Defragmenting Foreign Language Learning – my talk at TESOL Greece 2013
Presenting language in small fragments hoping that they will one day automatically transform into fluent near-native talk may not be enough. My talk at TESOL Greece highlighted some ways in which skilled performers achieve excellence and focused on practical activities promoting holistic language learning using a variety of free online tools.
Fragments of knowledge
The standard practice of the Foreign Language classroom is to present language in fragments, smaller chunks, or grammar McNuggets. Scott Thornbury has invented the wonderful term Grammar MacNuggets, in the linked post on his A-Z blog.
Teachers do so in the hope that these partial views of language will one day be successfully synthesized to form a coherent whole in the learner’s mind, hopefully resulting in fluent output.
Research and experience have proved this inadequate.
Like a computer’s hard drive, all this fragmentation leads to slow processing. None of the applications we use on our PC’s really work well when the hard drive is fragmented.
In the same way, the ‘MacNuggeting’ of language knowledge bytes leads to fragmentation and lack of ability to access language and be able to use it in a natural and fluent way.
Holistic Activities as defragmenters
In this talk, I looked at the profiles of skilled performers, drawing analogies between what they do to achieve a polished and skillful performance and what this implies that foreign language learners ought to do in order to improve their productive skills – their performance skills, in other words, in the target language.
Suggestions for practical classroom activities focused on holistic language practices involving
- Sustained talk / long turns
- Connected writing
- Engaging learners in higher order thinking processes
- involving technology which promotes holistic learning rather than iterative practice
- motivating learners to acquire language through collaborative and meaningful projects using a variety of Web 2.0 tools.
Skilled performers are both knowledgeable as well as skillful at what they do, so this talk aims to redress the balance in favour of increasing the frequency and focus of productive skills activities to promote more skilled/fluent and accurate language users.