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Communicative Competence

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

  1. Bungie

    Bungie New commenter

    We do have to look again at our MFL methodology. It has manifestly failed. After five years of learning a language, even the majority of the tiny percentage of the age cohort who get an A at GCSE cannot hold a basic, unscripted conversation.
    I feel great sympathy for MFL teachers who are under immense pressure: MFL does not have enough time; SMT are often hostile; teaching has become a bureaucratic, tick-box nightmare; behaviour in schools in general has deteriorated. Languages are hard: as the most cumulative subject on the timetable they demand much greater self-discipline, concentration and application over an extended period of time than any other subject. More than any other area of the curriculum, they reward the conscientious student and crucify the lazy.
    MFL teachers work harder than almost any other teachers I know to produce entertaining, interesting lessons. Yet, in the final analysis, using the only criterion which really matters - a pupil being able to hold an unscripted conversation with a native speaker - they largely fail.
    In the couple of hours a week in which pupils study MFL there is simply not enough time for them to acquire it subconsciously as they do their mother tongue. The only hope is structured, systematic teaching from day one.
    This means teaching grammar thoroughly so that pupils can adapt what they have learnt to new situations It means pointing out to them the differences in structure between the FL and their own and, yes, it means translation. Pupils want to know how to translate. They frequently ask, "how do I say this sentence in ...(French)?" Instead of expecting them to pick it up by osmosis, we should give them the tools - a thorough knowledge of grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary - to do the job themselves.
    I hate teaching a class where the previous teacher has used the communicative method. Invariably the knowledge that the students have is almost zero and their accuracy is abysmal. They have wasted their time in meaningless pair work and group work exercises - the blind leading the blind. They have been occupied and entertained but not taught.
    Students themselves realise how futile the whole process is. When they encounter a native speaker, they see that the few set phrases they have learnt are useless. They know that the side of A4 which they memorised and regurgitated for their controlled assessment (and which was, in all probability, written by someone other than themselves) is a fraud: an evil, wicked deception which has failed a whole generation - just like the communicative method.
     
  2. curlyk

    curlyk New commenter

    What is the preferred MFL methodology in European schools currently ?
    I know we labour under the burden of language learning apathy in the UK because of the status of English as a world language but is there nothing we can learn from their expertise in teaching English.?
    I agree we need a major rethink of what we are doing in our language classrooms now but there is an awful lot of good practice out there which needs sharing. I would hate to see the baby being thrown out with the bath water.
    Do any other subjects look so closely at the way the subject is taught as we do ?
    I shall have to have a good look at other subject forums on this site now.
     
  3. curlyk

    curlyk New commenter

    Did not take long to find the same angst ridden posts on other subject forums. Nice to know we are not alone. I rarely get time to talk to colleagues teaching other subjects because I am part time.Interesting to see that listening and speaking skills may not be included in GCSE English exams in the future. We may be the only GGCSE subject encouraging these vital skills soon !,
     
  4. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    From what I have seen, the French use a mixture of so-called communicative and grammatical approaches. The best tecahers use a lot of tragte language. Baccalauréat exams look very traditional when compared to ours, but make a lot of use of target language questioning as well as translation. Subject matter a generally more literary, I believe. I find it rather old fashioned and unmotivating, to be honest.
    With regard to bungie's post, I see some truth in it, though it is too bleak in my view. We have always failed to produce large numbers of linguists, whatever the approach. Numbers at A-level have fallen for many reasons, but not, I would argue,to do with methodology. Greater choice and to a lesser extent league tables (severe grading) have been influential.
    I agree that there is a lack of clarity about methodology, since there is no one accepted method at the moment. That may be a good thing. Grammar-translation was inadequate, so was audio-lingual and the unadulteratde communicative approach (functions, notions etc).
    We are in an eclectic era; it has been named "post methods", but I am concerned that young teachers may not be getting a full grounding in the pros and cons of various approaches.
     
  5. Communicative competence is also very important here, but we still teach grammatical rules thoroughly, in a communicative context.
    My Y9s had the Spanish subjunctive before the holidays. The textbook uses a scenario in which a boy goes to Peru for four weeks in his holidays and his girlfriend is anxious that he will find himself a new girlfriend there. He also talks a lot about what he is looking forward to doing there, what he's afraid of.... All kinds of subjunctive incentives to be found. The thing is only that they fall back on rote learning too much (but this and this expression wasn't in the Grammar book, why do I have to use the subjunctive???)
     
  6. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    Krashen is essentially a one-trick-pony. He has been dining out (literally) on his input hypothesis for years but that's all he really has. As far as I know he is not the language-learner kind of linguist, but a linguist in the sense that he studies about language, i.e. a 'talker' rather than a 'doer'. He creates theories, conducts studies and compiles data, but how many languages has he actually turned his attention to studying from scratch to an advanced and exacting level? Has he actually done what he is talking about? I believe what I know, see and do rather than the books of theory. Data can be manipulated in the same way surveys can. You find a lot of these 'talker' linguists in ESL. They write their works, publish their papers and - surprise, surprise! - their findings coincide beautifully with methods that allow for English to be 'taught' as a foreign language easily and profitably. The theories become established methods for learning - sorry, I mean 'acquiring' - all foreign languages everywhere. Well they must be right, surely? After all, look at all these academic books published on them! And then MFL teachers have to try and incorporate this stuff into their own teaching when we were doing just fine as we were! I've had many debates about methodology on EFL forums in the past, but for some reason, people foam at the mouth when their precious ideas are brought into question, call me a 'troll' and I have even been thrown off the odd one. Seems familiar somehow... The most memorable was the BBC ESL forum, that was closed down years ago for some reason - nothing to do with me. I was told that my posts were upsetting other posters, when what had really happened was that I'd torn the resident 'expert' and his arguments to shreds for all to see. It doesn't take much to expose the nonsense that is passing for methodology because the results are plain to see.
    Have you heard of the 'Krashen Burn' article, by any chance? It seems he has a few critics out there:
    Krashen Burn by Jill Stewart.
    I found the things described about the man himself rather disturbing! Krashen-schmashen!
     
  7. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    Do you mean just in France, or generally?
    There may not be an 'accepted' method, but I have outlined one that works, and that includes grammar-translation as a basis for study and audio-lingualism, as well as other things. So I don't agree that these ideas ar inadequate. I do agree that you need more besides grammar-translation if you aren't a natural linguist, but for me the expicit study of grammar should be at the core of any language program until it becomes second nature, otherwise accuracy is just being left to chance.
    From what I can see from what is posted by the new teachers and trainees on here, it seems to be that the only method young teachers are exposed what we are calling CLT. It was the same when I was training too, so it isn't a new thing. Do you think young teachers/new teachers are being set against the more acedemic methods merely because they are old-fashioned, in favour of the newer, easier, whizzier ones?


     
  8. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    A magificent post! I am 100% in agreement!

     
  9. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    I can think of so many examples just like this one!
     
  10. chriszwinter1

    chriszwinter1 New commenter

    So am I.
     
  11. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    In answer to your last point I imagine that fashion has a good deal to do with it, but if older methods or combinations of them had worked well for all, then they would not have been questioned.

    By the way, I have enjoyed your recent posts more, Vladimir, but perhaps forums would appreciate you more if you didn't call colleagues "drongos"!
     
  12. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    The 'new' methods are being questioned too and with very good reason. They don't seem to work for anybody beyond a bit of functional language and the ability to fumble through an awkward conversation in TL and mime. They leave the truly able with far less linguistic ability than they should otherwise possess. Apologies if I am wrong here, but it seems to me you are rejecting the older, academic methods because they didn't work 'back then'. These new methods are not working now! You are a fan of eclectic methods, I think, yet you are still discounting the idea that those 'old' methods could be brought back to good effect now, if expanded with the best modern technology and current opportunity (easy travel, Internet etc.) has to offer. It seems to me that pupils gained a lot more, linguistically, in the past, than they do under a modern regime. The recent posts on the 'MFL Valued?' thread hold testament to that.

    It's a lovely word isn't it? I believe it's Australian in origin. But I would never refer to those whom I consider to be my colleagues in those terms!
     
  13. chriszwinter1

    chriszwinter1 New commenter

    ..... in such articles as this one, which was originally linked by Graham Davies: http://www.disseminate.be/mortality.htm, and which we've mentioned once or twice before.
     
  14. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    Yes, that's a great article and one for all MFL teachers to look at.
    I have just tried (and failed) to find a quotation by Wilga Rivers, the eminent applied linguist, who wrote of describing language learning as something like a blind Indian trying to describe an elephant.?? Anyone come across that?
    So what works?
    1. Good dose of structured target language
    2. Explanation and practice.
    3. + Motivation (provided by necessity, teacher, exam, enjoyment)

    How's that for starters?
     
  15. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    Here is where Wilga Rivers got her blind man describing an elephant analogy for describing second language learning:
    http://www.noogenesis.com/pineapple/blind_men_elephant.html
     
  16. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    "A present-day method may claim to
    reject translation, but students will translate, and the teacher will use
    translation when helpful and effective. The method may be against explicit
    grammar, but somehow it will make sure that students grasp the rule and train
    it. It may claim to only use authentic material, but it will present the
    simplest authentic material first and cleverly manipulate texts and situations
    so as to ensure a needed progression. It may claim to be against word-lists, but
    will select within the authentic material the words to be learned as "active
    vocabulary" and present them in… word-lists, with translation. Without
    publicizing it, a smart textbook tries to rectify the most obvious glitches of
    its own methodology, so teachers and students would not be too frustrated over
    certain features.


    Similarly, a more traditional
    method, with a prominent use of grammar and vocabulary, will tend to also add
    more authentic input, so as to respond to the pressures of "real-world
    experience".

    On the other hand, a fanatical
    method, with intolerant viewpoints, could severely hamper a student in his
    potential to progress. If a student wants to translate, let him translate; if he
    hankers after insight, give him grammar.


    And all wise methods must concede
    that the final key to successful language learning is tied to two variables that
    the method does not have in hand: the motivation of the students and the
    intensity of their personal work. Motivated people nowadays learn a foreign
    language just as successfully as 2000 years ago. Successful language learning
    comes only partially from the method; it depends so much on the
    student."
    A fantastic article. Why it's not required reading on the first day of any MFL teaching course I will never know.
     
  17. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    Where does it come from, minka1?
     
  18. A couple of years ago a bright pupil described the way he'd been taught languages at school as trying to play football without learning any moves.
     
  19. curlyk

    curlyk New commenter

    I love that article. Is there more ?
    Without motivation on the student's part ,the best techer in the world is on a hiding to nothing.
    We know we need to give them the tools for success, teaching the rules of grammar has always been an essential component of successful language teaching and learning but there is so much more involved
    Sound methodology,good relationships in the classroom, students knowing they can offer answers and make mistakes without being ridiculed by teacher or classmate,s a sense that language learning is a valid activity valued by the school,parents and society in general, plus a big dose of varied and yes fun activities can make for a successful classroom.Students can and do achieve competence in our schools ,it is just an uphill task made more difficuult by the nay sayers and doom mongers that abound .Successive governments have done little to make the job easier.
     
  20. chriszwinter1

    chriszwinter1 New commenter

    Maybe because it would put PGCE tutors out of business.
    And as for,
    I shall be quoting that at some A level students this morning.
     

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