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16 thoughts on “Question”

      1. Excellent, Lance! (it is Lance, right?) We definitely need to define our terms and make sure we are all talking about the same thing.
        I highly recommend reading “Perceptions of and Perspectives on the Term ‘Communicative’ ” (VanPatten, 1998). And thank you, Chris Stolz, for sending me this article a little while back. Here’s a synopsis:
        Savignon, the impetus of the contemporary communicative movement, said (1997, p.8): “Communication . . . is a continuous process of expression, interpretation and negotiation of meaning . . . Communicative competence applies to both written and spoken language, as well as to many other symbolic systems.”
        “Communication” in the mainstream classroom refers to oral practice (“skill-using”) of that unit’s rules and vocabulary.
        VP investigates what textbook publishers and instructors (T/I) mean when they say “communicative” and compares that to how researchers & scholars (S) define the term. VP is responding partly to the mis-reception of his 2 “communicative textbooks” (Sabias que & Destinos) in which teachers did not recognize them as “communicative.”
        T/I: Communication is speaking.
        S: Communication can involve any mode of language use and any symbolic system.
        “A communicative activity, then, is any activity in which the conveyance of meaning is primary” (p. 928).
        T/I: Communication is an end point, something to do after building up discrete knowledge of language.
        S: Communication is language acquisition or Language acquisition is communication.
        – Scholars don’t distinguish between “skill-getting” and “skill-using.” If you want to internalize grammar and vocabulary, then you communicate! But the mainstream approach on the contrary follows the sequence of present -> practice -> communication in which present & practice mean “skill-getting.”
        T/I: Communicative activities are for practicing communication.
        S: Communicative activities involve social-psychological or cognitive-informational outcomes.
        VP acknowledges the chasm between theory and practice. “With regard to pedagogy, the tremendous gap that exists between theory (supported by research) and practice is a real concern” (p. 931). VP lists 3 reasons:
        1) When the communicative movement happened in the 70’s teachers integrated “communicative” into what they were already doing (audio-lingual – mechanical drills), rather than start from scratch and go 100% communicative – “Except for a few renegades, language teachers did not take this option” (p. 930). We are those renegades!!!
        2) Textbooks are to blame. There is not much difference between textbooks and so teachers are shaped by the materials available. VP describes the chapters of major textbooks as all starting with a vocabulary list and a grammar section with exercises and there is usually a special section devoted to communication, but limits it to speaking and the purpose of the activities themselves is to practice the vocabulary and grammar. On the contrary, communication as defined by researchers happens in any mode and is used for social and informational purposes.
        The order of the standard lesson plan in a textbook is present -> practice -> communication. Since the communicative practice always comes after a present & practice (drills) sequence, the communication is “always constrained by the grammatical focus of the sequence. Communication would be at the service of learning grammar” (p. 930). But since acquisition happens because of communication, then if the goal is to get vocabulary and grammar internalized, you should start the lesson with communication.
        About grammar, VP says this: “A reading of the literature on second language acquisition and use suggests that communication is not the result of learning discrete bits of language and then putting them together. It is not clear at all that linguistic analysis or knowledge of grammar necessarily – if at all – precedes use” (p. 928).
        VP wrote (p. 930): “One might rightly ask why researchers and scholars are not writing cutting-edge textbooks that incorporate the latest in scholarship on language teaching and acquisition. Some do. But publishers are reluctant to publish anything that doesn’t ‘look familiar’ to language teachers. Publishing is a competitive business and publishers need to sell their products. Thus, there is a cycle of teachers’ perceptions and expectations that shape what publishers will produce. These materials in turn reinforce teachers’ perceptions and expectations and the cycle is difficult to break.”
        3) And then VP discusses the other the elephant in the room: teacher education. He discusses a study by Teschner (1987) in which he found that of the university level language program directors:
        59% = PhD in a literary field
        19% = PhD in traditional linguistics
        14% = PhD in applied or educational linguistics
        These are the people responsible for training grad students who then become professors and train undergrads. And as VP notes, personnel in higher ed does not change much, so the situation is still much the same.
        And as VP says, if only 14% of directors are applied linguists and there is usually only 1 person in applied linguistics in a language department, then less than 1% of all US professors are specialized in applied linguistics related to language learning and teaching.

        1. Thank you for this, Eric. Earlier today I requested “From Input to Output” and “Making Communicative Language Happen” from interlibrary loan at my school. I’d raised an eyebrow at the word Communicative because I’ve always heard it associated with the textbook/typical teaching approach.
          (I found and also requested a Chinese translation of From Input to Output… it’s going to be a fun summer geeking out with SLA stuff and in Chinese? Really?)

          1. I reread this and I want to clarify – to me it IS super fun sounding… but my Chinese edition can’t be loaned after all. Bummer. I want to know what terms are being used for these concepts in Chinese. I’ve made a request for help from a bookstore that specializes in overseas and other language publications.

        2. Eric, you’re making it too easy for us; siphoning through what I bet is some dry reading and making it alive and kicking for us. Really, you’re spoiling me. It’s all very interesting though, like how VP talked about the textbook companies making books that teachers want to buy, thus placating the status quo.

    1. Sean, I am very familiar with LICT. The story of the cat is a classic and I have used it with adults before. I don’t think I could get by with using it for a college text, however, though some of the stories would work. The artwork is goofy (I actually used liquid paper on the 80’s haircut since so many students thought it was an ugly girl instead of Pedro) but I still use it anyway!

  1. Tim, if I were doing a college course intro level, I’d use Bryce Hedstrom’s book Conversational Spanish. And plus it’s got a glossary of cuss words!

  2. Im gettin reeeeeal smart readin this stuff.
    I think Eric’s investigation of the word ‘communicative,’ together with Van Patten’s critique of legacy/textbook methods, and the endless supply/demand cycle that’s been created, belongs in the Primers.
    It informs our understanding of how we got to now, and it helps us frame the convo moving forward.
    As for textbook companies needing to sell McDonald’s textbooks, we are the foodies demanding locally grown organic hormone free range non GMO grass fed tofu materials and dang it we are a market to be reckoned with (or no thanks, w’ell grow our own in the backyard.)

  3. Hey, Tim,
    Don’t mean to be so dim (especially after reading Eric’s fab review of the term ‘Communicative,’) but do you really need to name a textbook, or can you pull together your own stuff and have a webpage syllabus w links??
    That way you could upload embedded readings, Textivate stuff, images, Movie Talk slide shows or other stuff you’ve done in class… etc… Heck, if you are techie, (which I definitely AM NOT,) you could have other fun stuff- Ebooks based on class stories, google voice stuff- lotsa jazzy sparkly stuff in Virtual-landia…students could share their scenes/ stories/ideas on google classroom (but don’t ask me how)….

  4. A local language institute (ILI) had to create their own textbooks for teaching World Languages because “visiting professors were lost without a text from which to teach.” Although a webpage syllabus w/ links fits particularly well in a college course with much more independence, the chains of tradition are still strong, and hold back many.

  5. Alisa, maybe down the road I can do that after they get to know me better. Right now I have to make sure my community college students are “prepared” for transferring to one of the top liberal arts private colleges in the U.S., just down the road (no pressure). I do think you’re right, however. I mean, isn’t MovieTalk directly from a college professor? I stepped away from the textbook and haven’t looked back at the high school level. I’ve had more than one professor actually take my other, fun, glorious, no pressure, adult non-credit Spanish class before and love it. Know what? They LOVED Blaine’s novels and got the subtle humor and the need for repetition. The counselor from that private college loved the class and totally got what we were doing.

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