Speaking isn’t the key

… most students learn how to speak English by actually speaking it.

This comment original made in a letter to a Taiwanese newspaper about how teachers should make sure students produce a lot of L2 language while in classroom echoes the sentiment and attitude of many teachers in Japan. It could well have been a letter in a Japanese newspaper.

Here Stephen Krashen, a leading researcher in language acquisition (LA) and co-author of an important study Language Two, gives a concise explanation as to why the belief that increased speaking of L2 will promote language acquisition is ultimately a mistake.

The best hypothesis is that the ability to speak is the result of language acquisition, not the cause. If this is true, forcing students to speak before they are ready is not only useless, but counterproductive.

The italics are mine. He continues by suggesting the way to develop spoken fluency is “to provide lots of interesting and comprehensible input” instead. In other words, rich reception or input, is better and more logical. And I agree with this.

But because input is predominately a passive activity it is often equated, both by the teachers and students, to low language acquisition. It is avoided by both groups because the language gains are not seen immediately in a world that demands immediate results. More often than not more effective methods, like rich input, simply take the backseat in ELT because of profitability, and students suffer for this linguistically as well as financially. Students pay large sums of money only to have poor results. Their language foundation is weak and bad habits form that later become hard to change; all the while the teachers and language schools are laughing all the way to the bank.

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