How to Teach Language Well

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It is the belief of the mentalist school that foreign language learning is a developmental process and not a mechanical process of habit formation as claimed by the audio-linguist.

Child endowment

Thus a child is endowed with an innate ability that enables it to acquire a language as a maturation process. This capacity is referred to as a Language Acquisition Device (LAD).

The device can formulate a hypothesis about the rules of the language to which it is exposed. All that is necessary therefore is to trigger off the mechanism by exposing the child to the appropriate language community.

Language learning

People can learn a language at the same time and in the same way, not because they are conditioned in the same way in a Stimulus-Response Reinforcement situation, but because being equipped with the same device they can formulate a hypothesis and learn the language in the same way at the same rate and at the same time.

 Eclectic Method   

Language teaching and learning

The eclectic method of language teaching and learning is, in the real sense of it, not a methodology.

This is because unlike the known or the established methodologies, it has no set of assumptions or principles upon which to base its position about language teaching/learning.

The method is a compromise between the audio-lingual and the cognitive code learning methods.

Generally, it seeks to moderate with linguists in the teaching/learning of grammar believed to be the area of excesses by the two methods.

Agreement

The eclectic method is in agreement with other methods that language belongs only to human beings and that people can learn at the same time and in the same way.

However, this is so not because of LAD which an individual possesses nor because of the ability to form habits through constant practice but essentially because of both.

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In other words, the eclectic linguist believes strongly that language learning is attributable to not only our natural ability to acquire language but also because of the human ability to be conditioned in specific ways to form a habit.

Mental activities

Put in other words, the method insists that language learning is a combination of mental activities and imitation of adult speech.

They agree for instance that children’s ability to form and understand sentences never heard before can only be explained by the creative nature of the human language when a child acquires a language that makes an utterance like – *I felled down -.

This is not because he has heard it from an adult speaker but essentially because he is innovating with the language.

Language acquisition

On the other hand, it is common knowledge that children acquiring a language are always observed to be imitating adult behavior in the language.

This means that the features of the language that they acquire are given to them by both their creative capacity and their imitative ability.

Being conditioned

According to the method, people can be conditioned to learn a language but this phenomenon is only effective when applied to young learners, not adults.

This is simply because children are good at learning by imitation. The eclectic method, while accepting the developmental nature of language acquisition it also agrees that external condition influences language mastery.

Language teacher

Therefore, a language teacher must seek to create better conditions for learning to take place in the classroom.

Language items for teaching should be carefully graded, rather than leave learners to sort out the rules from a random experiment with language.

Students

Students should be made, during the learning process, to respond actively to the Language since language learning is not fully effective without “doing”.

 Environment

Activities in an eclectic environment include the oral practice of carefully selected and graded language items.

Sample reading aloud of a passage should be given as well as questions and answers which are gently used to involve students in speaking.

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There should be limited exposure to translation during which learners translate passages into the target language, and vice-versa.

Grammar

Grammar is taught and learned in a deliberately planned manner and by the inductive process. According to the eclectic (compromise) method, audio-lingual aids or methods are employed extensively to concretize learning, translate passages into the target language, and vice-versa.

Grammar Translation Method

Grammar Translation is a method usually referred to as the Traditional Method of language teaching in the classroom in Western Europe and beyond, before the period of the second world war.

Formal teaching

This method of grammar-translation is rooted in the formal teaching of Latin and Greek because these languages were accepted then as the intellectual languages of the world.

They were recognized as the appropriate language for training the mind. Essentially, the grammar-translation method emphasized logical analysis of the language being studied.

Memorization of rules of the languages was a pre-occupation and translation, exercises dominated activities in the classroom.

Mastery of rules

During learning, learners were required to translate from the target, i.e Greek or Latin into the student’s L1, and vice versa. The rationale for such an exercise was the evidence for mastery of the rules of the language involved.

Reading from the carefully prepared passage was done and done extensively and, usually, this was followed by lengthy writing in form of a translation exercise. The grammar-translation method believes very much in the detailed description of the grammar of the language.

The basis was that they are universal categories of every language features either in Latin or Greek (e.g nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc).

The above parts of speech differ and are used differently in relating to the Grammar Translation Method (GTM). We are made to believe that you do not substitute adjectives for the verbs in translation equivalence exercises.

Classroom learning

The classroom learning with GTM was also pre-occupied with rule mastery as a body of knowledge. The rules are described and explained while the students demonstrate their knowledge of the rules by translating the grammar of a language.

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The major concern of the teacher in a GT class was for him to complete all the exercises in the prescribed class text during a particular lesson and in the term, little time was devoted to practicing communication, and students were bored with many repetitions and limited action.

Aim and achievement of the GMT

The aim of the method can be said to be four-fold thus:

  • To inculcate an understanding of the grammar of the target language usually perceived and expressed in traditional terms.
  • To train students to write the language accurately by regular practice in translation from their L1 to the target language
  • To provide students with a wide literary vocabulary
  • To train students to extract meaning from foreign text by translation into the L1, and at an advanced stage to appreciate the literary significance and value of what they read.

To achieve these aims, learning activities came in the form of grammatical explanation as well as demonstrations in the L1 followed by practice imitation of rules and finally in the application of the same rules by constructing sentences in the target languages.

Weaknesses of the GMT

The GMT has some weaknesses or disadvantages. They are stated below.

  • Evidence exists that this type of teaching method cannot work with the less intellectually inclined learner.
  • The method does not favor learners of a foreign language because they are usually prone to mistakes about the rules and classifications of the language. As a result, foreign language learning is found tedious.
  • Pronunciation and general speech work or oral works are hardly taught with any accuracy in grammar-translation. This is because the oral aspects of the language are encountered only casually either during oral reading or during dictation exercises.
  • A very serious difference in the method is that there is too much emphasis on rule learning.

 

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