ESL MiniConference Letters, April to June, 2002
Notes from MiniConference participants:
I just wanted to drop you a quick note to thank
you for your response to my
NETEACH posting. I followed your advice and
checked out Greg Kessler's
article on ESL MiniConference Online, which was very informative.
Also have checked out the
various sites that Greg links to in his article, which
also are a great
resource. At the moment, I'm still in the
process of exploring the possibilities of creating a CALL lab.
I do appreciate your input, and thank
you for taking the time to respond!
Erik D. Dahlin
I read your interview w/Ann Raimes who taught my very first ESL course
in 1973 at the New School. She's a great choice for your achievement [profile]!
Dear Mr. Scott,
My name is Owen Buckland, the president of Buckland
International Education group in China. David Papier worked
for me for 6 months, and you were right: He is the best
ESL teacher I have seen in my life! It's a great job you've done for us. Why do I say you did
a great job? Because 90% of ESL teachers have a big problem
in China with the big classes. Usually, China has an average
class size of 50 students, so the foreign teachers are so shocked
when they are facing 50 students in one class. David Papier was very professional in handling the big
class problem in our school, and you are so kind to share
his experience with other teachers. This will help all the
other teachers who have the same problem. Your articles
President, Buckland International Group (www.bucklandgroup.org)
Thanks for your coverage of the NJTESOL/NJBE conference and
especially of Krashen's comments, which go far beyond the recent exchange
between Krashen, VanPatten and myself. Your coverage of Krashen's views on "phonemic
awareness" demonstrates how important your website has become in building
awareness of central, critical issues not only in the field of EFL/ESL but in
English Language Teaching in general, including of course teaching basic
literacy skills to native-speakers.
Re: Your E-mail Newsletter,
Thanks for mentioning our event in this
week's ESL MiniConference Newsletter!
Thank you for your good wishes! Sure,
I will send you a report on the
outcome of the Conference.
Prof. Humberto J. San Pedro Soto
Secretario Ejecutivo del Comité Organizador
CILCCA 2002, Universidad de Oriente
Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
Re: the whole language debate,
I couldn't agree more with Blaze Ryan. I am a younger teacher (32) and try not to
overburden the students with grammar, or memorizing every traditional
grammar term, I just teach what works and what they can understand.
However, when students have never had to even think for one minute how
English works, it can be very difficult teaching the difference between a
subject, direct object, and indirect object, no matter how much you simplify
it or avoid the heavy, old-fashioned terms. Even some of the "bright" kids
seem to have difficulty distinguishing these concepts. The result is that
they constantly confuse all the pronouns, and their Spanish ends up making
no sense. You can take as communicative of an approach as you want in
teaching language, but if the students can't distinguish grammar parts, they
will never be able to put sentences together. Anyone else feel this way?
High School Spanish teacher
Thank-you very much for your insightful web page. I signed up twice under
two different e-mail addresses: school and home. Upon reflection, I think
you made the correct choice keeping the home address (napanet) for my ESL
account because my mail box at school is jammed and I will have a more
leisurely read of the ESL MiniConference site at home. The debate between Krashen and
O'Neill has created a great discussion at my immersion school. Thank-you again for creating and maintaining your site.
Napa Valley Unified
Re: O'Neill-Krashen-VanPatten debate,
I took up the suggestion of the kind List member who posted
the ESL MiniConference website on the debate on
learning vs acquisition. It's really pretty short and no one says anything
outrageous. It would be a succinct introduction for those who don't want to
read a book or article and would lay to rest the notion that grammar
shouldn't be taught, etc. I think Bill VanPatten's reply is extremely
helpful. Those who claim we shouldn't teach grammar just don't understand
One example: a teacher in my district was upset that the curriculum did not
contain specific grammar features to be taught at specific points; you know,
the preterite in November and the subjunctive in April (actually, come to
think of it, that's just about how it turns out in my classes). The grammar
was there, but as an appendage: you teach it where you need it to enhance
communication, not as an end in itself.
She was upset with me because she knew I rejected the notion of teaching a
language by going from grammar feature to grammar feature, yet I'll bet she
teaches her kids how to function in the language; she just can't believe she
is teaching "language" when her students are understanding and using the
language - teaching the language to her means teaching the grammar.
Dear Mr. Scott,
I just joined the ESL Miniconference. Thanks for creating this very
interesting ESL site. I look forward to reading the articles and letters
on your site on a regular basis.
American English Institute
University of Oregon
Re: SLA Debate,
Thank you so much for bringing this wonderful debate to the attention
of the NIFL-ESL list. My area of interest is adult SLA, so it was
particularly fascinating to me. I especially enjoyed Bill VanPatten's contribution.
He makes it clear that there is indeed a distinction between learning and
acquisition, but O'Neill misses the mark in his theory about where that
Re: Krashen-O'Neill-VanPatten debate
Thanks....I printed the exchanges and plan to use the material in my grad
classes. The debate should generate lots of heated discussion....
In response to Robert O'Neill's letter, Acquisition and Learning:
Obviously, I strongly disagree with Strozer's conclusion that parameter resetting is impossible after a certain time and that "persistent study" is necessary for language acquisition in adults.
Interestingly I agree with O'Neill that grammar has a contribution to make, and that there are limits to what these contributions are. Our views on how grammar helps may be quite different, however. I maintain it is only available as a monitor or editor, and that severe conditions must be met for conscious grammar to be applied: time to apply the rule, knowledge of the rule, and a focus on form. For most people, these conditions are only met after they have had some instruction and are taking a grammar test. This is when you see the full impact of grammar, and even then the effect is modest. The original arguments are available in Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition (1982), and I have discussed this more recently in an article in Foreign Language Annals in 1999, and it will be part of a chapter in a new book.
But even this modest contribution of grammar can be helpful. Our standards in writing are 100%. A single spelling or punctuation error in public can mean humiliation (as former US Vice President Quayle discovered a few years ago). Even well-read people don't acquire all of a language. There are usually a few gaps. In English this includes the it's/its distinction, who/whom, etc, places where, I suspect, the language is changing.
I recommend study of grammar for older students in both first and second languages, focusing on the use of a grammar handbook, to fill these gaps. It is part of language study, but is peripheral.
University of Southern California
Re: Stephen Krashen's second response,
Acquisition and Learning
Two quotes from Judith R Strozer's LANGUAGE ACQUISITION AFTER PUBERTY
(Georgetown University Press, 1994, p.p. 186-187) put the matter succinctly.
"The well-known facts cited in Chapter 7 suggest that linguistic parameter
setting is possible only for a brain undergoing maturation at a particularly
"The conclusion that a foreign language can be acquired only through
persistent study, and that a teaching program can only provide valuable but
never sufficient help, is neither negative nor pessimistic."
Despite Strozer's use of "acquisition" here, I still think that the word is
inherently misleading. If the parameter setting that drives acquisition in a
child is not possible for an adult, the word "acquire" does not describe what
even the best adult learners attain or the way they learn. I also believe,
however, that what I understand as learning and what Krashen calls
acquisition can result in highly tutored intuitions that go way beyond
axiomatic rules and which may not involve them at all.
Grammar and Conscious Learning
As a textbook author, I use grammar as a supplement to comprehensible input.
I have never believed that grammar alone is enough, just as I have never
believed that what is learned through grammar can be a complete rule system.
It cannot be, as even St. Augustine, and Erasmus knew. However grammar can -
if used discretely and wisely (by learners as well as teachers) - promote
and sharpen those intuitions we develop primarily but not only through
comprehensible input. Of course, all this is and must be, in Krashen's words,
"an empirical question, open to investigation". His reply has been, as
Author, Teacher, and Language-Learner
Re: John Dougill's comment,
John Dougill points out that forbidding teacher talk is contrary to
Krashen's need for massive amounts of comprehensible input. I agree.
University of Southern California
Re: the Krashen-O'Neill debate,
As usual, I find myself totally on O'Neill's side, though I suspect the two
are closer than the forced polarity suggests... Those of us like myself who
have 'plateaued' in Japanese know only too well the limitations of
acquisition for adults. I've also known adults master a language quicker
than children - by 'learning' rather than acquisition.
I was heartened too to find O'Neill supporting one of my own pet peeves when
he writes of such 'childish and sterile dogmas as 'teacher-centred is BAD'
and 'learner-centred is GOOD'' - IMHO classroom time is too often wasted in
ineffective learner-centred work (invariably carried out in the students
native language), though on teacher training courses it is probably heresy
to say so... I well remember having TTT (teacher talking time) being
drummed into me as an evil that should be reduced to a minimum, a dogma that
incidentally conflicts with Krashen's need for massive amounts of
Re: the Robert O'Neill interview,
I once taught with American Kernel Lessons, when teaching tired adult immigrants
in the evenings, and found it to be an excellent book as far as the success that it
elicited from tired students. Many ESL teachers would find it hopelessly repetitive,
but it certainly did the trick for a lot of my students -- some of whom were 60 years
old, heavily burdened by family responsibilities, etc. I left class every evening
feeling exhilarated by what they had been able to do with the materials.
Margaret Scheirman (going on 22 years of ESL teaching)
Minnesota English Center, University of Minnesota
A brief comment on the "din":
In Robb Scott's post, "Get Aboard the Conversation Bus: A Simple Idea for Creating a Discussion Din" the word "din" is used differently from the way I used it in my publications. Scott is referring to out-loud conversations and real noise. I used the term to refer to an internal involuntary mental rehearsal of language, similar to what happens when you get a tune stuck in your head; you "hear" in your mind bits and pieces of language often spoken in the voices of people you have been interacting with. Several studies confirm the suggestion that this kind of din is a result of language acquisition. I'll be happy to post a bibliography if people are interested.
University of Southern California
I've admired your energy in getting the ESL MiniConference
up and running. It's certainly an asset to our field.
Professor of English & Director of ESL
Pace University, New York City
It looks great. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to communicate with my
colleagues. Good luck with your site -- it's a good one.
The Azar Grammar Exchange
Letters from 2002 First Quarter
Letters from 2001