Review of article by Decoo – Part I

As an entry point to my blog, I thought I’d start by giving my responses to the article recommended by Martin Lapworth, On the Mortality of Language Learning Methods

Be aware that I am assuming you are reading the article as you read my response.

The author, Wilifried Decoo, of B.Y.U., does a number on us by describing the situation at the turn of the century in fl teaching: the dissatisfaction, the efforts to find new, effective methods, the excitement as such are contrived, achieve success, and become the paradigm; then the fall as the method fails to live up to expectations for it. Then he unveils his trick: he’s writing about the turn of the 20th century, the years 1880 to 1910. It is cleverly done.

After that, according to Decoo, the field emphasized eclectic methods, trying to avoid the excesses of the earlier period. He uses the words dogmatism and narrow-mindedness. Not having been there (I’m old but not that old), I can’t say, but I do know that those who advocate genuine communication in the classroom and eschew paradigms written on the board for memorization are often described as dogmatic. My opinion is that it comes from our [note my allegiance] refusal to concede that at least some overt, explicit, direct grammar instruction is necessary. We are seen as stubborn and close-minded, even though those advocating “just a wee bit of grammar” offer no evidence that a wee bit of grammar brings about any communicative ability. I don’t know how “those people” conducted themselves. I’d have to read the writings of the period.

Decoo resurrects the term “the Active Method” as one method of that eclectic period. I had forgotten that one. He appears to praise this period of eclecticism. In his words, “Dialogues in daily situations remained the core material in most textbooks, but with open book, in careful gradation, and preceded or followed by the clear identification of new lexicon and grammar, with many appropriate exercises for correct integration, including translation exercises.” It would appear that Decoo thinks this is a sound approach to teaching languages. If this proves true as I read the article, I’ll have to come back to this statement and take him on. 

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