The Language Acquisition Mystique: Tried and Found Wanting
But terminology apart, what Krashen really wants to get across is that – putting it crudely - acquisition is good, and direct instruction is bad. The latter is equated with “language teaching in grammar-based approaches which emphasize explanations of rules and corrections of errors”, and should be replaced by acquisition-type activities (Krashen & Terrell 1983: 26). In other words, in order to promote these activities in the classroom, Krashen is setting up a straw man, at least from a European perspective: “The idea that we first learn a new rule, and eventually, through practice, acquire it, is widespread” (Krashen 1982: 83). However, I have yet to find a methodologist of the 20th century who advises us to do so. Ever since the days of Harold Palmer, of Jespersen in Denmark or Philip Aronstein in Germany grammar rules have been presented only in close conjunction with demonstration and practice. The learner first encounters past tense forms, gerunds or if-clauses in texts which he listens to, reads and talks about, before practising them and analysing them in special exercises. This is also supported by research: For difficult constructions, explanations should come before practice, but after introductory presentation in texts or situations (Elek & Oskarsson 1973). “Conven-tional” classrooms, as we have known them for decades, even when roughly following a grammar-based syllabus, expose learners to meaningful language, try to deal with all kinds of classroom business in the foreign language, include communicative interactions of many kinds and provide comprehensible input via listening and reading. Krashen tends to see his acquisition-learning distinction as an either/or position, which doesn’t describe what normally happens. It is, to say the least, a misrepresentation of good practice as recommended by the vast majority of methodologists (all the methodologists I know of). In fact, classroom reality is much more complex. However, the distinction between “acquisition” and “direct instruction” is useful, as it provides different perspectives on the teaching-learning situation.