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Communicative Competence

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by Vladimir, Apr 5, 2013.

  1. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

  2. kittylion

    kittylion Established commenter

    Just half way through marking my Year 9 FCSE speaking tests and am beginning to think that hardly any of them have any communicative competence at all :(

    I have to say that it made me think when he mentioned pair work - there are relatively few classes now that I feel I can trust to participate in pair work sensibly without it descending into a mini riot (sigh).
     
  3. jubilee

    jubilee Star commenter

    I hated role-play and pair work with a passion when training and was lucky to be in a school where the HOD and two other MFL teachers also eschewed it as time-wasting.
    I tried out things that we'd been advised to do at college and found them wanting in practice. Spend hours making playing cards for the pupils to do matching games and you will find that they play the game in English until you are near enough to hear them over the general noise of seven or eight tables being kinaesthetic.
    It works a dream with classes of motivated pupils who want to challenge themselves. They'll be adding extra communication and be saying the MFL for it's my/your turn, I've found a pair, I'm winning etc . It works properly when PGCE students trial the game in college. It is non-linguistic entertainment in the majority of MFL classrooms.
    You only have to consider the poor MFL that many pupils are taught in primary by non-specialists who possibly had a GCSE grade C in the language. to know how copying their communications is counter-productive.
    I've had pupils in Yr 7 insist that they know better than me when I've highlighted the wrong spelling, the wrong pronunciation or the wrong word altogether. Let those pupils loose on pairwork and they'll want to pass their faulty knowledge onto their peers.
     
  4. chriszwinter1

    chriszwinter1 New commenter

    I've been teaching for 29 years. I gave up on pair work 28 years ago.
    Communicative competence was presented in the 1980s as an alternative to getting things 100% right. I infer from Kittylion's response that it still is utter drivel. Communicative competence was snake oil in the 1980s. It is snake oil now.
     
  5. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    Surprised to read criticism of pair work. It's standard practice in most schools, provides lots of target language practice and is far more efficient in allowing children to gain confidence orally. It's no good if it cannot be controlled, but that's about classroom management and habit forming.
    My GCSE and A-level classes spent hours in paired conversation and I have little doubt it was time well spent as part of a much wider diet of activities.
    I began my career as a keen fan of whole classroom question and answer (and still support it), but it does have its limitations which pair work can overcome.
    Variety is important in the MFL classroom and pair work breaks things up nicely.
    With reference to Vladimir's linked article, I partially agree with the claim that speaking doesn't teach a child anything as they are merely putting into practice language already learned. However, in paired conversation and information gap activities, each partner is getting some "comprehensible input", albeit of sometiomes less than optimal quality. Conversing also embeds prior knowledge of course.
     
  6. chriszwinter1

    chriszwinter1 New commenter

    Exactly. I remember using very well written books such as "Toi et moi" and "Du und ich", which had a sound, pedagogical thinking in their approach, leading from presentatiion, through good practice in which the support was gradually withdrawn, towards autonomy. As classroom activities, they worked well, but as soon as the support was withdrawn the students were lost.
    The trouble was that we then had interference with HTs who wanted instant results (today known as showing so many sub-levels of progress in a lesson), so that trying to tell them that language acquisition is a long, slow and gradual process was a waste of breath. Short cuts had to be taken, and this was dressed up as "good teaching" when it was nothing of the sort.
    At the moment, pair work is limited to practising for the speaking exam, which is as far away as you can get from the genuine information gap which is the basis for genuine pair work. I am glad that others have had better experiences with pair work than I can claim.
     
  7. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    This is partly because CC is a fraud! It's much easier to get groups of students, children and adults alike, to carry out short, set conversations as 'proof' of CC, than it is to teach a language thoroughly and in logical grammatical steps. The activities offer quick satisfaction and an indication of swift progress, that is probably essential in a private language school where people are paying to study, but such progress is fake.
    The best 'communicators' in foreign languages I have come across are those with a passion for grammar and linguistic accuracy. Those who have pursued a course of study or an approach that tries to ignore grammar I've found increasingly difficult to communicate with, the more they have to move away from their set phrases because they don't have the knowledge of structure necessary to manipulate language to convey their message accurately and easily. More like 'communicative incompetence'!
    This is another serious issue that makes proper teaching difficult to execute - behaviour! So many kids are not just undisciplined academically, they are also undisciplined socially. A vast overhaul is what is needed, but I fear it is all far too late! But that's being negative, isn't it? Anyone got a pair of rose-coloured spectacles I could borrow? Mine broke some time ago.
     
  8. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    ...Or just play the game in English, which, under the circumstances you mention, would probably do less harm linguistically!
     
  9. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    One sentence which stood out in the article:
    "Language-learning is a task that has to be carried out by
    individuals on their own. It is a process of ‘noticing’ that has to be done
    singly. The more the process is shared and so spread out among others, the less
    effective it will be."
    What a strange thing to say about language learning! Would the same be true of any academic discipline?
    By the way, this is what communicative competence actually means in applied linguistics:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communicative_competence
     
  10. jubilee

    jubilee Star commenter

    I took that to mean that you get the initial input and explanation from a competent teacher and then need to do the next stage of learning it, for independent re-use, on your own because doing pairwork and role-play with other pupils who say error-ridden language is not going to help with your language acquisition. You will thus progress more if working alone in the MFL classroom, with a teacher monitoring your work.
    If you can interact with a native speaker language assistant, pair work is ideal of course.




     
  11. chriszwinter1

    chriszwinter1 New commenter

    While the opening sentence of the Wikipedia article is perfectly clear and adequate, the final paragraph contains this beauty:
    because it suggests that communicative competence and grammatical competence operate in contrast to one another instead of being part of the same thing.
    I'd go further than Vladimir, who says, "The activities offer quick satisfaction and an indication of swift progress." Quick satisfaction, yes, but retention? No. Indication of swift progress? No, indication of some speaking but any progress is doubtful, because this paragraph in the article that Vladimir provided chimes with my experience:
    I cling to the old-fashioned view that we are supposed to teach pupils, not simply occupy them or even worse entertain them.
     
  12. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    I should probably have been clearer as to what I meant by 'indication of swift progress'. I'm thinking more of adult ESL students here, but what I mean is that the students go away believing that they have already started to have 'real' conversations in a foreign language, in contrast to the 'boring', 'useless', 'difficult' lessons they may remember from school where they might have had 50 minutes of grammar or some other activity, which keeps them happy, coming back and PAYING. The truth is that as soon as they stray away from the set phrases they have to resort to bizarre pidgin-style communication and lots of gestures because in reality they haven't learned the all-important structure of the language. In compulsory education, there should be no excuse for it!
     
  13. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    The assumption seems to be from Vladimir and Siegen that language is acquired through conscious learning alone and not by so-called natural acquisition processes. Whilst I do not necessarily accept that conscious learning and acquisition are entirely separate (à la Stephen Krashen), it does seem entirely plausible that you need more than just grammar grind and vocab memorisation.
    I examined this whole argument rather carefully in an MA dissertation many years ago - it's very interesting. Context is important and my own belief is that in a school, non-immersion context, you need a relatively heavy diet of conscious learning, but that need not preclude variety and so-called communicative activities.
    There are teachers, no doubt, for whom pair and group work do not work well and that's fine, as long as children make progress.
     
  14. chriszwinter1

    chriszwinter1 New commenter

    I'd agree that your interpretation of what I've said is correct but draw a distinction between learning one's mother tongue, in which habits and processes form more readily than in the acquisition of a foreign language, and learning any foreign language where immersion is not possible because of the interference of the mother tongue. I think for some of us the variety and communicative activities, which form the practice stage in the presentation - practice - testing process, are often shortened or eliminated, particularly in schools where progress has to be shown and recorded, even though it may be very short-live. For some children, it is the practice which is dull, boring, repetitive, because "we've done this", and that means that they've encountered something, but not mastered it by a long way.
     
  15. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    Yes, in most schools there is not enough time for the range of practice needed for acquisition to occur in the "natural" way, so we make do with short cuts.

    My hunch, supported by lots of experience, is that Krashen is essentially correct in claiming that comprehensible input is the key to acquisition, but I disagree with him that conscious learning cannot also contribute to that input. He refers to the non leakage of conscious learning into acquisition as the non-interface hypothesis, but it just that, a hypothesis, for which there may be evidence but no proof.

    Meanwhile teachers may be wise to use a range of approaches to engage learners and help them progress. We should not be too dogmatic, I would suggest.
     
  16. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    No, I don't think that language can only be learned by conscious processes, but such processes create a strong base for the subsequent unconscious processes to latch onto. What you perceive of the foreign language in natural surroundings now makes a lot more sense. It is the assumption that the opposite, i.e. that language can be learned by unconscious, passive processes alone (and I am not referring to acquisition of one's first language(s) here), from many quarters, that is causing the problems, in my opinion. You don't get something for nothing. If you put in the hard work initially, and learn the language structures thoroughly, understanding how the grammar works, you get a massive pay-off down the road when you apply what you learned and get so much more from the more passive acquisition processes. So many times have I seen the dire results of attempted passive, 'communicative' learning, I have lost count. Bad habits are learned early and they stick! If you are, for example, a learner of English and your native language is one that does not use articles, and you don't get a firm understanding of how articles are used from the outset, years down the road you'll have learned a lot more vocabulary and you'll still be speaking without using articles, which just sounds ignorant and uneducated. To me that means you haven't tried hard enough and far from impressing me, I find it insulting to my native language. My way is the grammar way and it works every time! It's my way or the highway, as they say. You keep on trying to find c.hinks in the armour, but there aren't any!
     
  17. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    Dude, grammar IS the short-cut!
    I had you down for a dedicated follower of Krashen a while back.
    It depends what the range of resources targets. If it is just to stimulate interest and make learning 'fun' then it is time and energy wasted. The approach I espouse and use myself works! I believe anyone who uses it assiduously will also enjoy excellent results over time and I stand by that. I'm not going to pay lip-service to approaches and theories that are in place just because they happen to be in place. If abandoning the ideas and activities I see as unproductive to spend time and energy on the techniques I know are highly productive is dogmatic, then bring on the dogma! Woof woof!
     
  18. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    I think we agree at least that learning rules can assist with acquisition, unlike Krashen who believes that conscious knowledge and focus on form only allows you to monitor your accuracy and edit your speech. He may yet still be correct. It is hard to prove, although he claims plenty of evidence for his hypothesis.

    I'm a sceptic on Krashen's non-interface hypothesis and believe strongly on teaching rules and drilling structures, although I believe he is generally right about how acquisition occurs in the brain.
     
  19. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

    This part of the article is the same argument used by advocates of CI based learning (à la Krashen) against what we have come to call the communicative approach:
    Those who use TPRS argue that speaking practice is unhelpful, and that what is needed is lots of repetition of comprehensible input. Students are encouraged to respond, but only using a few words at a time, using language which is carefully controlled. Most of the talking is done by the teacher.
    Krashen appears to favour TPRS and contributes to the TPRS yahoo group. TPRS teachers usually present vocab by trnanslating it (eg. by writing it on the board). TPRS teachers use grammar pop-ups as part of their teaching, as a way of pointing out rules / forms etc, but while some see these as an essential part of teaching, others such as Krashen argue that seeing / understanding a rule doesn't affect the acquisition process, but it doesn't hurt as long as it doesn't take away too much time from focusing on CI.
    The focus (with output) is on communication rather than accuracy, which they argue comes with time. I'm not sure about that to be honest. I've been in situations where I've managed to get to a good level in a language receptively, understanding much of what was said around me, but I needed the grammar to be able to produce language that I was happy with.
    (Those CI enthusiasts would argue that it's the fact that I, as an adult, am too embarrassed to make the mistakes of child which causes me to be over-reliant on the "monitor", and that this, in the long term, hinders acquisition.)

     
  20. jubilee

    jubilee Star commenter

    My Italian grandmother came to the UK as a barely literate 14 year old. She was employed as a maid by an Italian family and eventually worked in their cafe. She married my even less educated Italian grandfather, who had also arrived as an economic migrant aged about 15 yrs in 1911.
    They went on to run a cafe and never spoke Italian with their children. My grandfather died before I was born but I knew my grandmother for 24 years. She kept her cafe open seven days per week, from 6am until midnight and only took two holidays in her life, so she lived in this little 'bubble' of communications that were largely about orders for cups of tea, beans on toast, pasties, coca cola, sales of sweets and cigarettes and telling people what they owed. She coped linguistically with everything that she needed to do, helped by daughters who worked in the cafe when they left school, but she always sounded as though she was speaking pidgin English and never sounded like the local people that she interacted with all day, every day for nearly 55 years.
    I can still hear her as she handed bags of sweets over to the local bobby (she never charged policemen as you wanted them on-side - it had paid off during the war when there was hostility from some of the public): "You take! For you kiddies! You want cuppa tea? Yes, sit ... have cuppa tea!"
    People had no trouble understanding her and saw no need to correct her language.Although living in a form of total immersion, it was not like the experience of a young child learning their mother tongue. A child says "aminal" and the correct word is usually said several times until they get it right. That doesn't happen when enough communication has happened to complete a simple transaction in a shop. The language novice doesn't progress when 'getting by' is all that is required.
     

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