TESOL academic sessions sponsored by the Interest Sections can be a test of stamina, since they last one hour and forty-five minutes, but with only three days for the whole convention it’s necessary to make the most of our time. I try to attend a couple of these sessions each year because I value the in-depth look at a particular topic.
In Baltimore I attended Two Sides, One Coin: Interaction of Listening and Speaking Skills. Troy Cox of Brigham Young University began the session by addressing Elicited Imitation (EI). For those of us not familiar with EI, a concise explanation was much appreciated. EI is basically a listen-repeat technique that has a high correlation with language proficiency. It uses isolated sentences and no visual cues. With sentences of sufficient length and varied complexity, a tester can determine how much a learner is able to process. Troy explained how this assessment technique can also be used for instruction. For example, a teacher can guide students to self-evaluate: Students could listen to 10 or fewer sentence items, record themselves, compare their recording against a model and any note errors on a transcript, and then finally record again a week later for a second comparison. Troy has published articles on the process in the Calico Journal, Vol. 29, No.4 (2012) and the Wiley Online Library.
Nicole Ziegler of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa spoke about the Interaction Approach to SLA (see Long, 1996; Gass & Mackey, 2007, 2012; for more information). The approach makes sense to me when put in the simplest terms: learners benefit from exposure to linguistic input, opportunities for production, and feedback on their production. The key, however, is allowing for all this to take place through interaction; interaction supports learning. Nicole gave plenty to think about. The following are just some of the ideas stored in my mental treasure chest. I’ll take out each one, unwrap it, and look at it more closely when I have moments for reflection.
- Teachers can guide students to be better “interactors.”
- Learner-learner interaction has positive benefits.
- Teachers can create authentic speaking opportunities for interaction. There should be opportunities to produce and get feedback through negotiation. Task-based learning is ideal for this.
- Noticing language at some level is necessary in order to internalize it. Negotiation for meaning can facilitate noticing. When learners negotiate, they’re getting more comprehensible output.
- Technology can expand opportunities for interaction, from texting to video chats.
- Synchronous computer-mediated communication (SCMC) can offer similar developmental benefits as traditional face-to-face interaction.
As someone who teaches online, I appreciated Nicole’s list of positive things that learners gain in a technology-mediated context. She noted, for instance, the potential increase in linguistic risk-taking and the greater amounts of learner output. I also liked the chance to reflect on the forms of feedback that can be used the classroom, traditional and virtual. I admit that with constant access to a text chat, recasting a student’s statement happens almost by default. I reformulate phrases and sentences so that the learner can review our notes at a later time. I need to remember that feedback varies from implicit to explicit.
Visit Nicole’s website to learn more about her research. (See references below.)
Finally, Melissa Baese-Berk of the University of Oregon talked about perception and production and how they are related in language learning. Melissa reminded us that babies have a perceptual sensitivity to sounds that many of us adults lost long ago. There are non-native contrasts that us older learners have difficulty perceiving. The good news, Melissa noted, is that perceptual sensitivity can be regained. How? Through training. This should be reassuring to adult ELLs who struggle to hear and produce certain sounds in English. A couple key thoughts worth considering:
- Production can disrupt perception learning. I understand this to mean that a teacher’s untimely request for production may interfere with a learner’s developing ability to hear a sound.
- Reliable production doesn’t imply reliable perception. Sometimes the two skills develop together at the same rate, but not always. We need to be aware that just because a student can produce a sound doesn’t meant that the learner can perceive the sound, especially in contrast with another.
I sincerely thank all three presenters for sharing their knowledge and resources.
Long, M. H. (1996). The role of the linguistic environment in second language acquisition. In W. C. Ritchie & T. K. Bhatia (Eds.), Handbook of language acquisition. Vol. 2: Second language acquisition (Vol. 2, pp. 413-468). New York: Academic Press.
Gass, S. M., & Mackey, A. (2007). Input, interaction, and output in second language acquisition. Theories in second language acquisition: An introduction, 175-199.
Gass, S. M. & Mackey, A. (2012). The Routledge handbook of second language acquisition. New York: Routledge.