Here is my interview with John De Mado:
What do you believe the role of “error” is in the language acquisition process?
Here is the bottom line. The research comes from a gentleman by the name of Larry Selinker. His book is entitled Rediscovering Interlanguage. Selinker basically tells us that students come to us with one language or L1. That’s the native tongue. We then try to help them acquire another language or L2. Try as we may, humans cannot move directly from L1 to L2. We naturally move L1 into L2, thus creating a 3rd language of sorts. It is the single most common language learning strategy employed by human beings pandemically. This 3rd language is a less than accurate language, but a language nonetheless. Its name... Interlanguage.
When children begin speaking their native tongue, they don’t begin by speaking it perfectly. “I eated, I runned, I writed, etc.” What they are entering is a period called 'Interlanguage'. 'Interlanguage' is a primordial stage in the language acquisition process. Characteristically, it is riddled with errors... not mistakes... but errors. Errors are caused by 'dynamic' attempts to use the new language. They are not 'mistakes' as the language learner knows no better at that point.
One large problem with language instruction arises when we try to move from no language directly to 'standard' language by eliminating the interlingual stage. Thus, we subvert the entire language acquisition process. Contrary to most instructional belief and practice, error is critical to language acquisition. Generally, language instructors believe that if they allow for errors, these errors will “fossilize”, meaning they will embed. And it’s really not true, any more than it’s true with a little child that says at age three, “I eated, I runned, I writed” and at age six, “I ate, I ran, I wrote.” If you don’t allow for error, that is, Interlanguage, then the psycholinguistic aspects of language acquisition are negated . What do I mean by this?...
There is a certain personality profile or platform that supports language acquisition. It is inherit in all young children. As a mother yourself, you will be able to identify with this very easily. All young children exhibit three salient psycholinguistic characteristics: The ability to risk-take linguistically; the willingness to be vulnerable; and a heightened usage of intuition.
By risk-taking, I mean a tacit willingness on the part of the language acquirer to confront more language than what he/she currently owns. Clearly this is what all youngsters do to acquire their L1. No matter how you, as a parent, pare language down for them, it is greater than what they own. That’s what I’m looking for in the world language classroom. Language students can only risk-take to the degree that the language teacher is a risk-taker.
Vulnerability reflects the willingness, on the part of the language acquirer, to err freely for the broader goal of communication.
Language is essentially insufficient for human communicative needs. If language were sufficient, we wouldn’t have war, we wouldn’t have divorce, we wouldn’t have arguments, we would have no confrontation, everyone would understand one another 100%. These are certainly not the circumstances. As a result, humans essentially intuit messages from one another. We don’t really understand each other verbatim. Much, if not most, of human discourse is guided by intuition.
If you can find a classroom that supports risk taking, vulnerability and intuition, then basically what you have is the foundation for language acquisition. It happens in most households. Kids are allowed to be risk takers, to being vulnerable and to be intuitive. Once they move into the academic environment, however, it is systematically extracted starting at about the third grade. By the time we run into these same kids in 7th grade, all they want to know is what is going to be on the test. "Tell me the answer... And then I’ll take the test." They are virtually devoid of the capacity to risk-take, be vulnerable and to use intuition. Ironically, in many school districts, that's when we decide to begin second language study... After the 'psycholinguistic' profile has been reduced, if not destroyed.
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