I was at the British Columbia Language Co-ordinators’ Association annual conference on Friday, and attended a second-languages-methods session presided over by Meike Wernicke and Sandra Zappa of U.B.C.
One of the teachers, John, said that “in my experience, the kids who speak more in class do much better on everything from speaking to listening to writing.” He then argued for the importance of having lots of output from L2 learners. I of course had some questions for him.
First, the simple fact that talkers = better L2 students in and of itself doesn’t prove anything. This is simple correlation and mistakes correlation for causation. The new moon rises in early evening, when the sun has gone down. Does that mean the sun’s descent causes the moon to rise? The term for this fallacy is post hoc, ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this).
Second, if there is a strong correlation, as John seems to think, we must look for a third factor (or more factors) that account for this. Here are my ideas.
a) Krashen– and lots of other people– have researched the “affective filter” (i.e. whether L2 learners are happy, comfortable, secure etc in their learning environment). The research from linguistics, sports, math and pretty much everywhere is clear: people who are happy, comfortable and secure (they have a “lowered affective filter”) acquire/learn much more _______ than people who are insecure, scared, uncomfortable etc. The Yerkes-Dodson Law states that as stress increases (beyond a basic level of “necessary” stress), learning decreases. There’s a good basic summary here.
In the Army, for recuits, drills with fake ammo, movement only, noise etc occur before people are put into live-ammo drills or combat. You show them the skills, then, once they are wired in, you can expose them to stress.
In rock climbing, we put people on topropes– zero chance of falls of more than a foot– before we send them up to lead-climb routes (potential for death). You learn movement, rope handling, gear placement etc, and THEN you do the scary stuff.
In music, we learn music with a teacher, at home, with sheet music or recordings…and much later we play for friends, then parties, then recitals or whatever.
In the US and Canada, one of the non-legal causes for anti-bullying and anti-homophobia initiatives is that schoolchildren under stress from classmates, insensitive teachers, etc, simply do not learn as well as their happier, more secure peers.
Krashen’s expression is that in order to acquire L2, people first need compelling comprehensible input, and that, in addition, they must be “somehow open to input.”
What might be happening in Jesse’s experience is that these “extrovert” kids have their affective filters lowered in class, and so they are “soaking up” more language than their shyer counterparts. That they are willing to talk more than others indicates to me that they are happy, secure, etc, and this positive state will allow them to “receive” more language.
In other words, they talk because they have acquired (because they are “open to input”), rather than acquiring because they have talked.
b) These outgoing, happy kids are also by definition more engaged with their peers and teacher, and so, in addition to being “open to input,” they will simple get more input, hence greater acquisition. They will interact more, hear more, and probably be more engaged with homework that involves the target language.
So…do they acquire because they talk, or do they acquire because of other factors?
I must say that I also find the outgoing kids often do better than their shyer conterparts, but I don’t attribute their skill to talking. Every year I have awesome kids who HATE talking in class. Getting Hamid, my top second-year student, to talk in class is like pulling teeth. But he writes beautifully, and in one-on-one conversation, or during stories, he shines.
I could be totally wrong so feel free to argue. chris(dot)stolz(att)gmail(dot)com