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14 When learners are allowed to interact freely (for example, in group or pair activities), they copy each other’s mistakes: If the activities are well designed and learners are appropriately matched, pair and group work provides far more practice in speaking and participating in conversations than a teacher-centred class ever could. Somewhat surprisingly, research has shown that learners do not produce any more errors in their speech when talking to learners at similar levels of proficiency than they do when speaking to learners at more advanced levels or to native speakers. The research also shows, however, that learners at similar levels cannot ordinarily provide each other with information that would help to correct those errors. However, some studies show how tasks can be devised in such a way that learners working together can discover how to express or interpret meaning in the second language. In order for this to happen, the tasks must be carefully planned to give learners access to new language they need. Group and pair work is a valuable addition to the variety of activities that encourage and promote second language development. Used in combination with individual work and teacher-centred activities, it plays an important role in language teaching and learning

15 Students learn what they are taught: Teachers know from experience that students don’t learn everything they are taught! More important, however, is the fact that they eventually know far more than they are taught directly. Some teaching methods typically give learners the opportunity to learn only a restricted number of words and sentence types. Even when the language teaching method provides much richer language input, the fact that something is taught or made available in the input does not mean learners will acquire it right away. For example, some aspects of the second language emerge and evolve according to ‘natural’ sequences of development and learners may be more likely to learn certain language features when they are developmentally ‘ready’. Thus, attempts to teach aspects of language that are too far away from the learner’s current stage of development will usually be frustrating. Other aspects of language, however, for example, vocabulary, can be taught at any time, as long as the learners are interested in the opportunity to learn and the teaching methods are appropriate to the learner’s age, interests, needs, experiences, and learning styles. Fortunately, learners can learn a great deal that no one ever teaches them. They are able to use their own internal learning mechanisms to discover many of the complex rules and relationships that underlie the language they are learning. In this sense, students learn much more than they are taught.

16 Teachers should respond to students’ errors by correctly rephrasing what they have said rather than by explicitly pointing out the error: This kind of feedback, referred to as ‘recasts’ has been found to be by far the most common type of feedback in second language classrooms. This has been shown to be true for learners at different ages and in different instructional models-from audiolingual to communicative and content-based instruction. It has the advantage of not interrupting the flow of interaction. It is seen as indirect and polite, a way of giving students the information they need without embarrassing them. Research with adult learners, especially in classes with a general focus on grammar and accurate language use, shows that learners are responsive to this kind of feedback. Research in which learners interact individually with interlocutors has also shown that recasts are perceived as corrective feedback, even though learners may not always know exactly which language features the feedback is focused on. In content-based instruction (for example, immersion classes) and in communicative instruction with younger learners, more explicit forms of feedback have been found to be more effective in getting learners to respond immediately. Recasts often appear to be misinterpreted. Learners seem to hear them as confirmation of meaning rather than as correction of form. In these situations, recasts have been found to be more effective if the teacher has a method of signalling to the student-tone of voice, gesture, or facial expression-that says to the student, ‘I think I understand what you are saying, and I’m telling you how you can say it better.

17 Students can learn both language and academic content (for example, science and history) simultaneously in classes where the subject matter is taught in their second language: The advantages of content-based instruction are numerous. Motivation is increased when the material that is used for language teaching has an inherent value to the students. That is, it creates a genuine, immediate need to learn the language. Content-based instruction is usually associated with the opportunity to spend more time in contact with the language, without losing out on instruction in other subject matter. The range of vocabulary and language structure that students encounter in learning academic subjects is more varied than that which is typically available in foreign language classes. Research has confirmed that students in content-based and immersion classes develop comprehension skills, vocabulary, and general communicative competence in the new language. Teachers and researchers have also found, however, that the ability to understand the content and to function in classroom interaction does not ensure that students will continue to improve in certain aspects of their second language, especially in areas of accuracy on language features that do not usually interfere with meaning. Thus, for example, students can spend years in French immersion without achieving accuracy in marking nouns for gender or verbs for tense. Experimental studies in which an element of form-focused instruction was added to the content-based instruction have shown that, with guidance, students can improve in these areas as well. Both students and teachers need to keep in mind that content-based language teaching is also language teaching.

Conclusion: Knowing more about second language acquisition research will not tell what to do in your classroom tomorrow morning. We hope, however, that this book has provided you with information that encourages you to reflect on your experience in teaching. We hope, in addition, that this reflection will contribute to a better understanding of your responsibilities as a teacher and those of your students as language learners. As we have seen, language learning is affected by many factors. Among these are the personal characteristics and experiences of the learner, the social and cultural environment both inside and outside the classroom, the structure of the native and target languages, opportunities for interaction with speakers of the target language, and access to correction and form-focused instruction. It is clear that teachers do not have control over all these factors. Nevertheless, a better understanding of them will permit teachers and learners to make the most of the time they spend together in the twin processes of teaching and learning a second language.