Sunday, March 26, 2017

TEFLology Podcast: Episode 57: Contrastive Analysis, Robert Lowth, and Linguistic Injustice

(TEFLology Podcast)

I'm still playing catch-up.  This episode is a couple weeks old now.  But let me chime in with my two cents.
The episode can be listened to here.

Contrastive Analysis
Contrastive analysis is something that has been mentioned in several of the books I've read on second language acquisition.

At the moment, the one freshest in my mind is the book I read last month: How Languages are Learned by Patsy M. Lightbown and Nina Spada [Third Edition]

I don't have my copy in front of me now, but if memory serves, according to Lightbown and Spada, one of the main reasons contrastive analysis fell out of favor was that it failed to make accurate predictions about the type of mistakes learners would make.
Instead, it was discovered that all learners seem to go through the same stages of acquisition whether or not their languages where similar to English.  (The order of acquisition)
For example: learning how to make negation in English sentences.
According to contrastive analysis, it would be predicted that learners from languages with similar negation patterns would have no problems with making negative sentences in English, while learners from languages with different patterns would struggle with negatives in English.
Instead, it was found that all learners seem to go through the same stages when making negative sentences in English, regardless of their first language background.  (Although I believe I read somewhere that the first language could influence how quickly the learners moved through these stages.)

So this is why contrastive analysis was abandoned in favor of studying interlanguage.
At least that's my impression from the books that I've read.

Some of this was hinted at in the TEFLology podcast (I believe it was mentioned a couple times that contrastive analysis failed to make accurate predictions).

Other notes:
There was also some brief discussion of the order of Scott Thornbury's blog: An A-Z of ELT.  I believe Scott Thornbury is not methodically working his way through the alphabet, but just using his blog to randomly document any entries he missed from his first edition of his book An A-Z of ELT.

See here:

In 2006 Macmillan published my dictionary-encyclopedia of English language teaching called An A-Z of ELT. On the off-chance that there might be a second edition of that book, I am using this blog to revisit some of the key entries, and discuss, critique and update them where necessary, while at the same time inviting comments from interested practitioners. I will be choosing items in no particular order, and in line with the issues that happen to interest me at the moment. Your comments and suggestions are very welcome.

Robert Lowth 
An interesting little insight into the history of grammar books.  I had no idea about any of this before, and thought it was very well presented and informative.

Linguistic Injustice
One of the great things about the TEFLology podcasts is that for those of us who don't keep up with the journals (like me) the TEFLologists do a great job of summarizing some of the more interesting controversies.

I had no idea about any of this before, and I thought the TEFLologist summary of this controversy was very clear and informative.

I'm reminded of something I wrote just a few weeks ago on this blog.

A few years ago I was at a conference in which a Filipino national was presenting a paper on how difficult it was for Filipino's to write papers in academic English, because the colloquial English used in the Philippines was so different from the style required in formal academic papers.
This got me thinking.  I spoke standard English, but my colloquial English would not be acceptable in a formal academic setting either.  I could not write an academic paper in the same style I used to talk to my friends.
I guess the advantage I had, in comparison to Filipino speakers, was that for me the socialization started incredibly early.  (As early as primary school, I was already getting some socialization in formal academic writing).  But it was a long 12 year struggle for our school teachers to finally get me and my classmates to realize that we had to write formal papers in a certain way.
So was this a case of Filipino's being uniquely disadvantaged, or was this a case of everyone having to adjust to the conventions of formal academic English?
I brought this up during the Q&A session at the end of the paper, and we had some interesting discussion.
I had the same question when Professor Hudson mentioned the problems faced when people who spoke non-standard dialects went to university.

Of course this is not entirely the same thing, because this was talking about another dialect of English, not L2 English speakers.

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