Blame the lack of Method

So many people study language… why do so many people fail?

Alto blames the textook, and to provide a little context, he’s talking specifically (and correctly) about Mandarin as a second language.

Bocatas blames the lazy student, and the scope is certainly wider than just Mandarin.

Since I’m the third to way weigh in, I get the priviledge to unify the theory.

I blame the lack of method.  In other words, you’re doing it wrong.

It’s a way to blame everybody.

Blame the institution (administrators, teachers, coordinators) for not embracing Communicative Method (what is it, 40 years old now?), for serving purposes like certificates, grades, and exams, rather than communicative competence.  Blame teachers for focusing on grammar and vocabulary targets and error correction, rather than arming their students with communicative strategies like circumlocution negotiation, and paralanguage.  Blame teachers for not providing students with authentic language meant for reading, listening, and viewing pleasure rather than as objects of study.

Blame the student for playing the institutional game, finishing the homework and cramming for exams, rather than learning communication by communicating.  Blame the student for doing everything they can to avoid meaningful communication, which is the fuel that feeds the language acquisition instinct.  Blame the student for treating language as an academic subject and object of study, rather than a medium of communication.

Blame the study abroad student for hanging out in an L1 environment, for finding a comfort zone and staying there.

Also, blame monolingual societies for giving people aversion and fear of less than perfect expression. Blame it for not encouraging bilingualism and bilingual literacy from an early age.  Blame it for informing and perpetuating bias toward ethnic/linguistic majority bilinguals, while not educating potential ethinic/linguistic minority bilinguals to become bilingual/bilinguistically literate.

Does it help anyone to assign so much blame?

Yes.  For people that have grown up in monolingual societies and have to wait until adulthood for serious language study, language study is a new activity.  People who are learning new activities have to learn the right way to play the game as well as the wrong way to play the game.  If they are doing something particulary harmful, fruitless, or against the rules, then they should be told explicitly, don’t do that.  And that’s what blaming does:  it points out behavior that should be eliminated.

Imagine teaching someone to play basketball who has never seen a game or held a ball before.  Certainly, they need to be encouraged when they do something right.  But at some point they also need to be told that double dribbling, stepping out of bounds, and committing fouls are behaviors to be avoided.   That is, if you want them to play the game properly.  You need to teach some don’ts.

Often language educators and successful language learners are happy to encourage with do’s, but the don’ts don’t always come easily; they might not even occur to them.  And more often than not students do not believe the don’ts they hear, as it seems counter intuitive or counter cultural.

Don’t worry about making errors.  Don’t insist on L1 translation when you can get the gist.  Don’t be afraid to guess in context.  Don’t give up when you don’t understand, don’t let people give up on you.

Don’t frustrate yourself trying to train long term memory when you should be training linguistic recall (DIFFERENT NEURAL MECHANISMS, GODDAMMIT, it’s PSYCH 101!!!!).  Don’t find shortcuts to practicing (i.e., short cuts to homework).  Don’t cram for the exam (just learn it as you go, and learn it well).  Don’t argue the logic of the target language/target culture, just try to understand it.  Don’t stay with a teacher that doesn’t give you EVERY opportunity to practice communicating in the target language.

Humans have an instinct to acquire language.  We have a method that tries to feed the engine of that language instinct.  People fail at language learning (this includes me) when their language acquisition instinct is not fed, because society, the educational institution, and learners themselves are not following the method.  Blame helps us identify the behaviors that are making us fail, so we can avoid those behaviors.

7 thoughts on “Blame the lack of Method

  1. brad, thanks!

    martinillo, I’m working on a CD project at the moment, and trying to assemble a new podcast production team. Everything seems like an uphill battle at this point (especially after having such a great team at sPod) but we’ll see what we come up with.


      • martinillo, my CD project is about Spanish. It’s not something I’m terribly excited about, but it’s a way for me to learn the ropes at the new company while I build my team to take over the podcast at spanishpod101. They won’t be published for months, though. Thanks wishing me luck; I need it!!


  2. Lots of blame to go around. 🙂

    You need time, motivation and the right methods/materials. We often focus on the latter, but if the first two aren’t there, forget it. If they are there, deficiencies in the method will slow things down, but not always make a huge difference. But it’s true, we spend so much time debating the method; I guess we take it as read that “we” are motivated learners.


  3. Pingback: Language Websites I Really, Really Like. « you don't have to read v2.0

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