Monday, April 2, 2012

Learn L2 grammar like a native?

Clipart: Clker
Only if you learn it in an immersion-based program (rather than a more pre-frontal approach relying on more explanation, etc.,), according to these two studies by Morgan-Short et al. (2012.) From the summary description in Science Daily it is, as usual, nearly impossible to figure out what the actual protocols and procedures were--and the original article is unaccessible. What is being claimed is that an "immersion treatment" resulted in activation of brain areas more like that of a native speaker. Just how much so, of course, is not characterized either.

The question applies to pronunciation instruction as well. Is it necessary or even preferable to learn it "like a native?" That the experiments even emulated "native like" is quite arguable as well. To quote another of my heros (philosopher Bertrand Russell): A difference that doesn't make a difference doesn't make a difference . . . The often unexamined assumption that how pronunciation is learned by native speakers should invariably serve as our primary model for instruction needs to be reexamined in light of today's developing multi-disciplinary collaboration in the field and CALL technology. We'll come back to that theme shortly in deconstructing some haptic-integration techniques, methodologists and methods. In the meantime, as a very useful exercise, consider what it might mean to your work were that no longer the case


Angelina Van Dyke said...

It's easy to assert a view when you make it impossible for others to follow your trail - how annoying that you couldn't pull up the original article! What I did find interesting in the Morgan-Short study was that participants did not necessarily atrophy in their "native language brain mechanisms" after five months of no exposure or practice. As vague as that is defined, there may be some implications for giving the brain a rest so the memory can consolidate its mental circuitry. This also works for musicians, and then again, it doesn't! "Use it or lose it," is my motto in this case.

Clarification: considering what it might mean to my work if it were no longer the case that the ruling assumption was that our primary model for teaching pronunciation should be how pronunciation is learned by native speakers. Is that right?

Bill Acton said...

Yes, to your final question. The "Naturalist" belief system is so strong among methodologists today that it generally goes w/o saying that the closer to the process of L1 acquisition, the better--regardless of the context or learner types. The issue deserves a great deal of unpacking. In the theoretical article I am working on it will figure prominently. Bottom line: it has reached almost mythological proportions . . .

Angelina Van Dyke said...

Thanks for the clarification Bill. I look forward to seeing the "Naturalist" position unpacked in your next article. Myth debunking is always good to read. I can't say I've ever approached pronunciation teaching from that perspective myself, but then again, perhaps I have through osmosis.

Derrida's "On Grammatology" is an interesting philosophical counterpoint to this.

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