Review of article by Decoo – Part VI

Some post-communicative methods like to oppose “lower-order thinking”, which they equate to rote memorization, to “higher-order” skills. The former are to be avoided, the latter are the core objective. Recent experimental research by Hulstijn and his team at the Kohnstamm Institute (University of Amsterdam) indicates that higher-order skills cannot function properly in the foreign language without well developed levels of lower-order automatization (Hulstijn 1999). And here he is doing exactly what he accuses others of doing: citing one piece of research and saying, “There: point proved.”

The method may be against explicit grammar, but somehow it will make sure that students grasp the rule and train it. Aside from the unusual “…and train it.”, this shows the writer’s ….. what? faith? belief?, that people learn languages by learning rules. To my mind, that’s what this is all about, reestablishing the teaching of grammar rules as a path to learning a language.

His futuristic, imagined book he quotes from in a clever device makes clear what he wants teachers to provide:

The decline of the prevailing methods around 2010 was due to the following:

–     There was too much dependence on personal initiative and learning attitudes of the individual student, whereby only the very best became successful. Scores of students were left drowning without buoys.

–     The method totally misjudged the mental expectations of students who view school-bound learning within a framework of cognitive grip and clear progression.

–     The method worked with a “real-world approach with authentic texts” to avoid translation and grammar. However, many of the better students were actually, after each lesson, spending excessive time and effort in deciphering these authentic texts through translation in the mother tongue and figuring out the grammar. The method thus encouraged doing what it strongly pretended to avoid.

–     On the other hand, by telling students not to worry about detail or precise comprehension or production, but to be satisfied with approximation, the method fostered slovenliness among many other students.

–     Though the method had valid final objectives, it wanted to reach those objectives much too quickly in non-intensive programs. It neglected gradation and careful content-selection.

His bias comes entirely clear in the above quote so that there is a lot to go after. I will content myself with pointing out that the last bullet point indicates his profound belief that learning a language is a matter of building up “skills” and those skills are grammatical features along with some initial phonetic rules, all bound together by practice, just the same approach used in countless textbooks, courses, and classrooms

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