Of Mice and Men
Thus far in outlining a theory of second language acquisition we have discovered that the cognitive domain
of human behavior is of key importance in the acquisition of both a first and second language. The process of perceiving
judging, knowing, and remembering are central to the task of internalizing a language.
Of Mice and Men
Suppose you have been asked to train a mouse to walk backward in a circle in an open space (without barriers or guiding makers). Overwhelming? Yes indeed, unless you are an expert mouse trainer. Nevertheless, you might be able to begin to identify some of the pertinent questions you would need to have answered before you attempt the training program. What would those questions be?
In turning now to varied theories of how human beings learn, consider once again the definition of learning given in the Language Learning
and Teaching: "acquiring or getting of knowledge of a subject or skill by study, experience, or instruction," or "a relatively permanent change in a behavioral tendency...
the result of reinforced practice."
Certainly the best-known classical behaviorist is the Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov, who at the turn of the century conducted a series of experiments in which he trained a dog to salivate to the tone of a tuning folk through a procedure that has come to be labeled classical conditioning. For Pavlov the learning process consisted of the formation of association between stimuli and reflexive response. In the classical experiment he trained a dog, by repeated occurrences, to associate the sound of tuning-fork tone with salivation until the dog acquired a conditioned response: salivation at the sound of tuning fork. A previously neutral stimulus (the sound of the tuning fork) had acquired the power to elicit a response (salivation) that was originally elicited by another stimulus (the smell of meat).
Drawing on Pavlov's findings, John B Watson (1913) coined the term behaviorism. In the empirical tradition of John Locke, Watson
contended that human behavior should be studied objectively, rejecting mentalistic notions of innateness and instinct.
In 1938 B.F. Skinner published his Behavior of Organisms and in so doing established himself as one of the leading
behaviorists in the United States. He followed the tradition of Watson, but other psychologists have called Skinner
a neobehaviorist because he added a unique dimension to behavioristic psychology.
According to Skinner, the events or stimuli - the reinforces - that follow a response and that tend to strengthen behavior or increase the probability of a recurrence of that response constitute a powerful in the control of human behavior. Reinforces are far stronger aspects of learning than mere association of a prior stimulus with a following response, as in the classical conditioning model.
Operants are classes of response, Crying, sitting down, walking, and batting a baseball are operants. They are sets of responses that are emitted
and governed by the consequences they produce. In contrast, respondents are sets of responses that are elicited by identifiable stimuli.
The impact of Skinnerian psychology on foreign language teaching has extended well beyond programmed instruction. Skinner's Verbal Behavior (1957(
described language as a system of verbal operants, and his understanding of the role of conditioning led to a whole new era in language teaching around the middle of the century.
A discussion of the popular audiolingual method will elucidate Skinner's impact on American language teaching practices in the decades of the 1950s,
1960s, and early 1970s.
David Ausubel contends that learning takes place in the human organism through a meaningful learning process of relating new events or items to already existing cognitive concepts or propositions -- hanging new items on existing cognitive pegs.
The cognitive theory of learning as put forth by Ausubel is perhaps best understood by contrasting rote and meaningful
learning. Ausubel described rote learning as the process of acquiring material as "discrete and relatively isolated entities that are relatable to cognitive
structure only in an arbitrary and verbatim fashion, not permitting the establishment of [meaningful] relationships".(1968:108). That is, rote learning
involes the mental storage of items having little or no association with existing cognitive structure.
Any learning situation can be meaningful if:
William James (1890:662) described meaningful learning:
Ausubel provides a plausible explanation for the universal nature of forgetting. Since rotely learned
materials do not interact with cognitive structure in substantive fashion, they are learned in conformity with the laws of association, and their retention
is influenced primarily by the interfering effects of similar rote materials learned immediately before or after the learning task (commonly referred to as
proactive and retroactive inhibition). In the case of meaningfully learned material, retention is influenced primarily by the properties of
"relevant and cumulatively established ideational systems in cognitive structure with which the learning task interacts" (Ausubel 1968:108).
Roger's humanisitc psychology has more of an affective focus than a cognitive one.
What is needed, according to Rogers, is real facilitators of learning, and one can only facilitate by establishing an interpersonal relationship with the learner.
Teachers,to be facilitators, must first of all be real and genuine, discarding masks of superiority and ominiscience. Second, teachers need to have genuine trust, acceptance,
and a prizing of the other person(the student)as a worthy, valuable individual. And third, teachers need to communicate openly and emphatically with their students and vice versa.
The educational psychologist, Robert Gagné(1965), for example, ably demonstarted the importance of identifying a number of types of learning which all human beings use. Gagné(1965:58-59) identified eight types of learning:
The first five types seem to fit easily into a behavioristic framework, while the last three are better explained by Ausubel's or
Roger's theories of learning.
In the literature on language learning processes, three terms have commonly been signled out for explication: transfer, interference, and overgeneralization. The three terms are sometimes mistakenly considered to be seperate processes; they are more correctly understood as several manifestations of one principle of learning -- the interaction of previously learned material with a present learning event.
Transfer is a general term describing the carryover of previous performance or knowledge to subsequent learning.
Generalization is crucially important and pervading strategy in human learning. To generalize means to infer or drive a law, rule, or conclusion, usually from the observation of particular instances. Meaningful learning is, in fact, generalizing: items are subsumed(generalized) under high-order categories for meaningful retention. The learning of concepts in early childhood is a process of generalizing.
In second language acquisition it has been common to refer to overgeneralization as a process that occurs as the second language learner acts within the target language, generalizing a particular rule or item in the second language -- irrespective of the native language -- beyond legitimate bounds.
Inductive and deductive reasoning are two polar aspects of the generalization process. In the case of inductive reasoning, one stores a number of specific instances and induces a general law or rule or conclusion that governs of subsumes the specific instances. Deductive reasoning is a movement from a generalization to specific instances: specific subsumed facts are inferred or deduced from a general principle.
Traditional -- especially Grammar Translation -- methods have overemphasized the use of deductive reasoning in
Traditionally, intelligence is defined and measured in terms of linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities. Our notion of "IQ" (intelligence quotient) is based on several generations of testing of these two domains, stemming from the research of Alfred Binet in the early years of the century.
Howard Gardner (1983) advanced a controversial theory of intelligence that blows apart our traditional thoughts about IQ. Gardner describes seven different forms of knowing which, in his view, give us a much more comprehensive picture of intelligence. The list consists of following matters:
Musical intelligence could explain the relative ease that some learners have in perceiving and producing intonation patterns of a language. Bodily kinesthetic modes have already been discussed in connection with the learning of the phonology of a language. Interpersonal intelligence is of obvious importance in the communicative process.