The Aviation technical school I work in has started a bilingual education programme this school year. I wrote this post to motivate the English language teachers in my school to read about SLA research. I also want to encourage them to carry out some collaborative project works in our school library.
How we learn an L2 (implicit and explicit knowledge)
Nick Ellis wrote (2005) that learning is a dynamic process and, at any one time, our state of mind reflects complex dynamic interactions of implicit and explicit knowledge. Implicit learning is learning without awareness of what is learned, and this occurs during fluent comprehension and production. Ellis points out that ‘The bulk of language acquisition is implicit learning from usage. Most knowledge is tacit knowledge; most learning is implicit; the vast majority of our cognitive processing is unconscious.’ (Ellis, 2005).
Implicit learning is still the default learning mechanism and “most communicative language use depends fundamentally on implicit knowledge, or in Krashen’s terms, acquisition” (Long, 2015). Explicit learning is a conscious operation and it is intentional learning which results in explicit knowledge: people know something and know they know. For prof. Mike Long, explicit learning helps adult learners (who are partially “disabled” language learners) notice fragile features by drawing attention to them. This leads to a form being stored in long-term memory, allowing further examples of this form in the input to be processed implicitly. Explicit learning of language occurs in our conscious efforts to negotiate meaning, when the teacher briefly draws attention to form: Long’s focus on Form.
If implicit learning is the primary goal, students need a lot of opportunities for incidental (i.e. implicit) learning. In our school library students have abundant opportunity to interact in English and do various communicative activities, which is completely different from what they do in the classroom. Our General English classes are based on course book syllabus and focus on forms, where sliced up bits of language are somehow accumulated through a process of presentation, practice and re-cycling. This PPP model suggests that learners are first presented with information about the L2 (declarative knowledge) and then, after some practice and drills, this is converted into unconscious knowledge of how to use the L2 (procedural knowledge).
Jordan and Gray in their article We need to talk about coursebooks (2019) explain that “unlike learning other subjects in the curriculum such as geography or biology, there is a big difference in language learning between knowing about the language and knowing how to use it”. For example, our students who know the language rule about the third person singular –s (s/he reads) in the Present Simple Tense, are often unable to use that knowledge in real time when participating in a conversation.
Geoff Jordan points out on his blog that course books do not respect SLA research findings:
“After 50 years of SLA research what we know is that L2 learners follow their own developmental route, a series of interlocking linguistic systems called “interlanguages”. Interlanguage development takes place in line with what Corder (1967) referred to as the internal “learner syllabus”, not the external syllabus embodied in course books.”
I strongly believe that “students learn faster and better if teachers spend the majority of classroom time giving students scaffolded opportunities to engage in communication activities with each other about matters of mutual interest, focusing on meaning.” (G. Jordan & H. Gray, 2019)
My reflections on collaborative project works in the library
These are my reflections about some collaborative projects that could be carried out in the library to promote the English language learning outside of class.
Extensive reading (ER) is probably one of the best ways to acquire language implicitly. Extensive reading is not about testing, but about helping students to build their reading speed and fluency, and become more confident readers in English.
- Silent book club
Students are encouraged to read around the library whatever books in English they want in a silent and sustained manner (just making sure that students have options increases engagement and develops intrinsic motivation!). Sometimes there’s also talking, before or after the reading.
- Joining book club discussions
This can be a wonderful way to talk with your friends about the books you have read. These discussions also allow you to hear other people’s thoughts on the book that might have never occurred to you otherwise.
My latest post on my Library Blog is on book recommendations during the pandemic:
Mike Long’s TBLT (task-based language teaching)
Mike Long’s version of TBLT is based on the principle of learning by doing. Tasks are the real world activities and they are identified by a thorough needs analysis. Key methodological principles of Long’s TBLT include providing rich input, encouraging inductive ‘chunk’ learning, focus on form, respecting learner syllabi and developmental processes, and promoting cooperative, collaborative learning.
Instead of spending most of the time on presenting and practising a sequence of grammar structures, we lead students through a sequence of tasks and give them help as and when they need it. Some examples of target tasks related to students using the school library are: borrowing books from the library, asking for information, locating/ evaluating resources, producing digital content, learning about information and media literacy – citation and issues of copyright and avoiding plagiarism; talking about books/ writing reports or reviews, etc.
These are some of the pedagogic tasks our students can do in the library:
- make presentations (on Skype/ Zoom/ Microsoft Teams) on the books you have read; then discuss the plot, the characters, inferring their feelings and emotions, discussing why characters are behaving in a certain way, what could have happened if the character had made a different choice, etc.
- make a video clip (e.g. use your smart phone): 3 minute book reports or reviews.
- find and bring some quotes/ passages from the books you have read, and explain the emotions expressed in these quotes; students can vote on the best quote.
- write flash fiction (six word stories or poems), or write tweets, or blog about the books you have read and want to recommend.
- write a letter to a character in the book about something you agree or disagree with, trying to assume the same tone as the book.
- write a summary of the book you have read, on Google docs. Write out a simple piece about it, including a basic summary and some of your own feelings about the text. Other students make comments.
- write a script, prepare and role-play some interesting scenes from the novels/ plays you like.
Extensive reading and listening programme
One of Mike Long’s suggestions for a pedagogic procedure through which to realize MP5 (encouraging inductive ‘chunk’ learning) is to add an extensive reading and listening programme to the main classroom or distance learning course. Listening to podcasts or audiobooks can serve as useful input for students going on to practise target chunks as wholes in a series of pedagogic tasks with a focus on form. The idea is that if students want to convey their ideas more effectively and sound naturally they need to be exposed to realistic samples of target language use as input components of pedagogic tasks and “then helped to incorporate, store, and retrieve collocations within that input as prepackaged chunks.” (Long, 2015)
Some suggestions about how to develop reading habits
In order to enjoy the full language learning benefits of these extracurricular activities, students need to read a great deal. I am planning to:
- refer our students to a study from Yale [Bavishi 2016] showing that readers live longer, and ask them if that can develop their reading habits
- use Google forms for conducting an online survey about our students’ reading habits
- use Google docs for asking students: How do you make more time for reading?
*How do you make more time for reading? (my suggestions):
Apart from reading paper books, you can get a Kindle, or listen to audiobooks during times when your eyes are preoccupied: commuting, workouts, going for a walk, cooking, etc., or you can buy audio and Kindle versions of the same book, then listen along (2 –3x) while you read, it’s more immersive and makes it easier to read while e.g. eating breakfast.
You can find thousands of audio books for free online here: Lifewire
Long, Mike. (2015). Second Language Acquisition and Task-based Language Teaching. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.
What do you think you’re doing? (Geoff Jordan’s blog with an extensive selection of articles on SLA and teacher-training)
Jordan, G., & Gray, H. (2019). We need to talk about coursebooks. ELT Journal.
Ellis, N. C. (2005). At the Interface: Dynamic Interactions of Explicit and Implicit Language Knowledge. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 27(02).
Bavishi, A., Slade, M. D., & Levy, B. R. (2016). A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity. Social Science & Medicine, 164, 44–48