An Analysis and Example of Consciousness
Raising in the EFL Classroom
by James Broadbridge
Arguments against Consciousness Raising
CR, and the use of grammar-based activities in the classroom, has been attacked on various grounds. One of these ways is that the key to mastering a second language, and being able to produce utterances spontaneously, is to acquire the language, something that cannot be done without a natural approach to learning being employed. Drawing comparisons between adults learning their Second Language (L2) and the acquisition by children of their first language (L1), Krashen & Terrell state that very rarely do parents grammatically correct their child’s speech, merely correcting the speech’s content. (Krashen & Terrell 1983: 27), therefore, knowing what the mistake is does not aid acquisition. Rather, learning is a ‘subconscious process’ that produces a ‘feel’ for the language, which allows the learner to know that they have made a mistake whilst being unable to pinpoint exactly what the mistake was. Krashen & Terrell believe that over time, through input that is both challenging and comprehensible, acquisition will take place. (Krashen & Terrell 1983:26)
Due to the subconscious nature of acquisition, any attempts to bring learning to a conscious level are futile, as knowing about language does not lead to these rules being employed in actual L2 speech. Research by Seliger (1979) concluded that a learners’ “ability to state a conscious rule was not directly related to the learners ability to perform a task related to the knowledge which the rule supposedly represents.” (Seliger 1979: 369).
Further evidence against CR comes from the ‘Natural Order’ hypothesis (Krashen &
Terrell 1983). Based on research into the acquirement of morphological forms such as the progressive ‘–ing’, plurals etc. This theory states that time spent on grammar is time wasted due to the fact that given sufficient input and opportunity these morphological forms will be acquired naturally. Succinctly summarised by Ellis: “not only [should syntax] not be taught (to any extent) but it cannot be taught.” (Ellis 1991: 53)
The advent of CLT has also coincided in some cases with a move away from teaching a metalinguistic knowledge of students’ own L1. In comparison to their parents or grandparents, many young students today do not have as great a knowledge and understanding of their own L1’s grammar as this knowledge was deemed to be unnecessary. This creates a problem for these students when faced with more traditional grammar exercises in an L2 lesson. Students with less metalinguistic knowledge would clearly struggle more compared to students who had a greater knowledge of what constitutes grammar. Students of an older generation who studied the grammar of their L1, coupled with the traditional study in school of Latin and other languages using a GT method would possible benefit more from an explicit grammar based lesson.
There are clearly numerous arguments for and against the use of CR, all of which are valid, and ultimately it is the teacher of each individual class who is best able to assess whether CR is of use in his or her classroom. The remainder of this article will now move on to more practical issues surrounding the use of CR activities. Looking later at its use in Japanese university classrooms, but first discussing the problem of when to use CR and what forms to focus on.
The Problem of When to Use Consciousness Raising
Even the strongest advocates of CR make it clear that it should not be used at all times. If it can only be said, that “it [CR] helps for certain learners, at certain levels, with certain aspects of grammar.” (Yip 1994: 123), then to gain benefits from CR we need to know when to “turn on the spotlight [and how to] avoid blinding the student”(Stevick 1981: 251). It is clear that CR should not be used with learners of certain ages. Research by Fotos (1994), Ellis (1991), and Seliger (1979), has shown that age is a major factor affecting CR’s effectiveness. Fotos’ study focused on students of university age, and CR was found to have a positive effect. In comparison, studies of students of a younger age, 11-13, as described in Ellis (1991), were shown to be unaffected by CR activities. Although many other variables between the two studies could account for this, age is surely a major influence. Due to its analytical nature CR is unattractive to young learners due to their inability to analyse, particularly in very young learners. Also a lack of desire to engage in such activities is a major factor, with the more exciting activities, found in CLT, that are further removed from actual ‘studying’, being more attractive to learners at an age when learning may be something they do not want to do.
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