Savignon Article

Eric advises:
This article is incredible! It could have been written today and be just as relevant as it was when it was written 40 YEARS AGO!!! (Savignon, 1976). This could have been written by a TPRS teacher!
I couldn’t even begin to give the spark notes on this article, because every line is worth reading!



52 thoughts on “Savignon Article”

  1. I just read it a 2nd time! Once you start it, you won’t want to stop! It just keeps picking up speed and getting at the heart of all the issues we express daily on this PLC! I could keep reading it over and over again! This is AWESOME!

  2. I’m working through this article. I was struck by the connection between the concept of errors as “wandering” like the French cognate “errer” to wander and BVP’s recent comments on the concept that there are no errors since they are merely representative of the learners internal systems.

    1. “This implies acceptance of ‘error’ as a natural and desirable feature of language learning. It is helpful to think of the notion of error in its entomological sense. It comes from the Latin errare meaning to wander. The modern French verb is error. This understanding of error as exploration is crucial, if we are to begin sincerely to make progress toward the development of programs which teach and test communicative competence” (p. 10).

    1. Tina and Alisa shared 2 of my million favorite quotes from the article!
      Alisa’s quote is regarding kids that are deemed incapable of studying the “difficult subjects,” a parent of a kid not doing well in class and the teacher saying the kid was not smart enough to learn Spanish. The father asks “Why can’t you teach my son the Spanish that the dumb kids in Spanish speak?”
      Hahahahaha. LOVE LOVE LOVE IT!
      Mark Knowles since seeing us sharing this article has emailed Sandy to advise her, to bring some light to her day 🙂

  3. We could all start filling up these comment fields with beautiful quotes from the article:
    “In our concern for ‘respectability’ -and, subsequently, for norms and standardization of achievement criteria, we have remained prisoners of academia and failed to offer our students the kinds of language learning experiences they need most.” (p. 14)

  4. “There is ample research to show that second language learning does not proceed in a lock-step, error-free, stimulus-response fashion. Before any meaningful attempts can be made to implement teaching and testing procedures which reflect what we know about second language learning strategies, however, we have to deal convincingly with the feelings of the classroom teacher. Failure to do so will result in yet another wave of ‘reform’ consisting of a new set of labels – communicative competence, affective learning activities, language for special purposes, notional syllabus – with nothing really changed.” (p. 10)

  5. “You can help enormously by 1) not criticizing their efforts and 2) relating to them in as friendly, authentic a manner as possible. This is not the time to correct grammar or to ask for
    complete sentences. Try, just for the moment, to forget you are a language teacher and to listen instead as an interested participant. . . Be helpful, be honest, but never hurtful” (p. 16-17).

  6. Obviously this is going to be fun to read! No time until after this week ends.
    It’s the third time in the past month (from outside TPRS circles) that I’ve heard something like this truth: “we have to deal convincingly with the feelings of the classroom teacher” about changing the way they teach.

    1. “we have to deal convincingly with the feelings of the classroom teacher”
      – I firmly believe change is going to require that teachers have education in SLA. Whether you like SLA or not, it should not be optional to know how languages are acquired and not be optional to know the big SLA findings, if you teach a language. This informs the “why” of everything we do. It gives our teaching, every activity, a purpose.

  7. This is amazing. We really are part of a lineage. Yesterday a student made an “error” during a group response and he seemed ashamed. He said “no puedo salgo” instead of “no puedo salir”…a really intelligent “error”” …especially since he got the irregular 1st person form of salir and everything. I broke into a little English rant about how there are theorists that say there is no such thing as an error in language learning. I asked the class, “Is it an error when a 2 year old says ‘Mommy go bye-bye?’ ” . There was a resounding NO! and one student said “No, because they are speaking at the maximum capacity of the language that they have.” I was blown away by that student’s insight and gave him “puños” (a fist-bump). Then we moved on.

  8. I’m giddy. I’m feeling that vibration, that glowing energy from this article. I’ll probably stay up late tonight (I have my formal observation today)

  9. “It is understandable if the kinds of language teachers and teachers of future language teachers to whom I referred in my earlier anecdotes see, in what they perceive to be a current disregard for grammar, a threat to their own professional identities. Those who have learned the surface structure of a language but are not communicatively competent (more precisely, have not found occasions for acquiring communicative competence) are not likely to be the first to herald teaching strategies which place value on creativity and spontaneity. The apprehensions and insecurities of others in training feed their egos – allow them to ‘show their stuff’ one more time to an admiring crowd . . . a crowd of future teachers who will, in turn, conceal their own communicative INcompetence behind the structure drills, dialogues, and grammar analyses they will offer to their students. We have produced exactly what the system made it inevitable for us to produce. There has been little or no opportunity for producing anything else. And to quote again Postman and Weingartner, ‘It is close to futile to talk of any new curriculum unless you are talking about the possibility of getting a new kind of teacher . . . ” (p. 15).

  10. Another thing that strikes me is just how many more usable tools and strategies we have now. When she gets into the nuts-and-bolts, like “put them in groups and have them make conversation” kind of stuff, her suggestions seem pretty far fetched to me, even though the theory is solid. Then at the end she talks about Matava-style questionnaires/ Hedstrom persona especial kinds of activities. We have come so far in making these kinds of insights POSSIBLE at all in the classroom…if they ARE possible in the classroom, as Ben is always wondering with us. Thanks so much for sharing this, Eric.

    1. Remember, this was 1976!!!
      And student-to-student input may be lower quality “fuel,” but still potential fuel. And could have other indirect effects on acquisition and performance. Remember too that Krashen’s Natural Approach (1982) was filled with group and partner work.
      So much of what we do is not new (e.g. “special person”). It just may not have ever been used widely nor communicatively before. It is now being rediscovered.

  11. “. . . why would foreign languages still have the reputation for being among the ‘toughest’ subjects in the school curriculum? Why would the attitude still prevail that second language teachers are privileged to have the ‘best’ students in their classes. And yet, as we have seen, second language learning success is not primarily a function of general intelligence or even language aptitude.” (p. 14).

  12. “In the United States it was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that modern languages were offered in public schools . . . So it was that when modern languages were first introduced into the schools, they were taught, as befitted an ‘academic’ subject, on the models of Latin and Greek” (p. 14).

  13. “And it would seem to be their own feelings of inadequacy [those of non-native speaking fluent teachers] which, rather than increase their tolerance, make them particularly eager to point out and correct the errors of others” (p. 13).

  14. Savignon quotes Postman and Weingartner:
    ” . . . the fact is that many teachers of English are fearful of life and, incidentally, of children. They are pompous and precious, and are lovers of symmetry, categories and proper labels. For them, the language of real human activity is too sloppy, emotional, uncertain, dangerous, and thus altogether too unsettling to study in the classroom. . . Grammarians offer such teachers a respectable out. They give them a game to play, with rules and charts, and with boxes and arrows to draw. Grammar is not, of course, without its controversies, but they are of such a sterile and generally pointless nature that only one who is widely removed from relevant human concerns can derive much stimulation from them” (p. 11).

  15. “There is nothing at all sacred about the syllabus which begins with definite and indefinite articles, move next to noun gender, followed, perhaps by present tense of Type I verbs . . . leaving the past tense for sometime in the eighth or ninth unit. . . If linguistic competence is but a part, and not always an essential part at that, of communicative competence, much more emphasis needs to be given to non-linguistic aspects of communication” (p. 9-10).

  16. “. . . as long as we look to traditional discrete-point tests of second language proficiency for placement and evaluation, we are victims of the rearview mirror syndrome. We are pasting new slogans on old wagons. We have not understood the message of communicative competence” (p. 8).

  17. “We can talk all we want about language for communication, real-language activities, spontaneous transactions, but if verb forms and dialog recitation are what show up on the test, the students quickly get the message that we don’t mean what we say” (p. 6).

  18. “If we teach for communicative competence, we have to test for communicative competence, so that we and our students know how well we are doing what we purport to be doing” (p. 6).

      1. I would like to hear others’ ideas especially since I am feeding my kids to a grammar-based maw of a department with a high failure rate in second year. This is what I do: I give semi-daily exit quizzes in the TL. They are about the day’s input. If we did a story, it is about the story. If it was a kid’s birthday, we do questions on the birthday kid. I ask the question aloud (without taking down any posters or writing on the board or question words) and kids write a response. I do not require more than one word and I let it be in English if the kid needs to. I applaud anyone who writes a complete TL sentence but give no extra points. (I just write occasional encouragements to them on their quiz papers like “Wow, writing like this is so good for you!”)
        For assessments, I do not announce them. I have kids translate a passage we have worked with. Then I take that up and have them write in the TL using no resources.
        I have not got time to do oral assessments. My (non-CI) colleague who does this has to show a movie for three to four days to cycle the kids through an oral assessment. It just seems lie that time is better spent feeding the kids more CI.
        I am in a very high-pressure school as well as feeding into an extremely success-conscious and high-pressure high school, so any thoughts would be much welcomed. I want to be able to prove to my kids, parents, and colleagues that the kids are growing.

  19. “It is not a question of patching up existing programs with ‘communicate practice drills,’ ‘pseudo-communication,’ but of redefining our goals and rethinking our methods” (p. 4).

  20. I really enjoyed this article and couldn’t stop reading it! I have been thinking about how to incorporate more spontaneous conversation into my classes, especially with level 2, and thought it would be fun to allow the students to choose 2-4 words that they want to know and taking off with it. I start every Spanish 2 class with personalized questions, but I always thought it would be fun to let them choose some words they feel would be important to know and see where the conversation goes. It could take the whole period or 15 minutes, but the point being they are words the kids want to know. I know some of the words might be ridiculous adolescent words, but if that’s what they want to know then so be it. Or I could say we need 3 legitimate words and allow one goofy word. In this process there would likely be some words I don’t know, which would be a great way to model how to use word which is a valuable resource for students.

      1. I imagine Polly is referring to these quotes:
        “Encourage them to ask you for the words they? need. The best time to learn a new word is when you really want to know it. You are not expected to know every word either, of course” (p. 18).
        “Don’t be afraid to admit it when you don’t know a word or a pronunciation. Your frank admission of what you do and don’t know will make you that much more credible in the eyes of your students. It will ultimately serve to give your students confidence that they, too, can learn the language” (p. 20).
        There is plenty of opportunity for us to give the kids the words they need/want when we “storyask.”
        Rather than think about designing lessons around words, consider organizing them around the communicative event, e.g. fictional story or personalized narratives.

        1. No design intended in my thinking, but letting something they bring up start a discussion. I have a class of students very keen to become fluent in Chinese. At the beginning of class, we talk often about some kind of topic, but I’ve mostly initiated the topic and a conversation ensues for a while. They’re already very involved, but I can let them initiate more. They’d be great with that.

          1. No lesson plan necessary in my mind either. I do think it depends on the class, but I think this might really build ownership amongst the kids if they were allowed to help determine what we discussed for a part of the day/week. Just a thought…

          2. Maybe it can be a “job” of sorts where you pick a student at random. They say what the would like to talk about and then run with it. I wonder if a story could develop out of it… wait. Of course it can!

  21. I did not get far. I want to reflect on looking in the rear view mirror.
    It is like “From which end do we peel the banana?” (Susie Gross) We can peel from one end or the other, but not from both.
    Or, more recently, VP addressed a rear view mirror issue, “Are the kids going to get enough grammar with the communicative approach?” (communicative here referring to CI).
    Hats off to all who keep focused on the view through the front windshield and who use the rear view to make sure the passengers are OK.

    1. You remember VanPatten was asked in his first episode about the idea that teaching communicatively is going to lead to poorer grammar and VP responded that if he gets asked that again he’ll shoot himself. . . well, here is the answer:
      A communicative approach has different goals. It is NOT intended to teach and test explicit and discrete grammatical knowledge. It’s not a better way to do what we used to do. This is a revolutionary paradigm shift! And seeing as how that explicit instruction doesn’t do anything for acquisition anyways, it was NEVER doing anything for real language use, just language-like use. And then there’s plenty of studies that show that even when taught more communicatively, performance on those discrete tests is comparative to when people are taught with fewer communicative activities.

      1. Very important point, Eric. We haven’t happened upon a better way to prepare kids for conjugating verbs or declining nouns. We have learned how to teach a language to another human being. Given an assessment on spontaneous comprehension and production, our students should perform well. Given an assessment on discrete grammar items, our kids should perform quote poorly.
        The real gem in this article is that best practice in language teaching is fundamentally incompatible with traditional assessments. Giving a CI kid a verb synopsis assessment is like giving an art student an assessment on the factory identification numbers for different types of paint brushes.

  22. Savignon quote Postman and Weingartner who are taking about the inquiry method of learning and teaching, but Savignon says it applies to teaching for communicative competence:
    ‘It is NOT a refinement or extension of modification of older school environments. It is a different message altogether, and like the locomotive, light bulb and radio, its impact will be unique and revolutionary. . . the inquiry method is not designed to do better what older environments try to do. It works you over in entirely different ways. . . Thus, it will cause teachers, and their tests, and their grading systems and their curriculums to change” (p. 2).

  23. Sorry, everyone, for all the comments. Just trying to increase the probability that more of us read this article. I told you. If I quote the gems in the article I end up quoting almost the entire article!

    1. Don’t apologize Eric! It’s a great article. I found it kind of sad, amidst all my excitement and “Yes! Of course!” that I shouted to the computer as I read, because really, why has this madness gone on so long. It is grueling to have to defend ourselves when we teach in alignment with decades of research and with eons of evolution. Sigh.
      But yeah, so many gems in this! Thanks. I will check out the spark note version too 🙂

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