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Illinois University



MANY TEACHERS of English as a Second Language actually have confidence in their ability to teach students who have had no exposure to the target language? How many teachers who work with beginning level students are entirely comfortable with the sequence of material offered through the text they happen to be using? Further, how many teachers, in evaluating the first fifty class hours have asked themselves if another approach might have given their students a firmer foundation in the target language? In considering the answers to these questions, it may be helpful to look at several hypotheses concerning second language learning and foreign language learning in general. One hypothesis to consider is that language is a verbal habit which is developed linearly, beginning with speaking and listening and proceeding to reading and writing, with oral production emphasized from lesson one. In discussing the basic procedure for a grammar lesson, Paulston and Bruder (1975) stress the need for immediate oral production, beginning with tightly controlled mechanical drills. The focus of the lesson is on grammar and structural pattern drills; we are not concerned here with the teaching of pronunciation, listening comprehension, reading or writing. It may well be argued that it is impossible to learn only discrete items in a language lesson and that a lesson of grammar also involves elements of pronunciation and listening comprehension. This is undoubtedly so, and there is always incidental learning taking place. The teacher, however, in making up his plans, must focus on teaching one thing at a time so that he can concentrate on reaching a predetermined degree of student proficiency, know what to correct (and just as important, what not to correct), and aid the students with prepared explanations (23).

Another hypothesis which a prospective teacher of beginning level students might consider states that language learning is an integrative process; therefore all language skills can be introduced simultaneously, with each skill reinforcing the others. Donaldson (1971) relates to this hypothesis when he gives an explanation of how the cognitive-code approach to language teaching differs from the grammartranslation approach: It should be a four-skills approach, but not in the manner of audio-lingual habit theory. The four skills should be practiced simultaneously after the presentation of explicit grammatical rules. Practice of all skills-but practice based upon study and analysis-is a prime objective (132). A third hypothesis which deserves consideration is that language learning is an integrative process initially requiring contextual decoding of the meanings of new utterances before meaningful and creative encoding can take place. It is this hypothesis which we wish to focus on in our paper. Several studies are cited which provide supportive empirical evidence. In a paper entitled "Effects of Delay at the Beginning of Second Language Learning," the late Valerian Postovsky challenged the assumption commonly associated with the audio-lingual method that intensive oral practice in the target language at the beginning stages of instruction will result in faster acquisition of the language. He proposed that the production of speech is "an end result of complex and mostly covert processes which constitute linguistic competence" (Postovsky 1974:229). He reasoned that in acquiring the ability to decode, the language
'We wish to acknowledge with appreciation the support and encouragement of John Oiler during the writing of this paper.



learner must develop recognition knowledge, while to encode he must develop retrieval knowledge. Postovsky asserted that time is better spent, in the initial phases of a language program, on developing the student's capacity to decode. He credited Susan Ervin-Tripp (1970) as the source of the processing model he offered in making his case. She states: The evidence from natural learning suggests that manifest speech is largely secondary. That is, as long as the learner orients to speech, interprets it and learns the form or arrangement that represents the meaning, he learns speech as fast as someone speaking (339). Postovsky considered it to be a great handicap for students in audio-lingual programs to hear each other speaking error-ridden varieties of the target language from the outset of instruction. While they might develop a fluency among themselves in their classroom varieties of the target language, they would no doubt experience difficulty understanding a native speaker in a more natural context. To investigate the effects of delay in oral practice at the beginning of language study, Postovsky conducted an experiment in the Russian Language Department of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. An experimental and a control group of sixty-one subjects each took part in the twelve-week experiment. For the first four weeks of the program the experimental group delayed oral practice in Russian. They were introduced to the Cyrillic alphabet and were given some pronunciation practice in the first three days to enable them to write their responses to the aurally presented material. The control group followed the regular program in Russian which emphasized intensive oral practice. After the first three days, the control group was also introduced to the Cyrillic alphabet. Each group used the same materials and had the same number of contact hours. At the end of the initial four weeks, the experimental and control groups were merged into the regular program and at six weeks and twelve weeks examinations were given. All four skills were tested-listening, reading, writing, and mean scores of the experimental The speaking. were measurably higher across all the group

skills at both the sixth and the twelfth week. The most interesting results were the higher speaking scores of the experimental group who had far less speaking practice yet out-performed the control group on the tests (235). The speaking scores were broken up into part scores to determine where the greatest differences were. It was found that the two component scores which contributed most to the total speaking scores were Control of Grammar and Reading Aloud. Postovsky readily admitted that his study could not be taken as conclusive evidence in support of a particular theory of second language acquisition; however, it does give us some data to consider and raises some interesting questions. Is it not possible that a clearer conceptualization of the target language occurs when the beginning student is spared the imperfect language generated by himself and his classmates? If the student gives his initial concentration to material presented aurally by a native speaker and if the student writes his response to that material, is it not possible that his perception of auditory input will be strengthened? Another study which produced data supporting the case for positive transfer of listening comprehension to reading, speaking, and writing skills was done by Asher (1969). Following his method (The Total Physical Response Method), students listen to commands in the target language and imitate the teacher as he responds to the orders. Orders begin with simple one word imperatives such as "stand" or "jump" and increase to more complex commands such as "Run to the table, put down the paper, and sit on the chair!" (5). Students, imitating the model, respond physically to the commands. Asher found that students working under his method achieved a high degree of "listening fluency" which transferred directly to reading, writing, and speaking. In one test, Asher demonstrated that when students were required to do both listening and speaking, their comprehension of the target language was decreased (13). In a paper entitled "Learning Language Through Commands: The Second Field Test" (1974), Asher reports on a Spanish teaching experiment done with twenty-seven college students who had no prior knowledge of Spanish. This group was divided in half and each section



met with an instructor for three hours one evening per week for two semesters. The students followed Asher's method by sitting around the instructor and responding physically to his commands. As each student felt able, he or she would volunteer to respond physically (not verbally) without the instructor's model. Students progressed from one word commands to commands like, "When Henry runs to the blackboard and draws a funny picture of Molly, Molly will throw her purse at Henry" (27). After ten hours of instruction they were "invited but not pressured" to change roles with the instructor and give commands for the others. Still later the students produced skits and worked on roleplaying situations. Reading and writing were not formally dealt with. If the students requested it, the instructor might write a new vocabulary item on the board at the end of the class but this was a casual procedure and represented only a few minutes of class time. After forty-five hours of instruction, of which 70 percent was spent on listening comprehension, 20 percent on speaking and 10 percent on reading and writing (with no homework assignments at all!), the experimental group was tested against the three control groups. One group consisted of high school students who had taken one year of Spanish; a second group consisted of college students finishing their first semester of Spanish; and a third was made up of college students finishing their second semester of Spanish. Measured against the group of high school students with approximately 200 hours of class work on a test of listening and reading comprehension, the experimental group with only 45 hours of training had a mean score of 16.63, while the high school group had a mean score of 14.63. On similar tests, the experimental group also scored significantly higher than the two college control groups (28). At the end of ninety hours of instruction using Asher's method, the experimental group took the Pimsleur Spanish Proficiency Tests, Form C. This test was designed for students who had completed one hundred fifty hours of intensive audio-lingual training. The experimental group performed beyond the fiftieth percentile in most skills (30). In evaluating this study Asher notes that

perhaps his most important finding was the extent to which listening comprehension transferred to other skills. On the success of his method he writes: When language input is organized to synchronize with the student's body movement, the second language can be internalized in chunks rather than word by word. The chunking phenomenon means more rapid assimilation of a cognitive map about the linguistic code of the target language (30-31). The findings of both Asher and Postovsky challenge the first hypothesis mentioned at the beginning of our paper which claims that speaking must be the emphasis of initial language instruction. Indeed Postovsky's work demonstrates that an immediate emphasis on speaking hinders the learner's capacity to process (decode) second language data. The second hypothesis which states that language learning is an integrative process and that all language skills can therefore be introduced simultaneously with each skill reinforcing the others, must also be questioned since both studies presented skills sequentially with listening skills preceding speaking skills. Postovsky's somewhat modest findings show an improvement in all skills when speech is delayed four weeks in what is otherwise a fairly traditional behaviorist approach to language learning. The strengthening of listening skills definitely seemed to benefit his students. It is Asher's findings, however, that provide the more dramatic evidence. By allowing processing prior to speech, the subjects in Asher's experimental group were able to develop a listening competence more quickly than with traditional classroom methods. In this approach, Asher delays speaking only ten instructional hours. At this point students are encouraged to assume the teacher's speaking role for the language which has been conceptualized and is ready for production. It is also important to note that the Pimsleur test, which assesses the full range of language skills, shows unusual competence in reading and writing skills even though little direct instruction was given in these areas. It would seem that both of these studies support the third hypothesis -namely that language learning is an integrative process initially requiring contextual decoding of the meanings of new



utterances before meaningful and creative encoding can take place. Support for this hypothesis can also be found in two additional studies. Naiman (1974), in a study of 112 first and second graders in a Canadian bilingual school, compared a comprehension task, translating from the target language to the native language, with a production task, elicited oral imitation in the target language. In all five syntactic structures used in the experiment, performance on the comprehension task exceeded performance on the imitation task (Swain, Dumas and Naiman 1974). Using 96 men in the U.S. Army, Sticht (1972) found that the learning strategies necessary for reading are necessary for listening comprehension. He used a test consisting of three brief prose passages at the 6.5, 7.5, and 14.5 grade levels on the Flesch scale. The passages were presented alternately as listening and reading tests to 40 men in the Low Mental Aptitude (LMA) group and 56 men in the Average Mental Aptitude (AMA) group (287). The results for both groups showed a high interrelatedness between listening scores and reading scores. The most striking contrast was at the 7.5 level among the LMA subjects. At this level, mean reading scores were in the 43rd percentile while mean listening scores were in the 52nd percentile. Although the differences at the other levels were smaller, the mean listening scores were, with only one exception, equal to or greater than the mean reading scores (288). This supported Sticht's hypothesis that "developmentally, skill in learning by listening precedes and actually forms the basis for the acquisition of skill in learning by reading" (286). On the basis of all the studies cited we can assert that listening comprehension is a highly integrative skill which demands conceptualization of the phonological, grammatical and, lexical data into an internal competence or an expectancy grammar (Oller 1974). This competency is an essential prerequisite to oral communication and appears to be tightly integrated with all language skills, both receptive and productive. Since we are positing that listening comprehension is an integrated skill which stems from this underlying competence, we should find statistical correlations between listening com-

prehension and tests of similarly integrated skills in support of our hypothesis. Such correlations are available in a study by Oiler and Hinofotis (in press). A factor analysis of the scores of 159 Iranian subjects on the Test of English as a Foreign Language, plus a cloze test and a dictation, revealed that the Listening Comprehension (subtest of the TOEFL) and cloze scores were correlated at .69 and Listening Comprehension was correlated with dictation at .76. The correlation between the cloze and the dictation scores was .75. These three correlations were higher than any other correlations among the TOEFL subtests. A factor analysis showed that 87 percent of the meaningful variance of this set of scores was accounted for by both the cloze test and the Listening Comprehension test (14-15). Further evidence is cited by Stig Johansson (1973) who also found a high correlation between listening comprehension and another similar global test, dictation. In a test administered to 26 students at Lund University in Sweden, Johansson found a correlation of .83 between listening comprehension and dictation. This correlation was higher than any of the other correlations between the subtests (grammar, vocabulary, and dictation with noise) (108-109). Two important findings emerge from these studies. First, when listening precedes oral skills, the development of an appropriate expectancy grammar is enhanced. Our personal preference is for a cyclical learning model in which comprehension skills precede production skills in small learning cycles -as in the Asher approach, for instance. We do not want to suggest that learning can only take place through acoustic channels, because in both Postovsky's and Asher's studies, learning was enhanced by a physical responsethrough bodily action or writing. Studies with deaf children also show that hearing can be bypassed altogether if other sensory receptors are involved. However, we suggest that deliberately bypassing listening, or failing to give adequate practice in listening may be an inefficent and potentially frustrating way to teach a language. The second important finding is the reassertion of listening comprehension as an integrative or global skill which, as its name implies, entails



comprehension or conceptualization and organization of new language data. Only when this "comprehending" process is functional can the learner begin to manipulate his new language in meaningful and creative ways. The same process expands the expectancy grammar in the new language and thus affects development in all areas of language learning. Our concern in this paper has been with the early stages of language learning. Most teachers would accept the proposition that listening comprehension is an important aspect of language learning not only in the beginning but in all stages of development. Since it is an important skill, testing procedures may be weighted towards aural proficiency. However, teaching listening comprehension, particularly to beginners, is a process that is not well conceived in most curricula. The tendency is to rely on pattern drills, contrived dialogues, or grammatical presentations in the textbook and to simply assume that comprehension will follow. Often it doesn't. There are two areas of failure in these early stages. First, when beginners are asked to use words and structures too soon, they are forced to say what they do not know how to process in the target language because the target language vocabulary and structures are incomplete in their developing grammatical systems. Secondly, and perhaps this is the most critical factor, the context provided is often insufficient, and the beginning student cannot possibly successfully conceptualize the utterances of the new language. In such an approach, the conceptualization of the relation between utterance and extralinguistic context is thought of as an end result, the ultimate product of the learning cycle. We would consider it the prerequisite-the best foundation upon which the language learning process can be established.
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Asher, James J., Jo Anne Kusudo, and Rita De La Torre. "Learning a Second Language Through Commands: The Second Field Test." The Modern Language Journal 58 (1974): 24-32. Asher, James J. "The Total Physical Response Approach to Second Language Learning." The Modern Language Journal 53 (1969): 3-17. Donaldson, Weber D., Jr. "Code-cognition Approaches to Language Learning." In Robert C. Lugton, editor, Towards a Cognitive Approach to Second Language Acquisition. Philadelphia: Center for Curriculum Development, 1971. Ervin-Tripp, Susan M. "Structure and Process in Language Acquisition." Georgetown University Monograph: 21st Annual Round Table. No. 23 (1970). Johansson, Stig. "An Evaluation of the Noise Test, a Method for Testing Overall Second Language Proficiency by Perception under Masked Noise." International Review of Applied Linguistics. 11 (1973): 107-133.

Oiler, John W., Jr. and Francis Butler Hinofotis. "Two Mutually Exclusive Hypotheses about Second Language Ability: Factor Analytic Studies of a Variety of Language
Tests." In John W. Oiler, Jr. and Kyle Perkins, editors, Research in Language Testing. Rowley, Massachusetts:

Newbury House (in press).

Oiler, John W., Jr. "Expectancy for Successive Elements: Key Ingredient to Language Use." Foreign Language Annals. 7 (1974): 443-452. Paulston, Christina Bratt and Mary Newton Bruder. From Substitution to Substance: A Handbook of Structural Pattern Drills. Rowley, Massachusetts: Newbury House, 1975. Postovsky, Valerian A. "Individual Differences in Acquisition of Receptive and Productive Language Skills." Paper presented at the Kentucky Foreign Language Conference in Lexington, Kentucky, April 1976. Postovsky, Valerian A. "Effects of Delay in Oral Practice at the Beginning of Second Language Learning." The Modern LanguageJournal 58 (1974): 229-239. Sticht, Thomas G. "Learning by Listening." In R. Freedle and S. B. Carroll, editors, Language Comprehension and the Acquisition of Knowledge. Washington D.C.: V. H. Winston, 1972. Swain, Merrill, G. Dumas, and N. Naiman. "Alternatives to Spontaneous Speech: Elicited Imitation and Translation as Indicators of Second Language Competence." Working Papers in Bilingualism, No. 3, 1974. * * *

The new MLJ Review Editor for Applied Linguistics and Methodology effective this issue, is James S. Noblitt (Department of Linguistics, Morrill Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14850) who replaces Kenneth Chastain (Applied Linguistics) and Lola Mackey (Language Learning). Replacing Charles Stansfield, who is in Nicaragua as Director of the Peace Corps Language Training Program there, is Ernest A. Frechette (Foreign Language Education, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32306). A vote of thanks to Chastain (of the University of Virginia), Lola Mackey (who recently moved with her husband from Reno, Nevada to Phoenix, Arizona-44 West Thunderbird Road, 85023), and to Charles Stansfield (of the University of Colorado) is in order. Consolidating applied linguistics and methodology (formerly language learning) into one position seems to make good sense.