I’ve been singed a bit by comments like Martin’s, viz. that I seem to be touting a particular approach. So let me be clear about my intent in responding on listservs (restricted to Latin ones now) and my blog.
It is my observation and that of many others that the typical U.S. language class fails to produce proficiency at any level. I’d be happy with a fourth year student who could operate at the first year level. Learn Spanish, French, German and maybe some Russian or Japanese (Chinese, now) and go around and strike up a conversation with students of those languages. See how often you get any sort of response other than “giggle, giggle, HUH??” There is PLENTY written in CURRENT, SCHOLARLY books on fl learning about what levels of proficiency students reach in Am schools.
Following that is what can be done about it. One side says either KIDS THESE DAYS JUST DON’T X (X = whatever the person on that side stuck in his craw that day) or TEACHERS DON’T TEACH LIKE THEY USED TO. The other side says we’ve looked at the results of what we call communicative teaching or comprehensible input or tprs or whatever method is used to provide input and we find the results astounding: learners actually come out using L2.
The result SHOULD be that those of the first side will continue teaching grammar explicitly and look for those few students dedicated enough to “master” the grammar and get as much exposure to the language as possible. One teacher I knew said on a panel, “Just pick the one or two students in your class who understand grammar and teach them and forget the rest.” Do you want his name? I’ll provide it. It was a public forum and it’s legal to do so.
Then the second side will continue to overcome all the pointless grammar tests they have imposed on their students and the contests the principal expects the classes to enter where students recite poetry they don’t understand or engage in dialogues they don’t understand. They overcome these brainless obstacles by noting with joy that all their students are learning L2 and they aren’t concerned that some pick it up faster than others; they’re not in the business of separating the “good kids” from the dullards and sluggards. If I hear a teacher in my department refer to these crackerjack prep school students of ours as “lazy” one more time, I’m going to vomit.
But what happens instead is that people attempt to impose on others what they consider the gold standard. I am sure that there are people somewhere who’ve been bullied by tprs or communicative types when all they wanted was to be left alone to teach the way they wanted to. I NEVER have suggested anyone be forced to use communicative methods. I had a curriculum head in our huge school district who constantly handed out tips on how to use L2 in the classroom, how to teach for communication, etc. but NEVER tried to impose that on anyone.
And finally, I do believe that there is a clumping of traits. Teachers who are fanatical about grammar and rules tend to be fanatical about rules in all other areas of life. They believe they have THE answer and its roots are in some philosophy of life they have and want to impose on everyone else. NOTE I SAID “FANATICAL”. Very few teachers are fanatics on these issues. But you sometimes get people on listservs who are fanatical. I would actually pay someone to find a post of mine over the last 17 years or so in which I said everyone ought to teach a particular way. What I did was question the results of teaching grammar rules explicitly to be used consciously, but for some people, to be questioned is to be challenged, and to have their authority challenged is to be insulted.