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6. Journal guidelines for a language learning experience. l have

always recon1n1ended that the inforn1ation in a book like this is besr
internalized if the reader is concurrently taking a course in a foreign language. At the enJ of each chapter in lhis eition is a new secrion that
offers c!assroon1-tested journal-wTting guidelines for the reader either
to reflect on a current experience learning another language orto take
a retrospective look ata previous foreign language learning experience.
Jn both cases, the reader is askell to apply conceprs and consf1ucts anti
models to a personal experience learning a foreign language.
7. Rcvised end-of-cl1apter "In tl1e Classroon1" vig:nettes. As in the
Third Edition, these vignetres provide informarion on various pcdagogical applicatons anJ implications of second language rt:search. The first
four vignettes describe a historical progression of language-teaching
rr1ethods; the other chapters <leal with related classroorn implications of
the information in the chaprer itself. A new vignette-a n1odel for classroom error treatment-has been added to Chapter 8.

LEAR NILJLN""""G_,__,--~~-

TI1is book has grown out of graduare courses in second language acquisition that I have taught at San Francisco State l 1niversity, the University of
Illinois, and the University of Nlichigan. My first debt of gratitude is therefore to n1y students-.for their insights, enthusiasn1, and support. They
offered invaluable comments on the first three editions of the hook, and .I
have attempted to incorporare those insights into this Fourth Edition. I
al"\vays learn so much from my srudents!
I am also grateful to faculty colleagues both here at San Francisco Srate
lJniversity and around the wodd for offering verbal comn1entary, informal
\vritten opinion, and formal published reviews, all of which \\Tere useful in
fashioning this Fourth Edition. I especia!ly want to thank Ton1 Scovel, May
Shih,Jiln Kohn,Aysegl Daloglu, and the publisher's anonymous revie\ver~
for feedback and encouragement. Further, I \Vish to acknowledge the staff
and che resources of the American Language Institure _,r s~1_pport in the
tilne-consuming task of this revision. I am particularly grateful to Kathy
Sherak for assuming theALJ directorship duties while 1 took a leave to complete this revision.
Finally, to Mary-rny wife,lifetilne companion.and bcst friend~thanks
once again for believing in me way back \Vhen I embarked on thls career
and for letting me take over two rooms of r.he house for rhis projcct!

T E.-\RNlNG A second b.nguage is a long and complex undertaking. Your

.Lwhole per7-on is affected as you stn1ggle to reach beyond the confines
of your first language and into a new language, a nC\V culture. a ne~v wav of
thinking, feeling, and acting. Total commitment, total involv~ment, a t~tal
physical, intellectual, a.nJ en1otional response are necessary to successfullv
send and rcceive n1essages in a second bngu::tg~. Many variables ar~
involved in the acquisition process. Language learnlng is not a set of easv
steps that can be progr1mmed in a quick do-it-yourself kit. So n1uch is
stake that courses in foreign b.nguages are ofren inadequate training
grounds, in and of then1selvf's, for rhe successful learning of a second Ianguage. Fe\v if any people achieve fluency in a foreign language solely
1vithin the confines of lhe classroon1.
It may appear contradictory, then, that this book is about both iearning
and teaching. BuL son1e of the contr.idiction is ren1oved iJ You 00 ~ at th~
teaching process as the facilitation of learning. in V\'lch vou .can tea ch a foreign language successfully if, an1ong other ~ things, yo~ knov< :-;omethng
;ibout that ntricate \Yeb of variables that are spun together r0 :1ffi:ct hosv
:ind \vhy one lcarns or fails to learn a second l:i.ngnagt. Where- does :1
teacher begin the quest for an understanding of the principies of language
learning and teaching? By first considering so1ne of rhe issues.


Douglas Brown

San Fr:1!1cisco, California



Language, Lcarning, and Teaching

intcrrelationship of cognitive, affective, and physical domains for successful

language learning?


Current issues in secon<l Janguage acquisition ( SL-\) 1nay be initially
approached as a multitu<le of questions that are being aske<l about this
con1plex proccss. Let's look at sorne of those questions.

\'\fhen does second language learning take place? Onc of the key issues in
second languagc research and teaching s the diffcrential success of children and adults in learning a second language. Common observation tells
us that children are ''better" language learners than adults. Is this true! If so,
why does rhe age of learning make a difference? How do the cognitiYe and
emotional developrnental changes of childhood and young adulthood
affect language acquisition? Other "when" questions center around the
amount of thne spent in the activity of learning the second language. Is thc
lcarner exposed to three or five or ten hours a week in the classroom? ()r
a seven-hour <lay in an imrnersion progrJ.m? Or rwenty-four hours a day
totally submerged in the culture?

"c~~1o_"Q.2.S,~~"!h~J~.?!.Q._igg,_-_Pi!-Js;~.~h.i!1fil. Obviousty, lcarners and teachers. But

who are these learners? W'here do theYCOITTc ir~n1?~W'hat-;;-e their native

languages? levels of eJucalion? socioeconon1ic levcl.s? Who are their parents? What are their intellectual capacities? \Vhat sorts of personalities do
they have?'rhese questions focus attention on so1ne of thc crucial variables
~1ecting bo,th learners' 5u~cesss~- n~acgu!tit~It.~- ...f2~~lg!!.,.l<l.Dg.11,;i,g_c; _i!Q<,t"
t~:_s!1e!s' ~~~.SiUe_~. -~-- en~blc learner_s_ .r~. ach_~('.:v~ _,_th_~~----~~CJ.uisi~i.?n. The
Chapters that follow ~help to te;tse~O-t~i
Va.~iah!es.. ~,~~ -~~--


In the case of the teacher, another set of cuestions emerges. W'hat is the
tcacher's native la.nguage? experience and/or trJ.ining? knowledge of the
second language and its culture? philosophy of education? personality characteristics? i\'iost tnportant, how do the teacher and the student interact with
each other?

Are the learners attempting to acquire the second language the cttltural and linguistc milieu of the second language, that is, in a ~second" language situation in the technical scnse of the term? Or are they focusing on
a "10reign" language context in which rhe second language is heard and
spoken only in an artificial environment, such as the modern language classroom in an Axnerican university or high school? How might the sociopolit"
ical conditions of a particular country affect the outcomc of a learner's
xnastery of the language? l:IO\.V do generJ.l intercultural contrasts and similarities affect the lcarning process?

No simpler a quesrion is one that probes the nature of the subject n1attcr
itself. \li/hat is it that the learner must learn and the teacher teach? What 1~
corrununlcalion? \Vhat is language? \Xlhat docs it 1nean when we sav
someone knows how to use a languagc? How can both the first and th~
second language be described adequately? \\;11at are the linguistic differences bctv;,reen the first and rhe second language?These profound questions
are of course central to the discipne of linguistics. The language teacher
nceds to u.nJerstan<l the system and functioning of the second language and
the differences between the first and second language of the learncr. It is
une thir..6 for <J te:;chc; to spc~;k and unJe:-stanJ ;::. ianguag'."" :T;,<l yet annthc;
matter to attain the technicaI knowledge required to understand and
explain the system of that language-its phonemes and morphemes and
words and sentences and discourse structures.

Finally, the most encompassing of all questions: \X?hy are learners
atten1pting to acquire the second language? \Xlhat are their purposes? Are
they m0tivated by the achievement of a successful career? hy passing a foreign language requiren1ent? or by wishing to identify closely with the culture and people of the target language? Beyond these categories, \.Vhat
other affective, emotional, personal, or intellectual reasons do learners ha ve
for pursuing this gigantic task of learning anothcr language?
These qucstions have been posed, in very global rcrms, to give you an
inkling of the diversity of issues lnvo!ved in the quest for understanding the
principies of language learning and teaching. And while you cannot hope
to find final an6wers to all the questions, you can begin to achieve a surprising number of answers as you movc through the chapters of this book.

IIow <loes learning take place? 1-:Iow can a person ensure succes.<, in language lc~1rning? Wbat cognitive processes are utilized in secood language
learning? \V'hal kinds of strJ.tegies <loes the learner use? \X-'hat is the opthnal



Langudge, Learning and Tr::,ichin:;

CHAPTfl< 1

And you can hone the global questions into finer, suhtler questions, vvhici1
in itself is an ilnportant task, for often heing able ro ask the right quesrions
is more valuable t.han possessing storehouses of kno"\vledge.
Tho1nas Kuhn (1970) referred ro "norn1al scence" as a prOCL".:ss of
puzzle solving in which part of the task of thc scicntist, in this case the
reacher, is to discover the ph:ccs and then to fit thc pieces togerher. Son1e
of the pieccs of the language learning puzzle havc beco1nc -..vell establbhed. Others are not yet discovered, and the careful defining of questions
vvill lead to finding those pieces. We can rhen undertake the task of fitring
the pieces together into a "paradig1n" -an interlocking design, a theory of
second language acquisition.
That theory, like a jigsaw puzzle, nceds to be coherent and unified. Jf
only one point of vicvv is taken-if you look al only one facet of second language learning and teaching-you \\-'ili derive an incon1p!ete, partial tht:ory.
The second langtiage teacher, with eyes vvkte open to the total picture,
neecls to form an integrated understanding of the many aspects of the
process of second language learning.
In order to begin to ask further questions and to find answers to sorne
of those questions, vve first address a fundan1ental concern in
prohlen1-posing: defining or Jelin1iting the focus of our inquiry. Since this:
book is about language, learning, and teaching, let's see what happens
\Vhen wc try to "<lefine" those three tcrn1s.


Lc.,rning. and Teaching

\Yith an oversimplified "systematic con1munication by vocal symbols." Or, if

you had recentl}' read Pinker's The Language Instfnct (1994), you might
have co1ne up with a sophisticated staten1ent such as:
Ilans:uage is a co-mplex, speciatized skHl, \Vhich devclops tn tlv.:
chi~d spontane:ousl)>, .whlll?llt .conscious effort or fornuil instruc~
ti.on,,is depkJ-y:~d \..Vit.hout.aware!1es.s of}ts underlyti!J; togc, is qua!it.atively the snme ln evt.Ty ndivduill and ls distinct fron1 more
generJ.! abilities to process information or behave intelligently.

On the other hand. you might have offered a svnthesis of standard dei_niti.Qfil. out of introductory textbooks: ~1gu:ige is a system of arbitrary
conventionalized vocal, \\-'ritten, or gestural symbols tb::t enable rnembers
of a given con1munity to comn1unicate intelligihly vvith one anotheQ
Depending on how fussy you were in your response, you n1igh t abo ha ve
included sorne n1ention of (a) the creativiry of Ltnguage, (b) rhe presumed
prin1acy of speech over writing, and (c) the univers;'l.lity of language among
hun1an beings.
A consolidation of a nun1ber of possible definitjons of language yiel<ls
the follo\ving composite definition.

Language is sysrematic.
L1nguage is a set of arbitrary symbols.
Those symbols are primarily vocal, but 1nay also be visual
The symhols haYe convention;:ilized mcan1ngs to \Vhich they refer.
Language is used for comn1unication.
Language operates in a speech com1nunity or culture.
Langu:1ge is essentiaUy hun1an, altho11gh possihly not lin1ited ro
8. Language is acquired by all people in n1uch the same \Vay; Janguage and language learning both have universal characteristics.

1\ definition of a concept or construct is a staten1ent rhar captures s key

features. Those fe-atures may vary, depending on your ol;\.-n (or the lexlcographer's) understanding of lhe construct.And, n1ost in1pottanr, that understancling is essentially a "theory" that explicares rhe constrnct. So, a
definition of a term may be thought of as a condensed 'Trsion of a theory.
Converscly, a theory is sin1ply-or not so si1nply-an extended clefinition.
Defining, therefore, is serious business: it requires choices about which
facets of so:TH_':hi:1g are worLhy of being includc:d_
Suppose you were stoppec! by a reporter on the street, and, in the
course of an interview about your field of study, you \Vere asked: "\VelL
since you're interested in second l.angua,ge acquisition, ple-ase ~
[a11guage in a sentence or_tvvo." You would nn doub1 Llig deep into your
1nen1ory for a typical diction;try-type definition of langnage. Such
definitions, if pursued seriously, could lead to a lexicographer's wi!d-goose
chase, but they also can refiect a reasonably cohcrenl synopsis of currcnt
understanding of .iust wh<~t it is that linguists are trying to study.
If you had had a ch:J.nce to consulr tlit: (.'oncise Co!u1nhiil
EJI(J 1ClojJedia (199-: 479), ynu n1ight have responded to your questiune.r

These eight staten1ents provide a reaso11;1hly c:nncise "CTventy-flve-vordorless., defirtion of fa.nguage. But the ~impliciry of the eightfold definition
should not be allowed to n1ask the sophisrication of linguistic research
un<lcrlying each concept. Enormous fields and suhfie1ds, year-long universiry
courses, are suggested in each of the eight categories. Con.sider son1e of these
possible areas:
1. Explicit and fonnal accounrs of the systen1 of languagc on se,-eral
possible !evels (111ost conunonly phonologicaL synr:iclic. and



Language, Learning, .ind Tt-aching


2. Thc sy1nolic naturc of language; the relationship betv.'een

languagc anJ reality; the philosophy of l;;inguage; thc history of
3. Phonelic::.; phonology; writing systems; kinesics, proxemics, and
other "paralinguistic" features of language.
4.; languagc and cogaitiun; psycholinguistics.
5. Cu1nrnunication .systt:rr1s; spcakcr-hearer interaction; sentcnce
6. DialecLlvgy; ~uciulinguistics; Janguage and culture; bilingualism
and second Ianguage acquisitio.n.
7. I-Iuman language and nonhtunan co1nmunication; the physiology
of language.
8. Language universab; first tanguage acquisition.

Language, Learning, and Teaching


In similar fashion, we can ask questions about constructs likc ~earajng an<l
tca_chlng. Considcr again sorne traditionaL definitons.: A scarch in conten1porary dictionaries reveals that leJ.rnnp:-is-"UCq-U_iring o_r getting of __ kr_io-..vl.edge Of a subject or a skill by stu<ly, <:,~peri~!!~-"~~:n instruction: ,<\-"ITTQ;C
specialized definition nght read as follo"\\-s:'~Learning is a fela_~Jy..p.erniw
nent change in a behavioral tenden~y ,and is tbe result.Ql~inf9L<;:,~<;:t _pr--a.c,
ti.ce" (Kimble & Garn1ezy 1963: 133). Similarly, teaching-, which is imp~<l~in
ilie first definition of learning, may be <lcfii~sho_wing _or helQfilg
someone to learn ho\v- to do somerhi11g~bLing.lustI:uctiou~"gui<lingJnsl1e
~td)-; f sotnething, providing with koo\yletlge, ca~~~&!~jglo_~:_~QI,JJL~-~-r
~',Ho\v a\v1<:W'afd these dcfinitions arel Isn't it curious that professional
lcxicographers cannot devise more precise scientillc definitions? lvlore than
pcrhaps anything else, such definitions reflect the <lifficulty of defming con1plcx concepts lke learning and teaching.
Breaking down the components of the de.finition of Iearning, ~ve can
extract, as \Ve did with language, domains of research an<l inquiry.

Serivus ;inJ extensive thinking about these eight topics involves a com
plex journcy through a labyrinth of lingubtic science-a rnazc that continues to be n>..:gutia.:d. Yet the language teacher needs to kn.ow something
about tls syste1n of conununication that we call language. Can foreign language teachcrs cffectively teach a language if they do not know, even in general, sornething about the relationship between ianguage and cognition,
-..vriting systems, nonvcrbal communication, sociolinguistics. and first language acqubition? And if the second language learner is being asked to be
successful in acquiring a system of communication of such vast con1plexty,
isn't it fea;:.onable that the teacher have awareness ofwhat the con1ponents
of that system :'re?
Y'our undcrstanJing of the con1ponents of language determines to a
large extent hoy;;- you teach a language. If, for ex:unple, you believe that
nonverbal cu1nn1unicatlon is a key to successful second language learning,
you v:ill devotc son1e attention to nonverbal systen1s and cues. If you perceive languagc as a phcnun1enon that can be <lisrnantled into thousands of
discrete picces and those pieces progra.mmatically taught one by one, you
'>Vill atten<l carcfully to an under.stan<ling of the separability of the forms of
hn:gu<tge. lf yo~1 thillk l:ing;_;:.gc is csscntially cultural and inteF-tcti'-TC, your
cl'1ssroom n1eth0dlugy will be imbued wilh socio!inguistic strategies and
conununicativc tasks.
This book touches on sorne of the general aspects of language as
defined abo\'e. iv1orc spcciflc aspects will have to be understoo<l in the context of an acJ.Je1nic prograJn in a particular language, in which specialized
study of Linguistics is obviously reconunende<l along with a careful analysis
of the foreign language itself.

l. Learning is acqusition or 'gctting."

2. Lcarning is retention of information or skill.
3. Retention in1plies storage systcms, rnemory, cognitive organization.
4. Learning involves active, conscious focus on and acting upon
events outside or in ...,ide the organism.
5. Learning is rei<l.tivcly permanent but subject to forgetting.
6. Leaming invohes sorne fonn of practice, perhaps reinforced practice.
7. Learning is a change in behavior.
Thcse concepts can also give way to a number of subfields '\vithin the discipline of psychology: acquisition processes, perception, memory (storagc)
systen1s, recall, conscious and subconscious learning styles and strategies,
thebrics of forgetting_, reinforcernent, the; role of practicc. Very quickly the
conc~tit 0.f learning becomes eve;-y bit as co1nplex as the concept 0f 1:-tr>guage.Yet thc secon<l b.nguage learner brings all these (and more) variables
into play in the learning of a secon<l language.
Teaching cannot be defincd apart from learning. Teaching is guiding
and frtcilitating learning, enabling the learner to learn, setting the conditions for learning. Your understanding of how the learner learns will detern1ine your philos:Jphy of education, your teaching style, your approach,
mcthods, and classroom techniques. If, like B.E Skinner, you look at learning
as a process of operant conditioning through a carefully paced program of
reinforce1nent, You \-vill teach acconlingly. If you vie\v second language
learning as a deductiYe rather than an inductive process, you \-vil! probablr



Language, Learning, and Teaching

CHAl'TU< 1

choose to present copious rules anct paradigms to your students rather

than let then1 "discover" those rules inductively.
A.n extended definition-or theory-of teaching \Yill spell out governing principies for choosing certain n1ethods and techniques. A theory
of teaching, in harn1ony with your integrate understan<ling of the learner
and of the subjcct matter to be Iearned, \Vill point the way to succes.sful
procedures on a given day tr given learners undcr the various constraints
of the particular context of le<irning. In other \.vords, your theory of
teaching is your theory of learning "stood on its head."

Languagc, Le,nning, <lile/ Teaching

no such things, as though ali his information were acquired

through proccsses of his physinlngical nervous system. lnsofar as
he occupies himself with psychical, nnnmateri:ll forces, the scientist is not a scientist. The scientific 1netho<l is quite sin1ply the
convention that 1nind does not exist ..
The structural linguist examined on!y the overtly observable data.
Such attitudes prevail in B.E Skinner's thought, particularly in Verbal
Be/Jal'ior (1957), in \Vhich he sad that any notinn of"idea" or "111eaning" is
explanatory fiction, and that the speaker is_merely the locus of verbal
behavior, not the cause. Charles ()~good (1957) reinstated n1eaning in
verbal behavior, explaining itas a ''represent;:i.rional tnediation process," but
still did not <lepart from a generally nonmentalistic view of language.
Of further importance to the structural or descriptive linguist ~vas the
notion that language- could be dismantled into small pieces or units and
that these units could be described scientillcally, contrasted, and added up
again to forn1 the whole. Fron1 this principle en1erged an unchecked rush
of lingaists, in the 1940s and 1 950s, to the far reaches of the earth to write
the grammars of exotic languages.
1\mong psychologists, a he,haviorlstici' paracligm also focused on publicly observable responses-those that can be objectively perseved,
recorded, and measured.The "scientific n1ethod" vvas rigorously 1&1Cre'tfto,
and therere such concepts aS~COnsciousness and intuition \Vere regarded
as "mentalistic," illegiti~ate domains of inquiry. The unreliability of observation ofstates of consciousness, thinking, concept formation, or the acqusition of knowledge made such topics impossible to exanne . in a
behavioristic fra1nework. Typical behavioristic models were classical and
operant conditioning, rote verbal learning, instrun1ental learning, discrimination learning, and other empirical approaches to studying human
behavior. Yon n1ay be familiar with the classical experiments with Pavlovs
dog and Ski.nner's boxes; these too typify the posltion that organisn1s can
be conditioned to respond in desired ways, given the correcr degree and
scheduling of reinforcement .


While the general definitions of language, learning, and teaching offered

above 1night meet with the approval of most linguists, psychologists, and
educators, points of clear disagreement become apparent after a little
probing of the components of each definition. For example, is language a
"set of habits" or a "system of internalized rules"? Differing viewpoinrs
e1nerge from equally kno'\vle<lgeable scholars.
Yet with all the possble disagreements among applied linguists and
SI.A researchers, :-;orne historical patterns emerge that highlight trends and
fashions in the ShKfy of second language acquistion. These trends wiU be
<lescribed here in the forn1 of thfee different schools of thought that follov.'
SOIY!ewhat historically, even though components of each school over!ap
chronologically to son1e extent. Bear in mind that such a sketch highlights
contrastive ways of thinking, anct such contrasts are seldom overtly evident in
the sn1dy of any one issue in SLA.

l!!__~p_e _194s -~nd l~s_qs, _th_e_st~_c::tural-, or descrip~ive, sc:ho_ol_ ~ ~illguiS~

its adXQcates Leonard I}loomfieiq, Edward ~~E.!~:- Charles
.i;j;QCliett_, CJ1arles Fries, a_nd others-----:_p_r_i_{ied itself in a Jigorous ~Pl?~~~~on_~~-
th.~~~ientifi<: .Prin_c_~ of observation of hunl~f!.J~1..l~8~.:...Q.i11Y: th "~~
~obsecrabJ~_rc!jpQnses" coulQJ;i~ s_uQj!;_~t!9 i_nv~st!.S.!ti~i:t The linguist's
task, according to the structui.i.list, was to ~<;ribe human languages_'and to
identi1Y--Jh.~---~~tt'1-_1~tut'f!l_ ~lJ~_ rac-teri~~~~ _ q_f thOS~- -la~~~~~ An in1portant
axiotn of structural Hnguistics was that "languages can di.ffer from each
other without litnit," and that no preconceptions conld apply to the field.
Freeman 1'waddell (1935: 57) stated this principie in perh::tp<; its n1ost
extren1e tern1s:

Rationalism and Cognitlve Psychology

In th_e, d,~cade of the 1,~?<k"' the $.~~~.t!~~y~_~t~~~f),~~-~.~-~t~~?fl;~~'.S~l1ool of
ljtl_g_i.~i~s e,i:n,.esg.e~: _tlrqus~: th~-:irtfluence
~~)~?l Gl~qroslt}t _ chomsky
was trying ,.to S11_w_ 'that human Ianguage cantttt-''be-:sc.rutiiiizedSmply --in
terms of 6bserval1le Stimuli an.d-responses or the volutnes of raw data gath


ered by field _-1ingtists-- 111<t- ge.n:-rative Hriguist- was lnterested not only Jn
describing langu-age (acl-iieving the level of descri1)tive aclequacy) bllct lso
iri:-rfivi11g- at ttn expla:natory-teveT"--Of- rtdeqttitcy in the study of language.

\Vhatcver our attitude to\var<l n1ind, spirit, soul, etc., as realies,

\Ve n1ust agrec that the scientist proceeds as though there \vere

that is, a "principled basis, independent of any partic11lar l:ingn:lge, for the




Lan;uage, Learning ami /eaching


Language, Learning, and 7eaching


thc physical Jescription of the perS(Jfi, the time of day, the size of the chair,
the ilnpact of the chair, and so forth. Another set of questions vvould ask why
the person did what he di<l: \Vhat were the person's motives and psych(~
logical state, what nght have been the cause of the behavior, and so on. The
first set of questions is Yery rigorous and exacting: it allows no fla\\, no mis,
take in n1easurement; but does it gi\e you ultimate answers? The secon<l set
of questions is richer, but obviously riskier. By daring to ask sorne <lifficult
questions about the unobserved, '""e may lose sorne ground but gain 1nore
profound insight :thout hu1nan beha..,ior.

seiection of the descriptively adequate gramn1ar of each language"

(Chomsky 1964: 63).
Early sec<ls of thc generativc~transforn1ationa1 revolution were planted
near the beginning of the twentieth century. Ferdinand de Saussure (1916)
clailned that there was a difference between parole (what Skinner
-~-""'observes," and what Chomsky calle<l performance) an<l tangue (akin to
the concept of con1pcience, or our underlying and unobservable language
ability). A t'e\v decades later, however, descriptive linguists chose largely to
ignore tangue <lnd to study ;a.role, as was noted above. The revo!ution
brougbt about by generative !ingubtics broke with the descriptivists' preoccupation with pcrforrn:ince-the our-vard manifestation of language-and
capitalized on the in1portant distinction berween the overtly observable
aspccts of ttnguage and the hidden levels of meaning and thought that give
birth to and gencratc observable Unguistic performance.
Sinlarly. cugnitivc psychologists asserted that n1eaning, understanding, and kn"\\'1ng were signil1cant data far psychological study.
lnstea<l of focusing rather mechanistically on stimulus-response connections, cogniYists tried to discover psychological principies of organization
and functioning. D;:rvid Ausubel (1965: 4) noted:

Constructivism is hardly a new school of thl)Ught. Jeai1 -Piaget nd -Lev
vygotsk)'; names often associated \Vith constructivisn1, are not by any 1neans
ne\v to the scene of language studies. Yet constructivisn1 el'erged as a prevailing paradigm only in the last part of the twentieth ceritry. What is constructivism, and how <loes it dfer from the other two vievvpoil.ts described
1).\o r1' ch\\e-re- +"
Constructivists, not ~son1c cognitive psychologists, argue that aU
human beings construct their "''n \'ersion of reality, and theretrc n1ultip!e
contrasting ways of kno~ving and descrihing are equally legitin1ate. This
perspective nlight be described as

Fron1 the st<-u1Jpoint of cognitive theorists, the attempt to ignore

conscious states or to reduce cognition to mediational processes
reflective of impiicit behavior not only removes fro111 the field of
psychology what is n1ost worth studying but also dangerously higbly con1plex psychological phenon1ena.

an emphasis on active processes of construction [of meaning].

attention to texts as a means of gaining insights into thuse
processes, and an interest in the nature of knowledge and its Yariations, including the nature of kno\vledge associated with nlembership in a particular group. (Spivey 1997: 23-24)

Cognitive psychoiogists, like generative Hnguists, sought to discover

underlying motivations and deeper structures of hun1an behavior by using
a.rational approa-Lh.'fhat 'is,-tl1ey, freed thern~t:lves fron1 the strictly empir~
ical study typic'a1 of behaViorists and cn1ployed the tools of logic,-,reason,
extrapolation, an<l inference in order to derive explanations for human
behavior. Going beyond descriptive to explanatory power took on utmost
Both the structural lingtst and the behavioraLpsychologist were interw
ested in tles,crLption'm answering t.o/Jat questions about 'human behavior:
objccti ve 1neasure1ncnt of behavior in controlled circumstances. Th'e'"gCherative linguist 'and cognitive psychologist v.~erc, to be sure, interested- in
the L~f?-~~f,:~lS}~~~i:<>n;;; but they wcre fa.r n1ore interested in a more ultin1ate
quesdon 1 -iiihy:_ \-"'{7h;1t underlyU1g rcasvns, gcnetic and cnvironmcntal factors, and circun1stance::. caused a particular event?
If you \\'ere to nbse1-ve so1neone walk into yottr house, pick upa chair
an<l fling it through your vvindo\-V, and then walk out, different kinds of queslions coulJ be ;J,Skcd. One set of questivns would relate to what happened:

Constructivist scholarship can focus on "individuals engaged in social practces,. . on a collaborative group. [orJ on a global community (Spi,ey
1997: 24).
1\:~,,nstn.lct.t visr persptctive gucs a ltttle beyonJ the rationaiist/innatbl
ai1d the cognitive psychulogcal perspective in its emphasis-01tthe prin1acy
of each irtdividual's, construction of re:ility. Piaget and Vygotsky, both con1
1nonly described as c1'stfuctivists'(in Nyikos & I-Iashin1oto 1997), differ in
the' extent to "\\7 llieh e'ah- etnphasii:es 'socal 'cntext. Piag'et"(l 972) stressed
the ihi)<Jrtance of'idivldual cognitive development as a relativly solltary
act. Biolo:-gictf tir1etib1es and- srages of devetopment w'eie basic; socialintei'action \Vas claime<l only to trigger develop1nent at the right n1oinent
in tin1e-. ()n the other hand, Vygotsk)' {1978), <lescribed as a "socll" constructivtst by soe, maint:iined that social interaction was foundational in
cognitivC development and rejCcted the notion of predeter1nined stages.









Researchers stuclying first and second language acquisirion have

demonstrated constructivist perspectives through studies of conversationll discourse, sociocultural factors in learning, an<l interactionist theories. ln many ways, constructivist perspectives are a natural successor to
cognitivist studies of universal grammar, information processing, memory,
artificial intclligencc, an<l interlanguage systen1atcity. (Note: These tenns
\Vill he <lefined and explained in subsequent chapters of this book.)
All three positions n1ust be seen as important in creating balance<!
descriptions of hu1nan linguistic behavior. Consider for a moment the
analogy of a very high n1ot;ntain, viewed froin a distance. From one direction the mountain n1ay have a sharp peak, easily identified glaciers, and distinctive rock formations. From another <lirection, however, the same
mountain inight no\v appear to have two peaks (the second formerly
hiclden from vie\v) and different configurations of its slopes. Frorn still
another direction, yet ft_1rther characteristics emerge, heretofore unobserved. The study of SLA is very much like the vicwing of our n1ountain:
\Ve need multiple tools and vantage points in order to ascertain the whole
Table 1.1 sumn1arizes concepts and approaches Jescribed in the three
perspectives above.The table may help to pinpoint certain broad ideas that
are associated with the respective positions.

Table 1.1

Schools ofThoughi

Typical Themes

Early - 900s &

1940s & 1950s

Structuralism &

observable performance


paradign1, a novel theory, is put together. This cycle is eYident in both psychology and linguistics, although the limits an<l hounds are not always
easily percei\'ed-perhaps less easily perceive<l in psychology, in \-\hich aU
three paradign1s currently operare some~vhat _simnltaneously. The cyclic~tl
nature of tbeories un<lerscores the facr that no single theory or paradigm
is right or wrong. It is impossible to refute with any fin::tlity one theory \vith
another. Sorne truth can be found in virtua!Jy every theory.


One of the n1ajor foci of applied linguistic schnlarshlp for the last half a
century has been the foreign or second !anguage c!assroom. A glance
through the past century or so of language teaching gives us an interesting
picture of varied interpretations of the best way to teach a foreign language. As schools of thought haYe co1ne and gone, so have language
teaching trends waxed and waned in populariry Pcdagogical innovation
both contributes to and benefits frotn the kind of theory-building
<lescribed in the previous section.
Albert lvlarck\\ ardt (1972: 5) sa\v these "changing '\Vinds and shifting
sands" as a cyclical pattern in which a new p;1radign1 (to use Kuhn's term)
of teaching methodology e:111erge<l about every quarter of a century, Vith
each ne\v method breaking fron1 the old but at the same time tak:ing ~-irh
it son1e of the positive aspects of the previous p:-tradigm. One of the best
examples of the cyclical nature of n1ethods is seen in the revolutionary
Audiolingual l\tlethod (Al~vl) of the late 1940-'.' and 1950s. 1'he A.l).l borrowe<l tenets from its predecessor by alrnnst half a century. the Direct
Method, '\Vhile breaking a.-vay entirely fron1 the GrJmmar-Trans!ation paradignl. (See "ln the Clas'.'.lrcnm" vignettes ro fn!lo""V>r, fr;r a definition of these
methods.) \Xlithin a short tirne, ho\vever, AL~1 critics \Vere adYocaring more
attention to rules and to the "cognitive co<le" of language, which, ro son1e,
smacked of a return to Gr:11nn1arTranslation! Shifting sands indeed.
Since the early l 970s, the relationship of theoretical disciplines ro
teaching 1nethodology has been especially evident. The field of psychology has \Vitnesscd a growing interest in interpersonal relationships, in
the vaiue of group work, and in the use of numerous self-help strategies
for attaining desire<l goals. The same era has scen tinguists searclling e\Tf
more deeply for ansvers to the nature of con1111unicarion and co1nn1u1

surtace structure

conditioning, reinforcement
Ratonalism &
Cognitivl-:' Psychology

acquisition, innateness


int:rlanguage systematicity
universa-! grammZlr
deep structure

1 980s, 1990s &

earlv 2000



The parteros that are illustrated in Tahle 1.1 are typical of what Kuhn

scientific n1ethod

l 960s & 1970s

Learning ;:inri Te,:iching

(1970) Jescrlbed as 1he structure of scientific revo!urions_ A successful para<lig1n is foilo\ved by a period of anomaly (douht, uncerr:nty, questioning
of prevailing theory), then crisis (the fall of the extsting r<1rac!ig1n) ~"ith al!
the professional insecurity that comes there"\\"ith; :tnd then finally a ne\v

Schools of thought in second language acquisition

Time Frame

1 L1nguage,

inter;H--tive discourse
sociocultural v;:iriables
cooperative group learning

inler!anguage variability
interactionst hypotheses



Cl-fAl'TER 1

CH-\PTU? 1

Language, Lcarning, and Teaching

Language, Learning, and Teac/1ing


In the Classroom: The Grammar Translation Method

nicative competence and for explanations of the interactive process of language. The language teaching p.rofes::,ion responded to these theorctical
trends \Vith approacbe::i and techniques that ha ve stressed thc itnportance
of self-esteem, of ::iluJenls cooperatively icarning together, of developing
individual strategics for success, and above ali of focusing on the co1nmunicative process in language learning.-Toclay the term "comn1tucative language teaching" is a by""'or<l for language teachcrs. ln<leed, the single
greatest chaHenge in the profession is to n1ove significantly beyond the
tcaching of rules, pattcrns, definilions, an<l other kno\vledge "about" language to thc puint that we are teaching our students to conununicare gen~
uinely, spontaneou.sly, and n1eaningfu!ly in the secon<l language.
This buok is intended to give you a con1preh~nsiYe picture of the theoretical found~tions of language learning and teaching. But that theory
reo1ains abstract and relatively powerless \-Vithout its applicaton to the
practica! concerns of pedagogy in the ciassroon1. In an atternpt to help to
build hridges between theory and practice, I have provided at the end of
each of the chaplers of this book a brief"vignette" on classroom considerations. These vigncttes are designed to acquaint you progressively with
sorne of thc major rnctho<lologil:al trends and issues n the profession. The
vignettes are vbvlou.siy not intended t_o be exh;1uslivc (refer to such books
as Brown 2000: R.ichard-Amato 1996; Nunan 1991b; Richards and Rodgers
1986 for tnore specific treatn1ents), but they should begin to give you a bit
of history and a picturc of the practica! consequences of developing the
theoretical principies of language learning and teaching.
Today, languagc teaching is not easily categorized into 1nethods an<l
trends. lnstead, each teacher is caHed on to develop a sound overa.U
approach to -;;arious language classruoms. This approach is a principled
basis upon which the teacher can choose particular designs and techniques for teaching a foreign ianguage in a particular context. Such a
prospect n1ay seern fonniJable.There are no iostant recipcs. No quick an<l
casy method is guaranteed to provide success. Every learner is unique.
Evt-ry teach...-::f b unique. Every learner-teach~r rcl:itinnship is uniqne. ancl
evcry context is unique. Your task as a teacher is to understand the properties of those reiationships. Using a cautious, enlightened, eclectic
approach, you ...:an build a theory based on principles of second language
lcarning and tcaching. 'D1c chapters that follov;. are designed to help you
formulate tbJ.t approach.

We begin a series of end-of-chapter vignettes on classroom applications with a language teaching "tradition" that, in various manifestatons and adaptations, has been practiced in !anguage classrooms
worldwide for centuries. A glance back in history reveals few if any
research-based language teaching methods prior to the t\ventieth
century. In the Western world, "foreign" language learning in schools
was synonymous with the !earnng of Latin or Greek. Latin, thought
to promete inte!lectuality through "mental gymnastics," was until
relatively recently held to be indispensable te an adequate higher
education, Latin was taught by means of what has been called the
Classical Method: focus .~ _ g__~arnmatii:;:_aJ_. LLJle~,___ __ DJ.Q____D_Qdza_t_iQn __ of
vocabulary and of V("l,r[~US~decl~.osi0-5-3nd ccnjugations, trcl1~1a-t"i61
oTtexts~,.dd!ng w_rlten .e0erc:ises. As. other-i-anguageS bQn.-Eo.. bE:
taught in educationa! institutions in the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries, the Classcal Method was adopted as the chief means far
teaching foreign languages. Little thought was given at the time to
teaching oral use of !anguageS; after all 1 languages were not being
taugt1t ptihlari!y to learn oraljaural communication 1 but to !earn for
th'" Sake of being "scho!arly" 9r,_ in sorne instances, for gaining a
reading proficiency in a forelgn language. Since there was little if
any theoretical research on second language acquisition in genera!,
or on the acquisition of reading proficiency, foreign languages were
taught as any other ski!! was taught.
Late in the nineteenth century, lbe C!assical Method carne to be
known as the Grammar Translation MetflOcl~iherewas little to distifi9ulsh--Gramrrlar-Transladon frOm what had gone on in foreign language classrooms far centuries, beyond a focus on grammatical
rules as the basis far trans!ating from the second to the native language. But the Grammar Translation Method remarkab!y wlthstood
attempts at the outset of the twentieth century to "reform" language
teaching methodology, and to this day it remains a standard
methodology far language teaching in educationa! instltutions.
Prator and Celce-Murcia (1979: 3) list the majar characteristics of
Grammar Translatton:
1. Classes are taught in the mother tangue, with little active
use of the target language.
2. Much vocabu!ary is taught in the form of lists of isolated
3. Long elaborate explanations of the intricacies of grammar
are given,
4. Grammar provtdes the rules far putting words together1 and
instruction often focuses on the form and inflection of
5. Reading of difficult c!assical texts is begun early.
6. Little attention is paid to the content of texts, which are
treated as exercises in grammatlcal analysis.




language, Learniflg and Teaching


Language, Learning, and Tea_hing


reflect on the part of the lexicographer? How <lo those definitions rep~
resent "condensecl theories"?
3. (I/G) Write your O'\\.n "twenty-five-,vords-or-less" definitions of language.
learning, and teaching. What would you add to or delete from the dcfinitions given in this chapter? Share your definitions with another classmate orina sn1all group. c:on1pare differences and similarities.
4. (G) Consider tbe eight subfie!ds of Hnguistics liste<l on page 6. and,
as.':iigning onc subfield to a pair or small group, <liscuss briefly the type
of approach to second language teaching that might emerge fron1
e1nphasizing the exclusive importance of your particular subfield.
Report your thoughts to the whole class.
5. (C) What did Twaddell (1935: 57) mean when he said, '"fhe scientific
method is quite simply the convention (hat mind does not exist"? \V'hat
are lhe advantages and disadvantages of attending only to "publicly
observable responses" in srudying hun1an behavior? Don't limit yourself
only to language teaching in considering the ran1ifications of behavioristic principies.
6. (C) Looking back at the three schools of thought described in this
chapter, try !O come up with sorne examples of activities in the language classroo1n that would match the three perspcctives.
7. (C) Considering the productive relationship ber;veen theory and practice, think of sorne examples (fro.m any field of study) that show that
theory and practice are interactive. Next, think of son1e specific types of
activities typical of a foreign language class yo u ha ve been in (chora!
drills, translation, reading aloud, using a vocabulary \VOrd in a sentence,
etc.). \'X'hat kind of theoi-etical assun1ptions underlie these actiYities?
How might the success of the activity pos"ibly alter the theorv behin<l it?
8. (G) Richards and Roc!gers (1986: 5) said the GrJ.mtnar -Translation
i\'lethod "is a 1nethod for which there is no theory." \Xfhy <lid they make
that statement? l)o you agree '\\'ith them? Share in a group any experiences you have hacl "'\\'ith CYrammarTranslation in your foreign language

7. Often the on!y dri!ls are exercises in translating dlsconnected sentences from the target language into the mother
8. Little ar no attention is given to pronunciation.
It is remarkab!e, in one sense, that this method has been so stalwart among many competing models. It does virtually nothing to
enhance a student's communicative ab!lity in the language. It is
"remembered with distaste by thousands of school !earners, for
whom foreign language learning meant a tedious experience of
n1emorizing endless lists of unusable grammar rules and vocabu!ary
and attempting to produce perfect translations of sti!ted or literary
prose" (Richards & Rodgers 1986: 4). In another sense, however,
one can understand why Grammar Translation is so popular. It
regui_ees f_ew_ ~pecia_lized _skills on the part of tea~-~--~rs. Tests of
gramma-ruleS a"d of translations are easy to coStuct and can be
objectively scored. Many standardized tests of foreign languages still
do not attempt to tap lnto communicative abilities, so students have
Htt!e motivation to go beyond grammar analogies, translations, and
rote exerclses. And it is sometmes successful fn leading a student
toward a reading knowledge of a second language. But, as Richards
and Rodgers (1986: 5) pointed out, "it has no advocates. It is a
method far which there is no theory. There-ls n-o- literature that offers
a rationale or justificatlon far it or that attempts to relate it to issues
n !inguistics, psychology, or educational theory." As we continue to
examine theoretical principies in this book, I think we will understand more fu!!y the "theorylessness" of the Grammar Translation


Note: Items listed belovv are coded for either individual 0) work, group/pair
(G) work, or whole-class (C) discussion, as suggestions to the instructor on
how to incorporare the topics and questions into a class session.


l. (G) In the first paragraph of this chapter, second language learning is

described as a com~olex, long-term effort that requires n1uch of the

learner. ln small groups of three to five, share your own experiences in
learning, or attempting ro learn, a foreign language. Describe your own
(a) co1nmitment, (b) involvement, and (e) etfort to learn.This discussion
should introduce you to a variety of patterns of learning.
2. (C:) Look at the nvo <lefinitions of language, one from an encyclopedia
and the other from Pinker's book (page 5). Why are then: differences
between these two definitions? \Vhat assun1ptions or biases do they

Mitchell. Rosamoncl and Myles, Florence. 1998. Second Lan.._rz,1u1ge Learning

T/Jenries. Newl:'ork: Oxford lJniversity Press.
Skehan, Peter. 1998. A Cognttve AJ1j1roacb to Language Learning. Ne"
"York: Oxford lJniversity Press.
Willian1s, fviarion and Burden, Robert L. 1997. Ps;'cbology far Language
Teochers: A Social (:onstructiuist Approacb. Can1bridge: Can1bridge
UniYersity Press.




0-1,.1/'TER 1

Language, Learning, and Teaching

Language, l.earning, and Teaching


exhaustive, so feel free to expand on them considerably. The one rule of

thumb to follow in writing your journal is: connect your own experiences
learning a foreign language with issues and mo<lels and studies that are pre~
sented in the chapters of the book. Your experiences then become vivid
exa1nples of what might otherwise ren1ain some"\vhat abstract theories.
If you decide to focus your "-Titing on a previous experience learning
a freign language, you >vill nee<l to "age regress" yourself to thc tin1c that
you \.Yere learning thc language. lf at all possible, choose a language you
learned (or tried to learn!) asan adult, that is, a_ftcr the agc of twelve or so.
Then~ describe "-'hat you were feeling and thinking and doing then.
If your journal centers on a concurrent experience, so n1uch the
berter, because your memory of the ongoing events \Vill be more vivid. The
journal-\vritng process 1nay even prompt you to aclopt certain strategies
for more succcssful learning.

A nun1ber o,{ rej'erences 'lvere n1ade In this c/Japter to trc!lds n

research on app!ied linguistics and 51.J-1. 17.Jesr? thrce it(fornzatue
boohs oj]'erjlu1herj)ersj>ective~' on the tJree 111c~or scbouls oj.thought
descrihcd here, and are Luritten in a user-jj-iendly s(vle.

Annual Revieiv o/AjJplied Lingustics, published by Cambridge University

G~o1nJreht>nsive and currellf n)Ur111c1tion on uorious subj"i:elds o}
interest zuthin lVhat is hroac!(y ternied 'apjJ!ied lingu istics .. is til 'Cl ilable through this annuctl!y j)lthlishecl journal.
Thon1as Kuhn. 1970. The Structure of Scientific Rez,.olutions. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.

This classic tt'ork descrihes thc lVCLYing and ll'Olling qf scle1tt((ic

tre11ds througb bisto1y. Jt helps une to tuzden>tand SlA research
trends in a conte.\t o)-' other scientific dsciplines.

Guldelines for Entry 1

Bro\vn, H. Douglas. 2000. Teaching b_y Principles:An Interactive Approach

to Language Pedagogy. Second E<lition. \"'V'hite Plains, NY: Pearson

As you start(ed) your foreign language class, ..vhat is your overall emo-

tional feeling? Are you overwhelmed? challenge<l? unmotvated? Is the

course too easy?
How do you fcel about your class1nates? the class spirit or mood? Is the
class upbeat and n1otivating, or boring and tedious? Analyze why you
have this perception. \Vhat is causing it? Is it your "''n attitude, or the
teacher's stylc, or the n1akeup of the class?
Describe activitics that you did in the early days of the class that illustrate
(a) a_ behavioristic perspective on second language acquisition, (b) a
cognitive perspective, and (e) a constructivist perspective.
Describe your teachers teaching style. Is it effective? \Vhy or why not?
Does your teacher seen1 to have an approach to language teaching that
is consistent with what you've read so far?

Richard-Amato, P-atricia A. 1996. l'v!aking It I-Iappen: Interaction in the
Second Language Classroom, Frorn Theory to Practice. \Vllite Plains, N"''i/:
Pearson E<lucation.
Richards,Jack and H.odgers, Theodore. 1986. Approac/Jes t!nd J1etbods in
Language Teucbing. Can1bridge: Cambridge lJniversity Press.

T/Jese three hooks offer a /Jistorical overuieiu and criticcll ana(:sis o}

lanuoge teachng 1nethods in a conte~\:l oftheoreticalfoundations
that u1zderlie pedagogical practices.


In each of the ten chapters in this book, a brief set of journal-writing guidelines will be offered. Here, you are strongly encouraged to co1nmit yourself
to a process of wceldy journal entries that chronicle a previous or concurrent foreign language learning experience. In so doing, you will be better
ablc to connect the issues that you read about in this book with a real-life,
personal experience.
Ren1ember, a journal is mcant to be 'freely" written, \Vithout n1uch conccrn for beautiful prose, rhetorical ~loquence, or even gramn1aticality. It is
your diary in which you can spontaneously record feelings, thoughts, reac~ions, an<l que.::.tiuns. The pron1pts that are offered here are not meant to be