Watched pot never boils?

“A good deal of current theorizing in SLA is built on the principle that a watched pot never boils. This approach, with its stress on interaction and meaningful communication, responds well to the problems of the overly conscious “monitor over-user” (Krashen 1978), whose rules get in the way of fluent communication, and is in harmony with research findings that grammatical competence derived through formal training is not a good predictor of communicative skills (Canale and Swain 1980, Savignon 1972, Tucker 1974, Upshur and Palmer 1974). However, the partial independence of grammatical competence from the other components of communicative competence is also reflected in the ability of second language learners like Wes to communicate well without much grammatical control. For such learners, interaction, which they are already good at, is no panacea. The “watched pot” analogy begins to fall apart, because learning a second language is not as simple as boiling water but has at least as many aspects and dimensions as preparing a meal. First, one must turn on the heat and assemble the ingredients. Social and affective factors have a lot to do with providing the heat, and the interaction which they engender provides manageable data for the learner (Long, forthcoming), but surely that is not the end of the endeavor. The learner must cook the complementary courses of the meal, and in the case of grammar that means processing data received through interaction: analyzing them, formulating hypotheses (which may not be expressible as formal rules but may nevertheless be conscious at some stage of the process, at least through the ability to recognize nativelike linguistic strings), and testing those hypotheses against native speaker speech and native speaker reactions. These are of course psychological processes, but the idea that if affective factors are positive then cognitive processes will function automatically, effortlessly, and unconsciously to put together conclusions about grammar is overly optimistic. Interest and attention are additional minimum requirements if the sauce is to come out as well as the main course, and most language learners would agree that hard work is involved as well” (Schmidt 1983, pp. 172-173)

Learning as foraging

“In foraging for food, signals indicating reduced glucose levels cause an animal’s nervous system to generate an incentive motive ro acquire food. …..The desire to acquire certain knowledge or skill similarly constitutes an incentive motive that a learner must translate into activity in order to learn. In other words, a learner must do things in order to learn.” (Schumann, 2001, p. 21)


The art of metaphor. Today: Nick Ellis

“Because both consciousness and linguistic knowledge are dificult to conceptualize and operationalize, much existing research has taken a pragmatic approach and, like the drunk who looked for his car keys under a lamppost a block away from where he dropped them, “because the light is better there,” used easy to administer grammaticality judgments, or metalinguistic judgments, or multiple choice or other limited response format measures of language proficiency. Such tests have questionable validity as measures of language proficiency and in their very nature they are more likely to tap explicit conscious learning than are measures involving free constructed responses (Norris and Ortega, 2000). This is a research area plagued with measurement problems (Hulstijn and Ellis, 2005).” (Nick Ellis 2008:10)

“Nevertheless, amnesiacs maintained implicit memories (those evidenced by the facilitation of the processing of a stimulus as a function of a recent encounter with an identical or related stimulus but where the person at no point has to consciously recall the prior event) and were able to learn new perceptual skills like mirror reading and new motor skills (Schacter, 1987; Squire and Kandel, 1999). They also showed normal classical conditioning, thus the famous anecdote of the amnesic patient who, having once been pricked by a pin hidden in the hand of her consultant, refused thereafter to shake him by his hand while at the same time denying ever having met him before.” (Nick Ellis 2008: 3)

Naive networks

“When people who have become fascinated by BBSs or networks start spreading the idea that such networks are inherently democratic in some magical way, without specifying the hard work that must be done in real life to harvest the fruits of that democratizing power, they run the danger of becoming unwitting agents of commodification. First, it pays to understand how old the idea really is. Next, it is important to realize that the hopes of technophiles have often been used to sell technology for commercial gain.”
(Howard Rheingold, 
The Virtual Community)

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