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The Common European Framework presents a range of communicative language competences to be present in language teaching, and one of them is 'grammatical competence'. In this essay I will investigate and discuss how the CEF interprets grammatical competence in relation to two different models of language teaching as presented by Vivian Cook before I go on to discuss which implications this might have for language teaching and grammar competence in the classroom. Grammatical competence On an introductory note the Common European Framework announces an actionoriented approach which entails a "comprehensive, transparent and coherent frame of reference for language learning" (CEF, 1996, p. 9) and attempts to ensure an embrace of "language learning," which "comprises the actions performed by persons who as individuals and as social agents develop a range of competences, both general and in particular communicative language competences" (CEF, 1996, p. 9). The Framework divides communicative competence into three components; linguistic competence, sociolinguistic competence and pragmatic competence (CEF, 1996, p. 108). This essay will focus on 'grammatical competence' which is part of a linguistic competence according to the CEF. Linguistic competence is an exhaustive and voluminous field, and beyond grammatical competence, the Framework distinguishes between lexical competence, semantic competence, phonological competence, orthographic competence and orthoepic competence (CEF, 1996, p. 109). In this context, grammatical competence is understood as "knowledge of, and ability to use, the grammatical resources of a language" (CEF, 1996, p. 112). Simply put, it means to be in the possession of the knowledge which enables the language learner/user to produce and express meaning by utilizing the embedded principles of grammatical principles in the target language, as opposed to merely memorising and reproducing grammar (CEF, 1996, p. 113). The Framework acknowledges the fact that any language's grammar is highly complex and "defies definitive or exhaustive treatment", but nonetheless draws up a grammatical organization 1
which involves the specification of elements, categories, classes, structures, processes and relations (CEF, 1996, p. 113). Scott Thornbury (1999) writes that from "a learner's perspective, the ability both to recognise and to produce well-formed sentences is an essential part of learning a second language" (Thornbury, 1999, p. 3), but points out that there exists a lot of controversy and debate on how this ability is best developed and achieved. Grammar competence is a massive field, and the syllabus outlines the grammatical content to be taught and is usually represented in the coursebooks which then in turn are the basis for the language teachers' decisions in regards to what to focus on and what to teach in a grammar context. Thornbury outlines criteria for grading the grammar syllabus in terms of importance and include complexity, learnability and teachability where complexity is the most important. "An item is complex if it has a number of elements, the more elements, the more complex it is" (Thornbury, 1999, p. 9). Learnability is traditionally measures by the level of complexity, while teachability on the other hand is the level of ease a grammatical item is to introduce which means that it is usually introduced early in a language course (Thornbury, 1999, p. 10). Two different models of language learning The Common European Framework comprehensively outlines approaches and competences which should be applied to language teaching and language learning before the Framework continues to present more methodological practices in order to answer questions related to how the learner can carry out the given tasks, activities and processes in order to develop the competences necessary for communication, how teachers can facilitate and how education authorities can best plan curricula for modern languages (CEF, 1996, p. 131) The Framework puts forward a range of general approaches to language learning which tries to accommodate for the best possible practice for the language learner to learn a foreign language (L2). The CEF is careful to add that the "approach to the methodology of learning and teaching has to be comprehensive, presenting all options in an explicit and transparent way and avoiding advocacy or dogmatism" (CEF, 1996, p. 142), but rather attempts to provide methods which are the
most effective in language learning and teaching in order to ensure the best possible practices and "the needs of the individual learners in their social context" (CEF, 1996, p. 142). The main intent of the Framework is to present the learner and the teacher with options. I have decided to focus on two general models of L2 learning, namely the interaction approach and the sociocultural SLA theory as discussed by Cook. This is in line with the 'grammatical competence' from the CEF's chapter 6.4 Some methodological options for modern language learning and teaching which lists nine different, but related, approaches. I find myself interested in approaches leaning towards 'direct exposure', 'direct participation', 'authentic use', 'negotiating interaction' and 'L2 as the language of classroom management' (CEF, 1996, p. 143), which is to some extent true for the following models of L2 learning. The Interaction Approach The main idea of the interaction approach is staunchly affirms how talking to others is the key to language acquistion. Language is acquired through interaction. Jerome Bruner argues that a 'structured interaction' is critical when learning a language. The central concept of the interaction approach is the 'negotiation of meaning', where the speakers have possibilities to negotiate through either "repetitions, confirmations, reformulations, comprehension checks, clarification requests etc" (Long, 1996: 418 in Cook, 2008, p. 225). Furthermore explains Bruner the idea of 'structured interaction' with the concept of 'scaffolding', which is the combination of negotiation of meaning along with the goal shared by the interlocutors to extract meaning from the utterances made. The interaction approach contains various ways to create the 'scaffolding' and to negotiate meaning which includes recasts, clarifications, repetitions as well as conversational interaction. Although, as Cook points out, all of these types of feedback does also "occur in non-‐classroom conversation, they are more focused on the language mistake than the meaning, and doubtless occur with a much higher frequency in teaching than would be acceptable in ordinary conversation" (Cook, 2008, p. 226). However, the interaction 3
approach can work if the group of students and the language teacher has established a mutual understanding and trust in order to make negotiating possible and futile, especially in regards to grammar systems. Some students might choose to be silent where such a method exists due to fear of having their ignorance exposed in public (Cook, 2008, p. 227). This teaching method does also require that the teacher sets up tasks which involves negotiating meaning, and both teacher and peer feedback is important to interaction, particularly through recasts (Cook, 2008, p. 228). The interaction approach does also open for "metalinguistic feedback commenting on wellformedness" and a general discussion about grammar and language which will raise the students' awareness of how they develop fluency in the target language, and this is in line with what the CEF states as 'direct exposure', 'direct participation', 'authentic use', 'negotiating interaction' and 'L2 as the language of classroom management' (CEF, 1996, p. 143) which are crucial to language acquisition. Sociocultural SLA Theory The sociocultural SLA theory advocates a method which leans heavily on Vygotsky's theory of internalization, i.e. "the process through which the child turns the external social use of language into internal mental use" (Cook, 2008, p. 228) as well has his theory of ZPD, zone of proximal development, which in this instance refers "to the gap between the learner's current stage and the next point on some development scale the learner is capable of reaching" (Cook, 2008, p. 228). Bruner, psychologist in the field of developmental psychology, is taken into account when presenting the theory of 'scaffolding' which is also predominant in the sociocultural SLA theory. Scaffolding is understood as "the process that assists the learner in getting to the next point in development, in sociocultural theory consisting of social assistance by other people rather than of physical resources such as dictionaries" (Cook, 2008, p. 228). Exposing language learners to spoken language is the main objective and motivation in sociocultural SLA theory. This can be achieved through what Bruner calls LASS, Language Acquisition Support System, and IRF (initiation, response and feedback) (Cook, 2008, p. 229) which in turn develops into what Merrill Swain calls a "collaborative dialogue", in which language learners are involved in problem solving and negotiating meaning together through constructive dialogue (Cook, 2008, p. 230). Through 4
structured cooperative tasks language learners are required to exchange information, communicate and develop the educational dialogue, "in which people create new knowledge, that is, learning" (Cook, 2008, p. 230) or cooperate and assist each other in realizing and comprehending knowledge and practice newly acquired skills along with reinforcing and repeating them. "Language learning is social mediation between learner and someone else during which social acquired knowledge becomes internal" (Cook, 2008, p. 230), but the method requires 'scaffolding' represented and orchestrated by an expert or a fellow learner. Teaching which utilizes sociocultural theory requires structured cooperative tasks, and additionally a strong teacher presence to monitor dialogues through LASS and IRF. Models' implications for language teaching Both the interaction approach and the sociocultural SLA theory strongly advocate a conviction where exposure is a central idea, and teaching based upon them requires structured task-‐based activities which foster cooperation and collaboration in groups. Scaffolding entails strong teacher presence in lessons when task-‐based activities are unfolding, and the purpose of the activities should take into account two objectives, namely precision at applying the grammatical system taught, and automisation of the system, which also can be referred to, respectively, as accuracy and fluency (Thornbury, 1999, p. 91). Thornbury highlights the importance of the following when discussing the former including attention to form, familiarity, thinking time and feedback. Attention to form is important, as it elicits the aim to 'getting it right', and here stronger fellow learners can teach weaker ones, if the culture of 'scaffolding' is embedded in the language classroom. Practice activities should motivate learners to be accurate (Thornbury, 1999, p. 92). Thornbury writes that "(f)luency is a skill" (Thornbury, 1999, p. 93), but emphasizes the importance for learners to automise knowledge cognitively, only then fluency can develop and be internalized as a skill. Task-‐based activities include information gap tasks which will force language learners to practice real communication in a collaborative fashion, and they will be motivated by a communicative purpose, i.e. to bridge gaps. Tasks should have attention to meaning, authenticity and a communicative purpose (Thornbury, 1999, p. 93).
Models which are built on language exposure through task-‐based collaborative activities like the interaction approach and the sociocultural SLA theory do also naturally have their pitfalls and dangers. The possibility of fossilization, i.e. language and grammar systems have been wrongly acquired, reinforced and stalled, can be a result of a lack of negative feedback, or error correction from the teacher. "Hence it is now generally accepted that a focus on form (not just meaning) is necessary in order to guard against fossilisation (Thornbury, 1999, p. 116). The prospect of having students expose each other to grammatical errors are very much a danger of methods where exposure is central. Nevertheless, language learners make mistakes, and they have to be allowed to, but they also have the right to be corrected. In the case of task performance represented by the discussed theories and approaches the CEF stress the importance of taking into account "both the learner's competences and the conditions and constraints specific to a particular task (which may be manipulated in order to modify the level of difficulty of classroom tasks), and the strategic interplay of learner competences and task parameters in carrying out a task (CEF, 1996, p. 158). In other words, the teacher's role should not be underestimated when using task performance when teaching grammar in the language classroom, on the contrary, the teacher's presence and guidance is essential. As a language teacher (and language learner) I base my choice of language teaching methods on knowledge, experience and reflection as regards to the best practices, although it is important to differentiate and accommodate for all the language students and their appropriate level and their particular needs as pointed out by the CEF. Subsequently, my further points of discussion will take into account individual differentiation, but will be based upon general principles for the presented models for language learning. CEF stresses that teachers "should realise that their actions, reflecting their attitudes and abilities, are a most important part of the environment for language learning/acquisition (CEF, 1996, p. 144), which means that the background, linguistic, educational and pedagogical, plays an important role for the language teacher. Naturally then, it is imperative as a modern language teacher to be constantly alert and aware of one's attitudes and convictions as regards to teaching skills, classroom management skills, ability to engage in action research and to reflect on experience, teaching styles,
understanding of and ability to handle testing, assessment and evaluation, knowledge of and ability to teach sociocultural background information, inter-cultural attitudes and skills, knowledge of and ability to develop students’ aesthetic appreciation of literature, and as mentioned, to maintain an ability to deal with individualisation within classes containing diverse learner types and abilities (CEF, 1996, p. 144). How then is the role of grammatical competence understood in the general approaches chosen above? Cook questions the authenticity of the classroom and writes that teachers "and books slip into the habit of referring to the world outside the classroom as the 'real world'" (Cook, 2008, p. 155). How then, is it possible to achieve a direct exposure to "authentic use of language in L2 in one or more ways" (CEF, 1996, p. 143)? Cook draws attention to the fact that teacher talk make up for around 70 per cent of classroom language, and that many teachers still think of the language classroom as language practice above all else (Cook, 2008, p. 160). The distinction between non-authentic texts and authentic texts highlights two justifications made by Cook which argues for more use of the latter in order to maximize motivation and interest, as authentic texts serves a real communicative purpose, and acquisition-promoting content, which provide a rich source of natural language for the learner to acquire language, and grammar, from (Cook, 2008, p. 159). Thornbury, on the other hand, highlights the importance of context in language learning, and this needs to be taken into account when using language teaching methods relying heavily on exposure and scaffolding. As Thornby writes "in the absence of context, it is very difficult ot recover the intended meaning of a single word or phrase" (Thornbury, 1999, p. 69). Examples of methods which will ensure contextualization can be using scripted dialogues, authentic texts, student language analysis, dictogloss and genre analysis (Thornbyry, 1999, p. 69-90). Grammar competence is present in all examples, but is guaranteed by a strong teacher presence combined with a structured dialogue with the students and language learners. Another approach inspired by the sociocultural SLA theory is a combination of presentations, explanations, (drill) exercises and exploitation activities, but with L2 as the language of classroom management and explanation (CEF, 1996, p. 143) devise the main foundation for language teaching. Thornbury discusses two approaches to achieve this 7
model for teaching in his two chapters "How to teach grammar from examples" and "How to teach grammar through texts". There are two ways in which a learner can obtain comprehension of a rule, and that is either the deductive (rule-driven) or the inductive (rule-discovery). Methods such as the Direct Method and the Natural Approach both lean towards the latter, and are strongly identified with methods of second language instruction (Cook, 2008, p. 49). Furthermore, I am inclined to argue that such a pronounced learning model for language learning enables the language learner to discover rules and patterns, which then can constitute the further explanation by the teacher. Thornbury quotes Pascal who wrote: "People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they themselves have discovered than by those which have come into the minds of others" (Thornbury, 1999, p. 51). By structuring exercises which challenges the students to find rules and patterns themselves, or utilizing the inductive approach, has naturally both positive and negative aspects. Among the advantages I value learners "fit their existing mental structures than rules" which enables them "to make the rules more meaningful, memorable, and serviceable and then in turn ensures a "cognitive depth", higher degree of student activity and helps the students to develop autonomy and self-reliance. If, as in the case of project work, the teacher facilitates for collaborative work in the target language learners will also practice the language in a more authentic setting. The disadvantages though include mispent time and energy on working out rules which might mislead and confuse students, wrong hypotheses might be too narrow or broad to be applicable, lot of planning on the teacher's part, some language areas resist easy rule formation and the method can be experienced as frustrating by students who prefer to simply be told the rule (Thornbury, 1999, p. 54-55). An example of a collaborative task could be utilizing what Thornbury calls realia, which is the technical term for any real objects that are introduced in the classroom (Thornbury, 1999, p. 57). By introducing the class to a "mystery bag" filled with objects students need to deduce the characteristics of the owner based upon the nature of the objects, and hence use various grammatical structures. Wrapped objects can serve a purpose of teaching the language of perception: "It looks like a...; it feels like a ...; it sounds like a ... etc" (Thornbury, 1999, p. 59), while a shopping bag with groceries can be used to teach the language of
quantities. Such a method might create a more authentic, albeit a limited, use of the target language. Adult leaners might find it rudimentary and childish (which then calls for appropriate planning from the teacher), but at lower levels it might stir an engaged student group who develops an authentic enthusiasm to solve the mystery. Cook distinguishes between Marton's (1988) four teaching strategies which includes receptive strategy (listening), communicative strategy, reconstructive strategy and the eclectic strategy (combines two or more of the others), while Allen (1990) on the other hand distinguishes between experiential activities and analytic activities (Cook, 2008, p. 235). A task-‐based activity like the aforementioned activity of the "mystery bag" would most likely involve Merton's communicative strategy or Allen's experiential activity, which then in turn would utilize the interaction method where 'scaffolding' has been given by the teacher and the 'collaborative dialogue' occurs among the students solving the task given. Conclusion In this essay I have discussed how grammatical competence is understood to develop according to two different models of language learning, respectively interaction approach and sociocultural SLA theory, as presented by Cook. I have used the Common European Framework as a backdrop for my discussion on what methods would be most beneficial to the language learners in terms of grammar competences, and although "a framework of reference for language learning, teaching and assessment must also deal with methodology, since its users will undoubtedly wish to reflect on and communicate their methodological decisions within a general framework (CEF, 1996, p. 142)" I have also tried to assess the methods discussed in a critical fashion. The implications for using methods with a strong focus on exposure have been debated and the need for a safe and respectful classroom culture along with a teacher which accommodates for the variety of learners through differentiation it does not disqualify the fact and the importance of grammar to be an integrated part of L2 language teaching and learning, and through direct exposure combined with scaffolding such as scripted dialogues students' collaborative dialogues will emerge and grammatical competence will
become an integrated part of every lesson where language learners will develop a conscious attitude towards grammar in their language acquisition.
Common European Framework. Retrieved from http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/CADRE_EN.asp Cook, V. (2008). Second language learning and language teaching. London: Hodder Education. Thornbury. S. (1999). How to teach grammar. Edinburgh: Pearson Longman.
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