Monday, July 11, 2016

Three views of what "grammar" is and what it is to "learn grammar"

What I have to say here is related mainly to the Cognitive Dimension of growing participation. Much of what we have taught about the Cognitive Dimension was inspired by the Psychology of Language as a branch of cognitive psychology dealing especially with comprehension and production processes. What I'm emphasizing in this post--viewpoint 3 below, was always there in the background, as I was strongly influenced by Joan Bybee (_Language, Usage and Cognition_, Academic Press, 2010) in my general thinking about grammar. (I was her research assistant for two years.) Viewpoint 1 is closest to the "cultural assumptions" of Euro-Americans, both specialists and ordinary educated people. Viewpoint 2 is inspired by "formal linguistics" which I loved as a young person. I can't say it has had much influence on the GPA, however.

THREE VIEWPOINTS ON “GRAMMAR"
Viewpoint 1) What you learn is objective facts about the language (pedagogical grammar), and then you apply that knowledge in practice until your use of that knowledge in speaking becomes fluentLanguage learning is similar to other kinds of learning.

Viewpoint 2) What you learn is a mental grammar, similar to the mental grammar in the heads  of natives. You keep modifying that grammar as you encounter evidence that your current version (current interlanguage) is wrong. These modifications to your mental grammar are triggered by relatively small amounts of experience, and so they can happen in a short time frame. Language learning is different from other kinds of learning.

Viewpoint 3What you learn is simply an accumulation of unconscious memories that all stay there in your head where they first landed-- a huge number of instances of hearing and understanding something (words, groups of words, more abstract patterns of words) or instances of successfully expressing something in speech using words and patterns. Language learning is similar to other kinds of learning (but neither is like the everyday concept of “learning”).


A BIT MORE ON THE VIEWPOINTS

Viewpoint 1) is strongly “speech-led”. It is about using knowledge of facts to assemble sentences that follow the rules in order to speak those sentences. I think it represents “traditional” concepts (such as the popular PPP, which stands for present, practice, produce). It is not clear where the “correct grammar” with its collection of facts, is to be found in the universe. But this viewpoint also has its more sophisticated advocates, such as Robert Dekeyser. However he himself makes the point that this type of learning has its limits and needs to be accompanied by others. (If you are interested, see Robert Dekeyser, 2015, “Skill Acquisition Theory” in Bill VanPatten and Jessica Williams, eds., Theories in Second Language Acquisition, 2nd ed., Rutledge). Learning, if it happens, shouldn’t take that long, for any given fact of grammar, nor should practice applying that knowledge take very long.

Viewpoint 2) has been the linguists’ favourite. In this view, “evidence” (bits of language you are exposed to) acts as a trigger, and rapid changes take place in the internal grammar. Like viewpoint 1) what is learned is a recipe for assembling sentences. One problem is that theories of grammar have changed a lot, and this viewpoint still works with some theories, but perhaps not with the most influential theories. Still, a very recent article argues for this idea of rapid triggering in “grammar learning” (if anyone is interested--VanPatten, Bill and Smith Megan, 2015. “Aptitude and grammatical sensitivity and the initial stages of learning Japanese as an L2." SSLA, 37, 135–165; but also Bley-Vroman, Robert, 2009,”The evolving context of the fundamental difference hypothesis,” SSLA, 31, 175–198.) You can tell by the word “trigger” that what is learned is assumed to be learned with relatively small amounts of experience (brief amounts of time).

Viewpoint 3) is called “usage based” or “instance based” or (with a difference in emphasis) “construction based” (and other things). The idea is basically that every time you experience a word or a “construction” (which I prefer to call a pattern) and succeed in experiencing it meaningfully, it is stored in your brain. So a construction isn’t something that is learned once through a presentation of it and then reinforced by deliberate repetition until it becomes “known” in long term memory. Rather, the first time a word or pattern is  experienced, it  is “registered” and then every additional time it occurs, the new instance is stored in your head along with all the others.  (If interested, see Ellis,Nick, 2006 "Language Acquisition as Rational Contingency Learning” Applied Linguistics,  27, 1–24.). Viewpoint 3 has important implications for learning “irregularities” (such as how we learn to say “sang” and not “singed”, etc. Maybe we can bring that up again in the future.)

THE GRPA VIEWPOINT
Which viewpoint is most in harmony with the GRPA? It is viewpoint 3. It says that “fluency” in speech and in host life in general, requires that we experience speech and other aspects of life a vast amount over several years. Besides all the evidence that this is true—that becoming even moderately host-like is a multi-year prospect-- I think this is the safest bet. The first two viewpoints count on a relatively small amount of learning doing the job.  If you really follow the GRPA, you won’t risk trying to learn the language based on a small amount of experience! You may recall the GRPA emphasis on frequency (in listening, talking, and also in literacy, and life in general) and on familiarity (not to mention the Iceberg Principle). These all relate to viewpoint 3.

If the “facts” of grammar are important to emphasize (viewpoint 1), then the ways we deal with  grammar consciousness raising are no worse than other ways, and arguably better in some ways (thinking of actual research on this topic). For us this mainly involves our activities of structured input, input flooding, output flooding and recored yourself for feedback. In fact Nick Ellis says that the reason some aspects of grammar are never learned by adult language learners (for example, many foreigners never get over saying things like, “My brother live in London” instead of “lives in London”) is that it is impossible for our brains to experience those features (for particular reasons), and thus if one is to start storing large numbers of examples of such constructions in one’s brain one must become consciously aware of them. And that’s what we try to do with such challenging grammatical features: strongly bring them to consciousness. Who knows, but what maybe Nick is right. But the point is, with viewpoints 1 and 2 you stake a lot on the idea that the amount of experience involved in “grammar learning” is relatively small. With viewpoint 3 you assume it is very big. If you were wrong, well, then praise the Lord for your “unnecessary" thousands of hours of connecting with people in relationships since that is what it was supposed to be about anyway! But if you put your trust in viewpoints 1 or 2, doing the implied small amounts of learning, and then it turns out that what is really needed is a massive amount of experience, well, too bad.

There is much more could be said here, but that will be it for now. The GRPA favours viewpoint three: Fluency is “usage-based,” based on a “summing” of enormous numbers of similar experiences in memory. It may be necessary to do something special to raise consciousness of features of grammar that just don’t seem to register regardless of the amount of experience. The verdict is still out on that, and so we do those special activities that I mentioned. We also realize that we’ll always sound foreign, and embrace that as part of “the gift of the stranger”. We aim for a high level of understanding and of intelligibility and comprehensibility, rather than native-like-ness

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Check out these video clips

Recently some friends (Thanks!!) produced some video clips to help with the understanding of various types of Phase 1 games found in the guide to the First 100 Hours. There are also clips providing some of the concepts involved in the GPA and in the Phase 1 games. You can find these video clips at the website growingparticipator.com At the current time you'll need the password to get in, and it is mygpajourney. Many people have wanted to use the GPA but never really got going in Phase 1, because the instructions seemed complicated. We trust that such people will now be able to get a strong start, and go on to later Phases as well.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Growing Participation is a kind of Participation


"Participation"is the head noun in the phrase "Growing Participation" and "Growing" is a modifier. We didn't choose this particular phrase as the name for our approach because it had a catchy ring to it. Both "participation" and "growing" are packed with meaning, and the meanings are not the ones that might come to mind for an ordinary everyday reader encountering the phrase for the first time. 

1) Participation

It may surprise you when I say that you never act as a lone individual. No matter what you do, you do it as a participant in your people group. (My own "people group" is AngloCanadian.) “But,” someone replies, “How about when I’m asleep. Surely sleeping is an individual activity.”  No! Your action of sleeping is also an action of participation in your people group! You see, you follow certain practices in sleeping—the practices of your people group. Those practices include where members of your people group sleep, on what they sleep, times for sleeping, sleeping attire, the conditions under which it is impolite to wake someone and much more. What is true of sleeping is true of all that people do. In other words, to be alive and to be human is to be participating in a people group! (We use the term practices, in the common everyday sense of, “repeated ways of acting”. That includes repeated ways of speaking and of understanding speech.)

As you participate in your people group, you always use various means of participation. There are those you think of as physical means for doing things (like hammers and cars). In the case of sleeping, these include (in the world of my people group) beds and beddings and pajamas. Alongside obvious physical objects such as pillows and pillow cases, the most powerful means of participation are the words that the group members understand and speak with one another. Words are part of our means of sleeping! What I mean is that having words and groups of words radically influences (some say “transforms”) the experience of sleeping in different people groups. Words as means of carrying out the practice of sleeping might include the words bed and pajamas, but also utterances such as Honey, I’m exhausted (which I heard a wife say recently as a way of getting her husband to discontinue a conversation and move toward sleeping for the night), or Honey, have you seen my pyjamas? which might be a hint that it is time for bed or just a practical tool for solving a problem standing in the way of my sleep: I seem to lack one of my essential means for sleeping and resort to words as means and other people as means for solving the problem. Can you see how “words as means for living” alter the very nature of what it is to live? The uniqueness of humans in creation has a lot to do with the richness of our participatory nature!

To live is to be participating in a people group. 24/7! (Some readers ask why we say “participator” and not “participant”. Well, we think participator sounds more active and willful than participant!) Once you are into your life, abroad you will continue to live much of it as ongoing participation in your home-world people group’s practices (the group you grew up in) whenever you are not with members of your host-world group participating in their life with them, following their practices. Often the balance between our home-world participation and our host-world participation needs to be shifted if we are to grow. We hope you are getting at least an inkling of why the “participation” we have in mind when we say  “growing participation” is at the core of the challenge we face in another people group. It’s about being truly alive with people in their world.

2) Growing

To participate is to become better at participating. People’s home-world life is always present under their skin, even in those times when they are focused on living their host-world life. However, there is a transformation going on inside them—a slow conformity (in a good sense) to the ways of people on the outside. Over time, as a result of the help of host people, not only do those people find the foreigners more and more like themselves on the outside, but the growing participators find themselves more and more like the host people on the inside (especially when focused on participating in their life with them). To participate is to grow. To grow is to take on host practices, especially following those practices in relationships with host people. Growing speaks of time. Over time 1) the number of host relationships grows from one main “nurturer” to many true friends; 2) the range of host practices that the newcomers follow grows (breadth); while 3) the way they carry out those processes becomes more “host-like” (depth). Their growth into host practices is never total. There will always be some practices we have not yet taken on, and others that we have taken on, but with a “strong foreign accent” (“foreign accents” exist on many levels besides pronunciation). The host practices they take on centrally include those that involve understanding speech and talking. (Remember the mention of words as means of participation.) There is also an ongoing transformation in how the newcomers understand the speech of host people, and in how they talk to and with host people. Thus when the newcomers first hear one of the host words and “understand” that word, they are usually understanding it in their home-world terms. That is, they may take a host-world word to mean the same as their home-world word for “woman”. Only with much participation (hearing many conversations, stories, speeches, watching other actions and reactions, etc.) will their understanding of that host-world word concept adapt and become host-like, so that when host people say the word, the newcomers understand them in line with their host concept of women and womanhood. As growing speaks of time, we teach six phases of growing in/through/with/ and by participation:

Growing Participation in Six Phases:
1.     Connecting (to a whole new world primarily through one of its members)
2.     Emerging (-- becoming “somebody” to a few people in the new world)
3.     Knowable (as someone with whom host people have the possibility of friendship)
4.     Deep personal relationships (with a few, making possible deeper relationships with many)
5.     Widening understanding (thus being seen more and more as “like us” by host people.)
6.     Ever participating/growing (such that to live is to participate is to grow.)




For each Phase we suggest special activities of “special-growth participation” which can profitably occupy growing participators for hundreds of hours of concentrated participating and special growing.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Updated peek into the GPA.

On JANUARY 15, 2013 We posted an article called
A Little Invitation to the Growing Participator Approach

under the heading

Another peek into the GPA for blog eavesdroppers

Today I've updated that a little. It should be especially helpful to those familiar with the technical areas it alludes to so that they might get some idea of how the GPA relates to its intellectual heritage. However, it should be helpful to ordinary GPA enthusiasts too, as much of the technical vocabulary is relatively transparent, or if not, it gives the reader phrases to search for in the Internet! (And feel free to post questions in the form of comments.) It will also be good to have this little introduction near the top here for awhile rather than buried in the archives. So here it is:

Little Invitation to the Growing Participator Approach

Greg Thomson
January 2013, October 2015
Starting point is not “the learner”, but the host people
The starting point for understanding Growing Participation is not “the learner”. Rather, it is the host people. They consist of a community of right-now, living, breathing, walking, talking, densely interconnected, interacting people. That community’s members mediate their shared experience and thinking by means of their particular shared symbols and tools. Their joint life is also an ongoing lived story, continuously under construction (and reconstruction) and dependent on the unique, shared, story-construction pieces the community has at its disposal. Their lived story is a stream of goal-directed human action, enabled by their shared practices. Many of the actions involve talking and listening, which in fact dominate the stream of human action in many ways, though they are inseparable from the stream as a whole. Growing participators following the GPA want that community to take them into itself, making them right-now, living, breathing, walking, talking participants in it. Only members of that community can do that, by granting GPs the status of “legitimate peripheral participants” and interacting with them in their growth zones (nee “zones of proximal development”).

First dimension is the sociocultural one
Growing participation begins when one or more members of that community are confronted with a newcomer who has no ability to follow their practices, their lived story, and thus who is unable to participate in the host world, but who want to do so. Host people will succeed in nurturing newcomers into their world if they interact adequately with them in their growth zone. Trained GPs know how to facilitate the host people’s efforts. (It begins with “play” and ends with “serious business”!)

Host people initially experience the newcomer as a relative non-entity in their lived story—someone who can be a limited topic within the story, but not a participant in its continuing construction. The newcomer presents a relatively “blank face” to host people within their story, having little identity among them beyond whatever stereotypes there are for this particular variety of outsider. As host people nurture the newcomer into their world, that relatively blank face increasingly takes on unique personal features and character. Slowly a special person emerges and evolves into a full-blown participant in the construction of the host story.

As a second dimension (and not a second component), the cognitive dimension is thoroughly sociocultural throughout
Host people themselves primarily came to know their languacultural world in early childhood because older people talked to them, and around them, about the contexts in which they found themselves. GPs following the GPA want host people to talk to them about much that they observe in the host context. Until host people have talked to the GPs adequately (in the host language, not the GP’s language), GPs are simply converting what they “observe” in the host context into the meanings that those “observed” objects and events would have in their own home worlds. The GP needs to be nurtured into host mental life, which is inherently and thoroughly social. Early on, being talked to by host people in host ways (and understanding what they hear!) is the path into host mental life for GPs. In time, hearing host people talk to one another will also provide much of the path to further mental growth.

In the cognitive dimension, comprehension processes come first
For that reason, and also because listening to and understanding host people is an act of love and self-giving, comprehension ability—the ability to hear speech and grasp the story that it arouses in host hearers—comes first in the GPA value system. Spoken production ability is secondary and derivative. In the very early days, in fact, the GPA advocates learning to understand speech while personally remaining silent and responding nonverbally to the nurturer. This is another facet of centering growing participation around the host people and their needs and gifts: listening first!

Words as practices
Among the wide range of host practices, their use of a massive stock of words and common word combinations is central. Each word is a host practice! Therefore whenever GPs are learning to understand host words and word combinations, from the very first moments of growing participation, they are seriously appropriating key practices of the host people—aspects of their speaking practices that will be open the way to so much further growth.

Initially, word learning involves GPs associating home-world word concepts with host-world spoken words. However, words receive their meanings in use, and so through much experience participating in host practices in general, in observing host interactions, in hearing host talk, and in living the host story, the concepts the GPs’ associate with word concepts will more and more approximate those of the host community.

Conversational interaction comes next
Since conversational interaction ability is second in importance only to comprehension ability, during the early days of growing participation, the GPs soon add two-way spoken interaction to their initial efforts at appropriating host practices by listening alone. Two-way conversation in which host people meet the GPs in their growth zone is the engine of the GPs’ development of their own internal host-world mental life. If you listen in (with understanding!) on a GP and a nurturer interacting in the GP’s growth zone, you’ll “see” the GP’s mental development happening right out in the open. A GP’s mental development in this new world is, as a minimum, a two-person process. Internal to the GP, there is a process of “resonance” going on in all conversations: As the GP and host person engage together in discourse in a particular area, the GP’s speech in that discourse area is being moulded in the direction of the nurturer’s speech. For example, in conversing about weather, over time the GP is drawn to talk about weather more and more similarly to the ways in which the nurturer and other host people talk about weather—and so on with a wide variety of discourse areas.

In conversational interaction, comprehension ability continues to hold a special place. Comprehension saves! As long as the GPs understands what is said to them by a host conversation partner, they can find some way, by hook or by crook (using “communication strategies” and “negotiating meaning”) to respond to the conversation partner so as to get their point across. However, if the GPs are unable to understand much of what the host person is saying, they are “up a creek without a paddle” (stuck) in the conversation. Embarrassing!

As comprehension ability enables conversational interaction, so conversational interaction is also of major importance in the development of comprehension ability. It is an upward spiral. Host people relate to GPs conversationally in ways they can handle (in their growth zone). They also assist (“scaffold”) the GP in responding intelligibly.

“Accuracy” (We prefer to say, “host-likeness”)
The GPA encourages GPs to pay attention to host patterns of conversational turn-taking, issues of appropriateness (pragmatics), style (for example, talking as host people talk, not as they write, and writing as host people write, not as they talk), etc. At the level of individual sentences, the GPA holds that sounding host-like in narrow terms of grammar and pronunciation is less important than sounding host-like in those broader ways. The speech of most GPs will forever contain non-host-like “errors,” even in the case of GPs who happen to be obsessed with grammar. In addition, they will always speak with an accent. Mercifully, the frequency of “grammar errors” can decrease over time. The GPA advocates strategies that facilitate movement toward host-sounding grammar in spoken production, assuming a “construction-based” (“usage-based,” “instance-based”) view of what grammar is and how it is learned through live experience in communication. Attention may need to be drawn to some features that resist learning. Techniques for this include input flooding, structured input, “record yourself for feedback” and “focus on form” (as opposed to “focus on formS”). Such activities—without abandoning the spirit of two-way interaction with the nurturer—strongly draw attention to grammatical form, thus raising awareness, leading to gradual improvement. However, we keep in mind that the first role of grammar for host people is in comprehension, not in spoken production. (Grammatical elements are primarily comprehension cues.) To the extent that grammatical features come to function in host-like ways in GPs’ comprehension processes, the GPs will become increasingly sensitive to ways in which their own speech is not host-like, since their own speech will clash with their own comprehension processes.

A similar principle applies to pronunciation. The GPA encourages GPs to work toward host-like hearing, as the biggest contributor toward more host-like pronunciation. Considerable progress in the intelligibility of GPs’ pronunciation needs to be made early in the process of growing participation. Ideally, some specific coaching in pronunciation will also be provided by a language learning advisor and nurturers will often provide immediate feedback. Still, learning to hear well will have an impact over the long haul, and that can be achieved without a phonetics coach, by using “sound discrimination” activities that involve live interaction with a nurturer.

Literacy and bi-languaculturalism or multi-languaculturalism
In some people groups, host practices will in various ways involve reading and writing.  In line with the role and importance of literacy practices in host life, GPs should be nurtured into those practices at the optimal times.

The host practices may also involve host people’s participation in the languacultural world of neighbouring people groups or the larger national or international community (bi-languaculturalism or multi-languaculturalism). As life goes on and time permits, GPs are nurtured into these aspects of host life as well (for example, nurtured into using a “national language” for functions that host people use the national language for). Growing participation is a long road. That brings us to…

The time dimension is more than a footnote in the GPA
The GPA makes much of time. The GPA paints a picture of change over time in both the Sociocultural and Cognitive Dimensions. The way host people experience GPs, and the GPs’ roles and identities in the host story, should change continuously from the time of arrival to the end of the sojourn. The GPA tries to be realistic about how much can happen how soon, while also providing a roadmap and (when combined with the Six-Phase Programme or a similar one) a detailed set of activities to perpetuate steady change.


The GPA is concerned that GPs reach a path of self-sustaining growth, where they cannot stop growing—as long as they don’t stop participating—because they understand almost everything they hear host people say and observe host people doing, so that what they hear and see is always feeding their further growth. Until they clearly reach Phase 6, GPs need to keep employing “special-growth participation times,” with special host people—usually nurturers who are paid for their time. As special nurturers, and other host people with whom GPs share life, continue to nurture them into the host world, increasingly the fruits of those host people’s nurturing efforts are a spring of pleasure to them! Growing Participation, after all, starts and ends with them, not with me.




Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Six Phases of Growing Participation

We've long talked--almost since the beginning--about the mistake we made in naming the six phases after the "supercharged activities" such as "Here-and-Now Play," "Story Building," etc., but recently I did something about it. The six phases are now  named in line with GPA.

1) Connecting, 

2) Emerging, 

3) Knowable, 

4) Deep Personal Relationships, 

5) Widening Understanding, 

6) Ever Growing/Participating. 

They are framed in terms of how our host people's perception of us is changing. We explain them apart from the supercharged activities (which we now call "special growth participation") and once these six phases are clear, we use them as a framework for introducing "five categories of special-growth participation activities", which are 

Here-and-Now, 

Story-Building, 

Shared-Stories,

Deep Life Sharing

Native-to-Native "Discourses"


each with its subcategories. These categories are loosely--not rigidly--linked to that six phases. The suggested times for each category are the same as before.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Most important concept of GPA

OK. Well, over a week has passed, and no thoughts on the question:  "Given the primacy of the sociocultural dimension, what is the most important single concept of the GPA ?" No answer from any of our twenty-nine followers nor any others who have surfed past.

Well, in terms of human interest, perhaps it is that growing participation means that real people and the GP become part of each other's lives in the sociohistorical world of the former! In "theoretical" terms, however, the most important concept is the Vygotskyan concept of "mediation": People experience the sensible world not directly, but as mediated by 1) symbols; 2) other tools/artifacts. We'll emphasize (1) here: We live not by rectangular horizontal surfaces supported on tubular objects at each corner. We live by tables! And a table is not a stol (to use an example from Russia). A table is one of countless pieces of life that make up my home languacultural world. A kitchen table is too. So is a group playing cards at it.

Since the world we experience is thus mediated by sociohistorical artifacts, ( including (1) tables, (2)the word "table" with it's phonetic substance and conceptual role, (3) people playing cards, (4) the phrase "people playing cards", etc. x 10 ^≈100), which are both socially inherited and dynamically constructed in situations (situations themselves being socially constructed mediational means) we call the meditational means "the pieces of life" (emphasizing the table) and the "story-construction pieces" (emphasizing the word "table"). With massive assistance from the auditory story-construction pieces, in early life we come to live by the sensible pieces of life, as stories--right as the experience goes by the experiencer and becomes part of his/her experience.

From this understanding that human life/experience/thought is mediated comes the GPA concepts such as languacultural worlds, home worlds, host worlds, "they stories," identity in the separate worlds, participation, growing participation itself, etc. As brand new growing participators, we function by our home-world story-construction pieces (we can't function without someone's meditational means) as we take on our very first host-world practices, for example host-world phonetic words (which are practices) with home-world conceptual roles (also practices). And on we grow, becoming ever more familiar with the host world as mediated by host words (sound and conceptual role), etc. (Rather than "conceptual role" I would like to say "discursive roles" but not as many people understand "conceptual" as understand "discursive"!)

So that was the main answer I was hoping for: Mediation. Oh well. If you put people first, then you're right and I'm wrong. But remember that a man is not a muzhchina. Over your years in Russia, the role of muzhchina's in your experience moves from that of men (or whatever your home-world symbol is) to that of muzhchina's (well, of muzhchin). But if your main thing is just about loving Russians, so expressed with our home-world word-analogue, then bravo.



Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Effectiveness of L2 Pronunciation Instruction: A Narrative Review


http://applij.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/12/08/applin.amu076.abstract?sid=d11415c2-768e-4c08-8fb0-8896bfb5b269

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Most important single concept?

The GPA is three dimensional: socio-cultural, cognitive and temporal. In cognitivist theories of second  language acquisition  I would say that the idea of a "mental L2 grammar" is the most important idea. "Acquisition" means modifying that mental object on the basis of experience. In reality, exceedingly little is known with any confidence regarding how that happens. Of course, the cognitive dimension the GPA is concerned not with this speculated mental entity, but with processes that convert acoustic cues into situation models and discursive acts, and also, processes concerned with producing speech which will have these effects in the interlocutors. We'd love to know as much about those processes as possible. Unlike mental grammars, we can be certain that such processes exist and must somehow develop, or be mimicked, as part of growing participation.

However, the cognitive dimension is secondary in the GPA to the sociocultural dimension. Communities ("cultures") use brains to construct and maintain themselves, but the brains, or at least their dispositions resulting from the moulding effects of community, are secondary to the social realities of communities. Thus, prior to cognitive processes are communities characterized by shared practices.

Here's a question: Given the primacy of the sociocultural dimension, what is the most important single concept of the GPA ?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What happened to the Facebook page?

It is still there. https://www.facebook.com/GPApproach/ However, Facebook won't let me access as owner unless I send them copies of business documents and personal identification documents. I hope they'll change their minds. I think I can still post comments there as can any Facebook user. It was there that I tried to introduce the GPA philosophy to people who knew nothing about it. On this Blogspot blog I more assumed people had some training in the GPA. 

Picking up this blog 20 months later. Grammatical cues as processing triggers in comprehensions

What was that? Well I hope I'm back.

Recall that in the GPA grammatical cues are viewed as "hot buttons". For many people grammar is about putting the right bits into the right spots because that is what the mental "competence" grammar happens to specify, and if you want sentences to be grammatical (which is a moral imperative), you do as the grammar specifies. 

We believe instead that grammatical bits (function words, affixes, word order) are cues that trigger complex processes for host listeners. Host listeners are extremely responsive to a variety of cues, from acoustic cues to lexical cues to grammatical cues. That is why we called them hot buttons. 

From this perspective learning is not a matter of putting the right bit in the right places by conscious planning, which over time is replaced automatic processes. Rather it is a matter of becoming increasingly sensitive to cues (through frequent experience) until one is so sensitive that if one throws one's comprehension system a curve--say giving it contradictory or otherwise clashing cues--one's comprehension system reacts to that fact, and one tends then to modify one's speech to give the cues that one's comprehension system expects, since the utterance in question didn't sound right.

That seems pretty reasonable to me at least. It is what my dissertation was about, by the way.  Recently Trenkic, Mirkovic and Altmann, 2013 observed (in the article “Real-time grammar processing by native and non-native speakers,” in _Bilingualism: Language and Cognition) “A vast body of the literature suggests that late second language learners often show inability to process L2 morphosyntactic information in a target-like manner,” (p. 1) and they add that “structures that are difficult to process in comprehension are often the same ones with which L2 users struggle in production” (ibid.). They also cite evidence that “problems in L2 production may be related to the processing strategies used in comprehension…” (p. 2) Well duh! 

This is an important issue to me because as the GPA became more widely used and more popular, this became a refrain: It leads to "non-native-like grammar". Again, well duh. Nothing leads to thoroughgoing native-like (we would say "host-sounding") grammar. There are minor advantages to a certain strategy (such as form focus or correction via prompts) but it is the name of the game that people starting to learn an additional language (languaculture) as adults are quite non-host-sounding, at least for a number of years! So give us a break. I take comfort in the fact that as far as I know those on the offensive against the GPA are on the offensive simply because of its popularity in certain quarters, not because they have actually looked into what it is about!