Response to Wes’ comment on Decoo article

Stevick crops up everywhere; he is indeed important.
My friend, Brian has encouraged me to write a blog entry with emoticons, verbal ones, such as *sigh* or “Yeah, right” or “rolling eyes”. I don’t see people who praise eclecticism, which is most people, as being truly eclectic. If so, then I’m truly eclectic b/c I give lectures on grammar, we practice grammar, etc. But the idea that a learner is going to take a grammar rule and use it to communicate, is nonsense. It doesn’t happen in one’s native language and certainly not in foreign languages. Grammar is a fascinating study in itself and that’s why I teach it. But I certainly don’t show students first conjugation versb and “how they work” and then expect them to use those verbs in communication.
And this, to my mind, is what people like Decoos are getting to: let us teach grammar and all the cute little conversations and so forth will be swamped by testing on verb endings and these people know that: if you test for grammar, that’s what students will pay attention to. The fact that most of them come out of fl classes without a wisp of a notion why the language does that, how it’s used, simply never has deterred people who cannot get away from the sense, “If they would just learn the rules, they’d know the language.”
I might walk into Decoo’s classroom and find students using L2 to communicate in some way. The question is, how much language do they wind up with? And again, if all these eclectic teachers are successful, why do so few students emerge from X number of years of study with no useful ability in L2? Or am I all wrong?
I am totally open to being wrong. If someone could show me that a combination of grammar instruction and “practice” produces learners proficient at some level in L2, I’d be the most overjoyed person you ever saw. I LOVE grammar. Right now I’m reading John McWhorter’s new book (What Language Is) where he’s showing how a supposedly “grammarless” SE Asian language composes a simple sentence. It’s filled with “patient” markers, counters and classifiers, subjects marked for what we use verbs for, etc.

When the grammaticalists say their students are proficient b/c they passed a test,how often do they tell you what is on the test? Why will they not test for simple proficiency? Have you had an OPI? You don’t know what the topic is going to be, you just respond as clearly as possible. No vocab lists, no endings, no clause structures……. just communicate in L2.
Of course you use vocabulary and grammar and syntax to communicate, but the grammaticalists have yet to show that all their explicit teaching of this results in learners who can use it. IF we had wide-spread tests for proficiency, we could settle this argument.
I noted that Decoo cited very old books or foreign books. That is a dodge; most of us don’t have access to the European works and the older works do not deal with what has been going on over the last several decades. Note that Decoo does not mention the two obvious elements in communicative teaching that deal with grammar instruction: Krashen’s monitor and the “pop-ups” of tprs. Both are grammar instruction, pure and simple; what they are not is a focus on grammar disregarding communication.
To me, Decoo is calling for a return to straight up grammar instruction. Teach the rule, use the rule, period. He may have little dialogues or canned exchanges or carefully constructed essays, but not real communication. If he used pen-pals or some such, I would certainly count that as communicative.

Another thing those who advocate grammar instruction try to do is assure us that chaos will ensue if grammatical accuracy isn’t put up front. e
Everything has to be correct; in their classrooms there is no room for the natural struggle with novel forms. Therefore, their students develop no internal model of the language; it’s all external, “What’s the rule?”

So what is the motive of those who keep arguing for explicit grammar instruction? As I’ve indicated elsewhere, it has to do with world view. As I mentioned elsewhere, Greene wrote a good book on this titled You Are What You Speak. These people have an agenda that goes beyond language; it has to do with rules and control. Frank Smith is the author to read on this.
So, Wes, people certainly learn in different ways. If Decoo’s classroom is eclectic, then his students should be emerging from it with some level of proficiency. My spot checks of students over many years do not reveal any level of proficiency unless they’ve had a truly eclectic teacher, one that includes communication in L2. Now, what would happen if the teacher abandoned the grammar and just did CI? Would the students have even higher levels of proficiency or would they speak pidgin, as the grammaticalists so often claim?

To me, Wes, it really all boils down to whether or not the person can communicate at some level in L2. My kids can read Latin, my Russian students could limp along in Russian, not bad for a few hours a week in a classroom. Many of my Russian students and some of my Spanish students came back from their church missions of two years duration and reported to me how the class had helped, or not. This was a pretty big number, not one or two stand outs.
OTOH, if people really do learn differently and there are plenty of students out there who can do declension chants and sing songs about the subjunctive and wind up speaking L2, I say great. Produce them.
My attitude is wearing thin. I need to go to bed. I just wish people would be honest about their intentions.
And I’ll start reading Stevick. He was one of the first books on language teaching I ever read, but that’s been about 25 years ago.

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