Published on August 27, 2014
29 E nglish T Eaching F orum | N umber 2 2012 way to go about teaching language today. Indeed, the exist- ing ap proaches to language teaching dier in undamental ways: There is little or no accord on syllabus type, on mate- rials used, on the order o skill presentation, on the value o ex plicit error correction, or even on such a basic issue as the role o the students’ native language. This is not to say that there is no agreement in the feld about what constitutes good teaching practice. Indeed, in a 1987 classroom we might expect to fnd little or no meaning less repetition, meaning made clear through a va- riety o techniques, more student-to-student interaction, and lan guage being presented in all its communicative richness. But beore we proceed with a discussion o what is acceptable practice today, it would be worthwhile tracing the historical antecedents o modern methodology. I have ound it helpul to think o methodology be- ing de picted as a triangle, with each angle o the triangle represent ing a basic area o the feld. The frst angle might be termed language learning/language learner. Questions addressed rom this perspective include what is the nature o the language acquisition/learning process, who is doing the learning, and what are the actors that infuence the learner? The second angle has to do with the subject matter we teach. What is the nature o lan guage/culture is the question dealt with in this angle. The third angle comprises both language teaching as a process and the role o the language teacher as an agent in the proc ess. It is defned in part by an- swers to the questions posed in the other two angles. Each o these perspectives is indispensable to viewing methodol- ogy as a whole. It would be useul at this point to review developments during these past 25 years, considering each o these angles in turn. Language Learning/Language Learner The prevailing view o the language-learning process in 1962 was that learning was achieved through habit orma tion. The native language was seen to comprise habits that a second-language learner must overcome. As we saw in the language lesson we observed, this was to be accom- plished by orging new habits through repetition, pattern drills, and accompanying positive reinorcement by the teacher. Errors were to be avoided i at all possible. A way to anticipate er rors was to conduct a contrastive analysis, com- paring and contrasting the students’ native language with the target lan guage. Through this means, potential trouble spots could be identifed. I an error was committed, quick correction was desirable in order to prevent the establish- ment o bad habits. Overlearning leading to automaticity was the goal. Challenging this characterization o the learning pro- cess was Noam Chomsky (1959). Chomsky argued that language acquisition could not take place through habit ormation be cause language was ar too complicated to be learned in such a manner, especially given the brie time available. There must be, Chomsky reasoned, some in- nate capacity that hu mans possessed which predisposed them to look or basic patterns in language. Furthermore, people could create and comprehend novel utterances—ut- terances they could not possibly have encountered in the language that was spoken to them. This observation was supported by evidence rom children learning English as a native language. Overgenerali zation errors such as * eated and * sleeped were common in chil dren’s speech. Such errors suggested that children were not repeating what was said to them, but rather were attempting to induce the rules or the past tense rom the language to which they were exposed. Thus, through a process o detecting patterns in the input language, orming hypotheses based on these about how the language worked, testing these hypotheses and revising them in light o contradictory evidence, little by little the grammar o the native language would be acquired. What is especially signifcant or us was that learn- ers ac quiring English as a second or oreign language were ound to be committing the same sort o overgeneralization errors as the children. Furthermore, the second-language learners did not commit the errors randomly but in a sys- tematic way, indicating that they may have been ollowing a more or less natural progression in their acquisition o English. Corder (1967) even suggested that learners might naturally adhere to a learner-generated or “built-in” sylla- bus. The language the learners spoke was termed an inter- language (Selinker 1972), since it was intermediate between the native language and target language. By the very term interlanguage we can see that it was considered to be a lan- guage in its own right, sub ject to the same constraints as any other natural language. Moreover, any point along the interlanguage continuum was held to be ully describable by grammatical rules.