For me, last year’s ESL Bible was “Teaching collocation - Further Developments in the Lexical Approach.” Interesting enough book alright but I’ll admit it encouraged me to pile on a little too much vocab.
This years ESL bible is called “Memory Meaning and Method.” It was published in 1996 by a man nemed Earl W. Stevick. He graduated with some applied linguistics degree or other in 1950. And the way he describes it he has achieved at least temporary conversatioanl fluency in Armenian, French, German, Portugese, Shona, Spanish, Swahili and Turkish. He can also do “something or other” in four other languages and has reading ability in another four. He has been actively “teaching” English for close to fifty years and studies things like the neurology of second language learning as “hobbies.”
If someone like him talks about language teaching or learning, I, for one, listen. I would like to provide you with a few quotes that I think might help if you are finding yourself becoming a bit stuck in your approach to this delicate enterprise of ours.
From the preface - “If one believes (as I do not) that the human race is becoming better or wiser as the years pass, then assumptions I made years ago can no longer be of interest. If, on the other hand one believes (as I also do not) that the human race is progessively going down hill then any point of view held now is of less value than those that went before it. What I do believe is that goodness and wisdom, where they exist, come into our lives only as creations both delicate and ephemral.”
In later chapters he goes on to describe how he actually both learned and taught other languages using the systems that many practitioners today mainly just scoff at: grammar translation, the audio lingual approach etc. He comes to some suprising conclusions. For example he says that he can’t imagine anyone for whom a strict grammar translation approach would be advisable; however he admits it did work well for him and he enjoyed it tremendously. What he suggests is that we take elements of each approach and use them as required. He uses the word “flexible” a lot.
He asks the following question “In the field of language teaching, Method A is the logical contradiction of Method B: if the assumptions from which A claims to be derived are correct , then B cannot work, and vice versa. Yet one colleague is getting excellent results with A and another is getting excellent results with B. How is this possible?”
His answer to this question is a bit long winded but I think it could be accurately summarized as “therein lies the mystery”
Further along he says "…just as our choice of methods depends on what has worked in the past and on the personal investments that flow from those experiences, so these choices and these investments are related to - are an expression of - our deeper values. And if these relationships - if these values - are not clearly recognized, then they can give rise to reactions that are expressed not in logical propositions, but in epithets.
If that doesn’t quite do it for you he goes on a little latter to say “I fear the Annie Oakley whose early success by any method - Grammar Translation or Natural approach or anything in between leads her (or him) to squat sequestered in the fastness” of that particular brand of pedantary…"
“I fear teachers who focus more on teaching languages than on teaching people”
He sums up with “I know that the kind of teaching I have called for makes heavy demands on the teacher - demands on time and skill of course, but also on “flexibility” and commitment. I hope that in the future we will find a growing public appreciation not only for the value of our product, but also for the special intricacy and delicacy of the process we are guiding.”
It’s enough to warm your heart, isn’t it?