Learning & Teaching Foreign Languages



BEHAVIOURISM Behaviourism focuses on the scientific description of behaviour (cf experiments by Pavlov, Thorndike, Skinner on animals, and Watson and Bandura on humans).  Learning is a history of the subject's interactions with the environment; the teacher manipulates the environment in order to stimulate reactions. The Audio-Lingual Method draws on behaviorist psychology and structural linguistics (language viewed as a system of interlocking signs; Saussure, Bloomfield).  The teacher presents linguistic items systematically and repeatedly to induce appropriate language behavior (Fries) and dispace first language habits (or transfer; Lado).  Learners should practice the language through imitation and memorisation (drills)  rather than acquire abstract knowledge.
COGNITIVISM Cognitivism reframes learning as information processing, involving logic machines (Newell & Simon), attention (Broadbent), memory (Miller) or Universal Grammar (Chomsky).  Processing models vary in the role accorded to innate and learned properties, automatic and controlled processes (Shiffrin & Schneider) or implicit and explicit learning (connectionism, Rumelhart). Noam Chomsky's articulation of the logical problem of language acquisition and proposed solution via Universal Grammar are taken up by second language researchers in the notions of interlanguage and fossilisation (Selinker). Emphasis moves from the teacher to the learner, focusing on each learner's construction of an individual grammar of the language via input, evidence, and developmental sequences which all learners follow.  New light is shone on transfer and age constraints (Long), leading to dynamic emergentist models (Ellis), as an alternative to Chomskyan generativist approaches.
CONSTRUCTIVISM Constructivism focuses on the active role of the learner, as Dewey's experiential education, Bartlett's schema,  Piaget's adaptation and disequilibration demonstrate.  Later constructivist notions such as Bruner's scaffolding and Bandura's self-efficacy are relevant to general learning and SLA today. A shift from teacher to learner-centred classroom models recognises the independent status of interlanguage grammars (nativisation; Andersen).  Constructivist teaching places the learner at the centre of the learning process, particularly in terms of input (Krashen) and output (Swain).  The learner is involved in interaction (Gass, Long) lending importance to feedback from other speakers. 
SOCIO-CONSTRUCTIVISM Socio-constructivism refers to the social dimensions of  learning: Vygotsky and Bakhtin's work extends thinking beyond the individual's cognitive development to the role of social interaction, as in dialogism and mediation.  Socio-constructivism informs standard instruction but also informal learning, as in Lave and Wenger's communities of practice. Socially situated models of cognition view interaction as a context for cognition, rather than vice versa.  Such views are broadly termed socio-constructivist, although this would not be the label of choice for Lantolf's (Vygotskyan) sociocultural theory, which also informs Tarone's research on language play, Kramsch's intercultural approach, or Kasper’s socially grounded acquisition.

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