Published on February 10, 2009
P R T E S O L PRTESOL-GRAM A publication of PRTESOL: An organization concerned with the teaching of English to speakers of other languages. A Quarterly Newsletter Volume 35, Issue 3 WINTER 2008 PRTESOL BY-LAWS Post-Convention Highlights Professional Articles President’s ﬁnal message Language Acquisition: A Critique of Page 16 the Theories We Apply to the Page 3 Teach Me how to Laugh Classroom and Why We Don’t Know Regional Chapters: Directory of new Luz Estrella Méndez Del Valle, Ph D More Chapter Presidents Ann Albuyeh, Ph.D. Page 7 Page 11 Page 4 Writing Quotations Convention Pictures True progress is bilingualism for all: A Page 14-15 Page 26 response to Porter’s plenary address at the 2008 PR TESOL Conference 2009 Calendar of Events Financial Report 2008 Miriam Eisenstein Ebsworth, PhD Page 27 Page 24 Back cover Post-Convention Issue The 35 Annual PRTESOL Convention has taken its rightful place in history. Teachers from all over Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic met for two exciting days of training, learning, sharing, planning, and having fun. What a joy it was to meet so many of our readers. Teaching English is a science (lingistics, phonology, morphology, etc), but it is also an art. The art of communicating, of motivating students, of creating materials, designing lessons, even decorating the classrooms. We look forward to 2009 with high hopes of seeing PRTESOL grow in inﬂuence around Puerto Rico and the Caribbean helping teachers at all levels in both the science and the art of teaching English. Prof. Carmelo Arbona, PRTESOL-Gram Editor Visit www.puertoricotesol.org
P R T E S O L - G R A M TESOLGRAM Advertising TESOLGRAM Are you looking for the best audience for your ESL TESOLGRAM is a periodical service to English resources? language educators and administrators published by You get maximum exposure for our advertising dollar Puerto Rico TESOL, P. O. Box 366828, by placing your ad with Puerto Rico TESOL. ESL San Juan, PR 00936 -6828. teaching professionals, department heads, consultants, and school administrators in both the public and private Newsletter Staff sectors will see your ad. Circulation: 1,000. Editor: Carmelo Arbona Assistant Editor: Dr. José R. Sellas Aponte To receive consecutive run discount, the discount must be requested in advance and total amount (price in Contributions parentheses) must be paid in advance. Articles on English language teaching, theory, and education in general, creative writing, book reviews, poems, and short stories are welcome. Submissions QUARTER FEES FULL HALF must be typewritten, double -spaced, and no longer PAGE PAGE PAGE than ﬁve pages. They should be sent in a diskette or e- 1. Per mailed along with a letter authorizing its publication. If issue / $275 $175 $95 photos are sent along with the articles they should be single run properly identiﬁed on the back with the name of individuals appearing in the photos. Include school 2. (Two afﬁliation; return address, e -mail address, and $249.00 $159.00 $86.00 consecutive telephone number. Articles are subject to editing for issues - 10% ($498.00) ($318.00) ($172.00) style, space, and other considerations. If photo ﬁles are discount) sent, please send them in .jpg, .gif, or .bmp formats. 3. (Three Copy Deadline for 2008 $223.00 $143.00 $76.00 consecutive Articles and advertising copy must be submitted by: issues - 20% ($669.00) ($429.00) ($228.00 February 1 for the spring issue, discount) May 1 for the summer issue, August 30 for the fall (pre-convention issue) 4. Cover November 15 (post-convention issue) for the (once inside winter issue. back- black $300.00 Bibliographies should follow APA or TESOL Quarterly and white) style. *(three *$720.00 consecutive INSIDE THIS ISSUE: issues - Message from the President 3 20%) Cell Phone Use: A Convenience, A Hazard or An Addiction 4 Copyright Notice About Faculty Resource Network 5 May reproduce articles for classroom use. Quotations up Teachers: Who are They? 6 to twenty - ﬁve (25) words are permitted if credit to the Videogames as a Potential Tool for Classroom author and the TESOLGRAM are included. In other Instruction 7 situations, written permission is required. Pre-Convention Section 9-16 Convention Registration Guidelines Keynote Speakers p.10 Hotel Information p. 11-12 Pre-Registration form p. 13 Concurrent Sessions p. 18-21 2008 PRTESOL Membership form p. 22 PRTESOL-Gram 2 Visit www.puertoricotesol.org
P R T E S O L - G R A M POST-CONVENTION MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT Dr. José R. Sellas Aponte President, PRTESOL 2008 Greetings! PRTESOL Family, It is with great pleasure and joy in my heart that I write my ﬁnal message as President of the PRTESOL Organization during 2008. We have had an extremely challenging year. It has been a year of many surprises, a year of high expectations, a year where PRTESOL demonstrated that it is one of the ﬁnest organizations on this beloved issland. As I reﬂect upon everything that was carried out during this year, I am extremely proud of our accomplishments. Here is a brief summary of PRTESOL’s major achievements during 2008. We carried out 6 successful Regional Conferences during this year where we impacted hundreds of classroom teachers and professors Island wide. We had over one hundred ESL Professionals participate of our Summer Institute in UPR, Humacao. We had special activities that were carried out by the Chapters, in addition to the Regional Conferences. These special activities provided additional beneﬁts to teachers, classroom students, and their parents. The 6th Annual – Dominican Republic Outreach was held in Dominican Republic with positive results. Regarding membership, we had over 500 ESL Professionals with active membership status during this year. Over 100 of these became members for the ﬁrst time in 2008. In addition to this, we have approximately 20 active members from the United States and over 100 active members from Dominican Republic. This shows that we have a solid reputation as a prestigious organization. We had three successful publications of the PRTESOL-Gram that included professional articles, pictures of our different activities, and the general information we wanted to share with our membership. Our ﬁrst PRTESOL-Gram came out in summer 2008 and we sent over 900 copies by mail. Our Pre-Convention Issue came out in fall 2008 and we sent out over 700 copies by mail. Our post-convention PRTESOL-Gram will be sent to over 700 members. I am extremely satisﬁed with the evolution of this Newsletter, and proud to have carried out 3 successful publications during my Presidency. The PRTESOL-Website was one of our most challenging and rewarding tasks. Even though it was an immense challenge at the beginning of the year, by the end of the year the PRTESOL-Website was up and running adequately. In addition to our main website, we have three Regions that have created Chapter Websites. And we look forward to the moment, that all six chapters have websites linked to the main website. We relied heavily on E-Mail to keep in touch with Board Members and also with our Membership. This type of communication became a primary source for the instant promotion of all our activities, by the forwarding of messages to the majority of our membership. This year PRTESOL has take a gigantic step embracing advanced communication technology. Two of our most important accomplishments this year dealt with the PRTESOL By-Laws and the PRTESOL Election. This year the 2008 PRTESOL By-Laws were ratiﬁed through the mail by over 100 members. The By-Laws of PRTESOL had not been revised since 2003. In addition to this, over 100 members voted by mail in the PRTESOL Election. This is the ﬁrst time in many years that we have broken the mark of over hundred votes counted for each area. This demonstrates the unconditional support of our membership throughout the year to the PRTESOL Organization. Our Membership understands the importance of professional development and that the PRTESOL Organization marks the pace of ESL professional development on the island. The most important accomplishment for the PRTESOL Organization this year was the 35th Annual PRTESOL Convention & Exhibit, titled: The Next Generation of ESL: Tapestry for Success. Our two-day Convention at the Gran Meliã Hotel in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico was fabulous: 60 presentations, over 30 exhibit tables, over 300 attendees, the PRTESOL Band, 10 ushers that guided and helped our attendees, 2 outstanding keynote speakers, and the extraordinary PRTESOL Board of Directors making sure that every aspect was perfect. Everyone is well aware of the economic difﬁculties that Puerto Rico and the world are undergoing at this time. I feel extremely satisﬁed to know that our membership had faith in us and supported our convention. Finally, I would like to thank all the PRTESOL 2008 Board Members for your outstanding contribution and hard work throughout this year. We have accomplished many things this year. To our attendees, keynote speakers, presenters, entertainers, exhibitors, sponsors, ushers, hotel personnel, family, and friends thank you all for your contribution to the success of the 35th Annual PRTESOL Convention & Exhibit. I want to extend a warm welcome to Prof. Miguel Camacho our new PRTESOL President and the Board of Directors for 2009. May this year’s journey be smooth and rewarding! God Bless You All! Best Wishes, José R. Sellas Aponte PRTESOL President 2008 Visit www.puertoricotesol.org 3
P R T E S O L - G R A M Language Acquisition: A Critique of the Theories We Apply to the Classroom and Why We Don’t Know More Ann Albuyeh, Ph.D. Professor, English Linguistics University of Puerto Rico- Río Piedras Abstract Theories of how people learn language have been around for hundreds of years, but the application of such theories to second language teaching really dates from the 1950’s. Since theories of Second Language Acquisition have been applied to classroom methodology, the degree of optimism they have inspired has been negatively reflected by a notable lack of results in the classroom. This fact, no doubt, explains the following observation made by Rod Ellis (1994, 685) in his ground-breaking book The Study of Second Language Acquisition: “Theories of SLA [Second Language Acquisition] are not usually dismissed as a result of empirical study or powerful argumentation, but, instead, tend to slip slowly and gently into oblivion.” If one is easily discouraged, the fact that in 2008—after some forty years of sustained research—“the jury is still out” on the most basic questions regarding language acquisition might be cause for despair. And so, Muriel Saville-Troike’s excellent book, pondering Second Language Acquisition over a decade later than Ellis’s, can present us with a coherent picture of the range of confusing views regarding: 1) What is learned?, 2) How is it learned? and 3) Why is the success rate so variable? – but no definitive answers to even one of these questions. This paper will explore the problems involved in both theorization and classroom application; outline an original – but possibly equally doomed! – suggestion regarding how language acquisition works, and outline a not-so-original application of this to the classroom, intended to avoid the pitfalls of the past. 1. Introduction Although I’ve been teaching English as a Second Language on and off for 35 years now, by mere coincidence I was exposed to language acquisition theory more than a decade before I had every taught in a classroom. In the late 1950’s, while still in grade school, I had the good fortune to have a babysitter who was an elementary education major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and, no doubt out of boredom, liked to tell me about what she was learning in her classes. Tracking the linguistic behavior of my infant brother over the two years she babysat for us, Peggy described to me, in simplified form, what she had been taught about how children learn language. As I realized when I myself attended the UW-Madison as a young adult, what she had described was the theory of behaviorism as applied to language acquisition. But by the period I’m talking about, the 1970’s, linguists discussing language acquisition at the UW-Madison, spoke of behaviorist theory with ill-concealed condescension. I learned that what Peggy had been taught, and had no doubt subsequently applied to her own teaching, was just plain wrong. Innateness was the ticket, and some fellow university student babysitter may have described LAD, Noam Chomsky’s “Language Acquisition Device” to his or her young charges during the 1970’s just as Peggy had passed on to me the accepted truths surrounding behaviorism a generation earlier. As much as any other field, (and I’ll bring up a parallel point about math education a little later), Teaching English as a Second Language has been plagued both by the force of such theoretical shifts and a natural tendency in the academy to frame theoretical discussion as an “us vs. “them” debate in which “we” are right and “they” are wrong. In fact, from the late 1950’s when Peggy was simplifying the tenets of behaviorism for my benefit, formal, highly publicized debates (which continue to be published) were held between the famous linguist Noam Chomsky and the even more famous psychologists, the behaviorist B. F. Skinner and cognitive development psychologist Jean Piaget. I’m going to first consider these influential views regarding how children learn language, whether first or second, and then bring up adults later in the paper. 2. Philosophical Underpinnings to Views of Language Acquisition It’s worthwhile to consider the fact that the different views regarding language acquisition held by these three famous scholars, which have continued to inspire language learning theories to the present day, owe as much or more to the opposing Western philosophical world views which directed their thinking than to experimental research results or the like. The nineteenth-century English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote: “The great majority of men live like bats, but in twilight, and know and feel the philosophy of their age only by its reflections and refractions.” Because I think Coleridge was right, I’m going to briefly discuss the philosophical schools influencing the thinking of Skinner, Chomsky and Piaget, and subsequent generations of language theoreticians, to emphasize to what extent, bat-like, we teachers of English as a Second Language have been buffeted about by these reflections and refractions of the major Western philosophies. (Continued, page ??) 4 visit www.puertoricotesol.com
P R T E S O L - G R A M As has often been pointed out, modern epistemology, the branch of philosophy which investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge, has two bases: empiricism and rationalism. Polar world views, the former focuses on the material world, the latter on reason and the mind. To understand to what extent shifting back and forth between the two philosophies has epitomized the western academy, we have to march back in time to fifth-century BC Greece, and contemplate the influence of Socrates who taught Plato who taught Aristotle – the three scholars credited with laying the philosophical foundation of Western culture, no less. Aristotle’s stress on sense perceptions led in the seventeenth century to John Locke’s affirmation of the foundational principle of empiricism: “There is nothing in the intellect that was not previously in the senses” (Tarnas 1991, 333). The empiricist philosophies of Locke, and later Berkely and Hume led to a “scientific materialism” which was reflected centuries later in the narrowed scope of behaviorist theory and more happily the experimental rigor of its methodology as propounded by the psychologist J. B. Watson in 1924, and generations of scientists thereafter. Famously, of course, linguists such as Leonard Bloomfield applied the theoretical and methodological perspective of behaviorism to their own teachings and research from the 1930’s on. Rationalism has a parallel history, moving from Aristotle’s student Plato to the seventeenth-century philosophers Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz, who in turn influenced the modern linguist Chomsky, culminating in his 1966 publication of a work entitled: Cartesian Linguistics: A Chapter in the History of Rationalist Thought. 3. The Three Most Influential Theories Regarding How Language is Acquired For those who aren’t familiar with them or who may appreciate having their memory refreshed, here is a thumbnail sketch of the different views of language acquisition upon which even the most recent first and second language acquisition theories rest. Behaviorism tends to conceive of the brain at its initial state as a tabula rasa, a blank slate, to which knowledge is added through sense experience and interaction with the environment, i.e. the focus is on Nurture. Learning typically involves stimulus-response conditioning. In language acquisition this view highlights imitation and feedback. Through the successful imitation of adults and the accidental combination of rewarded sounds, words are learned which are then combined to form short phrases which in turn are combined to form sentences. Skinner conceived of language as “behavior reinforced by other persons” and asserted that language behavior can be accounted for in a way that is in principle no different from the learning behavior of rats in the laboratory. Thus, importantly, in this view language learning is seen as just one type of general learning (See e.g. Malmkjaer 1991, 53—57). Rationalist thought posits the existence of mental structures in the initial state, i.e. at birth. In language acquisition as conceived of by Chomsky this translates into the proposal that a baby is born with a brain equipped to learn language. The baby’s brain contains innate structures which have sometimes been referred to as LAD (Language Acquisition Device) as mentioned above, or sometimes thought of as a “Universal Grammar” consisting of linguistic principles and parameters. The term “principles” refers to sometimes highly abstract and specific properties of grammar, often broadly defined to include many aspects of language. These principles have in practice reflected the current version of linguistic analysis being carried out by Chomsky and his followers. The idea is that although a given language will only contain a subset of the total number of principles, no human language will have a structure that contradicts any one of them. An example of an innate principle is the “Projection Principle.” This principle would predispose a child to expect that syntactic structure is determined by entries in the lexicon. For example, the choice of the verb give entails the use of a specific syntactic pattern including a subject and an object. “Parameters” involve fixing a value or resetting a default based on exposure to linguistic data. Parameters have two or more possible values and the setting of one may imply the setting of others For example, a parameter may involve whether a language is the type that allows the dropping of subject pronouns or not. Thus, the setting would be “Yes, this language does drop subject pronouns” for Spanish, or “No, it doesn’t” for English. (See e.g. Akmajian et al 1995, Field 2004.) Since the current tendency is to see the brain as being somehow hard-wired for language learning, with innate capacities and cognitive structures already in place, interaction with the environment, following an Innateness view of language acquisition, is downplayed, i.e. the focus is on our genetic endowment and Nature. As you can see from the specificity of the proposed principles and parameters, language learning is unique, special, and distinct from general learning. If you think that Chomsky’s innateness views are stupid—an intelligent person told me that just the beginning of last semester, or if, as in my own case, you were trained to think that the behaviorist views of B. F. Skinner are stupid (well, my professors didn’t use that word, but that’s what they meant)—you might reflect on the following. The most profound minds in the history of Western culture have swung back and forth between these opposing views of what knowledge is and how it is gained for over two thousand years. There have been philosophers who have positioned themselves midway between the two extreme viewpoints, and who have also significantly influenced modern thought regarding language acquisition. The eighteenth-century philosophy of Kant is a case in point. Kant criticized Leibniz and the rationalists for believing that reason alone without sense experience can Visit www.puertoricotesol.org 5
P R T E S O L - G R A M calculate the universe, and he criticized Locke and the empiricists for believing that sense impressions alone, without a priori concepts of understanding could ever lead to knowledge (Tarnas 1991, 345). A self-proclaimed advocate of “dynamic Kantism,” Piaget rejected both Skinner’s extreme behaviorism and the extreme innateness arguments of the newcomer Chomsky. Identifying himself as “anti-empiricist,” Piaget pointed to the “insufficiency of an ‘empiricist’ interpretation of experience,” arguing that “no knowledge is based on perceptions alone.” But although his focus on the mind makes him essentially a rationalist, Piaget also rejected the strong innateness claims of Chomsky (hence his debate with the younger linguist), arguing “nor do any a priori or innate cognitive structures exist in man . . . the functioning of intelligence alone is hereditary” (Piatteli-Palmarini 1980, 23). Agreeing with Skinner and opposing Chomsky in this regard, Piaget also conceives of language learning as merely a case of general learning. Using a computer analogy doesn’t totally work here, but you could say that what Chomsky is claiming is innate is what’s on the hard-drive of the brain and what Piaget is claiming is innate is part of the software, a learning program. You might describe Piaget’s view, therefore, as claiming that knowledge structures develop in the mind as a result of the ongoing interaction which occurs between this learning program and the environment. According to Piaget, the child’s genetically determined developmental program dictates the stages and the pace of the learning. The learning progresses as a result of twin processes called “assimilation” and “accommodation.” In assimilation, the learner’s existing knowledge structures modify perceptual input. In other words, the interpretation of the perceptual input is limited by the level of knowledge which the child has at any given point. In accommodation, the knowledge structures themselves become modified as they adapt to perceptual input. In other words, contact with the environment leads the child to modify and advance his/her state of knowledge. Through these two processes, the learner in effect climbs step by step to new generalizations in the development of language. For example, a child is at the most basic level 1 linguistically. Using this basic linguistic knowledge the child interprets language input in a limited way. But this partially successful interpretation of language input itself adds to the knowledge the child has of the language. This allows the child to progress to level 2 of linguistic knowledge. Then the child uses this level 2 linguistic knowledge to interpret language input with a bit more success. This more successful interpretation of language itself adds to the child’s growing language corpus and that allows the child to progress to level three of linguistic knowledge. Then the child uses level 3 linguistic knowledge to interpret language input with even more success. This more successful interpretation of language in turn adds to how much language the child knows leading to level 4 of linguistic knowledge. And so on, until the child has mastered the language. Second language acquisition theories which focus on input and interaction as well as “interlanguage” stages owe a debt to Piaget’s model. Significantly, Piaget’s developmental stages which relate most obviously to language acquisition occur within a time frame which is roughly parallel to that proposed as the “critical period” for language learners. As many of you know, the Critical Period Hypothesis was proposed by Eric Lenneberg in 1967. This notion has been supported in various versions these last four decades and in its most usual form hypothesizes that from about 18 months to nearing the onset of puberty there exists a sort of “window of opportunity” for successful and complete language acquisition. Once this critical period is passed, language learning is both more difficult and probably destined to never achieve complete fluency (See e.g. Field 2004, Lust and Foley 2004.) 4. Second Language Acquisition Theories If Nature vs. Nurture is essentially a problem which no one should imagine will be solved in the near future, it hasn’t stopped linguists and psychologists from lining up on either side of the debate. (In point of fact, second language acquisition theorists have mostly focused on Nurture.) As Vivian Cook pointed out in 1988, the opposition between these two approaches in language acquisition has been a “long and acrimonious” one in which “neither side concedes the other’s reality.” Something made equally obvious by the historic Chomsky, Skinner, Piaget debates of decades past referred to above and any review of the literature carried out today. The recent state of the Nature vs. Nurture debate is outlined in Ewa Dąbrowska’s 2004 book entitled Language, Mind and Brain, and illustrated throughout the review of second language acquisition theories presented in Mitchell and Miles (2004) and Saville-Troike (2006), for example. Dąbrowska asserts that still today: “One of the most controversial issues in contemporary psycholinguistics is the extent to which our linguistic abilities depend on ‘general purpose’ cognition,” i.e. following Skinner and Piaget vs. what she terms the “modularity hypothesis,” i.e. that language learning is separate, following Chomsky and his supporters. (Dąbrowska in her book argues against the latter view.) It may be because I proposed my own second-language learning theory in my 1985 Ph.D. dissertation that I think this, but in my opinion, the field of second language acquisition has been more guilty than most in producing a regrettable proliferation of “theoria.” Certainly this concern was voiced as early as the 1990’s when linguists such as Roger Griffiths (1990), Michael Long (1993) and Rod Ellis (1994) raised the alarm. Weary of the theoretical overload, Ellis complains about “too much theorizing and not enough empirical research.” However, I don’t think the real problem has been any lack of empirical research. There 6 Visit www.puertoricotesol.org
P R T E S O L - G R A M actually have been a lot of empirical studies done in the last few decades. (I also carried out empirical research in Mexico to test my theory.) In fact, from the Contrastive Analysis Theory, which focused on teaching the differences between L1 and L2, to the multiple manifestations of Stephen Krashen’s theories, with their various claims regarding how people learn second languages, much sustained empirical research has been carried out—but for all the heroic efforts of the researchers the findings have been, to say the least, inconclusive. Certainly for any happy detail of language learning that has been uncovered, it is no coincidence that a number of people in the field have made recourse to the story of the blind men and the elephant. (I used this myself a number of years ago only to discover that some other linguist had also proposed it, and I’ve since seen it referred to again in relation to second language acquisition.) Of course, each blind man’s concept of what an elephant was depended on which part he happened to grab a hold of. Lacking the critical understanding of the brain which will light up the whole picture, our philosophic predispositions, the happenstance of the decade in which we received training, the structure of the languages which we are observing (a point made by Ewa Dąbrowski), any number of constraints on our perspective—all of these factors inevitably lead us to the kind of partial truth which rendered each of the blind men both right and essentially wrong when they tried to describe the whole animal. Yes, it will finally be possible to understand the processes of both first and second language acquisition, but I can confidently say it will not happen in our lifetimes. That this view is not mere pessimism, but just a reflection of the reality we face, is supported by Saville-Troike’s (2006, 175) comment regarding basic disagreements as to what constitutes knowledge of a second language: “Resolution of the disagreement is not likely in our lifetimes, and perhaps it would not even be desirable.” She continues with a non-elephant analogy: “I have suggested that we recognize these differences as being like different views we get of Mars through seeing it with different color filters. They complement one another and all are needed to gain a full-spectrum picture of the multidimensional nature of [Second Language Acquisition].” 5. A Possible Model of Second Language Acquisition: My Newer Theory Here’s a hypothesis: 1) What is provided by Nature? Everyone is born with a language specific hard-wired learning device such as hypothesized by Chomsky which exists in the brain as a result of thousands of years of evolution. Like the discussion of what neuroscientists are discovering about the brain and mathematical learning which I’ll discuss below, the “messy, random process” of evolution has resulted in a complex intermingling of language circuitry with other brain functions, making our sorting out of where this “hard-wiring” is and how it functions even harder to identify. You have this for your whole life and it allows you to learn not only aspects of your first language but any additional languages, including learning languages as an adult. 2) What is provided by Nurture? I’m hypothesizing that behaviorists were also always right about the learning of particular aspects of language e.g. function words and inflections, and that these aspects of language are learned from input and interaction in a more or less stimulus-response conditioning manner such as hypothesized by Skinner. Also I’m guessing that this allows you to learn aspects of not only your first language, but any additional languages, including those learned as an adult. 3) How does Nature interact with Nurture? Of course, Piaget focused most on child development, and I think there will turn out to be a good reason for this focus with regard to his concept of language learning. If I can continue with the idea of Piaget’s learning model as a software program (when we discuss the brain more specifically below, you’ll see this isn’t quite adequate), my guess is that since the function of Piaget’s general learning program is to allow child cognitive development, it plays itself out and ceases with the onset of puberty. My hypothesis is that this learning program provides a boost to the general learning achieved through a behaviorist stimulus response model. In other words, language learning which relies heavily on input and interaction (e.g. the learning of function words, inflections, pronunciation, etc.) receives substantial assistance from this general learning software between infancy and puberty. This additional assistance accounts for the perfect acquisition of first and additional languages by children who receive sufficient exposure. This software would “run out” at puberty, and this would account for the effects of the “Critical Period” proposed by Lenneberg. 6. Factors that Matter More in Second Language Acquisition than First Language Acquisition The first group of factors affecting second language acquisition involves internal differences between first and second language acquisition. Obviously, a big consideration here is how knowing a first language affects the learning of a second. At the brain level the questions include: Is the same brain circuitry involved in learning a second language? It seems that the answer will be “No” or at least “not completely.” Another question involves where the second language is stored. Is there an overlap between first and second languages? For example, if the languages are Spanish and English, how are the lexicons Visit www.puertoricotesol.org 7
P R T E S O L - G R A M stored? Do the words casa and house share a single storage point? Are they organized with words from their respective languages, but these words are co-indexed somehow? Moreover, if parameters have been set for L1, how are they reset for L2? If the Spanish parameter for no required subject pronoun has been set, how will the brain add a contradictory setting for English? Furthermore, how is processing first one language and then another achieved as language acquisition proceeds? Additionally, if L2 is typologically very different from L1 (say Spanish and Chinese) does restructuring of the brain proceed in a different way than if L2 and L1 are similar (say Spanish and Italian)? Also, age is a significant internal biological factor. Not only may there be fewer learning processes available to the older learner of a second language, but conversely the older learner may profitably take greater advantage of already developed analytic abilities. The second group of factors affecting second language acquisition more than 1rst language acquisition involves external differences between the two. Social contexts of second language acquisition can be quite different, as can the effect of social factors on learning. As Saville-Troike points out typically, motivation, issues of identity, and the relevant status of L1 and L2 in either a national or global context are considerations which have important consequences for second language acquisition. Additionally, institutional requirements, and the institutional constraints imposed on learners are relevant to much second language acquisition. Furthermore, in a social context, biological factors such as age, and sex, and also group categories like ethnicity, educational level, occupation and economic status affect the learning of second languages. In my opinion, to date, research into external factors has yielded more useful data for the teaching of ESL than any research into the internal factors of second language acquisition. 7. Applying These Views to Education: Lessons from Another Field In March of this year, The New Yorker published an essay which I found both comforting and scary. Called “Numbers Guy: Are Our Brains Wired for Math?,” the author of this “Annals of Science” piece, Jim Holt, describes the research of the Paris-based neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene. Paralleling the breakthroughs in language-brain mapping that began with the nineteenth-century work of Paul Broca and Carl Wernicke, Dehaene studied a brain-damaged patient who was exhibiting a number processing deficiency grouped under the general name “acalculia.” Acalculia is to math difficulties what aphasia is to language problems. In the late 1980’when Stanislas Dehaene first brought the language -brain mapping successes of the American cognitive psychologist Michael Posner to the attention of Dehaene’s Ph.D. advisor, his advisor wasn’t interested. Focusing on determining the abstract organization of cognitive functions, Dehaene’s doctoral advisor “didn’t see the point of trying to locate precisely where in the brain things happened” (Holt 2008, 44). In my opinion, this is a shortsightedness regrettably often seen among both researchers and educators interested in second language acquisition. His advisor, notwithstanding, Dehaene has become a pioneer in a field called “numerical cognition.” Not surprisingly, in the context of our current discussion, these neuroscientists, in the words of Holt (2008, 43), are also “puzzling over which aspects of our mathematical ability are innate and which are learned and how the two systems overlap and affect each other.” In case Piaget’s compromise position with regard to the Nature/Nurture debate outlined above sounded like a happy solution, the evidence from applying Piaget’s theories to mathematics education provides a sobering lesson. Holt (2008, 45) castigates the “new math” teaching methodology (I can’t remember much of it, but I was taught this in the Madison school system), “now widely thought to have been an educational disaster” both in the US and abroad. Holt explains: The new math was grounded in the theories of the influential Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, who believed that children are born without any sense of number and only gradually build up the concept in a series of developmental stages. . . . and that there was therefore no point in trying to teach them arithmetic before the age of six or seven . . . .By now it is generally agreed that infants come equipped with a rudimentary ability to perceive and represent number. If I found it comforting to know that it’s not only the linguists and psychologists who are still tackling the basic questions regarding Nature vs. Nurture, I found it worrisome to reflect on the innocent faith in experts which apparently led countless educators to “do the wrong thing” in the classroom. This has, of course, been the experience of countless other educators, from my babysitter Peggy no doubt to myself and other ESL teachers, as I’ll illustrate below. 8. Science to the Rescue What’s the problem here? How could essentially the same debate continue for two millennia, and how could the modern research of decades provide educators with so little to go on? To paraphrase the first Clinton campaign: the short answer: “It’s the brain, stupid.” The good news is that the gross mapping of lesion sites with both linguistic and mathematical aberrations has in just the last decade or so been superseded by the sophisticated technologies of MRI’s, Magnetic Resonance Imaging methods, and the like. And although our picture of what is going on is still relatively crude for example, the same spot in the brain might light up for two tasks but different neurons could be involved for each one—such technology has the capability of 8 Visit www.puertoricotesol.org
P R T E S O L - G R A M supporting or refuting details of models proposed for theoretical reasons. In the words of Dehaene, “Psychology has become a little more like physics” (Holt 2008, 45). Over the last few years, neuroscientists such as Judith Rapaport at the National Institute of Health and Paul Thompson at UCLA have been using MRI’s to track the growth and changes in the brain from infancy to puberty. Rapaport states “One of the things we were able to find out, almost at once, was how unexpected the findings are . . . just by following a normative population,” i.e. not looking at aphasia patients but doing MRI’s on normal individuals (De Francesco 2002, 2). An important finding of Rapaport’s team is that development is uneven across the brain. For example, different parts of the brain reach their peak in terms of volume or growth at different ages. Thompson’s color-coded MRI mapping of children’s growing brains illustrates a complex pattern of growth and loss. In particular, Thompson and his colleagues found an unexpected wave of tissue growth which spread from the front to the back of the brain. They found that the frontal brain circuits which control attention and are responsible for learning new skills and being able to think ahead underwent their greatest growth period in children between the ages of three and six (DeFrancesco 2002,.3; PBS 2002, 2). As the brain continued to change, key reorganization was evident in the MRI’s of children of approximately 7 to 11 years of age. Between the ages of 11 and 15, the region known to house language centers underwent a rapid growth spurt and then declined abruptly. This, of course, may be an important reason for the perceived differences in child and adult language learning which motivated hypotheses regarding a critical period which ends around puberty, referred to above. In a PBS interview, Thompson reports that “Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was how much tissue the brain loses in the teen years. Just before puberty, children lost up to 50 percent of their brain tissue in their deep motor nuclei [which] control motor skills such as writing, sports, or piano” (PBS 2002, 2—3) Thompson and his colleagues’ work has been compiled in a “brain atlas,” which you can access on the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging UCLA website (www.loni.ucla.edu) and Thompson 2000 (reproduced on the same site), which show color brain scans which are the first maps of brain growth in individuals and teens. In the same PBS interview, William Greenough, a neuroscientist at the Center for Advanced Study at the University of Illinois stated: The principle news based on both newer techniques like fMRI and other technologies is that the brain is a very dynamic place and continues to be so throughout development and even into adulthood. New synaptic connections continue to form between neurons throughout life. Patterns of myelination [the process by which brain cells are covered with a fatty white substance called myelin, which aids in the transmission of information between cells], while perhaps most dynamic from early development through adolescence, continue to change at least into the 4th decade of life. . . . Perhaps most exciting is that at least some regions of the brain continue to generate new neurons in adulthood, and those neurons appear to participate in the learning and memory process (PBS 2002, 2). Kurt Fischer, director of the Mind, Brain and Education Program at Harvard points to how much still remains to be discovered. Most of the recent advances in brain science have involved knowledge of the biology of single neurons and synapses, not knowledge of patterns of connection and other aspects of the brain as a system. In time, the new imaging techniques will help scientist and educators to understand how brain and behavior work together, but we have a very long way to go (PBS 2002, 3). 9. Conclusion: What to do in the Meantime; What to Take to the Classroom A graduate student and ESL teacher in the Puerto Rico school system told me this semester that educational policy now favors an eclectic approach to teaching methods. This was good news. I remember teaching Language Acquisition not so long ago to graduate students who told me that the Department of Education had required them to go out and buy one of Stephen Krashen’s books, The Input Hypothesis, if I’m remembering correctly, and apply it to their ESL teaching because he had been in Puerto Rico presenting this theory. This was just one of a series of five theories that Krashen put forth—that very fact tells you that his ideas were not writ in stone—and these hypotheses were merely in the process of being tested out by him and other linguists to mixed results. In fact, Rod Ellis’s award-winning 800-plus page survey of the study of second language acquisition (1994, 685) which I referred to above specifically points to Krashen’s infamous Monitor Theory as an example of the way in which second language acquisition theories “slip slowly and gently into oblivion.” As the Piaget- new math disaster illustrates, it has been dangerous to adapt teaching methods to the theorizing of even scholars of greater renown, and some would say with a better track record too, than some of the Second Language Acquisition theoreticians who have influenced teaching methodology. Moreover, if as appears likely, second language acquisition involves multiple structures in the brain and both language specific and general learning processes—and. in the latter case, it appears some which continue beyond childhood and some which don’t—surely language teaching would have to rely on multiple methods to capitalize on all of these factors. In fact, I think that the success of some of the computer programmed teaching, especially supplementing face to face language use, is to a Visit www.puertoricotesol.org 9
P R T E S O L - G R A M great extent a result of the variety built into the tasks of the computer learning programs and the eclectic nature of the second language instruction that’s offered. Therefore, whether you prefer the analogy of the blind men and the elephant or the multi-lenses with which to view Mars, it’s my firm belief that we let theorizing and even empirical research designed to test second language acquisition theories intrude on teaching methodology at our peril. On the contrary, it will be the eclectic, multi-task methods drawn from the classroom experience of generations of ESL teachers, combined with the more recent stunning technological breakthroughs, that will prove to be the source of successful, innovative ESL teaching for years to come. [The paper concluded with an eight-minute excerpt of a PBS DVD entitled “The Secret Life of the Brain,” which included the study of the brain of a child learning both Spanish and English, cited below.] Works Cited Albuyeh, Ann. “The Constituent Analysis Theory of Complexity.” Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1985. Akmajian, Adrian, et al. Linguistics: an Introduction to Language and Communication, 5th ed. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995. Chomsky, Noam. “Review of B. F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior.” Language 35 (1959): 26—58. Cartesian Linguistics: A Chapter in the History of Rationalist Thought. New York: Harper and Row, 1966. Coburn, Kathleen., ed. Inquiring Spirit: A Coleridge Reader. London: Minerva Press, 1951. Cook, Vivian. Chomsky’s Universal Grammar. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988. Dąbrowska, Ewa. Language, Mind, and Brain: Some Psychological, and Neurological Constraints on Theories of Grammar. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2004. DeFrancesco, Laura. “Watching How the Brain Grows: MRI Offers New Insights into Brain Development.” The Scientist 16:27 (February 4, 2002), 6 pages. http://www.loni.ucla.edu/~thompson/MEDIA/PNAS/thescientist.html/ [June 11, 2008]. Ellis, Rod. The Study of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994 Field, John. Psycholinguistics: The Key Concepts. London: Routledge, 2004. Griffiths, Roger. “Speech Rate and NNS Comprehension: a Preliminary Study in Time-Benefit Analysis. Language Learning, 40 (1990): 311—36. Holt, Jim. “Numbers Guy: Are Our Brains Wired for Math?” The New Yorker, March 3, 2008, 42—7. Krashen, Stephen. The Input Hypothesis: Issues and Implications. London: Longman, 1985. Long, Michael. “Assessment Strategies for SLA Theories.” Applied Linguistics, 14 (1993): 225—49. Lust, Barbara and Claire Foley, eds. First Language Acquisition: The Essential Readings. London: Blackwell Publishing [check, now part of Wiley], 2004. Malmkjaer, Kirsten, ed. The Linguistics Encyclopedia. London: Routledge, 1991. Mitchell, Rosamund and Florence Miles. Second Language Learning Theories, 2nd ed. London: Hodder Arnold, 2004. PBS Online and WGBH/Frontline. “How Much Do We Really Know about the Brain?” Frontline: Inside the Teenage Brain. 2002. Reported in http://www,loni.ucla.edu/~thompson/MEDIA/PNAS/pbs_brain_interview.html/ [ June 11, 2008]. Piatteli-Palmarini, Massimo. Language and Learning: The Debate between Jean Piaget and Noam Chomsky. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980. Saville-Troike, Muriel. Introducing Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006 The Secret Life of the Brain, prod. by David Grubin, 5 hours, PBS, 2002, DVD. Skinner, B. F. Verbal Behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1957. Tarnas, Richard. The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View. New York: Harmony Books, 1991. Thompson, Paul, et al. “Growth Patterns in the Developing Human Brain Detected Using Continuum-Mechanical Tensor Mapping.” Nature 404 (March 9, 2000), 190-193. http://www.loni.ucla.edu/~thompson/JAY/nature_paper.html/. [June 11, 2008]. 10 Visit www.puertoricotesol.org
P R T E S O L - G R A M PRTESOL 2008 Elections Meet the Regional Chapter Boards During the Convention each regional chapter held meetings and events including elections. It is vital that every member attend his or her chapter meeting. Find your chapter below and make sure you take an active role in all your chapter’s activities. President: Dr. Evelyn Lugo, Universidad METRO CHAPTER del Este, Carolina President: Dr. Gladys Cruz, email: firstname.lastname@example.org InterAmerican University Bayamón Campus website: http:// easterntesolpr.webnode.com email: email@example.com website: http://metro.prtesol.angelfire.com NORTHERN CHAPTER SOUTHERN CHAPTER President: Carla Rodríguez, Student President: Celeste Morales, University of Inter American University, Arecibo Puerto Rico, Ponce Campus email: firstname.lastname@example.org email: email@example.com WESTERN CHAPTER CAGUAS President: Prof. Enrique Chaparro, President: Denise Ferrer, Department of Manuel Morales Feliciano Elementary, Education Aguada email: firstname.lastname@example.org email: email@example.com , firstname.lastname@example.org IN MEMORIAM Professor Idia Rodríguez González, of the University of Puerto Rico in Arecibo (UPRA) died on Friday, January 23, 2009 of pancreatic cancer. Idia had been a long-time member of PRTESOL and a member of the committee that revived the Northern PRTESOL Chapter in 1990. She later served as President of the Northern Chapter from 1994-96. Idia also served as Higher Ed representative and was a familiar face both as attendee and workshop presenter at many a PRTESOL conference throughout the years. Before her illness, she had been director of the Honor program at UPRA and had been coordinating The Center for Faculty Development at the Arecibo campus. Totally involved in campus life, she served from 2000-2003 as Academic Senator and from 1996 to 2000, she was director of the English Department as well as a member of the Administrative Board. The University and the English Department benefited enormously from Idia’s service as a professor, administrator, and colleague. She was a versatile and dynamic professor who served on numerous committees within the University. She was a vibrant and resourceful colleague who will be sorely missed. Professor Rodríguez had a Master’s Degree in secondary education from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras. She is survived by her husband, Edgardo Cabán and her two sons Edgardo and Leonardo. Her funeral was held on Sunday, January 25 in Arecibo. Visit www.puertoricotesol.org
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