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Professor Amado Padilla:
Second Language Acquisition
The Language Classroom
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"Getting Quality Input in the Second/Foreign Language Classroom"
Lightbown, P. (1992). "Getting Quality Input in the
Second/Foreign Language Classroom." In (Eds.) Kramsch, C. and McConnell-Ginet,
S. Text and Context: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on
Language Study. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company
Lightbown begins with two research-based observations: audiolingual and grammar-translation
methods often produce false successes during systematic structure learning;
exposure to distorted language, and/or incomplete target language presentation,
constitute inadequate input. How to deliver effective, quality input
is a question that continues to vex researchers and teachers. Lightbown
explores experimental work in intensive and communicative ESL courses in
French-speaking Canadian schools. Specifically, she looks at comprehension-based
ESL and intensive ESL classes.
The former is based on a three-pronged theory: SLA requires comprehension,
not practice; positive motivation and little stress are ideal; and students
can be responsible for their learning. Although the students in the
comprehension-based course seemed to make respectable progress (after three
years of daily, half hour classes centered around cassette listening with
text support), it was only at basic English levels. The consistent,
quality input appeared to aid their accurate production.
In comparison, she details an intensive ESL program, in which "regular subject
matter instruction (French, math, social science) is suspended and English
is the only subject matter taught" (190). After this five-month program,
students seemed able "to develop very dramatically in their comprehension...and
they also develop confidence in their ability to use English...in a variety
of settings" (191). Although the students speak with confidence, their
speech is riddled with errors. However, they are prepared to continue
learning on their own. When some focus on form is provided, "students can
realize both short- and long-term gains in accuracy" (192). Evidence
suggests that form focus is "most effective, not in advance of communicative
contexts, but at the moment when learners [produce]" (192).
Lightbown stresses that SLA is both developmental and variational; part of
L2 acquisition follows a predictable, natural sequence, part is acquired
and used at various times depending on learner motivation and aptitude.
Although both the depicted ESL environments offer problems for generating
quality input for learners, Lightbown points out that neither are they mutually
exclusive, nor are they the only possible strategies. "In the current
atmosphere of emphasis on [CLT] that involves learners in activities focusing
primarily on meaning, the quality of the input available...must be given
serious attention" (193-4).