Saturday, 3 August 2013

Uncovering Grammar - Chapters 4 and 5

Chapter 4 of Uncovering Grammar focuses on what’s going on in a students’ mind, talking in greater detail on how learning a language is a dynamic mental process, and that producing language with the grammar of a proficient speaker cannot be forced by rule-based deductive conscious learning alone.

Grammar isn’t a set of rules or facts, but is a mental process. It isn’t learned in a piecemeal way, as witnessed by the fact that when, as educators, we structure a graded syllabus, students can make errors way below their assigned level but may be able to use grammar structures that are above them according to a syllabus. There is much that they have the ability to do, nearly do, or constantly do incorrectly which are scattered round different CEF levels. Students regularly fail to learn grammar points that a teacher has tried to teach them. Many hours of teaching may go in to very little learning.

This attacks the assumption that students can produce, correctly, a grammar structure after it has been presented to them, provided there has been opportunity for repetition and practice. And from there on in it is more or less known and in easy grasp of the students linguistic competence.

If this input output model is flawed then basing syllabus in a linear fashion, covering grammar bit by bit, seems to be an ineffective way of organizing a syllabus. So, if a grammatical syllabus isn’t a usful tool for feeding students information. What is?

Well, let’s have a look at student output to get a better idea about what’s going on in their heads. Students do seem to seem to follow a set of rules when speaking, and these rules are actually quite predictable and trackable. Common learner language suggests there is a dynamic learner grammar that often follows quite a number of overlapping stages before replicating the target grammar. It is a multi-staged process which is constantly reorganizing itself in relation to incoming data.

So, in the students head, constant input may lead to incremental small changes until a tipping point is reached. Small amounts of teaching will not have a corresponding amount of learning or impact on learner’s grammar. But a small amount of noticing might cause a landslide of reorganization.
Language learning is a self organizing process: students notice input, they change it to intake where they make an abstraction about what they have noticed. They compress this into a schema. This schema is not a rule they know consciously, it is an unconscious automatic mould which shapes the language students use spontaneously.  These schemata however might not be accurate nor are they stable. therefore students output may go through a series of stages before finally arriving at the "final" grammar of a proficient language. Before this, students should be constantly given the opportunity to hear input, have the motivation to communicate, and receive feedback on their attempts. These 3 can be combined to be called “affordances”. They afford the student to use language. This is different to providing “input” and “output” as it supports an emergent view of language rather than “factual” language.

The principle of connected learning links into explaining the neurological side to this idea of language as an emergent behaviour. This states that complex language forms may not be the result of complex mental processing, but just the strong interconnectivity between different sets of knowledge. Students might be able to just hear varied simple input and produce a complex form. The language emerges as a complex system from a set of data banks. It’s the result of mental processes, it is not a product, but a process.

Chapter 5- This focuses on what things we should be doing in a class to encourage noticing, restructuring and learning. It basically covers a lot of the things mentioned in earlier chapters.
These include:
-Providing Input
-Facilitating Interaction
-Facilitating Item Learning
-Pattern Detection
-Providing Output
-Providing reasons to communicate.

One interesting thing about chapter 5 is that it links how teachers talk about what they've done with their classes to their assumptions and values of grammar and education theory. Saying we've "done" this and that point, or "covered" this part of the syllabus lends itself to a "language as fact" model. An "emergent" model would push students to talk about all the opportunities that the students have had to interact with each other and think and reflect about the language. Of course you can focus on a piece of the language in a class, but when you talk about what happened in the class, you don't want to be saying "we did present perfect" you want to be saying "the students interpreted some present perfect grammar, then they listened to it, then reflected on the differences between present perfect and past simple, then used it to talk about their own past, then listened to their mistakes and gathered information on their inter-language".

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Uncovering Grammar - Chapter 3 -Form Focus v Meaning Focus

Thornbury here picks out 2 broad approaches within ESL. One that promote learning  and the other acquisition. The first, with an emphasis on learning, values a presentation / input and then output model. Students are told the grammatical forms, then they do them! The second, with the emphasis on acquisition, has it that students should be given a whole load of comprehensible input and when ready, will notice the importance of grammatical indicators and slowly but naturally be able to learn the language without the need for guidance in pointing out the structures of language.

But really we need a tandem of the focus on form and meaning. The problem with instruction plus activities (those where students are given a lot of explicit information about the language) is that they presume that you can present a language point which leads the students to a grammatical structure and then they will drink. But students often confound us by being unable to transfer their knowledge from classroom when doing real life tasks. So it's often bouncing out of students' minds.
So to get around this we need to make them “notice” grammar by conscious raising activities that don’t demand immediate production. Instead, we give activities in which students only have to become aware of the importance of “grammarizing” lexis and get lots of intake . And then, with a small amount of time, we are leaning on the right mental handles to trigger a mental process that re-organizes or clarifies the students grammar rules.
So there is an element of instruction minus (lots of exposure to the language without specific direction) and instruction plus. So, apart from a formal presentation of a language point, what can we do?

The answer- Grammar interpretation activities (coined by Rod Ellis?)- where students recognise and see the importance of grammar in affecting meaning and have to make decisions based on their observations. Here, output isn’t an immediate requirement for teachers to judge a student’s success.  Neither is the teacher explicitly dissecting the language with rules, but is focusing more on the meaning and form and slowly waits for re-organization.

When students notice the connection between meaning and form and are able to recognize the importance of a certain piece of language, they will be better equipped during feedback sessions to compare their interlanguage with examples of proficient language that the teacher provides.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Uncovering Grammar - Scott Thornbury- Chapter 2 - Learning to Grammar

Learning to Grammar

So Thornbury does a few things in this chapter. In summary he conceptualises "grammar" not as a glue, an engine, or a force, or any kind of set of rules or knowledge, but instead as a mental process but rejects these as they all support the "grammar / vocabulary" dichotomy. Instead, he looks at 1st language acquisition for guidance in defining a suitable term for grammar. Children start off being lexically dependent, relying on "ungrammarized" lexis which haven't been properly moulded or aren't used in the correct order.

However, later, the same lexis is used in a more "specific" way, there is more accurate inflection and syntax. They are picking up the patterns of lexis. Lexis is not brittle, but flexible, the same words can be bent and moulded in different ways to fit with different meanings. "going, go, went, been, to go" are all based on the same verb which has different forms.

Students too need to "grammarize" lexis. Some students though seem to "fossilize" and don't "apply" the grammar to the lexis. So we need activities that somehow encourage this.

There were 4 principles to activities that encourage students to think about their accuracy when speaking. And these activities are still totally student centered and student directed. "grammaring up" is not a teacher centered activity when you explicitly teach a grammar point. It's still free practise, but free practise which requires communication with other students where the precise meaning of their utterances are important.
So. how to do this?

Activities should have
- low context between speakers: i.e. meaning needs to be carried across in the spoken language so students cant depend so much on shared schemata, pictures or texts where they have less reason to listen to their partner and where there is less reason to be accurate with your language. As he points out in chapter 1, the greater the distance/formality between learners, the more grammar there is.
Putting things in writing naturally raises a students' grammatical self-awareness as it has a greater sense of formality and also gives students time to think through their language.

- repetition: students may seem to do an activity quite badly, but try giving them a second chance and often their performance shows marked improvement. They're able to feel their own mistakes more intuitively and give more coherent, showing better language usage as well as language use.

- provide an incentive for precision: i.e. give a reason for communication that doesn't exist for the sake of using the language: give a task rather than a creative drill.

-high feedback: having someone right there to take note of the meaning of your language and give reactions that check the students' capabilities.

- 2 sets of picture cards students should explain and then find answer a task.
- conversations in slow motion: try out any conversation in slow motion before real role-playing.
-task repetition: get students to repeat the same task again the next class.

- strange stories: changing a story so that it has a completely unfamiliar schema to get students really paying attention to the texts. Even better would be to put a familiar text in a different order, to trick students to use grammarized language and discourse markers to construct the chronology rather than the order of presentation.
this can come by a number of means
     - ss take a familiar scenario but make adjustments to it and tell it to a partner who has to tell it back.
     - students take a selection of unrelated pictures and weave them into a story
     - students read an unusual story to a group, who have to summarize it
     - students tell a familiar story from an unfamiliar point of view. e.g. modernizing or feminizing a traditional folk tale
     - students take a sequence of narrative events and write a newspaper report, starting with the outcome.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The Lexical Approach - Chapter 8 - Lexis in the Language Classroom

So, going through the chapters of this book, which I think I'm now sick of, the reader is familiar with the concepts of language as a social institution that we participate within where language form can be better understood as being, essentially, idiomatic in character, rather than being chosen because language submits to some axiomatic and generative structures and rules. (a la Chomsky with his idea of natural competence and our innate ability to have an inherent competence over language).

So, of course, there is grammar, grammatical patterns and structures, but presenting and devoting time to these concepts doesn't aid acquisition.  Much better is for students to be able to observe the common patterns of words that are presented to them, for them use them as unanalysed wholes, and for them to then look at the form when they are familiar with using them and their structure.

So if we want to have lexis central to the TL of a class, where to begin?
First of all, here are a couple of "obviously......"

* if you're going to teach new words, teach them in context. This doesn't necessarily mean "a sentence" but pick examples that have pragmatic meaning.

*encourage students attempts, even in pidgin form (at beginner and elementary levels). Vocab and Grammar are not mutually exclusive spheres, but exist on a continuum. Don't teach them separately!

* Many common words "can, went, looked, used.." "she told me"  can be used without a grammatical analysis.

*Encourage extensive reading outside the class. The majority of students can be terrible at doing this without some specific advice or guidance. There are quite a few resources for learners. In exam classes the teacher's book often advices teacher to give various authentic texts. Try introducing these texts in an organized way: using authentic texts in all your classes in the first week of every month or something like this.

So, apart from going through texts, listenings, discussing and exploiting content, doing some sort of task or activity after learner consultation, what else?

Well, we need to decide how we want students to record new lexis and do it in such a way that makes it into students' long term memory. Students have notebooks, but, mine included, they mostly organized haphazardly, or not organized at all with great lists of random words collected together. As a Mr. Stevick stated "if you want to forget something, put it in a list".

Secondly, not all lexical units are the same, they range in informational content and therefore should be taught differently. ( I'm quite unclear on this)

How do we get students to record lexis so that it can be memorable and can be used in the real world????

*Well, first of all, alphabetizing your notebook helps as the most basic system of categorization.
*writing out example sentences.
* Currently we teach "vocab" in semantic fields. However, what is unwittingly common is to make these fields overly noun dominated. E.g. if were we to discuss "kitchen", adjectives, verbs, phrases are often ignored, to our detriment.
* Teaching collocations. Take a word, and then get students to write common verbs and adjectives that go with it. E.g. Book. I may write read a funny book, finish a depressing book, started a difficult to read book. Get students to insert as many collocations as possible.
*teach with a grammar pattern : book " I _______a book about______by_____"
*pattern displays "lets...................." and students finish off the sentence.
*drill your students in the phrases that they've noted.

Lexical Exercises
* Take 3 words - miss, bus, last - students have to predict the phrase. You write more words on the board each time and students have to predict the phrase before you've completed the phrase.
*write a 100 word story without using the same word twice.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Teaching Unplugged - Dogme in ELT - The introduction - Interrogate your books

So what's it about? Dogme! I was vaguely familiar with Dogme 95, Lars Von Trier, Danish Cinema, rules regarding cameras and lighting and such, making movies that aren't enhanced by a musical score, that don't use externally applied visuals or audio. They were keeping it real, showing life how it was and not bowing down to false and dishonest tools of audience manipulation that detracted from or illegitimately enhanced the drama.

So I guess the name Dogme in ELT carries the name as it too REJECTS SUPERFLUOUS THINGS that have leeched onto and apparently seem inseparable from the pure art of teaching like a SYLLABUS and COURSEBOOKS and, to a degree, the fixed roles of TEACHER and STUDENT. Coursebooks stand in the way of the learning process as they rely on notions about education that don't stand up to modern ideas about language acquisition as well as being the seemingly innocuous propaganda for the cultural norms of the consumerist, capitalist West.  Scrap 'em. Keep that ELT classroom pure and simple and learner driven.

So, what's the introduction banging on about? Throw your books away? Have you lost it, I need those!
Well. Most generally, the authors Medding and Thornbury believe that coursebooks rely on the MATRIX MODEL of learning. You know, where Neo goes into that Judo room and they upload knowledge and then he suddenly knows karate, and the same with Trinity and the helicopter. Applying this model in the ELT classroom means that the coursebook is contains all the knowledge that needs to be transferred, and the students are empty receptacles, depositories to be filled up. The status quo does recognise the need for a lot inbuilt practice / recycling / and communicative activity. However, everything, ultimately, is geared around learning grammatical structures. Some of the time you might as well give students English Grammar in Use, so transparent are the coursebooks' attempts at "hiding" the learning and so little are the content of the texts tapped and explored. Look at content pages of books and they're still divided up into grammar and vocabulary sections which are the parts we consider the most important, the least sacrificible, basically, these fill the bulk of what we test.

You may ask, "yeah, so what. We need to cover everything on that syllabus, and students get adequate practise and opportunities to produce the target language. So what's the friggin problem???"

Well, the problem, right, is with this sentence : "here is your schedule, you need to cover this syllabus ".
Covering a syllabus involves carving the language up into pieces, and then handing it to the students, making it easy to swallow. But we're not asking if the students want it, if they're hungry, seriously gals, I've handed 3rd conditional potato pie to my teenagers and they vomit it up most of the time, and if they do learn the rules, even fewer can produce it adequately. Language is living, and the skill exists in using it, not knowing it somewhere in the back of your head or having it written it down in your scruffy notebook.

You need to "uncover" the syllabus based on mutual co-operation between teacher and student in a dialogue that involves engaged discussion on themes and topics chosen with the consultation of the learner. Students receive input on a topic, they get opportunities for output, and the teacher listens to the students output, the teacher focuses on what the students are TRYING to express, what they WANT to express, and the students are EXPERIMENTING and COMMUNICATING (not producing!) and the teacher then provides feedback, correcting students' accuracy problems or some useful language that better expresses what they want to say. Then this is the Ts most "teaching" moment. But the majority of the time the teacher is "scaffolding" the students, allowing them to ACTIVATE their learning capacities organically from the bottom up.

If we really had communication as the key objective, a syllabus would be thematic with no set grammar or vocab attached to each unit. It would be there of course, but it's only explicitly brought up when the students are receptive to it, when they need it. And in a class students are all thinking about different things and may be concentrating on different areas of production, so in one class you may cover a number of different structures or idiomatic phrases.

Of course, a lesson that goes by the book isn't necessarily preventing students to learn language. They still, hopefully get input, output, feedback. There is a spectrum with a total "hegenomic teacher" on one end, and the collaborative dialogue on the other. But coursebooks are designed with the principles that push lessons to the former, and this is why we burn books. Education is a dialogue. Education is conversation. Education is not following a code and it's not covering a linear syllabus.

There is a second, political reason for not liking your coursebook too. As mentioned above, the topics and themes that exist in a textbook are not specifically tailored for your students. Apart from Business English and ESP, it's seldom that you will consult with your students about what they're interested in doing with their English skills, how and where they want to use it, how it can relate to their lives. Instead, we use books that are produced by ELT publishing companies and the same copies are sent out all round the world. This has a number of consequences. Firstly, the topics might just be boring for your students, like really really dull. Every teacher knows the feeling that books are often dull, tedious and hardly ever "speak" to the students.

More pertinently, they contain a whole load of values and subtexts. What we are doing when we teach people Engish is that we are spreading not only a linguistic skill, but familiarising students with and promoting certain forms of culture and knowledge, namely pro-western, capitalist and neo-colonialist. Books aren't propaganda, but they are not neutral, and embody certain values. Sounds oppressive right? Well, it is, on an ideological level, but not necessarily oppressive to the students in the classroom, an extremely common reason students come to my classes is for work. They want to participate in the international business community, they don't want to play their small part in the international "fair" of a globalized free market. Granted, I've only ever taught in countries that have already climbed and kicked away the ladder, so a lot of my students have much to gain.

Remember before we were talking about how textbooks rely on the MATRIX MODEL? Well, we're not only uploading language data, but also a set of values that normalizes the values of the authors who reflect the values of their surroundings and replicate the systems that they participate within. Jeez, what I wouldn't give for a book that had a feminist, good-night-white-pride, anti-border, anarchist, queer-power, vegan-reich agenda.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Chapter 5 - The Nature of Lexis

So, a lexical syllabus would be one based on lexis, not structures or functions. And that this makes sense being that lexis is highly correlational. there's not smoke without...that other thing. Lewis argues that lexis is not vocabulary. Vocab, he believes, is high content nouns and low informational content prepositions. Learning these isolated or in semantic fields is a mistake he believes.

Lexis is viscorous, like a polycarbon, each molecule is chained up and wrapped around others. Let's have a look at how vocab and lexis is different, what lexis is composed of, and some characteristics of lexis.

Importantly, lexical units are not just words. They can be words, but they also include collocations, polywords and certain idiomatic phrases. So how come some words are lexical units and some are not?

Well, language, believe it or not, is not individually defined, but socially defined, and we as speaking communities prefer to hear language "done right". Doing language right is not a matter of referencing some generative grammar rules, but instead reading the right phrases from the phrase book.

There are many ways of getting your meaning across, but we often prefer to use a handful of the possible (including the more literal) options. This is because language is a social institution. We participate within it, choosing to interact within it according to norms and conventions that are expected, where the speaker is penalised for deviating from these rules.

Say you're at the dinner table and you want some salt or pepper or balsamic vinegar of some soya milk or whatever the hell it is, and you ask your friend, who's standing, to pass you that thing that you can't quite decide what it is, so you say...."pass us the.. / could you pass me the... / throw us the.... / would you mind....", but interestingly, you wouldn't say "give me the / get me the / hand over the / the "widget" please.
Even though these are simpler, they are just not done.

So, we often may often prefer idiomatic phrases to literal ones where the meaning is derived not from the lexis itself but its place in the discourse. this is lexis: the preferred, non-literal, pieces of language we use to communicate with other people rather than just...a list of nouns.

Lewis wants to avoid teaching vocabulary as just decontextualised nouns. He wants to present high content words in true nature, how they're actually used in relation to each other and low context words. teaching a list of nouns and collocations and functions as well as a structural syllabus isn't enough. Language should not be broken down and atomised but presented in its true natural communicative glory, students should see lexis, and the specific forms it takes, it's co-text, in relation to its pragmatic role in a dialogue and its intended meaning. it should be mastered as a whole, then only later, when it is familiar with the learner, can hypothesising and experimentation begin.

O - H - E is the watch-word. Not P P P. But more essentially, try not to break down language into its consituent parts. It's unhelpful, it's like showing someone a glass of water and saying, look, i got this from a river, and hoping observing the water will put across what the river was actually like.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Chapter 1 of the Lexical Approach. What's the big idea? What are the big ideas?

It took a small while to get through the first chapter in intermittent readings on the Metro. When I sit down to make notes in a big study session, I fell straight back into the old University routine days, within 30 minutes I'd doodled pictures of dogs captioned with in-joke-quotes from the texts I was reading.
No facebook likes.

So this is what I've gathered. Michael Lewis, the author is AGAINST a lot of things. But it's cool, as he's offering what he's FOR too. He believes that linguistics as a field of study has offered us a lot of insights into how learners LEARN, and that the educational establishment has bowed down to SOME of these developments in some important ways, but change has been somewhat superficial, largely ignoring the more radical, and in his mind, important changes.
         So the first chapter is delineating the old and the new to more clearly position the values and principles of his approach, by creating a set of dichotomies (e.g. learning and acquisition, use and usage) and states why, as teachers, we should be acting on principles that are more in line with the tenets of contemporary linguistics and away from old school and outdated notions that our teaching practices are directly drawn from. I think the most major distinction he makes is between acquisition and learning, and all the other distinctions follow naturally once we understand the wider system of learning we want from students.

Firstly, thank Glob, he immediately attacks the Behaviourist influence in the classroom, no one likes to pander to the mass-rat murderer F. Skinner any more. Firstly, as I mentioned before, mistakes are an inherent part of the learning process, you shouldn't be cutting off student's mistakes and correcting them as they happen (something I believe that has been incorporated into the orthodoxy, you're taught about delayed error correction in the first couple of days on a CELTA). You'll damage their confidence. This leads into the distinctions between learning and acquisition and accuracy and fluency. Which we'll get into now. Bear in mind, Lewis writes in his sagest tone, a symphony is not just a collection of notes, and language is not just a collection of words and sentences.

Learning and Acquisition - Learning is conscious, the teacher explains a rule to you, or lets you work it out yourself, you memorize it. And then forget all about it when you're in the real world. Acquisition is the internalisation of the rules of language. You "pick up" a piece of language and then you instinctively and intuitively use it when you're speaking. The a competent teacher can make you learn something quite well, but have trouble making you acquire something. Case in point, the third person singular -s. Students all know it, beginner text books are full of rules about it, but I have advanced students who regularly omit it. It's annoying, but as Lewis points out, understandable, that it is redundant, the meaning is carried elsewhere in the sentence. If learning and acquisition coincide, mint. But this is difficult.

It's difficult because the PPP methodology and the linear syllabi we follow are geared toward learning, and not acquiring. If language were a Tekken game, and each grammatical structure / functional language area  were a level, and students advanced in a linear fashion level by level by learning, then things would be great. But the orthodox "Tekken-game" model of language learning isn't accurate to reality. To stretch the metaphor further, "learning" a language is like playing Tekken blindfolded on an radically different games console with unfamiliar controls with the teacher shouting out the buttons you need to press. Then the teacher goes home and you have to do it all again on your own. And you can't, and you sit there trying to half remember the secret combo moves and then you get KO'd by Nina.

What we need to be doing is letting students play the game on their own for a week, giving them advice and tips where necessary. It sounds too simple. This translates to the classroom by feeding students a large supply of lexis and comprehensible input.(Lewis heavily references someone here, Kishen? Kashen?) Students should be exposed to a lot of comprehensible listening, notice things in the language, and be encouraged to react to content and speak when they wish with a focus on content rather than language. Learning a language is not a linear process, and if you're trying to focus on a linguistic area, students may be listening and benefiting from the language, but in a totally different way to the one you intended, and each student will also be focusing on and understanding different things. Or they'll be on their smart phone. Anyway, the whole thing is heterogeneous.

The Lexis part of things
But how will they learn how to string things together, they won't be able to do it!!!!
this is where the LEXICAL aspect of the Lexical Approach comes into play. Lewis argues, and I suspect he'll go into great detail about this in the book, that vocabulary is not the building blocks of language, with grammar being the cement. Different lexis is not just random and interchangeable but highly inter-relational. Lexis highly correlates with other lexis, and if you familiarise students with certain lexis including already grammaticalized lexis (such as verbs not in their infinitive form) students will be quite able to piece the pieces of the jigsaw together in the long term. (Short term losses lead to long term gains) When they have enough confidence and familiarity with a wide set of lexis. We're really imitating here natural language acquisition. Starting slow and then building up rapidly after a while once students have got the right skills and are familiar and confident enough.

Receptive skills are hugely important in acquisition, just like in L1 acquisition. But students need to be relaxed, not stressing, just listening a lot and picking things up. The teacher's role is to provide an environment rich with vocab and comprehensible input, and allowing students to produce language when they wish. Only after to selectively pick out common problems, give you some delayed error correction and some advice on form and grammatical structure. (I assume Lewis is really thinking about anything before Intermediate here, once you get to intermediate I think you can get a little bit more fussy with students)

This idea of a input and intake rich environment sounds attractive to me, and I see how coursebooks pay lip service to this idea in the presentation part of the class (or through language from the text). "Hey, here's an article about fish! OK, 3 comprehension questions, (15 minutes)  OK present perfect (40 minutes). This first part, the focus on the lexis and the listening/reading, should take up the majority of the class.

I'm looking forward to presenting some structured ways in which acquisition can be fostered. I guess TTT can easily fit into this framework. I am however skeptical about how applicable this is to all students. Some people are just bad learners, they wish to be spoon fed structures, and are very bad at taking any sort of initiative, and are completely passive, and will never seek to improve their own language in an active way. The PPP model of "learning" a language provides a more clearly defined set of options for these students.

All the other distinctions

Fluency v Accuracy : if "acquirement" is the goal, then we should be fostering fluency over accuracy. (we are focusing on both really) but we should not prioritise accuracy over fluency. Let students speak to their hearts content, being communicatively competent with errors is better than being accurate but unable to understand or interact.

Input and intake : We want a large selection of language exposure (input) for students. How much they actually take in and benefit from (intake) depends on how how motivated, interested, tired students are and also that there is a good level of comprehensible input. Gone are the days of "master-what-you-meet" audiolinguism philosophy where you are presented with very limited amount of language and do activities to master it perfectly before moving on. This isn't necessarily a bad system, I've used it to great benefit with Michel Thomas and the Pimsleur Approach, but it needs to be highly controlled and is very, very repetitive. You don't even need a teacher, just a CD that goes on for hours.

Use and Usage : How accurately you use language (use) and how well an utterance is appropriate within a particular discourse and the wider context (usage) are quite important differences. We really want to students to know, particularly at higher levels, the nuances of register, tone, formality.

Coherence and Cohesion : we're also focusing on ways to enable students to use string together many pieces of information (cohesion) and for these pieces of information to relate to each other appropriately (coherence) so we as teachers can focus on these skills.

Learning and Teaching : Lewis' main beef was that we as teachers are focused on teaching things, and we have a very dim understanding about the way students actually learn. His whole approach is more student centered, about putting yourself in the students shoes. I may have thought one of my lessons was about the present perfect, but I have no idea what the students did!

Some abstract linguistic notions : Lewis is famous for saying that Language is "a personal resource rather than an abstract idealization. This attacks Chomsky's notion that we as native speakers have a natural "competence". We are competent at generating language from a set of principles that our brain creates and follows. It relies on "language" existing on some meta or cerebral level, unobservable, and that our "performance" is what we can actually hear and observe.

Learning a language stems from this model, grammarians dissected the principles they induced and taught them to language students who use them axiomatically to produce language. But language being a "personal resource" sees it that we have a huge bank of lexical currency in our brains that we draw upon in a quite a structured and patterned way. We teach students this lexical currency, and they're sorted.