “u something or other”. Observing my own speech as I do, I was struck by how acquired those little details are now in my speech.
Practice in many fl classrooms boils down to memorizing verbal and declensional endings and pronoun paradigms. In many of these classes, next to no input is found. A short reading is assigned which few students do b/c the only check is a short quiz easily faked. The teacher seldom engages the students in conversation and the students never get extended reading at their level, i + 1, if you will. Just how are students supposed to apply those memorized paradigms to communication in L2? That is never explained. Maybe someone reading this can explain how it works.

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