Ways of teaching foreign languages

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1. Introduction

1.1 General characteristics of the work

2.1 How to teach foreign languages (general remarks)

2. The Main Part

1.2 Comparing instructed and natural settings for language learning

2.2 Natural and instructional settings

3.2 Classroom comparisons

4.2 Five principles for classroom teaching

5.2. The principle getting right from the beginning

6.2. The principle of saying what you mean and meaning what you say

7.2. The principle of listening

8.2. Teach what is teacheable

9.2. Getting right in the end

10.2. Grammar aquisition: Focusing on past tenses and conditionals

11. 2. The implications of classroom research for teaching

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

2.1. How to teach foreign languages (general remarks)

Every few years, new foreign language teaching methods arrive on the
scene. New textbooks appear far more frequently. They are usually
proclaimed to be more effective than those that have gone before, and,
in many cases, these methods or textbooks are promoted or even
prescribed for immediate use. New methods and textbooks may reflect
current developments in linguistic/applied linguistic theory or recent
pedagogical trends. Sometimes they are said to be based on recent
developments in language acquisition theory and research. For example,
one approach to teaching may emphasize the value of having students
imitate and practise a set of correct sentences while another emphasizes
the importance of encouraging ‘natural’ communication between learners.
How is a teacher to evaluate the potential effectiveness of new methods?
One important basis for evaluating is, of course, the teacher’s own
experience with previous successes or disappointments. In addition,
teachers who are informed about some of the findings of recent research
are better prepared to judge whether the new proposals for language
teaching are likely to bring about positive changes in students’

Our graduation paper is about how English language can be learned at
classrooms on the bases of new pedagogical technologies with having
taking into consideration the national aspect, i.e. influencing native
Uzbek language and typical mistakes and difficulties in learning English
by Uzbek speaking students. First of all we have written it for English
language teachers who teach this language to Uzbek students at schools
at 5-6 grades, but it could also be useful for afult learners who are
only going to learn a wonderful world of English. We believe that
information about findings and theoretical views in second language
acquisition research can make you a better judge of claims made by
textbook writers and proponents of various language teaching methods.
Such information, combined with insights gained from your experience as
a language teacher or learner, can help you evaluate proposed changes in
classroom methodology

2.The Main Part

1.2. Comparing instructed and natural settings for language learning
Based on the book: Lightbown P., Spada N. How Languages are learnder
Oxford University Press Oxford 1993 p.69-111

Most people would agree that learning a second language in a natural
acquisition context or ‘on the street’ is not the same as learning in
the classroom. Many believe that learning ‘on the street’ is more
effective. This belief may be based on the fact that most successful
learners have had exposure to the language outside the classroom. What
is special about natural language learning? Can we create the same
environment in the classroom? Should we? Or are there essential
contributions that only instruction—and not natural exposure—can

In this chapter, we will look at five proposals which theorists have
made for how second languages should be taught. We will review research
on second language learning which has been carried out in classroom
settings. This will permit us to explore further the way in which second
language research and theory contribute to our understanding of the
advantages and the limitations of different approaches to second
language teaching.

Before we go further, let us take a moment to reflect on the differences
between natural and instructional language learning settings. We will
then look at transcripts from two classrooms and try to understand what
principles guide the teacher in each case.

2.2. Natural and instructional settings

Natural acquisition contexts should be understood as those in which the
learner is exposed to the language at work or in social interaction or,
if the learner is a child, in a school situation where most of the other
children are native speakers of the target language and where the
instruction is directed toward native speakers rather than toward
learners of the language.

The traditional instruction environment is one where the language is
being taught to a group of second or foreign language learners. In this
case, the focus is on the language itself, rather than on information
which is carried by the language. The teacher’s goal is to see to it
that students learn the vocabulary and grammatical rules of the target
language. The goal of learners in such courses is often to pass an
examination rather than to use the language for daily communicative

Communicative instruction environments also involve learners whose goal
is learning the language itself, but the style of instruction places the
emphasis on interaction, conversation, and language use, rather than on
learning about the language. The topics which are discussed in the
communicative instruction environment are often topics of general
interest to the learner, for example, how to reply to a classified
advertisement from a newspaper. Alternatively, the focus of a lesson may
be on the subject matter, such as history or mathematics, which students
are learning through the medium of the second language. In these
classes, the focus may occasionally be on language itself, but the
emphasis is on using the language rather than on talking about it. The
language which teachers use for teaching is not selected on the basis of
teaching a specific feature of the language, but on teaching learners to
use the language in a variety of contexts. Students’ success in these
courses is often measured in terms of their ability to ‘get things done’
in the second language, rather than on their accuracy in using certain
grammatical features.

In the chart below, mark a plus (+) if the characteristic in the
left-hand column is typical of the learning environment in the three
remaining columns. Mark a minus (-) if it is not something you usually
find in that context. Write ‘?’ if you are not sure.

Table 1: Comparison of natural and instructional settings

CharacteristicsNatural acquisitionTraditional instructionCommunicative
instructionerror correctionlearning one thing at a timeample time
available for learninghigh ratio of native speakers to learnersvariety
of language and discourse typespressure to speakaccess to modified input

As you look at the pattern of + and – signs you have placed in the
chart, you will probably find it matches the following descriptions.

In natural acquisition settings

– Learners are rarely corrected. If their interlocutors can understand
what they are saying, they do not remark on the correctness of the
learners’ speech. They would probably feel it was rude to do so.

– Language is not structured step by step. In communicative
interactions, the learner will be exposed to a wide variety of
vocabulary and structures.

– The learner is surrounded by the language for many hours each day.
Some of it is addressed to the learner; much of it is simply

– The learner encounters a number of different people who use the target
language proficiently.

– The learner observes or participates in many different types of
language events: brief greetings, commercial transactions, exchanges of
information, arguments, instructions at school or in the workplace.

– Learners must often use their limited second language ability to
respond to questions or get information. In these situations, the
emphasis is on getting meaning across clearly, and more proficient
speakers tend to be tollerant of errors that do not interfere with

– Modified input is available in many one-on-one conversations. In
situations where many native speakers are involved in the conversation,
however, the learner often has difficulty getting access to language he
or she can understand.

Learners in traditional instruction

These differ from natural learners in that:

– Errors are frequently corrected. Accuracy tends to be given priority
over meaningful interaction.

– Input is structurally simplified and sequenced. Linguistic items are
presented and practised in isolation, one item at a time.

– There is limited time for learning (usually only a few hours a week).

– There is a small ratio of native speakers to non-native speakers. The
teacher is often the only native or proficient speaker the student comes
in contact with.

– Students experience a limited range of language discourse types (often
a chain of ‘Teacher asks a question/Student answers/Teacher evaluates

– Students often feel great pressure to speak or write the second
language and to do so correctly from the very beginning.

– When teachers use the target language to give instructions or in other
classroom management events, they often modify their language in order
to ensure comprehension and compliance.

Not all language classrooms are alike. The conditions for learning
differ in terms of the physical environment, the age and motivation of
the students, the amount of rime available for learning, and many other
variables. Classrooms also differ in terms of the principles which guide
teachers in their language teaching methods and techniques. The design
of communicative language teaching programs has sought to replace some
of the characteristics of traditional instruction with those more
typical of natural acquisition contexts.

Communicative language teaching classrooms

Thus, in communicative language teaching classrooms we may find the
following characteristics:

– There is a limited amount of error correction, and meaning is
emphasized over form.

– Input is simplified and made comprehensible by the use of contextual
cues, props, and gestures, rather than through structural grading (the
presentation of one grammatical item at a time, in a sequence of
‘simple’ to ‘complex’).

– Learners usually have only limited time for learning. Sometimes,
however, subject-matter courses taught through the second language can
add time for language learning.

– Contact with proficient or native speakers of the language is limited.

with traditional instruction, it is often only the teacher who is a
proficient speaker. In communicative classrooms, learners have
considerable exposure to the second language speech of other learners.
This naturally contains errors which would not be heard in an
environment where one’s interlocutors are native speakers.

– A variety of discourse types are introduced through stories, role
playing, the use of ‘real-life’ materials such as newspapers and
television broadcasts, and field trips.

– There is little pressure to perform at high levels of accuracy, and
there is often a greater emphasis on comprehension than on production in
the early stages of learning.

– Modified input is a defining feature of this approach to instruction.
The teacher in these classes makes every effort to speak to students in
a level of language they can understand. In addition, other students
speak a simplified language.

3.2 Classroom comparisons

In this activity we are going to look at transcripts from two
classrooms, one using a traditional audiolingual, structure-based
approach to teaching, and the other a communicative approach.
Audiolingualteaching is based on the behaviourist theory of learning
which places emphasis on forming habits and practising grammatical
structures in isolation. The communicative approach, in contrast, is
based on innatist and interactionist theories of language learning and
emphasizes the communication of meaning. Grammatical forms are only
focused on in order to clarify meaning. The theory is that learners can
and must do the grammatical development on their own.

With each transcript, there is a little grid for you to check off
whether certain things are happening in the interaction, from the point
of view of the teacher and of the students. Before you begin reading the
transcripts, study the following definitions of the categories used in
the grids:

1 Errors

Are there errors in the language of either the teacher or the students?

2 Error correction

When grammatical errors are made, are they corrected? By whom?

3 Genuine questions

Do teachers and students ask questions to which they don’t know the
answer in advance?

4 Display questions

Do teachers and students ask questions they know the answers to so that
learners can display knowledge (or the lack of it)?

5 Negotiation of meaning

Do the teachers and students work to understand what the other speakers
are saying? What efforts are made by teacher? By the students?

T eacner/student interactions

In the following excerpts, T represents the teacher; S represents a

Classroom A: An audiolingual approach

(Students in this class are 15-year-old Uzbek speakers.)

ErrorsTeacherStudentFeedback on errorsGenuine questionsDisplay
questionsNegotiation of meaningT OK, we finished the book – we finished
in the book Unit 1, 2, 3. Finished Workbook 1, 2, 3. So today we’re
going to start with Unit 4. Don’t take your books yet, don’t take your
books. In 1, 2, 3 we worked in what tense? What tense did we work on?

S Past

T In the past—What auxiliary in the past?

S Did

T Did (writes on board ‘1-2-3 Past’). Unit 4, Unit 4, we’re going to
work in the present, present progressive, present continuous—OK? You
don’t know what it is?

S Yes

T Yes? What is it?

S Little bit

T A little bit

S … .

T. Eh?

S Uh, present continuous

T Present continuous? What’s that?

S e-n-g

T i-n-g

S Yes

T What does that mean, present continuous? You don’t know? OK,

fine. What are you doing, Mahmud?

S Rien

T Nothing?

S Rien—nothing

T You’re not doing anything? You’re doing something.

S Not doing anything.

T You’re doing something.

S Not doing anything.

T You’re doing something—Are, are you listening to me? Are you talking
with Manzura? What are you doing?

S No, no—uh—listen—uh—

T Eh?

S to you

T You’re you’re listening to me.

S Yes

T Oh—(writes ‘What are you doing? I’m listening to you’ on the board)

S Je-

T What are you—? You’re excited.

S Yes

T You’re playing with your eraser—(writes ‘I’m playing with my eraser’
on the board). Would you close the door please, Bernard? Claude, what is
he doing?

S Close the door

T He is closing the door, (writes ‘He’s closing the door’ on the board)
What are you doing, Khamid?

S I listen to you.

T You’re listening to me.

S Yes

T OK. Are you sleeping or are you listening to me?

S I don’t – firty-fifty, half and half.

T Half and half, half sleeping, half listening.

Classroom B: A communicative approach

(Students in this class are 10-year-old Native language speakers. In
this activity, they

are telling their teacher and their classmates what ‘bugs’ them. They

written ‘what bugs them’ on a card or paper which they hold while


ErrorsTeacherStudentFeedback on errorsGenuine questionsDisplay
questionsNegotiation of meaning

S It bugs me when a bee string me.

T Oh, when a bee stings me.

S Stings me.

T Do you get stung often? Does that happen often? The bee stinging many

S Yeah.

T Often? (Teacher turns to students who aren’t paying attention) OK.
Salima and Bakhrom, you may begin working on a research project, hey?
(Teacher turns her attention back to ‘What bugs me’)

S It bugs me (inaudible) and my sister put on my clothes.

T Ah! She—borrows your clothes? When you’re older, you may appreciate it
because you can switch clothes, maybe. (Teacher turns to check another
student’s written work) Mahliyo, this is yours, I will check.—OK. It’s

S It bugs me when I’m sick and my brother doesn’t help me— my—my
brother, ’cause he—me—

T OK. You know—when (inaudible) sick, you’re sick at home in bed and you
say, oh, to your brother or your sister: ‘Would you please get me a
drink of water?’—’Ah! Drop dead!’ you know, ‘Go play in the traffic!’
You know, it’s not very nice. Doniyor!

S It bug me to have—

T It bugs me. It bugzz me

S It bugs me when my brother takes my bicycle. Every day.

T Every day? Ah! Doesn’t your bro—(inaudible) his bicycle? Could his
brother lend his bicycle? Uh, your brother doesn’t have a bicycle?

S Yeah! A new bicycle (inaudible) bicycle.

T Ah, well. Talk to your mom and dad about it. Maybe negotiate a new
bicycle for your brother.

S (inaudible)

T He has a new bicycle. But his brother needs a new one too.

S Yes!

T Hey, whoa, just a minute! Jean?

S Martin’s brother has—

T Martin, who has a new bicycle? You or your brother?

S My brother.

T And you have an old one.

S (inaudible)

T And your brother takes your old one?

S —clutch—(inaudible) bicycle

T His bicycle! Ah! How old is your brother?

S March 23.

T His birthday?

S Yeah!

T And how old was he?

S Fourteen.

T Fourteen. Well, why don’t you tell your brother that when he takes

your bike you will take his bike. And he may have more scratches

than he figures for. OK?

Characteristics of input in the two classrooms

Classroom A

1 Errors: Very few on the part of the teacher. However the teacher’s
speech does have some peculiar characteristics typical of this type of
teaching, for example, the questions in statement form—often asked with
dramatic rising intonation (for example, ‘You don’t know what it is?’).
The students don’t make many errors because they don’t say very much.

2 Error correction: Yes, constantly from the teacher.

3 Genuine questions: Yes, a few, and they are almost always related to
classroom management. No questions from the students.

4 Display questions: Yes, almost all of the teacher’s questions are of
this type. Interestingly, however, the students sometimes interpret
display questions as genuine questions (T: What are you doing, Khamid?
S: Nothing.)

5 Negotiation of meaning: Very little, learners have no need to
paraphrase or request clarifications, and no opportunity to determine
the direction of the discourse; the teacher is only focused on the
formal aspects of the learners’ language.

Classroom B

1 Errors: Yes, when students speak but hardly ever when the teacher
does. Nevertheless, the teacher’s speech also contains incomplete
sentences, simplified ways of speaking, and an informal speech style.

2 Error correction: Yes, sometimes the teacher repeats what the student
has said with the correct form (for example, ‘he bugjszme’—pointing out
the third person singular). However, this correction is not consistent
or intrusive as intrustive as the focus is primarily on letting students
express their meanings.

3 Genuine questions: Yes, almost all of the teacher’s questions are
focused on getting information from the students. The students are not
asking questions in this exchange.

4 Display questions: No, because there is a focus on meaning rather than
on accuracy in grammatical form.

5 Negotiation of meaning: Yes, from the teacher’s side, especially in
the long exchange about who has a bicycle!

Summary of the two classroom excerpts

You have no doubt noticed how strikingly different these transcripts
from the two classrooms are, even though the activities are both
teacher-centred. In the transcript from Classroom A, the focus is on
form (i.e. grammar) and in Classroom B, it is on meaning. In Classroom
A, the only purpose of the interaction is to practise the present
continuous. Although the teacher uses real classroom events and some
humour to accomplish this, there is no doubt about what really matters
here. There is no real interest in what students ‘are doing’, but rather
in their ability to say it. There is a primary focus on correct grammar,
display questions, and error correction in the transcript from Classroom

In the transcript from Classroom B, the primary focus is on meaning,
conversational interaction, and genuine questions, although there are
some brief references to grammatical accuracy when the teacher feels it
is necessary.

4.2 Five principles for classroom teaching

The teaching methodologies in Classrooms A and B differ because they
reflect opposing theoretical views concerning the most effective way to
learn a second language in classroom settings.

Theories have been proposed for the best way to learn a second language
in the classroom and teaching methods have been developed to implement
them. But the only way to answer the question ‘Which theoretical
proposal holds the greatest promise for improving language learning in
classroom settings?’ is through research which specifically investigates
relationships between teaching and learning.

Both formal and informal research are needed. Formal research involves
careful control of the factors which may affect learning. It often uses
large numbers of teachers and learners in order to try to limit the
possibility that the unusual behaviour of one or two individuals might
create a misleading impression about what one would expect in general.
Researchers doing this kind of work must sometimes sacrifice naturalness
in order to ensure that only those factors under investigation are
different in the groups being compared.

Informal research often involves small numbers, perhaps only one class
with one teacher, and the emphasis here is not on what is most general
but rather on what is particular about this group or this teacher. While
formal research may add strength to theoretical proposals, informal
research, including that carried out by teachers in their own
classrooms, is also essential. It is hardly necessary to tell
experienced teachers that what ‘works’ in one context may fail in

In the section below, we will examine five proposals relating to this
issue, provide examples from classroom interaction to illustrate how the
proposals get translated into classroom practice, and discuss how the
findings from some of the formal research in SLA fit them. For each
proposal, a few relevant studies will be presented, discussed, and
compared with one another. The labels we have given these proposals are:

1 Get it right from the beginning

2 Say what you mean and mean what you say

3 Just listen

4 Teach what is teachable

5 Get it right in the end

5.2. The principle getting right from the beginning

The ‘Get it right from the beginning’ proposal for second language
teaching best describes the underlying theory behind the teaching
practices observed in Classroom A. Indeed, it is the proposal which
probably best describes the way in which most of us were taught a second
language in school. It reflects the behaviourist view of language
acquisition in assuming that learners need to build up their language
knowledge gradually by practising only correct forms. Teachers avoid
letting beginning learners speak freely because this would allow them to
make errors. The errors, it is said, could become habits. So it is
better to prevent these bad habits before they happen. Here are some
more examples from classes based on this approach.

Example 1

(The teacher and students from Classroom A. This time the exercise in
based on the simple present of English verbs.)

S1 And uh, in the afternoon, uh, I come home and uh, uh, I uh, washing
my dog.

T I wash.

S1 My dog.

T Every day you wash your dog?

S1 No.

S2 He doesn’t have a dog!

S1 No, but we can say it!

Clearly, in this case, the student’s real experience with his dog (or
even the fact that he did or did not have a dog) was irrelevant. What
mattered was the correct use of the simple present verb.

Example 2

(A group of 12-year-old learners of English as a foreign language.)

T Repeat after me. Is there any butter in the refrigerator?

Group Is there any butter in the refrigerator?

T There’s very little, Mom.

Group There’s very little, Mom.

T Are there any tomatoes in the refrigerator?

Group Are there any tomatoes in the refrigerator?

T There are very few, Mom.

Group There are very few, Mom. (etc.)

Pure repetition. The students have no reason to get involved or to think
about what they are saying. Indeed, some students who have no idea what
the sentences mean will successfully repeat them anyway, while their
minds wander off to other things.

Research findings

There is little classroom research to support this proposal. In fact, it
was the frequent failure of traditional grammar-based methods to produce
fluency and accuracy in second language learners which led to the
development of more communicative approaches to teaching in the first

Supporters of communicative language teaching have argued that language
is not learned by the gradual accumulation of one item after another.
They suggest that errors are a natural and valuable part of the language
learning process. Furthermore, they believe that the motivation of
learners is often stifled by an insistence on correctness in the
earliest stages of second language learning. These opponents of the ‘Get
it right from the beginning’ proposal argue that it is better to
encourage learners to develop ‘fluency’ before ‘accuracy’.

Recently, some researchers and educators have reacted to the trend
toward communicative language teaching and have revived the concern that
allowing learners too much ‘freedom’ without correction and explicit
instruction will lead to early fossilization of errors. Once again we
hear the call for making sure learners ‘get it right from the

Unfortunately, little research has been carried out to test the
hypothesis that an early and exclusive emphasis on form will, in the
long run, lead to higher levels of linguistic performance and knowledge
than an early and exclusive emphasis on meaning. The widespread adoption
of communicative language teaching in recent years has meant that
researchers in some settings have not been able to find classrooms which
are exclusively form-oriented in order to make direct comparisons with
classrooms that are exclusively meaning-oriented. None the less, there
are findings from second language classroom research which are relevant
to this issue. These include descriptive studies of the interlanguage
development of second language learners in audiolingual programs (Study
1), and studies of the development of second language proficiency in
classroom learners who have received different amounts of form- and
meaning-based instruction (Studies 2 and 3).

Study 1: Audiolingual pattern drill

In the late 1970s, Patsy Lightbown and her colleagues in Quebec, Canada,
carried out a series of longitudinal and cross-sectional investigations
into the effect of audiolingual instruction on the second language
interlanguage development of francophone ESL learners, aged eleven to
sixteen See: J. Glidden, J. John, and C. Therien Comprehension-based
Second Language. Univ. of Ottawa Press, pp. 353-70. (Lightbown 1983,
1987). Students in these programs typically participated in the types of
rote repetition and pattern practice drill we saw in Classroom A.

The researchers compared aspects of the learners’ acquisition of English
grammatical morphemes (such as plural –s and the progressive -ing) with
the ‘natural’ order of acquisition by uninstructed second language
learners. The results indicated several differences between the ‘natural
order’ and the order in which these classroom learners produced them.
The findings also suggested that the type of instruction provided, a
regular diet of isolated pattern practice drills, contributed to the
alterations in the learners’ natural interlanguage development. For
example, while learners were able to produce a particular form (for
example, the -ing form) with a high degree of accuracy during the time
that their instruction focused on it, the same form was produced with
considerably less accuracy (and frequency) when it was no longer being
practised in class. These findings provided evidence that an exclusive
emphasis on accuracy and practice of particular grammatical forms does
not mean that learners will be able to use the forms. Not surprisingly,
this type of instruction did not seem to favour the development of
fluency and communicative abilities either.

Study 2: Grammar plus communicative practice

Sandra Savignon See: Savignon, S. 1972. Communicative Competence: An
Experiment in Foreign-language Teaching. Philadelphia, Pa (1972) studied
the linguistic and communicative skills of 48 college students enrolled
in Native language language courses at an American university. The
students were divided into three groups, all of which received the same
number of hours per week of audiolingual instruction where the focus was
on the practice and manipulation of grammatical forms. However, the
‘communicative group’ had an additional hour per week devoted to
communicative tasks in an effort to encourage practice in using Native
language in meaningful, creative, and spontaneous ways; the ‘cultural
group’ had an additional hour devoted to activities, conducted in
English, which were designed to ‘foster an awareness of the Native
language language and culture through films, music and art’; and the
control group had an additional hour in the language laboratory doing
grammar and pronunciation drills similar to those which they did in
their regular class periods.

Tests to measure learners’ linguistic and communicative abilities were
administered before and after instruction to see if there were any
significant differences between groups on these measures. The tests of
‘linguistic competence’ included a variety of grammar tests, teachers’
evaluations of speaking skills, and course grades. The tests
of’communicative competence’ included measures of fluency and of the
ability to understand and transmit information in a variety of tasks,
which included: (1) discussion with a native speaker of Native language,
(2) interviewing a native speaker of Native language, (3) the reporting
of facts about oneself or one’s recent activities, and (4) a description
of ongoing activities.

The results revealed no significant differences between groups on the
linguistic competence measures. However, the ‘communicative group’
scored significantly higher than the other two groups on the four
communicative tests developed for the study. Savignon interprets these
results as support for the argument that second language programs which
focus only on accuracy and form do not give students sufficient
opportunity to develop communicative abilities in a second language.

Study 3: Grammar plus communicative practice

In a similar study, Carol Montgomery and Miriam Eisenstein (1985)
followed a group of adult learners receiving an additional communicative
component to their regular, grammar-based instruction Borrowed from:
Montgomery, C. and M. Eisenstein. 1985. ‘Reality revisited: An
experimental communicative course in ESL.’ TESOL Quarterly 19: 317—34..
This group was compared to a control group which received only the
grammar course. The researchers reported that beginner and intermediate
level ESL learners engaging in communicative activities in addition to
their regular, required grammar course made greater improvements in
accent, vocabulary, grammar, and comprehension than did learners who
received only the required grammar course. Somewhat unexpectedly, the
area of greatest improvement for the group getting ‘real world’
communicative practice was in grammatical accuracy.

Interpreting the research

The studies reviewed above provide evidence to support the intuitions of
teachers and learners that the ‘Get it right from the beginning’
proposal is not a very effective way to provide second language
instruction. Learners receiving audiolingual instruction or more
traditional grammar-based approaches have not benefited from this
instruction in a way that permits them to communicate their messages and
intentions effectively in a second language. Experience has also shown
that primarily or exclusively grammar-based approaches to teaching do
not guarantee that learners develop high levels of accuracy and
linguistic knowledge. In fact, it is often very difficult to determine
what such learners know about the target language; the classroom
emphasis on accuracy usually results in learners who are inhibited and
will not ‘take chances’ in using their knowledge for communication. The
results from these studies support the claim that learners require
opportunities for communicative practice.

It is important to emphasize that in the Savignon and the Montgomery and
Eisenstein studies, all subjects received their regular, grammar-focused
instruction and differed only in terms of the presence or absence of an
additional communicative practice component. In other words, these
studies offer support for the hypothesis that meaning-based instruction
is advantageous, not that form-based instruction is not. The
contributions of communicative practice and grammar-focused instruction
will be discussed in more detail in relationship to the ‘Teach what is
teachable’ and ‘Get it right in the end’ proposals.

6.2 The principle of saying what you mean and meaning what you say

This is the theoretical view underlying the teacher-student behaviour in
the transcript from Classroom B. Based on the interactionists’
hypothesis, advocates of’Say what you mean and mean what you say’
emphasize the necessity for learners to have access to meaningful and
comprehensible input through conversational interactions with teachers
and other students. They have argued that when learners are given the
opportunity to engage in conversations, they are compelled to ‘negotiate
meaning’, that is, to express and clarify their intentions, thoughts,
opinions, etc., in a way which permits them to arrive at a mutual
understanding. The negotiation, in turn, leads learners to acquire the
language forms—the words and the grammatical structures—which carry the

Negotiation of meaning is accomplished through a variety of
modifications which naturally arise in conversational interaction. For
example, learners will ask each other or their teacher for
clarification, confirmation, repetition, and other kinds of information
as they attempt to negotiate meaning. This can be seen in the
transcripts from Classroom B.

The claim is that as learners, in interaction with other learners and
teachers, work toward a mutual understanding in the negotiation process,
language acquisition is facilitated. Advocates of interactionism argue
quite simply that learners will learn by ‘saying what they mean and
meaning what they say’ in conversations which encourage them to do so.

Look for cases of negotiation for meaning in the examples below and
compare this with the examples given for the ‘Get it right from the
beginning’ proposal.

Example 3

(The teacher and students from Classroom B. Students are checking
answers on a written task.)

S Me and Josee, we don’t have the same as her.

T That’s fine. Yeah, because there’ll be different answers.

S Why… uh, we do that with a partner?

T Simply so you can consult.

(In Examples 4, 5, and 6, a group of 12-year-old students are discussing
with their teacher a questionnaire about their pets.)

Example 4

S The fish is difficult to wash?

T Fish is difficult to wash?

S Yes.

T Fish… Oh, not so difficult. Fish are difficult to wash?!? What’s

uh… [question]?

S Do you have an animal? Yes, I do. Do you ever feed it? Yes, r—

T Do you know what ‘feed’ means? S Ah, no. It’s uh…? T To give food to

Example 5

T How often do you walk your dog?

S Never.

T Why?

S Because I don’t have a dog.

Example 6

S And what is ‘feed’—?

T Feed? To feed the dog?

S Yes, but when I don’t have a …

T If you don’t have a dog, you skip the question.

Example 7

(Students from Classroom B, doing a morning warm-up activity.)

T How are you doing this morning?

S1 I’m mad!

S2 Why?

T Oh boy. Yeah, wKy?

S1 Because this morning, my father say no have job this morning—

T Your father has no more job this morning? Or you have no job?

S1 My father.

How different these examples are from the essentially meaningless
interaction often observed in classrooms where communication and
form-focus are separated from each other. Such genuine exchanges of
information must surely enhance students’ motivation to participate in
language learning activities.

Research findings

There have been no studies which have directly examined the effects of
either the number or type of interaction opportunities on second
language acquisition. Most of the research has been descriptive in
nature, focusing on such issues as: How does negotiation which takes
place in classrooms differ from that observed in natural settings? Do
task types contribute to different kinds of interactional modifications?
How does teacher- versus student-centred instruction contribute to
differences in classroom interaction? Some research has examined
relationships between modifications in conversational interaction and
comprehension. Here are a few studies relevant to the interactionist

Study 4: Group work and learner language

One of the earliest studies to measure the different types of
interaction patterns in second language settings was carried out by
Michael Long and his colleagues (1976). In their study, differences in
the quantity and quality of student language in group work versus
teacher-centred activities were investigated. They found that the
students produced not only a greater quantity but also a g See: Long, M.
H., L. Adams, M. McLean, and F. Castanos. 1976. ‘Doing things with
words—verbal interaction in lockstep and small group classroom
situations’ TESOL 76. Washington, D.C. pp. 137-53.

reater variety of speech in group work than in teacher-centred
activities. Not surprisingly, in the teacher-centred activities, the
students primarily responded to teachers’ questions and rarely initiated
speech on their own. In contrast, learner language in group work
activity was filled with questions and responses and many more occasions
where learners took the initiative to speak spontaneously. In addition,
the learner-centred activities led to a much greater variety of language
functions (for example, disagreeing, hypothesizing, requesting,
clarifying, and defining).

Although this study was small, involving only two pairs of learners and
two 40-minute lessons, it was one of the first studies to suggest how
opportunities for more group work interaction may be beneficial for
second language learning.

Study 5: Learners talking to learners

Patricia Porter examined the language produced by adult learners
performing a task in pairs. There were eighteen subjects in the study:
twelve non-native speakers of English whose first language was Spanish,
and six native English speakers. The non-native speakers were
intermediate or advanced learners of English.

Each subject was asked to participate in separate discussions with a
speaker from each of the three levels. For example, an
intermediate-level speaker had a conversation with another
intermediate-level speaker, with an advanced-level speaker, and with a
native speaker of English. The investigator wanted to compare the speech
of native and non-native speakers in conversations as well as to compare
differences across proficiency levels in these conversation pairs.

Learners talked more with other learners than they did with native
speakers. Also, learners produced more talk with advanced-level than
with intermediate-level partners, partly because the conversations with
advanced learners lasted longer. Porter examined the number of
grammatical and vocabulary errors and false starts and found that
learner speech showed no differences across contexts. That is,
intermediate-level learners did not make any more errors with another
intermediate-level speaker than they did with an advanced or native
speaker. This is a particularly interesting finding because it calls
into question the argument that learners need to be exposed to a
native-speaking model (i.e. teacher) at all times if we are to ensure
that they produce fewer errors.

Overall, Porter concluded that although learners cannot provide each
other with the accurate grammatical input that native speakers can,
learners can offer each other genuine communicative practice which
includes negotiation of meaning. Supporters of the ‘Say what you mean
and mean what you say’ proposal argue that it is precisely this
negotiation of meaning which is essential for language acquisition See
Long, M. and P. Porter. 1985. ‘Group work, interlanguage talk, and
second language acquisition’. TESOL Quarterly 19: 207-28..

Study 6: Interaction and comprehensibility

In one of the few studies which has directly investigated the effects of
different input conditions on comprehension, Teresa Pica, Richard Young,
and Catherine Doughty (1987) found that modifications in interaction led
to higher levels of comprehension than modifications in input See: Pica,
T. R. Young, C. Doughty. 1987. “The impact of interaction on
comprehension’. TESOL Quarterly 21: 737-59.. In their study, the sixteen
learners were asked to follow instructions and complete a task under
either of two different conditions. In the first condition, the students
listened to a script read by a native speaker. The script had been
simplified in a number of ways to facilitate comprehension. For example,
there were repetition and paraphrasing, simple grammatical constructions
and vocabulary, and so on. In the second condition, the learners
listened to a script which contained the same information, but which had
not been simplified in any way. Instead, as learners listened to the
script being read, they were encouraged to ask questions and seek verbal
assistance when they had any difficulty following the directions.

The results indicated that learners who had the opportunity to ask
clarification questions, and check their comprehension as they were
listening to the instructions, comprehended much more than the students
who received a simplified set of instructions to do the task but had no
opportunity to interact while completing it.

Study 7: Learner language and proficiency level

George Yule and Doris Macdonald See: G. Yule, D. Macdonald. 1990.
‘Resolving referential conflicts in L2 interaction: The effect of
proficiency and interactive role. Language Learning: 539-56.(1990)
investigated whether the role that different proficiency-level learners
play in two-way communication tasks led to differences in their
interactive behaviour. In order to do this they set up a task which
required two learners to communicate information about the location of
different buildings on a map and the route to get there. One learner,
referred to as the ‘sender’, had a map with a delivery route on it and
this speaker’s job was to describe the delivery route to the other
learner so that he or she could draw the delivery route on an incomplete

To determine whether there would be any difference in the nature of the
interactions according to the relative proficiency of the 40 adult
participants, different types of learners were paired together: one
group which consisted of high-proficiency learners in the ‘sender’ role
and low-proficiency learners in the ‘receiver’ role, and another group
with low-proficiency ‘senders’ paired with high-proficiency ‘receivers’.

The results showed that when low-proficiency learners were in the
‘sender’ role, the interactions were considerably longer and more varied
than when high-proficiency learners were the ‘senders’. The explanation
provided for this was that high-proficiency ‘senders’ tended to act as
if the lower-proficiency ‘receiver’ had very little importance and
contribution to make in the completion of the task. As a result, the
lower-proficiency ‘receivers’ were almost forced to play a very passive
role and said very little in order to complete the task. When
low-proficiency level learners were in the ‘sender’ role, however, much
more negotiation of meaning and a greater variety of interactions
between the two speakers took place. Based on these findings, the
researchers argue that teachers should place more advanced students in
less dominant roles in paired activities with lower-proficiency-level

Interpreting the research

The research described above (and other related research) investigating
the factors which contribute to the quality and quantity of interactions
between second language learners has provided some very useful
information for teaching. Certainly, the early work of Long and his
colleagues and the more recent findings of Porter and Yule and MacDonald
have contributed to a better understanding of how to organize group and
pair work more effectively in the classroom. See: G. Yule, D. Macdonald.
1990. ‘Resolving referential conflicts in L2 interaction: The effect of
proficiency and interactive role. Language Learning: 539-56.

As indicated above, the difficulty with this line of research is that it
is based on the not yet fully tested assumption that specific kinds of
interactive behaviours lead to more successful second language
acquisition. Although the Pica, Young, and Doughty study is important in
this regard because it is one of the first to provide support for the
claim that specific types of interactive behaviours lead to greater
comprehension, more research is needed to directly test the hypothesis
that better comprehension leads to more successful acquisition. For
futher reading see: Pica, T. R. Young, C. Doughty. 1987. “The impact of
interaction on comprehension’. pp. 737-59.

7.2 The principle of listening

This proposal is based on the assumption that it is not necessary to
drill and memorize language forms in order to learn them. However,
unlike the interactionists’ emphasis on providing opportunities for
interaction of the kind we saw in some of the excerpts in the ‘Say what
you mean and mean what you say’ proposal, the emphasis here is on
providing comprehensible input through listening and/or reading

Read the classroom example below to get a feel for how this theory of
classroom second language learning can be implemented in classroom

Example 8

It is the English period at a primary school in a Native
language-speaking area of New Brunswick, Canada. Students (aged nine to
ten) enter the classroom, which looks very much like a miniature
language lab, with small carrels arranged around the perimeter of the
room. They go to the shelves containing books and audio-cassettes and
select the material which they wish to read and listen to during the
next 30 minutes. For some of the time the teacher is walking around the
classroom, checking that the machines are running smoothly. She does not
interact with the students concerning what they are doing. Some of the
students are listening with closed eyes; others read actively,
pronouncing the words silently. The classroom is almost silent except
for the sound of tapes being inserted or removed or chairs scraping as
students go to the shelves to select new tapes and books.

Just listen’ is one of the most influential—and most controversial—
approaches to second language teaching because it not only holds that
second language learners need not drill and practise language in order
to learn it, but also that they do not need to speak at all, except to
get other people to speak to them. According to this view, it is enough
to hear and understand the target language. And, as you saw in the
classroom description above, one way to do this is to provide learners
with a steady diet of listening and reading comprehension activities
with no (or very few) opportunities to speak or interact with the
teacher or other learners in the classroom.

The material which the students read and listen to is not graded in any
rigid way according to a sequence of linguistic simplicity. Rather, the
program planners grade materials on the basis of what they consider
intuitively to be at an appropriate level for the different groups of
learners, because a given text has shorter sentences, clearer
illustrations, or is based on a theme or topic that is familiar to the

The individual whose name is most closely associated with this proposal
is Stephen Krashen, particularly with his hypothesis that the crucial
requirement for second language acquisition is the availability of
comprehensible input.

Research findings

Several studies which are relevant to this proposal include: (1)
research in experimental comprehension-based ESI. programs in Canada;
(2) research investigating the effects of the ‘Total physical response’
method of second language teaching; and (3) research in Canadian Native
language immersion programs.

Study 8: Comprehension-based instruction for children

Example 8 was a description of a real program which was developed in
experimental classes in a Native language-speaking region in Canada.
From the beginning of their instruction in grade 3 (age eight years),
these francophone students only listen and read during their daily
30-minute ESL period. There is no oral practice or interaction in
English at all. Teachers do not ‘teach’ but provide organizational and
technical support. Thus, learners receive a steady diet of
native-speaker input but virtually no interaction with the teacher or
other learners.

Patsy Lightbown and Randall Halter See: Harley, B. and M. Swain. 1984.
‘The interlanguage of immersion students and its implications for second
language teaching’ in A. Davies, C. Griper, and A. Howatt (eds.):
Interlanguage. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 291-311.have
investigated the second language development of hundreds of children in
this program and have compared these findings with the second language
development of those in the regular, aural-oral ESL program at the same
grade level. Their results have revealed that learners in the
comprehension-based program learn English as well as (and in some cases
better than) learners in the regular program (Lightbown 1992). This is
true not only for their comprehension skills but also for their speaking
skills. This comes as something of a surprise since the learners in the
innovative programs never practise spoken English in their classes.

Study 9: Total physical response

One of the best-known examples of the ‘Just listen’ proposal is the
second language teaching approach called ‘Total physical response’
(TPR). In TPR classes, students—children or adults—participate in
activities in which they hear a series of commands in the target
language, for example: ‘stand up’, ‘sit down’, ‘pick up the book’, ‘put
the book on the table’, ‘walk to the door’. For a substantial number of
hours of instruction, students are not required to say anything. They
simply listen and show their comprehension by their actions. This
instruction differs from the comprehension-based instruction described
in Study 8 and from Krashen’s theoretical version of’ ‘Just listen’ in
an important way: the vocabulary and structures which learners are
exposed to are carefully graded and organized so that learners deal with
material which gradually increases in complexity and each new lesson
builds on the ones before.

TPR was developed by James Asher, whose research has shown that students
can develop quite advanced levels of comprehension in the language
without engaging in oral practice (Asher 1972) See: Asher, J. 1972.
‘Children’s first language as a model for second language learning.’
Modern Language Journal’56: pp. 133-9. When students begin to speak,
they take over the role of the teacher and give commands as well as
following them. It is clear that there are limitations on the kind of
language students can learn in such an environment. Nevertheless, the
evidence seems to show that, for beginners, this kind of active
involvement gives learners a good start. It allows them to build up a
considerable knowledge of the language without feeling the nervousness
that often accompanies the first attempts to speak the new language.

Study 10: Native language immersion programs Borrowed from: Krashen, S.
1982. Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford:
Pergamon. P. 23 in Canada

Other research which is often cited as relevant to the ‘Just listen’
proposal comes from Canadian Native language immersion programs, which
have been described by Krashen as communicative language teaching ‘par
excellence’. The reason for this is that the focus in Native language
immersion is on meaning through subject-matter instruction and the
provision of rich, comprehensible input. In many ways, Krashen could not
have asked for a better laboratory to test his theory. What have the
studies shown?

First, there is little doubt that the overall findings provide
convincing evidence that these programs are among the most successful
large-scale second language programs in existence. Learners develop
fluency, functional abilities, and confidence in using their second
language. There is, however, a growing awareness that Native language
immersion learners still fail to achieve high levels of performance in
some aspects of Native language grammar even after several years in
these programs See: Harley, B. and M. Swain. 1984. ‘The interlanguage of
immersion students and its implications for second language teaching’ in
A. Davies, C. Griper, and A. Howatt (eds.): Interlanguage. Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press, pp. 291 (Harley and Swain 1984). There are
several possible explanations for this.

Some researchers believe that the learners engage in too little language
production because the classes are largely teacher-centred and students
are not required to give extended answers (Swain 1985). This permits
students to operate successfully with their incomplete knowledge of the
language because they are rarely pushed to be more precise or more
accurate. Communication between students and between teacher and
students is quite satisfactory in spite of numerous errors in the
students’ speech.

Other observers have suggested that the students need more form-focused
instruction. This is based partly on experimental studies in which the
addition of form-focused instruction has been shown to benefit
learnersSee: Studies 14-17 under the ‘Get it right in the end’ proposal,
pages 97-102.. It has also been observed that certain linguistic
features rarely or never appear in the language of the teacher or the
students in these content-based instructional environments. Furthermore,
the presence in the classroom of other learners whose interlanguages are
influenced by the same first language, the same learning environment,
and the same limited contact with the target language outside the
classroom, make it difficult for an individual learner to work out how
his or her own use of the language differs from the target language.

Interpreting the research

The results of the Native language immersion research confirm the
importance of comprehensible input in that the students develop not only
good comprehension (in reading and listening), but also confidence and
fluency in Native language. However, research does not support the
argument that an exclusive focus on meaning and comprehensible input is
enough to bring learners to mastery levels of performance in their
second language. Indeed, the fact that Native language immersion
learners continue to make the same linguistic errors after years of
exposure to the second language in classrooms which provide a great deal
of comprehensible input is a challenge to the claim that language will
take care of itself as long as meaningful comprehensible input is

The results of the research on comprehension-based ESL also appear to
provide support for Krashen’s comprehensible input hypothesis. It is
important to keep in mind, however, that the learners in the
comprehension-based studies are beginner-level learners and it is far
too early to know how their second language skills will continue to
develop. It is certainly possible (indeed probable) that learners in
comprehension-based programs, like the Native language immersion
learners, will have considerable gaps in their linguistic knowledge and
performance over time. And, like the Native language immersion learners,
they too will probably need and benefit from opportunities to use the
language interactively as well as from some careful form-focused
intervention later in their development.

The TPR results also show great benefits for learners in the early
stages of development. Krashen says of TPR that it prepares learners to
go out into the target language community to get more comprehensible
input which, he says, will carry their language acquisition further.

In summary, comprehension-based programs appear to be beneficial in the
development of basic comprehension and communicative performance in the
early stages of learning (particularly in situations where learners have
no other contact with the target language apart from in classroom
situations). But they may not be sufficient in getting learners to
continue to develop their second language abilities to advanced levels.

8.2 Teach what is teacheable

The proposal referred to as ‘Teach what is teachable’ is one which has
received increasing attention in second language acquisition research in
recent years. The researcher most closely associated with this view is
Manfred Pienemann. He and his associates are concerned with being able
to explain why it often seems that some things can be taught
successfully whereas other things, even after extensive or intensive
teaching, seem to remain unac-quired. They claim that their research
provides evidence that some linguistic structures, for example, basic
sentence word order (both simple and complex) develops along a
particular developmental path. Thus, for example, any attempt to teach a
word order pattern that is a ‘Stage 4’ pattern to learners at ‘Stage 1’
will not work because learners have to pass through ‘Stage 2’ and get to
‘Stage 3’ before they are ready to acquire what is at ‘Stage 4′. The
underlying cause of the stages has not been fully explained, but there
has been considerable research showing that they may be based at least
in part on learners’ developing ability to process (unconsciously
analyse and organize) certain elements in the stream of speech they

Researchers supporting this view also claim that certain other aspects
of language—vocabulary, some grammatical features—can be taught at any
time. A learner’s success in learning these variational features will
depend on factors such as motivation, intelligence, and the quality of

While this line of research has the potential to inform classroom
teachers about which aspects of language acquisition are ‘developmental’
(and thus teachable only in a given sequence) and which are Variational’
(and thus teachable at various points in learner language development),
there is much work to be done before the findings of this research can
lead to recommendations about whether particular forms can be taught and

In Examples 9 and 10 below, we see a teacher trying to help students
with question formation. The students seem to know what they mean, but
the level of language the teacher is offering them is beyond their
current stage of development. The students react by simply answering the
question or accepting the teacher’s formulation.

Example 9

(A group of twelve-year-old students, interviewing each other as they
play the roles of imaginary people.)

S1What’s your nationality?

S2 I am Russian.

S1 What old, um, do you, uh, have—?

T ‘How old’ dear. ‘How old’ were you—?

S1 How old do you have… No, never mind.

T How old were you when you came here?

S1 Uh,yeah.

Example 10

(The same group of students, asking fellow students questions about
award poster which they had recently received.)

S1 Mavluda, where you put your ‘Kid of the Week’ poster?

T Where didyou put your poster when you got it?

S2 In my room. (2 minutes later)

S3 Mashhura where you put your ‘Kid of the Week’ poster?

T Where did you put your poster?

S4 My poster was on my wall and it fell down.

In Example 11 below, the student is using a ‘fronting’ strategy which is
typical of Stage 3 learners. That is, the student simply places an
auxiliary verl (in this case ‘is’) at the beginning of the sentence but
does not change the res of the sentence. (Note that if the student had
fronted ‘does’, the sentencl would have been correct, but we would not
have been able to see how the student thought question formation
worked.) In this case, the teacher’s correction leads the student to
produce a Stage 4 question. In Example 12, same situation appears. This
time, however, the correction leads not to reformulation of the
question, but simply to an answer.

Example 11

(Examples 11, 12, 13, and 14 are from a group of twelve-year-old Uzbek
speakers learning English as a foreign language.) (‘Famous person’

S1 Is your mother play piano?

T ‘Is your mother play piano?’ OK. Well, can you say ‘Is your mother
play piano?’ or ‘Is your mother a piano player?’

S1 ‘Is your mother a piano player?’

S2 No.

Example 12

(interviewing each other about house preferences)

S1 Is your favourite house is a split-level?

S2 Yes.

T You’re saying ‘is’ two times dear. ‘Is your favourite house a

S1 A split-level.


Example 13

(‘Hide and seek’ game)

S Where the teacher books are?

T Where are the teacher’s books?

S Where are the tea—the teacher books?

Here the student asks a Stage 3 question, the teacher provides a Stage 4
correction, and the student is able to make the change. Note, however,
that the student still doesn’t change the possessive ‘s, something which
Uzbek speakers find very difficult.

Research findings

The ‘Teach what is teachable’ view is one which claims that while some
features of the language can be taught successfully at various points in
the learner’s development, other features develop according to the
learner’s internal schedule and that no amount of instruction can change
the ‘natural’ developmental course. Let us examine a few of the studies
which have tested this hypothesis.

Study 11: Ready to learn

In a study of the acquisition of German as a second language, Manfred
Pienemann See: Pienemann, M. 1985. ‘Learnability and syllabus
construction’ in K. Hyl-tenstam and M. Pienemann (eds.): Modelling and
Assessing Second Language Acquisition. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual
Matters, pp. 23-75. (1988) investigated whether instruction permitted
learners to ‘skip’ a stage in the natural sequence of development. Two
groups of learners who were at Stage 2 in their acquisition of German
word order were taught the rules associated with Stage 3 and Stage 4
respectively. The instruction took place over two weeks and during this
time, learners were provided with explicit grammatical rules and
exercises for Stage 4 constructions. The results showed that the
learners who received instruction on Stage 3 rules moved easily into
this stage from Stage 2. However, those learners who received
instruction on Stage 4 rules did not move into this stage. They either
continued to use Stage 2 behaviours or they moved into Stage 3. That is,
they were not able to ‘skip’ a stage in the ‘natural route’. Pienemann
interprets his results as support for the hypothesis that for some
linguistic structures, learners cannot be taught what they are not
‘developmentally ready’ to learn.

Study 12: Teaching when the time is right

Catherine Doughty See: Doughty, C. 1991. ‘Second language instruction
does make a difference: Evidence from an empirical study of SL
relativization.’ Studies in Second Language Acquisition 13/4: pp.
431-69. (1991) examined whether particular aspects of relative clause
formation would benefit from instruction at a time when learners were
developmentally ‘ready’ to learn them. Twenty subjects were divided into
three groups: two experimental and one control. All groups received
exposure to relative clauses over a period often days through a series
of computer-delivered reading lessons. During these lessons all learners
were asked to read the passages and answer a variety of comprehension
questions which focused on reading skills such as skimming and scanning.

For the experimental groups, two instructional techniques were added to
the reading comprehension exercises. These were presented to the
learners by means of an additional ‘window’ on the learners’ computer
screens. One experimental group received instruction which focused on
meaning-orientated techniques. This included both vocabulary help and
paraphrases of sentences in the reading comprehension texts. The other
experimental group received instruction which focused on rules. This
included instruction on relative clause formation through a combination
of explicit grammatical rules and on-screen sentence manipulation.

All learners were pre-tested immediately before the instructional
treatment and post-tested after the ten days of the exposure/instruction
with regard to relative clauses.

The results revealed a clear advantage for the experimental groups. That
is, learners who had received the additional instruction in relative
clause formation—regardless of whether it was meaning-orientated or
rule-orientated outperformed the control group learners who had received
only exposure to relative clauses through the reading comprehension
texts. Doughty concludes that instruction on relative clauses made a
difference when it was provided at the time when learners were
‘developmentally ready’ to learn them.

Study 13: Can question forms be taught?

Rod Ellis See: Ellis, R. 1984. ‘Can syntax be taught?’ Applied
Linguistics 5: 138-55.

(1984) studied the effects of instruction on the acquisition of question
forms by thirteen child ESL learners. In this study, learners were also
given instruction at a time when they were considered to be
‘develop-mentally ready’ to acquire wh-question inversion rules. The
learners received three hours of instruction. In the first hour the
teacher asked a series of wh-questions while referring to a wall poster,
and students were asked to respond. In the second hour, the students
asked questions (again referring to the wall poster), and the teacher
corrected them when they made errors. In the third hour, the teacher
‘fired questions at the pupils’ about the wall poster. The group results
revealed little effect for instruction on the learners’ development of
question forms, although some individual learners did improve

Interpreting the research

The conflicting results of these studies present an obvious problem for
assessing the ‘Teach what is teachable’ proposal. A closer look at some
of the procedural problems in one of the studies should shed some light
on these seemingly contradictory findings. If one compares the amount of
instruction provided, it seems possible that the three hours provided in
the Ellis study were not enough to cause changes in the learners’
interlanguage systems. Further, there is the possibility that the type
of instruction was not sufficiently form-focused. In the limited
description of the type of instruction provided in Ellis See: Ellis, R.
1984. ‘Can syntax be taught?’ Applied Linguistics 5: 140’ study, it
seems that the learners had more exposure to w//-questions in the
teacher’s modelling than they did opportunities to produce questions
themselves and to receive feedback on their errors, either through
correction and/or explicit rule teaching. In this way, the group in
Ellis’ study may have been more similar to the control group in Doughty
See: Doughty, C. 1991. ‘Second language instruction does make a
difference: Evidence from an empirical study of SL relativization.’
Studies in Second Language Acquisition 13/4: p. 431’s study—the one
which received increased ‘exposure’ but not so much ‘instruction’ and in
the end did not perform as well as those learners who received more
focused instruction.

It seems reasonable to conclude that because the instruction provided in
the Doughty and Pienemann studies was more explicit, carefully
controlled, and of a longer duration, their studies provide a more
reliable test of the ‘Teach what is teachable’ proposal. Nonetheless, it
is important to note some of the weaknesses in these studies as well.
For example, in Doughty’s study, no direct comparison was made between
learners who were not’devel-opmentally ready’ to learn relative clauses
and those who were. Further, in both studies, only the short-term
effects of instruction were measured. Because of this, there is no way
of knowing whether instruction had any permanent or long-term effects on
the learners’ developing interlanguage systems. In Pienemann’s study,
results were reported for only a small group of learners. In later
studies, however, similar results were reported with other learners.

9.2 Getting right in the end

Get it right in the end’ is similar to the ‘Teach what is teachable’
proposal. Its proponents recognize a role for instruction, but also
assume that not everything has to be taught. That is, they assume that
much will be acquired naturally, through the use of language for
communication. They also agree that some things cannot be taught if the
timing of the teaching fails to take the student’s readiness (stage of
development) into account. This proposal differs from the ‘Teach what is
teachable’ proposal, however, in that it emphasizes the idea that some
aspects of language mustbe taught. For example, when an error learners
make is the result of transfer from their first language, and when all
the learners in a group tend to make the same error, it will be
virtually impossible for learners to discover this error on their own.
We can see this in Example 14, where francophone learners of English are
having difficulties with adverb placement.

‘Get it right in the end’ also differs from ‘Just listen’ in that it is
assumed that learners will need some guidance in learning some specific
features of the target language. Furthermore, it is assumed that what
learners learn when they are focusing on language itself can lead to
changes in their interlanguage systems, not just to an appearance of
change brought about by conscious attention to a few details of form. On
the other hand, the supporters of this proposal do not claim that
teaching particular language points will prevent learners from making
errors. Nor do they assume that learners will be able to begin using a
form or structure with complete accuracy as soon as it is taught.
Furthermore, they do not argue that the focused teaching must be done in
a way which involves explicit explanations of the point or that learners
need to be able to explain why something is right or wrong. Rather, they
claim that the learners’ attention must be focused on the fact that
their language use differs from that of a more proficient speaker. As we
will see in the examples below, teachers must look for the right moment
to create increased awareness on the part of the learner—ideally, at a
time when the learner is motivated to say something and wants to say it
as clearly and correctly as possible.

Proponents of’ ‘Get it right in the end’ argue that it is sometimes
necessary to draw learners’ attention to their errors and to focus on
certain linguistic (vocabulary or grammar) points. The difference
between this proposal and the ‘Get it right from the beginning’ proposal
is that it acknowledges that it is appropriate for learners to engage in
meaningful language use from the very beginning of their exposure to the
second language. They assume that much of language acquisition will
develop naturally out of such language use, without formal instruction
which focuses on the language itself.

The difference between this proposal and the ‘Just listen’ and ‘Say what
you mean and mean what you say’ proposals is that it is not assumed that
comprehensible input and meaningful interaction will be enough to bring
learners to high levels of accuracy as well as fluency. Researchers who
support this proposal argue that learners can benefit from, and
sometimes require, explicit focus on the language.

Example 14

(Examples 14, 15, and 16 are taken from a classroom where a group of
twelve-year-olds are learning English. In Example 14, they are engaged
in an activity where scrambled sentences are re-ordered to form sensible
ones. The following sentence has been placed on the board: ‘Sometimes my
mother makes good cakes.’)

T Another place to put our adverb?

S1 After makes T After makes.

S2 Before good?.

T My mother makes sometimes good cakes.

S3 No.

T No, we can’t do that. It sounds yucky.

S3 Yucky!

T Disgusting. Horrible. Right?

S4 Horrible!

This is hardly a typical grammar lesson! And yet the students’ attention
is being drawn to an error virtually all of them (native speakers of
Uzbek ) make in English.

Example 15

(The students are practising following instructions; one student
instructs, others colour.)

S1 Make her shoes brown.

T Now, her shoes. Are those Mom’s shoes or Dad’s shoes?

S2 Mom’s.

T Mom’s. How do you know it’s Mom’s?

S1 Because it’s her shoes.

Native language speaking learners of English have difficulty with his
and her because Native language possessives use the grammatical gender
of the object possessed rather than the natural gender of the possessor
in selecting the appropriate possessive form. The teacher is aware of
this and—briefly, without interrupting the activity—helps the learners
‘notice’ the correct form.

Example 16

(The students are playing ‘hide and seek’ with a doll in a doll’s house,
asking questions until they find out where ‘George’ is hiding.)

S1 Is G’ofur is, is in the living room?

T You said ‘is’ two times dear. Listen to you—you said ‘Is G’ofur is
in—?’. Look on the board. ‘Is G’ofur in the’ and then you say the name
of the room.

S1 Is George in the living room?

T Yeah.

S1 I win!

We should note here that the teacher’s brief correction does not
distract the student from his pleasure in the game, demonstrating that
focus on form does not have to be meaningless or preclude genuine

Research findings

In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in examining
issues related to this proposal, leading to both descriptive (Study 14)
and experimental studies (Studies 15, 16, and 17). Some of the research
is described below.

Study 14: Attention to form in communicative ESL

Nina Spada See: Spada, N. 1987. ‘Relationships between instructional
differences and learning outcomes: A process-product study of
communicative language teaching. ‘ Applied Linguistics 8: 137-61.(1987)
examined the effects of differences in instruction on the English
language proficiency of 48 adult learners enrolled in a six-week
intensive course. All learners received communicative instruction, that
is, instruction which focused primarily on meaning-based practice and
opportunities to use the second language in creative and spontaneous
ways. However, some teachers focused more on grammar than others. For
example, the teacher in Class A spent considerably more time teaching
grammar than did the teachers in Classes B and C. In Class B, the
students’ attention was frequently drawn to specific linguistic
features, but this was done while students were engaged in communicative
activities, not as a separate lesson. In Class C, attention was rarely,
if ever, drawn to specific linguistic features.

The learners were given a number of proficiency tests before and after
instruction. This included:

1) a listening comprehension test

2) a reading comprehension test

3) an oral interview/interaction task

4) a multiple choice grammar test

5) a multiple choice discourse test

6) a socio-linguistic test.

The results showed that learners in Class A (the ones who received more
grammatical instruction) performed slightly better on the grammar test
than learners in Classes B and C. Furthermore, the results indicated
that learners in Class A improved on some of the other measures as well
(listening, speaking, and discourse tests). It was particularly
interesting to note that learners in Class B performed best on the oral
interview/interaction task. In this class, students were often
encouraged to pay attention to the formal aspects of their speech while
they were engaged in communicative practice. Spada concluded that
instruction which focuses primarily on meaning (i.e. is
communication-based) but allows for a focus on grammar within meaningful
contexts, works best.

Study 15′ Form-focus experiments in ESL

In Quebec, there were investigated the effects of form-focused
instruction and corrective feedback on the development of specific
linguistic structures in the English of francophone students
participating in intensive ESL programs See: P. Lightbown, N. Spada How
languages are learned Oxford University Press Oxford 1993 p.99.

According to the findings of a large-scale, descriptive study involving
almost 1,000 students in 33 classes, these programs can be considered to
be essentially communicative. That is, the emphasis of the teaching is
on activities which focus on meaning rather than form, opportunities for
spontaneous interaction and the provision of rich and varied
comprehensible input. Although learners develop high levels of fluency
and communicative ability in their target language, they still have
problems with linguistic accuracy and complexity.

The experimental studies involved a smaller number of classes. In these
studies, the effects of form-focused instruction and corrective feedback
on two particular linguistic features were examined: adverb placement
and question formation. In the first study, Lydia White See: White, L.
1991. ‘Adverb placement in second language acquisition: some effects of
positive and negative evidence in the classroom.’ Second Language
Research: p.133 (1991) selected adverb placement for investigation
because English and Native language differ with regard to the positions
in which adverbs can be placed in sentences. The hypothesis was that
learners would persist in using adverb placement rules from Uzbek if
they were not explicitly told how rules for adverb placement differ in
English and Uzbek. Questions were selected for the second study because
they have been extensively investigated in the literature and
considerable comparison data are available, particularly with regard to
acquisition sequences.

Both the experimental and the comparison groups were tested before the
experiment began (pre-test), and both groups were tested again when the
period of special instruction had ended (post-test). The experimental
groups received approximately eight hours of instruction over a two-week
period. This included explicit teaching of the grammatical rules
associated with each structure as well as corrective feedback. The
teachers of the experimental groups were provided with a package of
teaching materials and a clear set of procedures to follow. The
comparison group teachers were asked to teach a different structure, one
which was not the focus of the experiment, so that the comparison group
learners would be familiar with the tasks and activities that were used
in the testing procedures. The studies included immediate, delayed, and
long-term/follow-up post-tests. For the adverb study the test tasks were
written, and in the question formation study the tests included both
written and oral tasks.

The results of the adverb study revealed that learners who received
instruction on adverb placement dramatically outperformed the learners
who did not receive instruction on adverbs. This was found to be the
case on all tests in both the immediate and delayed post-tests
(immediately following instruction and six weeks later). In the
follow-up tests a year later, however, the gains made by the learners
who had received the adverb instruction had disappeared and their
performance on this structure was like that of uninstructed learners.

The results of the question formation study revealed that the instructed
group made significantly greater gains than the uninstructed group on
the written tasks immediately following instruction. Furthermore, it was
found that the instructed learners maintained their level of knowledge
on later testing (six weeks and six months after instruction). It was
also found that a focus on form contributed to improvements in oral
performance on questions.

Analysis of classroom language showed that adverbs were very, very rare
in classroom speech, giving learners little opportunity to maintain
their newly acquired knowledge through continued exposure and use. In
contrast, there were hundreds of opportunities to hear and use questions
every day in the classroom.

10.2 Grammar aquisition: Focusing on past tenses and conditionals

Focusing on past tenses

As mentioned earlier in this chapter, there is a growing belief that
learners in native language immersion programs need more opportunities
to focus on form and receive corrective feedback. There has been a call
for more classroom research of the type exemplified by Studies 16 and 17
to determine how this can best be accomplished.

Birgit Harley See: Harley, B. 1989. ‘Functional grammar in native
language immersion: A classroom experiment. p.331 (1989) examined the
effects of a functional approach to grammar teaching on a particularly
problematic area of grammar for English-speaking learners of native
language—the contrastive use of two past tense forms for ‘My mother
often spoke about her childhood’, and roughly the specific or narrative
past, for example, ‘After class I had talked with the other students’.

Approximately high grade 6 immersion students were given instruction on
the use of these past tense forms through teaching materials which
encouraged their use in a variety of functionally-based practice
activities. No explicit grammatical rules were provided, nor was there
an emphasis on corrective feedback. The intention was to create
opportunities, activities, and tasks which would expose them to more
input containing both verb forms, and encourage more productive use of
them by the learners. The teaching materials were administered over an
eight-week period. Learners were tested on their spoken and written
knowledge before the instructional treatment began, eight weeks later,
and again three months later.

Harley’s findings showed that learners in the experimental classes
outperformed the control classes on the immediate post-tests on some of
the written and oral measures. Three months later, however, there were
no significant differences between the two groups.

Focusing on the conditionals

Elaine Day and Stan Shapson See: Day, E. and S. Shapson. 1991.
‘Integrating formal and functional approaches to language teaching in
Native language immersion: An experimental approach.’ Language Learning
41: 25—58. (1991) examined the effects of instruction with average grade
7 students (age about twelve or thirteen). The feature of grammar which
was taught was the conditional mood of the verb, for example in
sentences such as ‘Agar men lotereyada yuib olsam, sayohatga borar
edim’. -‘ If I won the lottery, I would go away on a trip’.

Students in the experimental classes received several hours of focused
instruction on the conditional over a period of five to seven weeks. The
students in the control group continued with their usual classroom
routines, that is, they continued to encounternative language mainly in
the context of learning their general school subjects (science,
mathematics, history, etc. through the medium of native language).

Special teaching materials were prepared by the team of researchers.
They consisted of:

1) group work which created situations for the use of the conditional in
natural communicative situations;

2) written and oral exercises to reinforce the use of the conditional in
more formal, structured situations;

3) self-evaluation activities to encourage students to develop conscious
awareness of their language use.

Oral and written tests were administered before the instructional
treatment, immediately after the instruction (five to seven weeks
later), and at the end of the school year.

Learners in the experimental classes outperformed those in the control
classes on the immediate post-tests for the written tasks (but not for
the oral). In contrast to the students in Study 16, they were still
doing better than the control group on the follow-up post-tests
administered several months later.

Interpreting the research

The overall results of the experimental studies in the intensive ESL and
native language immersion programs provide partial support for the
hypothesis that enhanced input or form-focused instruction and
corrective feedback within communicative second language programs can
improve the learners’ use of particular grammatical features. The
results also show, however, that the effects of instruction are not
always long lasting. For example, in the intensive program studies, the
positive effects of form-focused instruction on adverb placement had
disappeared a year later. Yet, the positive effects of this type of
instruction and corrective feedback for questions were maintained in the
long-term follow-up testing. Similarly, in the experimental native
language immersion studies, while there were only short-term
instructional benefits for the use of the imparfaitand passe compose,
the benefits of instruction for the use of the conditional continued to
be evident several months later.

It would be useful to notice here that the different results of the
intensive ESL program findings might be explained in terms of the
frequency of use of the two linguistic structures inregular classroom
input after the experimental treatment had ended. For example, as
mentioned in Study 15, question forms occur much more frequently in
classroom input than adverbs. This continued reinforcement may have
contributed to the continued improvement in the learners’ use of
questions over time. Evidence from classroom observations suggests that
students did not receive any continued reinforcement through exposure to
adverbs in classroom materials and activities once the experimental
period was over, and thus it should not be surprising that these
learners failed to maintain the improved performance levels.

The contrasting results of the native language immersion program
teaching experiments (focuses on grammar) may also be explained by
potential differences in input. But in this case, it seems more likely
that differences in the experimental teaching materials and methodology
may have contributed to the different results. Although both sets of
materials had as their goal to provide learners with the opportunity to
use the linguistic forms in a variety of functionally-based
communicative practice activities, the instructional materials for the
‘past tense’ study (past tenses) may not have been sufficiently
form-focused or did not draw the learners’ attention to their language
use as frequently and as explicitly as the instructional materials for
the ‘conditional’ study (conditionals). While this is a possible
explanation, other factors may have contributed to the different
outcomes. For example, it could be that the two linguistic structures
under investigation respond to instruction in different ways or that
even the relatively small differences in the age of the learners played
a role.

11.2 The implications of classroom research for teaching

It is difficult to draw firm conclusions about the strength of the
theoretical proposals until further research is completed. But it is
possible to speculate on the ‘strongest contenders’ on the basis of the
classroom research findings so far This chapter we based on the internet
materials the address of which is mentioned in the bibliography list.

There is increasing evidence that learners continue to have difficulty
with basic structures of the language in programs which offer no
form-focused instruction. This calls into question the ‘Just listen’
proposal, which in its strongest form not only claims no benefit from
form-focused instruction and correction, but suggests that it can
actually interfere with second language development. However, we do not
find support for the argument that if second language learners are
simply exposed to comprehensible input, language acquisition will take
care of itself.

There are similar problems with the ‘Say what you mean and mean what you
say’ proposal. As noted earlier in this chapter, there is evidence that
opportunities for learners to engage in conversational interactions in
group and paired activities can lead to increased fluency and the
ability to manage conversations more effectively in a second language.
However, the research also shows that learners in programs based on the
‘Say what you mean and mean what you say’ proposal continue to have
difficulty with accuracy as well.

Because these programs emphasize meaning and attempt to simulate
‘natural’ communication in conversational interaction, the students’
focus is naturally on what they say, not how to say it. This can result
in a situation where learners provide each other with input which is
often incorrect and incomplete. Furthermore, even when attempts are made
to draw the learners’ attention to form and accuracy in such contexts
(either by the teacher or other learners), these attempted corrections
may be interpreted by the learners as continuations of the conversation.
Thus, programs based on the ‘Just listen’ and ‘Say what you mean and
mean what you say’ proposals are incomplete in that learners’ gains in
fluency and conversational skills may not be matched by their
development of accuracy.

It is important to emphasize that the evidence to support a role for
form-focused instruction and corrective feedback does not provide
support for the ‘Get it right from the beginning’ proposal. Research has
demonstrated that learners do benefit considerably from instruction
which is meaning-based. The results of the native language immersion and
intensive ESL program research are strong indicators that many learners
develop higher levels of fluency through exclusively or primarily
meaning-based instruction than through rigidly grammar-based
instruction. The problem remains, however, that certain aspects of the
linguistic knowledge and performance of second language learners are not
fully developed in such programs.

Unfortunately, research investigating the ‘Teach what is teachable’
proposal is not yet at a point where it is possible to say to teachers:
‘Here is a list of linguistic features which you can teach at any time
and here is another list which shows the order in which another set of
features will be acquired. You should teach them in this order.’ The
number of features which researchers have investigated with experimental
studies within this framework is simply far too small.

Similarly, second language researchers working from the ‘Get it right in
the end’ proposal cannot yet provide a list of those forms which mustbe
taught. Nonetheless, because these proposals do not argue for
exclusively form-based or meaning-based instruction, but rather
acknowledge a role for form-focused instruction and correction within a
communicative program, the ‘Teach what is teachable’ and ‘Get it right
in the end’ proposals appear to be the most promising at the moment in
terms of guiding decisions about second language teaching.

3. Conclusion

Classroom data from a number of studies offer support for the view that
form-focused instruction and corrective feedback provided within the
context of a communicative program are more effective in promoting
second language learning than programs which are limited to an exclusive
emphasis on accuracy on the one hand or an exclusive emphasis on fluency
on the other. Thus, we would argue that second language teachers can
(and should) provide guided, form-based instruction and correction in
specific circumstances. For example, teachers should not hesitate to
correct persistent errors which learners seem not to notice without
focused attention. Teachers should be especially aware of errors that
the majority of learners in a class are making when they share the same
first language background. Nor should they hesitate to point out how a
particular structure in a learner’s first language differs from the
target language. Teachers might also try to become more aware of those
structures which they sense are just beginning to emerge in the second
language development of their students and provide some guided
instruction in the use of these forms at precisely that moment to see if
any gains are made. It may be useful to encourage learners to take part
in the process by creating activities which draw the learners’ attention
to forms they use in communicative practice, by developing contexts in
which they can provide each other with feedback and by encouraging them
to ask questions about language forms.

Decisions about when and how to provide form focus must take into
account differences in learner characteristics, of course. Quite
different approaches would be appropriate for, say, a trained linguist
learning a fourth or fifth language, a young child beginning his or her
schooling in a second language environment, an immigrant who cannot read
and write his or her own language, and an adolescent learning a foreign
language at school.

It could be argued that many teachers are quite aware of the need to
balance form-focus and meaning-focus, and that recommendations based on
research may simply mean that our research has confirmed current
classroom practice. Although this may be true to some extent, it is
hardly the case that all teachers approach their task with a clear sense
of how best to accomplish their goal. It is not always easy to step back
from familiar practices and say, ‘I wonder if this is really the most
effective way to go about this?’ Furthermore, many teachers are
reluctant to try out classroom practices which go against the prevailing
trends among their colleagues or in their educational contexts, and
there is no doubt that many teachers still work in environments where
there is an emphasis on accuracy which virtually excludes spontaneous
language use in the classroom. At the same time, there is evidence that
the introduction of communicative language teaching methods has
sometimes resulted in a complete rejection of attention to form and
error correction in second language teaching.

Teachers and researchers do not face a choice between form-based and
meaning-based instruction. Rather, our challenge is to determine which
features of language will respond best to form-focused instruction, and
which will be acquired without explicit focus if learners have adequate
exposure to the language. In addition, we need to develop a better
understanding of how form-based instruction can be most effectively
incorporated into a communicative framework. Continued classroom-centred
research in second language teaching and learning should provide us with
insights into these and other important issues in second language
learning in the classroom.


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2. Savignon, S. 1972. Communicative Competence: An Experiment in
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3. Montgomery, C. and M. Eisenstein. 1985. ‘Reality revisited: An
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4. Long, M. H., L. Adams, M. McLean, and F. Castanos. 1976. ‘Doing
things with words—verbal interaction in lockstep and small group
classroom situations’ in J. Fanselow and R. Crymes (eds.): On TESOL 76.
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5. Long, M. and P. Porter. 1985. ‘Group work, interlanguage talk, and
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6. Pica, T., R. Young, and C. Doughty. 1987. “The impact of interaction
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7. Yule, G. and D. Macdonald. 1990. ‘Resolving referential conflicts in
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8. Krashen, S. 1982. Principles and Practice in Second Language
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9. Lightbown, P. M. 1992. ‘Can they do it themselves? A
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10. Asher, J. 1972. ‘Children’s first language as a model for second
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11. Harley, B. and M. Swain. 1984. ‘The interlanguage of immersion
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12. Pienemann, M. 1985. ‘Learnability and syllabus construction’ in K.
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15. Ellis, R. 1984. ‘Can syntax be taught?’ Applied Linguistics 5:

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21. Day, E. and S. Shapson. 1991. ‘Integrating formal and functional
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23. Internet: http://www.tesol.org/ – various publications

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