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approaches to second language acquisition

approaches to second language acquisition

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Published by: mmonopoly on Mar 18, 2010
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Task-based syllabus, merits, demerits, content selection, gradationDissatisfaction with conventional linguistically based syllabuses has led to a number of proposals for various kinds of task-based alternatives. Task-based syllabuses have interested some researchers and curriculum developers in English language teaching since the mid-1980s. Examples include the procedural syllabus proposed by Prabhu (1987), the process syllabus proposed by Breen (1984, as cited in Müller-Hartmann, 2000), and the task syllabus.Most syllabuses and teaching methods before task based teaching were based on discrete point idea and thus small pieces were presented to students in anadditive way resulting in some sort of a grammatical syllabus. Syllabus contentwas a series of linguistic forms. These are delivered through synthetic ‘methods’. Grammar-translation, Audiolingual Method, the Silent way, Total Physical Response, etc are examples of teaching methods based on the tenets of grammaticalsyllabuses. Therefore, to present the forms, different pedagogical devices suchas translation, explicit grammar rule explanation, pattern drills, error correction, and linguistically simplified graded readings were used. The forms were the major focus of classroom lessons—so-called focus on forms. It was not important whether learners were psycho-linguistically ready or not to learn each item separately when it was presented. Learners should synthesize the parts when theyare needed for communication.Such a grammatical based syllabus faced some problems including lack oflearners
need analysis. The materials were not motivating but boring (Müller-Hartmann, 2000). To provide a rationale for task-based teaching Müller-Hartmann (2000, p. 598) says:Most serious of all is the fact that synthetic syllabuses and synthetic languageteaching ‘methods’ assume a model —an accumulation of isolated linguistic entities, each to near native levels, one at a time—which is controverted by everything known about how people learn first or second languages…Thirty years of secondlanguage acquisition research has shown that naturalistic, instructed and mixedlearners all exhibit gradual approximation to target norms. Progress in a new language is non-linear, and rarely sudden and categorical. Learners pass throughcommon (possibly universal) stages of seemingly immutable developmental sequences. Studies have found instruction capable of speeding up progress through sequences, among other things, but incapable of enabling learners to skip stages, e.g.to jump straight from zero knowledge of a structure to native-like use (a levelvery few learners ever attain). There is strong empirical evidence…for the ideathat teachers can only teach what learners are ready to learn, i.e. are capableof processing. Acquisition sequences do not reflect the instructional sequencesembodied in externally imposed grammatical syllabuses.Thus, considering the internal syllabus of the learners, we should try to recreate conditions that children learned their native languages so successfully in the adult classrooms. Holistic samples of target language use should be presentedand the teacher’s job is to make the input comprehensible. Students induce therules of the grammar through analyzing the input—hence, the term analytic syllabuses (Müller-Hartmann, 2000).The term “task” is a complex concept and has been defined in various ways. Long, 1985, cited in Nunan, 1988) defined task as a piece of work which one does for himself or for others freely or for reward. By task, he means what people do in their everyday life. Task, according to Richards, Platt, and Weber (1985, cited in Nunan 1988), is defined as an activity which is done as a response when one understands and processes the language. Teachers are required to specifywhat is considered as successful completion of the task. Long
s definition can be considered as real world tasks that the learner does in real life, and the definition provided by Richards et al. (1985) can be called pedagogic tasks that refer to the tasks that the learner is required to do in the classroom.However, it should be born in mind that tasks are different from other activities because they have a "non-instructional purpose and a measurable outcome” (Krahnke, 1987, p. 57). Task-based learning is sometimes similar to situational learning; however, the students themselves provide the situations. In additi
on, tasks should not be considered as static because they involve manipulation of information and development. More importantly, tasks require learners to apply“cognitive processes of evaluation, selection, combination, modification, or supplementation", or in other words, " higher-order thinking skills" (p. 57).Tasks, according to Richard (2001, p. 161) refer to the activities or goals carried out through using language. Tasks are of various types or alternatives thatcan be used in all teachings. However, in task based syllabus, the main focus ison those tasks which have been "specifically designed to facilitate second language learning". Richard (2001) maintains that in carrying out these tasks, learners should receive comprehensible input and modified output. Krahnke (1987) also adds that the primary theory of learning underlying task-based instruction isKrashen
s theory of acquisition. Acquisition involves the naturalistic development of language proficiency through understanding and through using language formeaningful communication (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). Thus, the ability to use alanguage is gained through exposure, meaningful communication and participation. Accordingly, Richard (2001) says that comprehensible input and modified outputare two central processes in second language acquisition which learners receivewhen they carry out a task. Thus, a number of theorists like Long and Crookes (1991, cited in Richard, 2001) proposed task as a basis for syllabus design. Longand Crookes (1991, cited in Richard, 2001) claim that tasks are considered as avehicle to present appropriate target language samples or input to learners.In task based syllabus, according to Richard (2001), the basic claims are: (1) tasks drive the language acquisition process, (2) teaching grammar is not central in this approach since students learn grammar indirectly, and (3) tasks beingmotivating engage learners in meaningful communication. For syllabus design, two types of tasks- pedagogical and real-world tasks- are basic. Pedagogical tasks, i.e. jigsaw tasks, information-gap tasks, problem solving tasks, decision-making tasks, and opinion exchange tasks, are based on SLA theory and are used totrigger second language learning process. Real-world tasks are designed based on needs analysis and what is important and useful in real life. Although the aforementioned activities have been a feature of communicative language teaching and have an incidental role, in task-based syllabus, they are considered as the central feature of a syllabus (Richard, 2001).Nunnan (1988) argues that the principles underlying procedural and task-based syllabus are very similar. Prabhu (1987) introduced procedural syllabus.He looked at language from different perspectives and said that language is a vehicle to cope with meaning. Teaching should create conditions to cope with meaning in the classrooms and direct teaching of grammar should be excluded. In other words, grammar should be taught subconsciously. Prabhu
s project, according to Nunnan (1988), was criticized because he only focused on the learning processes and did not attempt to these processes to outcomes; that is, he didn’t pay attention to product.While Nunnan (1988) considered procedural and task-based syllabus different, Richards, Platt, and Webber (1985, cited in Nunnan, 1988) considered themsynonymous. Both task-based and procedural syllabuses are concerned with classroom processes which stimulate learning. Prabhu (1987) identifies three broad task types of information gap, reasoning gap, and problem-solving to consider as typologies of tasks as a starting point for task design.To develop instructional sequences around tasks, Nunan (2004) proposed a six step procedure. They are: (1) schema building which refers to the exercises that help to introduce the topic, (2) controlled practice which should be provided inusing the target language vocabulary, structures, and functions , (3) authenticlistening practice that provides learners with intensive listening practice, (4)focusing on linguistic elements , (5) providing freer practice, and (6) introducing the pedagogical task. These are based on seven underlying principles of scaffolding, task dependency, recycling, active learning, integration, reproduction to creation, and reflection.The construction of a task based syllabus, according to Ellis (2003), requires the specification of tasks which are going to be included in the syllabus. They should also be classified in terms of their type, so the thematic content can be

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