Report on Get it Right From the Beginning Proposal in Second Language Acquisition Term Paper

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Right from the Beginning

Lightbown and Spada present six proposals for teaching second and foreign language. The first of these is called "Get it right from the beginning" (138). This approach, known also as audiolingual teaching, was formed as a reaction to the grammar translation method. Lightbown and Spada (138) explain that with grammar translation, students translate a text line by line from the second language to their first language. Instruction under this method may also include comprehension questions (usually answered in the first language) and a focus on grammar instruction. However, instructors realized a need for oral practice which led to the development of the audiolingual method. According to Lightbown and Spada (138) the audiolingual method is based on the theories of behaviorism and contrastive analysis.

According to Second Language Acquisition, language instruction in the 1950s and 1960s followed the behaviorism theory. Language instruction under this theory is essentially a system of habits, and learning occurs as a result of responding to stimulus and receiving either positive or negative reinforcement. Hathcock explains that the behaviorist theory is a psychological model that asserts that humans are products of their environments and all behaviors are positively reinforced, negatively reinforced, or punished. If a behavior is positively reinforced, or praised, then there is incentive to repeat it. If instead, it is negatively reinforced or punished, then the behavior will cease. B.F. Skinner, the most recent and perhaps well-known advocate of this theory, contends that language is acquired the same way -- it is no different than any other behavior a child is conditioned to do. Skinner's work in the field of language acquisition was done in the late 1950s, a revolutionary time in the field as many theories concerned with language acquisition were born. Based on this view, language teaching involved memorizing and reciting predetermined dialogues to instill proper habits in the learner.

Behaviorism was also concerned with removing interference of the first language. This led to the theory of contrastive analysis. According to this theory, the problems faced by learners learning a second language were due to interference from the first language. Tao, Lijuan, and Gann (63) explain that learning problems arise from differences between two language systems, adding that "the student who comes into contact with a foreign language will find some features of it quite easy and others extremely difficult. Those elements that are similar to his native language will be simple for him, and those elements that are different will be difficult." Tarone (2) adds that "all language learning difficulties were due to interference between differing structures of the native language and the foreign language; a careful contrastive analysis of the structures of the two linguistic systems could identify those points of structural difference; those structural points would be drilled and repeated in the language lab, and thereby all learning difficulty would be removed."

This theory of language acquisition led to the development of the audiolingual method. Lightbown and Spada (139) explain that the audiolingual method involves practice and repetition. While there is oral practice, the practice is not spontaneous as errors are discouraged. Schwab adds that there is no need for the student to think about what they are saying or even understand what the sentence means. According to Lightbown and Spada (139) "some students who have no idea what the sentences mean will successfully repeat them anyway, while their minds wander off to other things." Schwab asserts that this method is most successful with highly motivated adult learners with a good basis of knowledge of the grammar of their first language and also with students at the rote-beginner level "for forming a basic foundation on which recognition and meaning can be developed." However, the method is less successful in classroom environments where motivation may be a problem, where correctness may not be highly valued, and where the inability to actually communicate real messages and intentions often results (Schwab).

Second Language Acquisition points out several problems with the audiolingual method:

Chomsky pointed out that language isn't a collection of habits;

First language acquisition shows that children do not merely repeat what they have heard; they very often use language creatively, producing things they have never heard;

Many errors that second language learners make cannot be traced to the influence of their first language;

Contrastive analysis didn't seem to be able to predict individual psycholinguistic difficulty of a second language learner, whereby a learner could easily produce an erroneous form, struggle with the form, and then produce a correct form;

It is not easy to straightforwardly enumerate the "differences" between languages; hence it is hard to predict where problems would arise.

One of the most important problems with the audiolingual method is the lack of empirical evidence to support it. Tao et al. (70) explain that the method had entered the classroom in the form of instructional materials without prior empirical validation of its predictive power. Lightbown and Spada (140) add "there is little classroom research to support such approaches for students in ordinary school programmes (sic) that must serve the needs of students who bring different levels of motivations and aptitude to the classroom. In fact, it was the frequent failure of traditional grammar translation and audiolingual methods to produce fluency and accuracy in second language learners that led to the development of more communicative approaches to teaching in the first place."

Lightbown and Spada (141-143) present two studies which examine the effectiveness of the get it right from the beginning approach. The first study, conducted by Lightbown in the 1970s, involved French-speaking Canadians, aged 11 -- 16, who were receiving instruction via the audiolingual method. In the study, Lightbown examined learners' acquisition of English grammatical morphemes. Lightbown compared the students who received audiolingual instruction with learners who received no such instruction. The study found that while students who received audiolingual instruction initially showed more progress toward acquisition of the skills, the students often displayed less accuracy once they were no longer practiced and that students often reverted to earlier developmental stages of language development. Lightbown and Spada (142) conclude "an almost exclusive focus on accuracy and practice of particular grammatical forms does not mean that learners will be able to use the forms correctly outside the classroom drill setting, nor that they will continue to use them correctly once other forms are introduced, and this instruction…did not seem to favor the development of comprehension, fluency, or communicative abilities either."

In the second study, conducted by Sandra Savignon in 1972, the progress of students in an American university who were studying French was examined. All of the students received four hours per week of audiolingual instruction. Students were divided into three groups for an additional hour of instruction. One group, the communicative group, was provided with the opportunity to spend the hour on communicative tasks in order to practice the language in "meaningful, spontaneous, and creative ways" (Lightbown and Spada, 142). The second group, the culture group, received instruction in English on aspects of French culture, such as films, music, and art. The third group, the control group, spent their additional hour in the language laboratory with additional practice on grammar and pronunciation drills. Students were tested before and after the instructional intervention on linguistic competence, focusing on grammar, teachers' evaluation of speaking skills, and grades, as well as communicative skills, such as fluency, communicating with a native French speaker, reporting facts about oneself, and describing activities (Lightbown and Spada, 142). The study found that there was no difference in the performance of the groups on the tests of linguistic competence, but that the communicative group performed significantly better on the tests of communicative skill. Lightbown and Spada (142-143) conclude that the study demonstrates that methods that focus on drill and practice do not provide sufficient opportunity to develop communicative skills, and perhaps more importantly, providing opportunities for developing communicative skills does not interfere with developing linguistic accuracy,

Lightbown and Spada (143) assert that these studies demonstrate the limitations of the "get it right from the beginning" proposal. According to Lightbown and Spada (143) learners receiving only audiolingual instruction do not develop the ability to communicate effectively in the second language. Additionally, structure-based approaches do not necessarily ensure that the learner will develop linguistic accuracy. They therefore assert that the studies demonstrate the advantage of meaning-based instruction. DeKeyser (158) cautions that extensive practice is still required in language instruction, stating that practice is "a necessary, not a sufficient feature of language instruction." Moreover, DeKeyser (159-160) explains that practice needs to be adapted to the situation and the learner. For example, practice activities that might be appropriate for adult learners may not be appropriate for child learners. The culture and the ability of the learner need to be considered as well.

Scwab provides the following guidelines for selecting second language instructional proposals:

Access to types of quality input -- native or competent speakers as instructors and fellow learners;

Motivation and goals of learners;

Similarity of target…[continue]

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