The language laboratory and language learning

The language laboratory and language learning

135 This trend indicates that it is only a matter CAI to look economically attractive. of time for Joan B. Williamson New York Dakin, Julian, The ...

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This trend indicates that it is only a matter CAI to look economically attractive.

of time for

Joan B. Williamson New York

Dakin, Julian, The [email protected] Laboratory and [email protected] Learning. (Longman Handbooks f6r Language Teachers) London: Longman, 1973, Pp. 172 As the title of his book suggests, Dakin wishes to relate the uses of the language laboratory and the nature of language learning. Among the theories that have been put forward in order to explain the language learning process, Dakin clearly leans towards the cognitive, as opposed to the behaviourist approach. In support of the cognitive theory he adduces a great many practical instances and even invites the reader to learn a few structures of an artificial language, Novish, by means of a short programmed course: this should make him aware that learning a foreign language requires the development of strategies. This is the standpoint from which Dakin analyses the possibilities of practising language in the laboratory. (He deals only with the practice of language, since fewer problems are involved in this second phase of language acquisition than in the first, presentation - with the complex problem of understanding - and the third, application - with the problem of free communication.) Dakin distinguishes five ways of practising language in the laboratory: listening practice, drills, comprehension exercises, production exercises, and problem solving exercises. The discussion of the drills is central in Dakin's analysis of the place of the language laboratory in language learning. He tries to show that drills are ineffective not only when they are ill-designed, meaningless (the traditional pattern drills), but even when they are "meaningful" (contextualised, etc.), the reason being that drills do not conform to the process of language learning: in reality, "structure" means a choice, the choice of the appropriate structure. In the drill, however, the structure is debased to the status of an unchanging background noise. Consequently, what the learner practises, is not language at all, but "structurespeech", where meaning is irrelevant. Since the student is unable to find out where a given rule m u s t not be applied, he is unable to formualte the correct rule and he will make false generalisations. The purpose of the drill is not the production of an utterance in accordance with the correct

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rule nor c o n v e y i n g the i n t e n d e d i n f o r m a t i o n to the hearer. These are the r e a s o n s w h y the c l a i m 'language l a b o r a t o r y t e a c h i n g is m o r e e f f e c t i v e than c l a s s r o o m teaching' c a n n o t be b a s e d on the drill. (Incidentally, it m i g h t o f t e n be more p r o f i t a b l e to do d r i l l s in writing.) In w h i c h areas, then, is the l a n g u a g e l a b o r a t o r y more e f f e c t i v e than the c l a s s r o o m ? First, there is l i s t e n i n q p r a c t i c e . (Obviously, for the b e g i n n e r s the s t r u c t u r e and c o n t e n t s of the text need to be controlled.) The l e a r n e r is g i v e n the o p p o r t u n i t y of l i s t e n i n g to w h a t p e o p l e a c t u a l l y say in real s i t u a t i o n s ; m o r e o v e r , it will m o t i v ate h i m to a c q u i r e that l a n g u a g e and even to c r e a t e his own s t o r i e s in this new medium. L i s t e n i n g p r a c t i c e is the first step l e a d i n g to c o m p r e h e n [ sion e x e r c i s e s . (Dakin m a k e s a d i s t i n c t i o n b e t w e e n d r i l l s and e x e r c i s e s : d r i l l s have to do w i t h s t r u c t u r e s , e x e r c i s e s w i t h a c t i v i t i e s ; d r i l l s r e q u i r e g r a m m a t i c a l l y c o r r e c t responses, e x e r c i s e s r e q u i r e a p p r o p r i a t e and a d e q u a t e answers; d r i l l s d e v e l o p c o m p e t e n c e , e x e r c i s e s a skill.) A listening c o m p r e h e n s i o n e x e r c i s e has a d u a l aim: the l e a r n e r is int e n d e d to u n d e r s t a n d a text - or to c h o o s e its m o s t approp r i a t e i n t e r p r e t a t i o n - and he is m a d e to show that he has u n d e r s t o o d . W e l l - d e s i g n e d e x e r c i s e s of this type h e l p h i m d e v e l o p s t r a t e g i e s of learning, listening, and p e r f o r m a n c e . A m o n g the m a n y e x a m p l e s of e x e r c i s e s D a k i n gives, the f o l l o w i n g are p a r t i c u l a r l y i n t e r e s t i n g : a n s w e r i n g q u e s t i o n s (with the p r o b l e m of the o p e n - e n d e d q u e s t i o n ) , w o r k i n g on a lecture, r e c o g n i s i n g the l o g i c a l r e l a t i o n s b e t w e e n the parts of a text, n o t e - t a k i n g and s u m m a r i s i n g , a n d f o l l o w i n g i n s t r u c t i o n s . He also m e n t i o n s p r o g r a m m e d e x e r c i s e s , e.g., for r e s o l v i n g p o l y s e m y or l e a r n i n g to r e c o g n i s e r h y t h m i c a l patterns. D a k i n ' s e x a m p l e s for the third type of e x e r c i s e s , i.e., prod u c t i o n e x e r c i s e s , are not q u i t e so c o n v i n c i n g . True, he is aware h i m s e l f of the p r o b l e m s in this area, p a r t i c u l a r l y the p r o b l e m s of grading, f e e d - b a c k , and s e l f - m o n i t o r i n g . F u r t h e r there are those a c t i v i t i e s that can o n l y be s i m u l a t e d in the l a n g u a g e l a b o r a t o r y , e.g., role and g a m e - p l a y i n g . But here again, D a k i n ' s a t t e m p t at a b r a n c h i n g p r o g r a m for the l a b o r a t o r y is w o r t h m e n t i o n i n g . The p r o g r a m m e d form is e v e n b e t t e r s u i t e d for the f o u r t h type, p r o b l e m s o l v i n g e x e r c i s e s . The e x e r c i s e s t r a i n the l e a r n e r to see the rules as w e l l as the i r r e g u l a r i t i e s in the language and so to f o r m u l a t e new rules or m o d i f y e x i s t i n g ones a c c o r d i n g l y . T h e s e e x e r c i s e s are b a s e d on his own m i s t a k e s a n d help h i m c h a n g e his false h y p t h e s e s into c o r r e c t rules. He m u s t t h e n a p p l y the rules he has i n v e n t e d - o b v i o u s l y , he will r e m e m b e r his own rules better. In his

last chapter,

'A s t r a t e g y

for the l a n g u a g e

labora-

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tory', Dakin tries to answer the two q u e s t i o n s he set out to i n v e s t i g a t e : W h a t can be d o n e in the l a n g u a g e l a b o r a tory? and: Is l a b o r a t o r y p r a c t i c e m o r e e f f e c t i v e than c l a s s r o o m w o r k ? Dakin is w e l l a w a r e that there is no g e n e r a l a n s w e r to the s e c o n d q u e s t i o n , so he r e d u c e s it to the form: W h i c h a c t i v i t i e s , if any, can be m o r e e f f e c t i v e l y p r a c t i s e d in the l a b o r a t o r y than in the c l a s s r o o m ? O b v i o u s l y , l i s t e n i n g is such an a c t i v i t y } quite o f t e n the l a b o r a t o r y can o f f e r the o n l y p r o l o n g e d o p p o r t u n i t y of l i s t e n i n g to n a t i v e v o i c e s l m o r e o v e r , the l e a r n e r can stop the tape and r e p l a y d i f f i c u l t sections. The same h o l d s true for the c o m p r e h e n s i o n e x e r c i s e s . As to the p r o d u c t i o n e x e r c i s e s , the l a n g u a g e l a b o r a t o r y is m o r e e f f e c t i v e than the c l a s s r o o m for p r o n u n c i a t i o n p r a c t i c e and t r a i n i n g in oral fluency; for the o t h e r forms, a lot d e p e n d s on the s t u d e n t ' s a b i l i t y to m o n i t o r h i m s e l f , and the linear n a t u r e of the tape d o e s not a l l o w d i f f e r e n t i a l t r e a t m e n t for d i f f e r e n t learners. Besides, a w r i t t e n e x e r c i s e is o f t e n m o r e c o n v e n i e n t . The same r e m a r k s apply to the p r o b l e m s o l v i n g e x e r c i s e s . Finally, t h o u g h a c k n o w l e d g i n g that l a n g u a g e l a b o r a t o r y d r i l l s m a k e for i n t e n s i v e p r a c t i c e , D a k i n p o i n t s out that m o r e m i g h t be l e a r n e d t h r o u g h i n t e l l i g e n t d r i l l i n g in the c l a s s r o o m and that r e s p o n s e s in w r i t i n g m i g h t be r e m e m b e r e d better. (All the same, some l e a r n e r s s e e m to e n j o y m e c h a n i cal p r a c t i c e in the l a b o r a t o r y , ) O d d l y enough, Dakin d o e s not m e n t i o n the p r o d u c t i o n exercises in his c o n c l u d i n g chapter. T h i s is p r o b a b l y b e c a u s e s p o k e n l a n g u a g e c a n o n l y be real in s o c i a l i n t e r a c t i o n , w h i c h d o e s not h a p p e n in the l a n g u a g e l a b o r a t o r y anyway. The t r o u b l e is that the t e a c h e r who w o u l d like to use the l a n g u a g e l a b o r a t o r y i n t e l l i g e n t l y along the lines set out by D a k i n w i l l soon d i s c o v e r that the c o m m e r c i a l c o u r s e s a v a i l a b l e b e a r o n l y a very s l i g h t r e l a t i o n to his needs~ T h a t is w h y D a k i n r e c o m m e n d s the t e a c h e r to d e s i g n his own l i s t e n i n g m a t e r i a l s and c o m p r e h e n s i o n e x e r c i s e s , p e r h a p s simple r e p e t i t i o n e x e r c i s e s , too, w h i c h c a n g i v e the l e a r n e r oral c o n f i d e n c e . On the other hand, the t e a c h e r s h o u l d be e n c o u r a g e d to e x p l o r e e v e r y p o s s i b l e use of the l a n g u a g e l a b o r a t o r y , and he s h o u l d not f o r g e t that v a r i e t y is a p r i n c i p l e of learning. Some r e a d e r s may o b j e c t to the n o n - l i n e a r s t r u c t u r e of the b o o k or to the e m p h a s i s and b a l a n c e of c e r t a i n p a s s a g e s , and m a n y w i l l d e p l o r e that it is not m o r e e x h a u s t i v e . Still, it m u s t be c o n s i d e r e d one of the m o s t s t i m u l a t i n g b o o k s on the l a n g u a g e laboratory. A r t i c l e s w i t h o u t n u m b e r h a v e b e e n w r i t t e n on the same p r o b l e m s , but a b o o k is l i k e l y to h a v e a g r e a t e r impact. So D a k i n ' s b o o k m a y h e l p tilt the b a l a n c e t o w a r d s a m o r e i n t e l l i g e n t use of the l a n g u a g e l a b o r a t o r y by f o r e i g n l a n g u a g e teachers, and it m a y e v e n i n f l u e n c e a u t h o r s and p u b l i s h e r s of LL m a t e r i a l s . . . Hans W e b e r Kantonsschule CH-4500 Solothurn