Different types of learners


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Different types of learners

  1. 1. DIFFERENT TYPES OF LEARNERSAccording to: Age, Needs, Levels, Nationalities, Learning Strategies, Motivational Factors .a) Agea. infants / pre-schoolb. children / primaryc. adolescents / secondaryd. late teens / late secondary / young adultse. adultsb) Needsa. exams (language / school / university)b. business groups (general / ESP / company requirements / job prospects)c. vocational training (ESP / technical / professional)d. pre-university groups (EAP / study skills)e. general English (hobby / travel / social)f. cultural (TESL / integration into new culture)g. remedialc) Levelsa. absolute beginnersb. false beginnersc. elementaryd. pre-intermediatee. intermediate (lower / upper)f. advanced (at this level differing needs become more obvious.It is difficult to pre-judge and teaching tends to follow a series of diagnosis > response cycles,rather than a pre-set syllabus)g. illiterate / impaired (visual / aural / oral)h. mixed levelsd) Nationalitiesa. monolingualb. multilingualc. groups of nationalities whose 2nd official language is Englishd. mixed cultures
  2. 2. e) Learning strategiesa. the holistic or natural learner.This is a person who is content to expose him/herself to the language and learn what comes.The student who is relaxed when he/she does not completely understand the language beingpresented.b. the serialist or analytic learner.This is a person who learns bit by bit and builds it up.The student who is frustrated at being presented with language he/she does not completelyunderstand.Learners are probably a combination of both, depending on the situation.Within these 2 "natural" learning strategies there are several "imposed" strategies:Graded record keeping of lessonsGood organization of notesUse of resources (both in and out of the institute)Step-by-step building of skillsVocabulary cards, etc.f) Motivational factorsa. instrumental motivation.For survival or a specific need. Most TEFL teaching is to instrumentally-motivated students.b. integrative motivation.For those who want to integrate into a culture.These first 2 terms come from bi-lingual research in Canada and it has been argued that theyare not applicable to TEFL students.c. intrinsic motivation.From within the student. His/her own personal goals.d. extrinsic motivation.External motivational factors. Exams, teachers points, peer pressure, etc.Most students are probably motivated by a combination of c. and d. A SHORT HISTORY OF EFL. 1. INTRODUCTION Although this short history is by definition incomplete, it is a personal attempt to look at those developments in EFL which still affect us today in our classrooms albeit in some cases indirectly. Each section looks at a particular method or train of pedagogical thinking and, after briefly describing its theories of language and teaching, it gives a few examples of activities which have been handed down to the present day classroom.
  3. 3. Theories of learning and acquisition will be touched on only briefly, and alternative approaches are mentioned by name only. As this is a personal look at EFL it is heavily influenced by my own opinions and beliefs. One and all are welcome to disagree on any viewpoint put forward.2. GRAMMAR TRANSLATIONa) DevelopmentThis method came to the fore as modern languages began to be taught alongside the classicallanguages of Greek and Latin. Scholars believed that the study of these languages was valid asan educational discipline but little else, and therefore other languages were taught as Latin andGreek were.It reached its height in the period between 1880 and 1920 although it still forms the basis ofmuch English teaching in schools throughout the world.It was only when travel possibilities meant that more people needed English for conversationalpurposes that the method came under criticism.The first phrase books started to appear toward the end of the last century and theirpublication continued and spread throughout the early decades of this century.Marcel, Prendergast and Gouin all influenced changing attitudes to Grammar Translation andas the IPA (International Phonetic Association) gained in prestige Sweet and others found aplatform from which they could attack a method of teaching they saw as out-dated and failingto meet the needs of the times.b) LanguageThe English language was viewed in the same way as the classical languages. Rules,conjugations and parts of speech were the cornerstones and its primary form was written,expressed most eloquently in the literature of the great English authors. Grammar rules could be written out in technically obtuse terminology and long lists ofvocabulary should be committed to memory. Many of the problems we have in the classroomtoday with grammar try to undo age old grammatical myths which were caused by theimposition of a Latin style grammar on the Anglo-Saxon English language. This mix was clearlyincompatible, and yet we still hear people tell us that a sentence should not end in apreposition. There was little aural / oral work, as the aim of studying the language was tounderstand the literature.c) Teaching and LearningThe grammar was taught deductively - from rules to examples - and the vocabularyintroduced in long word lists which were memorized by rote learning. These lists of structureand vocabulary formed the basis of any syllabus. The methodology was restricted to grammarexercises, translation and dictation. The written essay was the most communicative activityand it must be admitted that it is indeed a lot more communicative than many of the L2activities that were to follow in the next hundred years. The theory of learning could be bestsummarized as what is taught is learnt.
  4. 4. d) ExamplesDespite the fact that Grammar Translation has received a centurys worth of bad press it isnotable how many of its techniques are still applicable to our classrooms today. This isespecially true when we consider our students here in the UAE and their educationalbackground. We need to tap into their phenomenal powers of memory which have beenhoned by years of rote learning both the Quran and numerous other school subjects. TheEnglish languages irregular past tenses springs to mind. It is the way we test what has beenrote learned that needs to be communicative, not necessarily the learning.Dictation is another example of an activity which has been handed down, although hopefullyour dictations bear little resemblance to those of the Grammar Translation Method. However,it is interesting to note that the purpose and aims of a dictation have not changed significantly.Board dictations, picture dictations and article grouping are just three communicative forms ofthis activity which come to hand quickly.3. AUDIO LINGUAL & STRUCTURAL SITUATIONALa) DevelopmentThese two methods were respectively the American and British continuations of the DirectMethod which had taken over from Grammar Translation following the Coleman Report in1929. The Direct Method was a reaction against Grammar Translation and totally avoided theuse of L1. It was strongly linked to the IPA and dealt with phonetics as it emphasized oralcommunication. It looked at everyday language rather than literature and focused onnarratives and question / answer techniques.Its most famous followers were Sauveur and Berlitz whose schools today follow an almostidentical methodology using lots of realia and stressing accurate pronunciation.These basic methodological concepts were taken on board by both the Audio Lingual Method(AL) and Structural Situational (SS) schools.The AL started to be used in 1943 as part of the US army training program and remained at theforefront of language teaching until the sixties when Chomsky, Hymes and Austen attacked itslanguage and learning precepts in a way that can only be described as violent. Nevertheless,both methods are still widely used today and many of their beliefs are widely held in theteaching profession.b) LanguageALs theory of language was based on the school of American Structuralism which placed formabove meaning and showed that the language could be broken down into lists of structuralpatterns. Within each structural pattern there could be only one paradigmatic element ofchange which would come from one word class. Interestingly fillers were considered a wordclass in themselves, and this is probably the only grammatical point I am in agreement with.The European equivalent took their language theory from the works of Firth and Halliday wholinked structure to situation and argued that meaning came from context. These beliefs wereshared by some of the biggest names in EFL including West, Palmer and Hornby.c) Teaching and Learning
  5. 5. In reaction to Grammar Translation these two methods were totally inductive in theirapproach to teaching grammar. In other words, they let students figure out the rules forthemselves from the myriad of examples they were presented with. In fact, it was preferred ifthe students did not think about grammar at all and the theories clearly stated that nogrammar rule should be explicitly stated by the teacher. When we look at some of the EFL rules of today (e.g. some = positive, any = negative andquestions), we have to wonder if this was not a very wise approach after all.For methods which refused to teach any explicit grammar rules, it is extraordinary that theirsyllabuses were grammar based, with the least complex structural patterns coming first andthen the order of structure dependent on complexity. These structural patterns were drilledusing substitution tables in AL, whereas teachers presented the language in situationalcontexts before drilling it and giving further related practice - the time worn PPP method.Both methods treated the learners as empty vessels whose heads should be filled withlanguage as a jug would be filled with water and drew heavily on the behaviorists’ learningtheories a la Pavlovs dog which Skinner and others had applied to human learning.Personally I am not sure I like the idea of being a jug, although it has been proven thatrepeated drilling is necessary in the formation of some sounds which require unaccustomedmuscle movement (e.g. /r/ and /l/ for Chinese speakers).Repeated mistakes were viewed as worse than sin and teachers were encouraged to correctevery false utterance immediately. Errors had to be avoided at all costs. Both methodsseparated the four skills and determined that they should be learnt in the following order withno exceptions; listening, speaking, reading, writing. Finally, no L1 would be permitted and itwas somewhat facetiously assumed that once the learner knew all the patterns they wouldknow the language.d) ExamplesIt is extraordinary that we still use so many activities from these two methods considering theirtotally uncommunicative nature. The PPP method is still taught in most certificate courses asthe ideal to aim for although this tells us more about the courses than the usefulness of PPP.Substitution tables and drilling are both common in classes world-wide and have been welladapted to communicative methodology. Hidden drills are one of the activities I use mostfrequently and reducing dialogues are another. We have our use of realia and a lot of goodpronunciation work for language labs from these methods. All in all a pretty impressiveselection.4. COGNITIVE CODEa) DevelopmentThis was a train of psychological and linguistic thought and did not actually lead to any oneoperational method, but it provided significant influences, not least the re-emergence ofgrammar in the classroom and more emphasis on the guided discovery of rules.
  6. 6. The Cognitive Code rejected Behaviorism and put an emphasis on the learning of rules throughmeaningful practice and creativity. It came to the fore in the 1960s as Chomsky released hisearly works on first languages and universal grammars. Although it did not have an immediateeffect in the classroom, it resulted in a liberation for teachers from the strait jackets of theAudio Lingualism and Structural Situational methods. More than anything else it changed theorientation of teachers and above all their attitude to errors.b) LanguageBasically following Chomsky, it stated that there are universals which underlie all languages.These are rules which can generate any sentence from a universally common deep structureand each language may use different transformations to get to the surface structure. From afinite set of rules an infinite number of sentences can be created was Chomskys claim, and it isdifficult to find a more convincing grammar today. The effect on the classroom was to takelanguage study into the realms of sentence structure and view it as a system comprised ofphonology, grammar and lexis.c) Teaching and LearningWe should remember that Chomsky himself said that his work had nothing to offer to languageteachers and we were fools if we took it on. Nevertheless, this did not discourage many andteachers jumped at his work on language and theories of learning even though it was not untilKrashen that his principles of natural acquisition were applied to L2 learning. Chomskystheories of learning were in line with the cognitive and mentalist approaches of the time andstressed the importance of learners making sense of things for themselves but with theguidance of a teacher. This reaction to Behaviourism stated that learning was not a habit butrequired cognitive processing and mental effort. It meant that teachers became morecomfortable about showing rules, presenting grammar and allowing students to work out rulesin class. Most importantly of all it allowed teachers to treat errors as not only natural but as apositive indication that learning was taking place.d) ExamplesThere are no set examples as such from this period, as the methods which evolved over thenext decade or so all drew on the Cognitive Code and I have decided to list the examples underthe sections that follow. Enough to say that we still hopefully guide students to discover rulesfor themselves and continue to use what was then called the guided inductive approach toteaching.5. COMMUNICATIVE LANGUAGE TEACHING (PHASE I)a) DevelopmentThis was less a method than a collective change in classroom practice world-wide during theseventies and came as a direct result of the Cognitive Code, especially its linguistic theories. Inreality it was to take another decade until the learning and teaching theories of the CognitiveCode made themselves felt in the classroom.The seventies were a decade which saw the emergence of functional and notional syllabusesthrough the work of the Council of Europe in response to the language needs of the EEC. It wasalso a decade which saw schools of practice breaking away from mainstream EFL andconcentrating on narrower areas of focus. ESP and EAP made their first steps in this period and
  7. 7. we saw Silent Way, Suggestopedia and Community Language Learning all rise in the publicsattention as they looked for a quick and easy way to learn a language fast.At the academic level it was the decade of research starting in discourse analysis, erroranalysis, learning vs. acquisition and interlanguage.b) LanguageWilkins, van Ek and other European linguists with the Council of Europe were working ontheories of meaning which reflected communicative events. Language was now viewed as acommunicative force with functional exponents used to express a particular communicativeneed like offering. Style and register also began to take on importance as more ESP schoolsopened their doors. Interestingly research at Bristol University, which tracked 120 kids for twoyears with radio miles found that language development had nothing to do with function butthat syntactic structure showed patterns in the learning process. Whether this is as true in L2as it is in L1 still has to be shown.This did not mean that all the language work of the time was on functions and notions. In factlanguage theory was rich and eclectic with seminal works from the likes of Widdowson,Hymes, Candlin and others coming out. However, unfortunately this had little to no effect onthe EFL classroom until the eighties.c) Teaching and LearningThis decade had immense influence on syllabus design but in fact resulted in a step back to theBehaviorist teaching patterns as old structural lists were replaced by functional onessequenced according to their usefulness and complexity.Now it was these which were drilled and PPPd to death. There was no real theory of learninginvolved except that it was assumed that this type of language structuring would be moremotivating to all students. A highly dubious claim, but at least they were thinking of thestudents. The focus of the decade was on language and syllabus not on learning and teaching.d) ExamplesThis decade provided us with a wealth of activities often taken from those approaches awayfrom the mainstream. We have the cuisinnaire rods from Silent Way, the use of backgroundmusic from Suggestopedia and the recording of students and negotiated syllabus from CLL.These methods died out but their values and attitudes continued. The humanistic element hadentered the classroom.6. COMMUNICATIVE LANGUAGE TEACHING (PHASE II)a) DevelopmentThe 1980s heralded a real advance in the quality of learning as the methods of the lasthundred years gelled together and signalled a decade of innovation, imagination and improvedpractice. The Natural Approach of Krashen and Tyrell caused huge interest not least becauseKrashen was probably the best salesman EFL has ever seen. Stevick built on the humanist workof Carl Rogers in the sixties and Skehan started the individual learning strategies ball rolling. Itwas an exciting decade and one I was grateful to be trained in.b) LanguageWiddowsons influence started debates on interaction, discourse rules, use (thecommunicative use of language in natural settings) versus usage (the display language so oftenused in the classroom), and value versus signification. However, this was a time which focusedon teaching and learning far more than on the language itself.
  8. 8. c) Teaching and LearningGrammatical syllabuses re-emerged and the task based syllabus was born as well. However,most textbooks were now moving towards a multi-syllabus approach with methodologiesconcentrating on student interaction, humanistic values, authentic materials - starting thegreat accuracy versus fluency debate which still rages - and individualisation. Learners began tobe viewed as individuals for possibly the first time in the history of EFL and learning theoriesreflected this with social and emotional factors coming to the fore. Individual learningstrategies were looked at in depth and teachers began to question academics on thedifferences between conscious and unconscious learning as well as learning versus acquisition.Krashen was at the centre of this new found dialogue between those at the chalkface and theacademics. He had strong support from teachers but was dismissed by many, especially British,academics for being an unscientific showman. It may well be that the largest contributionKrashen has made to our profession is the advent of the researching professional teacher whoset out to disprove those ivory tower professors.The total review of correction in the classroom and how it should be carried out is, in my mind,the most significant contribution that came from the first years of the 1980s. It allowed us asteachers to become aware of the effect our use of a variety of correctional techniques wouldhave on learners and we could, accordingly, adapt and improve those techniques.The final influence that must be mentioned was Munby and his needs analysis approach tosyllabus design. Although his book Communicative Syllabus Design was published in 1978, itwas during the eighties that it began to be refined into a workable approach especially in ESP.d) ExamplesThere are so many different activities which could be listed here but I will restrict myself to thefollowing handful: the use of correction cards and sheets both individual and class, the use ofTPR, authentic reading at low levels and most importantly the idea of the information gapwhich is now a given in almost every class taught.7. LEXICAL RE-EMERGENCE & LEARNER INDEPENDENCEa) DevelopmentVocabulary had been almost completely ignored since the 1930s and Grammar Translation. Avery slow re-emergence could have been seen since as early as 1964 when Halliday said thatthe most crucial criteria of any register was to be found in its lexis, but then vocabulary wasswallowed under the blanket of functional exponents. From 1985 onwards we saw vocabularyre-emerge to its rightful place alongside grammar and phonology and this culminated in thepublication of the Lexical Syllabus and COBUILD. In the classroom the focus has been onmaking students better learners and LRCs (Learning Resource Centres) and ILCs (IndependentLearning Centres) have become part of our educational language.b) LanguageVocabulary is viewed as central to communicative effectiveness - something that is definitelydifficult to argue with. As a whole language is seen as a mix of generative rules and fixedpatterns. The language of structure (pre-packed chunks) is learnt one way as vocabularywhereas the language of rules (e.g. sentence formation) is learnt cognitively. This is borne outby a number of studies including one which saw a class taught the present perfect as a series ofset phrases. It was not until upper intermediate level that this tense was looked at as a tense.The production of the students from the control group was both more accurate and fluent thanthat of students from other groups.
  9. 9. c) Teaching and LearningGrammar teaching was seen more as a consciousness-raising exercise and we movedthankfully away from phrases such as; Theyve learnt the past continuous. Variety was thebuzz word, and choice and appropriacy of the methodology to the learning context wereforemost in teachers minds. Teachers became researchers in their own right and principledeclecticism in teaching methods allowed learning to be viewed in the same eclectic manner.Students were given space to organise their own learning and the classroom came to be seenas a primer to language acquisition. The work started by Skehan moved on and teachers wereseen more as learning facilitators than language judges, and students were required to takeresponsibility for their own learning as well as being seen as active portrayers of information.d) ExamplesThe best examples from this period are all still available around us in published form, the mostnoteworthy being Ruth Gairns Working with Words. Vocabulary grids for nuances of meaningis one activity I use frequently, the classroom management strategy of moving pairs andsimulation also come from the late eighties. Exercises on learning strategies and study skillsabound and most of them are workable.8. THE NINETIES & INTO THE 21ST CENTURYa) DevelopmentWe are now in the enviable position of putting everything that has gone before into our ownworkable unit and combining it with the remarkable development in educational learning toolswe have seen in the last few years. We can take from anywhere, use anything and give ourstudents choices that were not possible in earlier teaching climates. Combine this with thelatest technology and, if we remain open-minded, we can move positively into a new centurywhich could well see teachers becoming free agents and educational institutions becomingmonoliths of the past.b) LanguageWe now recognise that there are probably hundreds of grammars in the world. There is noright or wrong grammar, just different ones. Our job is to break the language down for ourstudents in the way which we understand it and in such a way that they can grasp it. We cannow accept that each student will construct their own grammar and it is for us to check thisthrough their interlanguage and help them to adjust it accordingly.The study of language has moved far beyond the sentence, or even paragraph, stage and weneed to access the viability of much of the work being done at a discourse level and decidehow it can benefit our students. We need no longer back away from dealing with language at atextual level even with low level students.c) Teaching and LearningIt is now widely accepted that each context and / or learner needs its own methodology. Wehave to be flexible and able to change to suit the needs of our students in whatever waynecessary. This can be problematic as our role both in and out of the classroom is constantlybeing redefined. The modern EFL teacher has become a researcher, publisher and innovator.Some students feel frustrated when presented with something they do not completelyunderstand while others are very relaxed about it. We have to keep both types of studentmotivated and learning in a conducive environment.
  10. 10. How? I believe that questions like this and the answers are available in the history of EFL.Rutherford captures the essence nicely as he suggests that teachers should never assume theyhave taught anything. All teachers do is make students aware of something which the studentwill later learn if they want to. To this end it is the enjoyment of the process of learning andacquisition, and motivation which are paramount.d) ExamplesFrom a teachers viewpoint I think the approach which has most influenced me in the last fiveyears is Test - Teach - Test, as well as negotiating syllabus and materials with students andusing long and high level texts in class.Much of my own recent work has been on the importance of the classroom environment andcreating a learning atmosphere which does not threaten students. I drew heavily on the work of people like Rinvolucri, Richards and van Lier to name just three.This is one example where I became innovator, researcher and then author. All of youreading these have the same possibilities, and I would encourage you to find an area you enjoyworking