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Theory of Language Paper

Theory of Language: Terrell and Krashen’s basis for their theory of language and subsequent approach to language teaching lie in their view that language is a functional tool for communication and conveying messages. They contend that communicative ability is the principal factor in SLL and view a language’s lexicon as the major factor in expressing oneself through spoken language. They propose that grammar only ‘inconsequently determines how the lexicon is exploited to produce messages.’ (Long, M. & Richards, J., 1987, p.180)

It is interestingly noted by Long & Richards (1987, p.180) that Terrell and Krashen ‘give little attention to a theory of language. A critic of Krashen suggested that he has no theory of language at all’. (Gregg 1984: Long, M. & Richards, J., 1987, p.180). Much of Terrell and Krashen’s ‘approach’ to the Natural Approach is based on Krashen’s (1982) theory of second language acquisition.

Theory of Learning: Since Terrell and Krashen’s approach to SLT lies mainly in Krashen’s (1982) theories of SLA and not in a specific theory of language per se, they seemingly see faults in many other grammatically focused methods of SLT. They feel the teaching of grammar weighs more heavily in structural language theory and has little influence on successful SLA. Therefore, classroom focus, with respect to the Natural Approach, is given to the SL learner’s deduction of grammatical structure from comprehensible input (i + 1) (see ‘Input Hypothesis’- Appendix B) through the use of ‘language that consists of lexical items, structures, and messages’ (Richards & Rodgers, 1986: 180). Consequently, the Natural Approach avoids the structural teaching of grammar in its methodology and gives the systematic teaching of grammar a backseat to the focus of comprehensible input in the classroom.

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‘The Natural Approach thus assumes a linguistic hierarchy of structural complexity that one masters through encounters with “input” containing structures at the “I + 1” level.’ (Richards & Rodgers, 1986: 180)

Since the influence of approach weighs heavily in design and procedure, it may be useful to briefly review Krashen’s (1982) theory of second language acquisition and its five underlying hypothesis. These hypotheses will have significant bearing on the Natural Approach’s design and procedure, to be discussed later. (In the interest of economy, this theory has been provided in ‘Appendix B’ at the end of this report for required reference.)

(a) The Objectives: The objectives of the Natural Approach relate directly to the level and learning objectives of the learner pertaining to the four main attributes of language learning (reading, writing, speaking, and listening). The Natural Approach does not attempt to seek perfection from the learner in the target language, but rather to improve upon current competence levels of students (primarily beginner level students) and to help them perform more adequately in the TL.

For example, teachers (employing the Natural Approach) teaching low level learners in a language course, may offer their students the abilities they will both be able to perform and not be able to perform after, say, 100 to 150 hours of course study. (For example, ‘you will be able to communicate your thoughts in the L2 without grammatical perfection but may not be able to successfully engage in a telephone conversation’.)

Through this approach, the course objectives will most likely concern three stages of development: (1) Pre-production – developing listening skills; (2) Early Production – students struggle with the language and make many errors which are corrected based on content and not structure (3) Extending Production – promoting fluency through a variety of more challenging activities. (Author, englishraven.com, n.d.)

(b) The Syllabus: As the objectives of a course employing the Natural Approach focus on students’ needs and levels, the design of the syllabus will also be as such. The teacher must assess the needs of the students and communication goals will then be set forth accordingly. The goals will eventually be met through a variety of communicative exercises such as games, role-plays, dialogs, group work, and topic discussions. (Author, englishraven.com, n.d.)

Krashen and Terrell (1983) suggest that goals the Natural Approach strives to achieve are ‘basic personal communication skills: oral (e.g. listening to announcements in public places) and written (e.g., reading and writing personal letters)’ (Richards & Rodgers, 1986: p.184). Other goals such as those pertaining to academia cannot be attained through this teaching method. Finally, in the spirit of Krashen’s (1982) Affective Filter Hypothesis (see Appendix B), syllabus content under this method should maintain low affective filters by including interesting topics & activities and maintain a relaxed environment creating as little stress and/or anxiety as possible.

(c) Learning Tasks And Teaching Activities: The Natural Approach allows for a silent period among students where they are not required by the teacher to speak until they feel they have acquired enough input to contribute to the class. The essence of this allowance of silence seeks to create low affective filters by not applying pressure to students who are not yet ready to speak in the TL. Beyond this period of allowable silence however, students may be required to physically respond to commands (i.e. Please raise your hand . . .) or respond to teacher input in other ways (i.e. ‘If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.’).

When students are ready to begin using the TL, teacher input will progress slowly through questions requiring simple ‘yes/no’ answers or questions requiring other one-word responses. The main focus of learning tasks and teaching activities remains in view of comprehensible input and not grammatical perfection or properly structured utterances. Therefore, pair or group-work can also be used as a means of attaining comprehensible input since students who speak with each other can seek to make each other understand without fear of erring in structure. Usually, only mistakes in content (and not in structure) will be corrected by the teacher; much the same way parents do with children. (i.e. ‘The sky green’. No, the sky is blue.’ ‘Right, the sky blue. In this example, no attempt was made to emphasize grammatical error, only errors concerning content).

(d) Learner Roles: Learners studying under this approach are largely relied upon by the teacher to initially state their needs and goals in order to suitably decide teaching materials and a suitable syllabus. Students are also given the responsibility of deciding when to speak in class (silent period/pre-production stage), deciding how much grammar study is required, providing comprehensible input, and even deciding how much correction the teacher should engage in.

The learner’s roles are also seen to progress through the three development stages (mentioned in ‘Objectives’). At the pre-production stage, students are not required to speak per se, but may be required to act on command from the teacher (same as during ‘the silent period’). During the early-production stage, students will take the role of responding accordingly to teacher cues through short answers or easily answered questions such as ‘What time is it?’ Finally, in the extending production stage, ‘students involve themselves in role-plays and games, contribute personal information and opinions, and participate in group problem solving.’ (Richards & Rodgers, 1986: p.186).

(e) Teacher Roles: The principal teacher role in this approach is to provide and maintain comprehensible input. Teachers can accomplish this role by using a variety of class-time relatable vocabulary in cooperation with gestures and body language that will help provide understanding of the topic at hand. Secondly, teachers must provide an atmosphere that creates and maintains low affective filters (Affective Filter Hypothesis). According to Terrell and Krashen (1986), comprehensible input cannot be acquired if affective filters are high due to stressful conditions or situations creating anxiety.

Finally, based on student needs, the teacher must assume the role of choosing and providing fun and/or interesting materials that promote comprehensible input. (f) The Role of Instructional Materials: Since the basis of the Natural Approach is to utilize input that in comprehensible through meaning rather than structure, the role of the instructional material is to be ‘real’ and meaningful in itself. The materials should be relatable to the students so that they can acquire the L2 through proper communication based on relatable and interesting topics. ‘Materials come from the world of realia rather than form textbooks. Pictures and other visual aids are essential. Other recommended materials include schedules, brochures, advertisements, maps, etc.’ (Richards & Rodgers, 1986: p.188)

Discussing topics that are clearly unfamiliar or uninteresting will not be memorable and therefore will not be acquired by the student according to the Natural Approach. For example, in business classes in Japan, materials that are required to be used by the teacher rarely spark interest in the students; nor do they provide any sort of relatable input on which the students can converse. Students often fall asleep or daydream due to the ‘boring’ content of the business texts their managers force upon them during ESL study.

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