Does early speaking lead to fossilized mistakes?

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tastyonions
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Does early speaking lead to fossilized mistakes?

Postby tastyonions » Wed Apr 12, 2017 10:43 pm

I have seen a number of people express this opinion both here and on the old forum. Does it have any basis in research? Do you have any personal experience with this?
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Re: Does early speaking lead to fossilized mistakes?

Postby Speakeasy » Thu Apr 13, 2017 12:03 am

I recall reading the results of a broad-based study, conducted in the late 1970’s through the mid-1980’s in the United States, of the long-term efficacy of two approaches to the teaching of foreign languages.

The Group A students were introduced to speaking their foreign language very early on in their programme. Whereas verbal communication was heavily emphasized, a rather low priority was placed on grammar and the written language. The Group B students were introduced to the written form and the grammar of their chosen foreign language; however, a low priority was placed on speaking it. On completion of the two study programmes, members of both groups were given an opportunity to study and/or work in a full-immersion environment, one where they would be required to interact on a daily basis with native-speakers of their chosen languages. As I recall, the linguistic abilities of the two groups were tracked over a four-year period. The initial results were not surprising, whereas the final ones were …

During their first two years in a full-immersion environment, the Group A students were observed expressing themselves verbally with great confidence; they spoke easily and fluently, but were prone to making grammatical errors, the same ones repeatedly. During the same time-frame, the Group B students tended to hesitate when speaking, particularly during their first year, and appeared to lack self-confidence; however, there speech was often of a very high grammatical standard.

At around the four-year mark of the study, the Group B students had “caught up to” the Group A students in verbal fluency. However, the Group A students were still prone to making grammatical errors when speaking, albeit to a lesser degree. That is, in the words of tastyonions, the authors of the study reported a certain “fossilization” of the insufficiently-absorbed structure of the target languages during their studies.

The authors of the study concluded that the benefits accrued by the Group A students were genuine and worthy of retention. However, they recommended that a “more balanced” approach to teaching be adopted, one in which verbal communication would continue to be heavily emphasized, but in which an emphasis on grammar and the written language should be included “sufficient to avoiding” perpetual errors of grammar. As I recall, “sufficient to avoiding” was not defined and there was no specific recommendation as to what a “more balanced” programme should look like.

I recall reading the results of the study in the late-1980’s. When a question similar to the one posed above appeared in the HTLAL forum a few years ago, I tried locating the study on the internet but, regrettably, had no success.
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Re: Does early speaking lead to fossilized mistakes?

Postby blaurebell » Thu Apr 13, 2017 9:12 am

I only have anecdotal evidence from my mum, myself and a lot of students from an immersion language school here in Spain. My mum learned only very little German at university before coming to Germany and since this was during Soviet times she was given a job about a year later when my brother started daycare. She then basically learned German "on the fly". She has been living in Germany for the last 35 years and has C2 understanding, but she speaks at about B2 level grammar-wise. She speaks a lot and fast, but makes a lot of mistakes, usually the same ones in certain sentences and they are resistant to correction. I spent my teenage years trying to correct her without any effect whatsoever and finally gave up. She also has an accent that is sometimes hard to understand for certain people, especially when she speaks fast on the phone. In the last few years her writing has improved significantly thanks to self-corrections with the help of google, but that had no effect on her spoken language.

I myself learned Spanish in an immersion context with a Speak from day 1 approach. Those were interaction classes in a language school here in Spain, 3h a day, and half of those focused on grammar, but in a speaking context. At the time I was living with a woman who didn't speak a word of English and neither do most inhabitants of this town, although this is a very touristy place. So, I was properly forced to speak a lot way too early, especially to express more complex thoughts that would normally require subjunctives or other complex constructs. Basically anything more complex then a simple subject predicate object sentence in present tense and I'm likely to make some sort of mistake now with certain prepositions, the wrong tense, no subjunctives or the wrong form, simply because that's how I always said those things from the start. Thanks to a lot of input - 600+h audio, 5000 pages reading - I now hear that I make mistakes, but the mistakes still tumble out of my mouth regardless.

This same thing happened to pretty much everyone who started from scratch at this school and we all plateaued at a B2 level, even those who stayed at the school for a year or longer. These mistakes are seemingly impossible to dislodge. At some point I was doing all the grammar exercises right on paper, but would still make the same mistakes while speaking. Once I left the school and stopped the grammar exercises altogether, after a while I also wouldn't even get the grammar exercises right on paper anymore. This is actually really frustrating for me and all attempts to get rid of these mistakes - Duolingo, grammar drills on paper, etc. - have so far had very little effect. Especially when I'm not 100% concentrated I automatically fall back into my mistake patterns. With Spanish I've been facing a wall for the last 7 years and it even feels to me that speaking more makes it worse. I've been living in Spain for 2 1/2 years and occasionally I speak a lot with my in-laws, for a stretch of a month at a time. There has been absolutely no improvement from more input and more speaking. And judging from my mum's experience even 35 years of "more of the same" won't make any difference either. I'm now in the process of trying to get rid of those damn fossilised mistakes again with Gramática de Uso del Español followed by FSI, while trying to stay silent for a while. Frankly, I have never met anyone who actually managed to get rid of early fossilised mistakes entirely. But then, I doubt any of the people I met, who spoke with fossilised mistakes, ever used FSI! I'm somewhat hopeful that FSI might actually do the trick, although it might need two or three passes. Maybe that's wishful thinking though and I'm doomed to stay at B2 forever now, I'll report back when I know.

In comparison I started learning English with a grammar translation approach in school and they put us through a gazillion drills over the years. I only started speaking when I could already read extensively and watch movies. I now hardly ever make any mistakes when speaking, even when I'm tired or really ill. According to one of my lecturers I also write better than many natives, because I actually learned grammar in school. Also, when I first came to England, I was probably at a B2 level and within less than half a year I was at C1, speaking and writing. I stopped asking my flatmates to proofread my essays after the first bout of deadlines and I got really high grades on some of my philosophy papers - one time it was the best of the cohort. Basically I experienced no B2 plateau with English, simply because I had the grammar already in place and just had to massively increase input and output. C2 also came automatically by just watching thousands of hours of TV, listening to lectures, reading a mad amount (100,000+ pages) and writing an awful lot at a high level. Basically my B2 to C2 progression was effortless and simply a matter of time with English. With Spanish it's more of a hitting my head against a wall continually with no discernible effect. :roll:

Well, lesson learned, I'll never use a Speak from day 1 approach again! It's clearly the path to eternal B2 and I'll be extremely lucky if FSI actually gets rid of those mistakes now. It was an experiment, a pretty fun experience (especially the moment when I bit into raw pumpkin thinking that it was melon :lol: ) and although it seemed somewhat successful at first - I can make myself understood pretty fluently and understand 99% of what I hear -, it turned into a failure later on. Grammar translation seems to be super effective, but it's not exactly fun. I now believe in Assimil + Duolingo + intensive reading, followed by massive input and grammar translation for activation. It takes a lot longer to be able to have a conversation that way, but at least I don't end up speaking worse than a 5 year old!
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Re: Does early speaking lead to fossilized mistakes?

Postby smallwhite » Thu Apr 13, 2017 9:41 am

Wikipedia article "Interlanguage fossilization" has a long list of what I believe are research papers on the subject.
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Re: Does early speaking lead to fossilized mistakes?

Postby Cainntear » Thu Apr 13, 2017 11:06 am

Speakeasy wrote:I recall reading the results of a broad-based study, conducted in the late 1970’s through the mid-1980’s in the United States, of the long-term efficacy of two approaches to the teaching of foreign languages.

I would point out, though, that the two treatment groups in the study were very different.

An early focus on "speaking" doesn't necessarily mean no early focus on grammatical accuracy -- I'm always an early speaker, but also heavily into studying grammar. In fact, I believe the two go together, because when you're speaking, there aren't many hacks or shortcuts you can use to avoid the holes in your grammar. When you're reading or listening, you don't need to recognise everything to understand the sentence (eg normally you can understand a German sentence without processing all the case markers), and when you're writing you have time to consciously correct your mistakes (and so are not punished in any way for making them in the first place). When you're speaking, the mistake is immediately apparent and so you're likely to learn not to make it... or so I believe.
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Re: Does early speaking lead to fossilized mistakes?

Postby smallwhite » Thu Apr 13, 2017 11:41 am

tastyonions wrote:Do you have any personal experience with this?

I'm very prudent and risk-averse in every imaginable way. Even when I speak early, I only say things that I am 99.9% sure is correct (though of course I could be wrong). So me speaking early doesn't equate to me speaking incorrectly.

I imagine that people who are more carefree would make more mistakes? Not just fossilised mistakes but new mistakes as well.
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Re: Does early speaking lead to fossilized mistakes?

Postby Speakeasy » Thu Apr 13, 2017 11:48 am

Cainntear wrote: ... I would point out, though, that the two treatment groups in the study were very different. An early focus on "speaking" doesn't necessarily mean no early focus on grammatical accuracy ...
I am neither a theorist nor an historian of American teaching practices and I was not proposing a particular approach to the teaching/learning of foreign languages, I was merely recalling having read a report in the 1980's that, in my view, seemed to touch upon the OP's question.

You will undoubtedly recall that, at the time this study was conducted, the American academic community, which had previously given their full support to the audio-lingual method, was now openly questioning its efficacy and was beginning to lean towards the communicative approach.

So then, yes, I the two groups were rather obviously different: in the case of the first group, there was a heightened emphasis on speaking and a very deliberate de-emphasizing of grammar, whereas in the second group, the reverse approached was tried.

I cannot say whether or not, or to what degree, the results of the study had any effect on the American academic community's ultimate decision to move towards the communicative approach. Nevertheless, I think we would agree that the authors' recommendation for a "more balanced" approach, having a continued emphasis on speaking at an early stage, coupled with a "sufficient" emphasis on grammar, seems to have foreshadowed the move. Even if the report had not foreshadowed such a change, the authors duly reported their observations along with their recommendations and this is now nothing more than academic history.
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Re: Does early speaking lead to fossilized mistakes?

Postby Cainntear » Thu Apr 13, 2017 11:55 am

Speakeasy wrote:I am neither a theorist nor an historian of American teaching practices and I was not proposing a particular approach to the teaching/learning of foreign languages, I was merely recalling having read a report in the 1980's that, in my view, seemed to touch upon the OP's question.

That's cool -- I wasn't challenging you for saying it, just commenting on the study itself. It certainly was relevant to the question, but the issue of researchers making conclusions from overly different test groups is quite common, and I suspect that any other studies that claim to prove "early speaking" leads to fossilised mistakes will be similar. In my opinion, it's uncorrected mistakes that become fossilised, and that's regardless of how the material is learned.
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Re: Does early speaking lead to fossilized mistakes?

Postby s_allard » Thu Apr 13, 2017 12:59 pm

blaurebell wrote:I only have anecdotal evidence from my mum, myself and a lot of students from an immersion language school here in Spain. My mum learned only very little German at university before coming to Germany and since this was during Soviet times she was given a job about a year later when my brother started daycare. She then basically learned German "on the fly". She has been living in Germany for the last 35 years and has C2 understanding, but she speaks at about B2 level grammar-wise. She speaks a lot and fast, but makes a lot of mistakes, usually the same ones in certain sentences and they are resistant to correction. I spent my teenage years trying to correct her without any effect whatsoever and finally gave up. She also has an accent that is sometimes hard to understand for certain people, especially when she speaks fast on the phone. In the last few years her writing has improved significantly thanks to self-corrections with the help of google, but that had no effect on her spoken language.
---

Since this post is long, I'll comment on a few parts. I've added emphasis to the sentence above that I feel is key to understanding what happened in the case of the OP's mum's German. It seems the she did not have any formal education in German, i.e. a few years in high school or at the university. She picked up German just through informal exposure. I would say that she reconstituted German grammar in her head as best as she could.

It's not at all surprising that her German appears somewhat deficient when compared to the native and educated German of her daughter. And I'm sure that there are hundreds of thousands of examples of this Germany with a large immigrant population. Had the mother done three or four years of university in German, her German would be obviously much different.

But to return to the OP's own experience learning Spanish, it seems to me that the problem isn't speaking too early, it's a problem similar to that of the mother: lack of formal learning of the language at an advanced level. I find the following passage telling:

blaurebell wrote:With Spanish I've been facing a wall for the last 7 years and it even feels to me that speaking more makes it worse. I've been living in Spain for 2 1/2 years and occasionally I speak a lot with my in-laws, for a stretch of a month at a time. There has been absolutely no improvement from more input and more speaking. ...


I just can't understand how after studying Spanish for 7 years including living in Spain for 2 1/2 years there is no improvement. The problem, in my opinion the lack of formal structured learning of Spanish. Here is an ideal situation in which one could study the language and immediately use it for real. I gather that the OP's spouse is Spanish. What could be better learning situation than that? I think the simplest solution would be to take a university-level class given in Spanish on any subject of interest to the OP. And maybe work with a tutor or the spouse when time comes to write papers and do exams. That will clean up all those mistakes.
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Re: Does early speaking lead to fossilized mistakes?

Postby Speakeasy » Thu Apr 13, 2017 1:06 pm

smallwhite wrote: I'm very prudent and risk-averse in every imaginable way. Even when I speak early, I only say things that I am 99.9% sure is correct (though of course I could be wrong). So me speaking early doesn't equate to me speaking incorrectly. I imagine that people who are more carefree would make more mistakes? Not just fossilised mistakes but new mistakes as well.
My memory could be failing me here, but I seem to recall the "notes to the student" of one of the FSI/DLI courses describing this phenomenon. I believe that they likened it to two adolescents who, having received a box containing a disassembled bicycle, approached the problem of assembling and riding it. I'm working from memory here and am undoubtedly embellishing the description; however, it went something like this ...

In the first instance, the more boisterous of the two, having no patience for reading the accompanying instructions, cobbled together a more-or-less functional machine devoid of a braking system and, satisfied with the results and, not really knowing how to ride a bicycle but having seen other people do so, simply mounted the machine and launched himself headlong into the traffic. The joy and the freedom of movement that he experienced were immeasurable! It goes without saying that he did not take the time to acquaint himself with the Rules of the Road. Nevertheless, through his numerous mishaps, near misses and accidents, he eventually learned to navigate the streets with relative-for-him efficacy, albeit with continued risk to himself, to pedestrians, and to any other small creatures that might stray into his path. It is not recorded by what manner, and at what age, this carefree (dare we say imprudent) individual left this world.

In the second instance, the decidedly more reserved of the two, ever mindful of the risks involved in piloting a vehicle, carefully unpacked the contents of the box and placed them in a very specific order on the floor. Having familiarized himself completely with the Owner's Manual, he executed several "mock" assemblies and sub-assemblies of the various components, without actually fixing them together. After several trials, and satisfied with his mastery of the concepts, he quickly assembled the bicycle as prescribed. His was a “Show Room” model ready for display. He next acquired a copy of the Rules of the Road. He familiarized himself completely with the safe operation of a bicycle, the various hand signals for indicating his intended movements, ensured that his bicycle was fitted with all of the required safety illumination et cetera and, satisfied with his newly-acquired knowledge, reported to the local Motor Vehicle Office and requested to sit a facultative exam which, despite his anxiety, he passed with flying colours. Confident of his preparation, he embarked on a programme of practical use of his self-propelled vehicle. Following a few week's practice of mounting/dismounting the machine in his parents’ garage, he ventured into the driveway where he spent an additional two weeks gliding down the sloped surface, applying the breaks at the appropriate instant, and learning to direct the machine left or right. Finally, he was ready for the road! With a view to limiting his exposure to the dangers of motor vehicle traffic, for the first two months, he circulated only in the quiet residential streets of his neighborhood. Initially, on the approach of an automobile, he would stop and curb his bicycle. Over time, his self-confidence increased and, following numerous excursions beyond his quiet neighborhood, eventually merged seamlessly with the motor vehicle traffic of his locale. Needless to say, he was never involved in even the slightest incident on the road. And he thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience! It is recorded that he left this world as he had predicted he would and, as expected, all of the necessary arrangements had already been made.

As I recall, the "notes to the student" recognized that, as individuals, we would likely fall somewhere within a broad spectrum delineated by the above opposing examples.

By the way, I am a "textbook example" of the second instance!
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