Thanks for the reply Puiwaihin. Interesting points.
The topic title I chose was misleading, sorry. I wasn’t really talking about theory so much as decent research; research based on methodology comparable to that in other areas of psychological study.
Experience is of course extremely important in teaching: not just number of years but what you have done in terms of reflection and efforts to improve. Learning from others is very valuable. Trying to get an idea of relevant research can also help in this process, and research data do not always confirm “common sense”.
An obvious example is the audio-lingual method. For quite a few years this was seen as common sense, but as the science of SLA research developed, it was discredited. Despite this, there are still some experienced teachers who insist on using the audio-lingual method, and many of their students do manage to learn something. The question is: would their students learn more quickly, easily, and thoroughly if they were taught using methods that emphasised comprehension and communication? The evidence shows that they would.
Things have progressed greatly since the heyday of AL and it might be a fair assumption to say that the average language teacher is more effective than the average teacher in the 60s. But many issues are not at all clear-cut and it can be very valuable to read up on relevant research. Two of many controversial issues are the existence or not of a “critical period”, and whether systematic, intensive phonics, or just phonics basics, should be taught first. Knowledge of the former issue can help in encouraging adult students, and the latter is of course very important in deciding how best to teach kids to read.
I recall that you’ve done a fair bit of reading on the subject of explicit grammar teaching. Much of the debate hinges on research evidence. A crucial issue is the existence or not of a natural order of acquisition of grammatical morphemes. Krashen’s collation of evidence to show that there is a natural order was one of the foundations of his theory. Many people feel that he went on to venture too far into speculation concerning the Monitor. Regardless of this, subsequent studies have tended to confirm the existence of a natural order. There seem to be a number of factors that determine the order of morpheme acquisition, but what is striking is that the order is similar between adults and children, between first- and second language learners, and between second language learners who are native speakers of different languages. Explicit grammar teaching can speed up the acquisition process and improve eventual accuracy, but does not in general seem to alter the order, at least beyond very short-term effects.
It’s certainly worth getting an idea of Universal Grammar and the evidence to support it. Much of linguistics is hard to read, but at least there is Steven Pinker.
Knowledge of the more theoretical issues might not result in any immediate changes in someone’s teaching, but it gets the mental cogs rolling: surely a good thing.
And some articles and books on language are just plain fascinating. You have a passion for language that is no doubt reflected in your teaching. Wouldn’t you say that the things you have read about linguistics and language learning have fed that passion?
Here is an interesting article by a reading psychologist who works for Microsoft:
The Science of Word Recognition: or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bouma