16 July 2006

Haas, Mary R. "The Application of Linguistics to Language Teaching." Anthropology Today. ed A.L. Kroeber. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954. 807-818.

This was a disappointing article, in that it was history rather than theory. Haas begins with the distinction between language learning, description, and teaching, then notes that these came together in the work of Boas, a linguist who learned languages and taught others the analytical skills he used. He also mentions Sapir and Bloomfield.

These ideas, however, weren't applied to teaching languages until, oh, World War II, when their use of spoken native speech became the basis for the Army method.

Specific recommendations made by Bloomfield at the same time toward the improvement of language teaching are also worthy of note. The prerequisites of the teacher are: (1) that he should know the language he is teaching--in other words, he should have "a knowledge comparable to that of an educated native speaker"--and (2) that he should also know how to teach the language; being simply an educated native or the equivalent thereof is not enough. Recommendations for improving procedure in instruction include: (1) drill in correct pronunciation (accompanied by instruction in the phonetics of the language contrasted with the phonetics of the students' own language) should be instituted at the very beginning of the study of the language and continued until mastery is achieved; (2) "the first phonetic examples should be characteristic words and phrases" of useful and usable content; (3) material chosen for concentrated work should be drilled into the student "until every phrase of it has been thoroughly assimilated"; and (4) since the constant supervision of the teacher is necessary for such thoroughgoing assimilation, "the work must be done almost entirely in the classroom" and "eight hours a week of class-work are not too much in the first year or two" (810).

These recommendations, she tells us, under the Intensive Language Program of the American Council of Learned Societies, became following list of emphasized points (812):

(1) the actual teaching must be done by a trained linguist, (2) informants were to serve as drillmasters for small sections of students (not more than ten per section), (3) the number of class hours per week should be around fifteen to eighteen, (4) the ultimate goal of the student was to acquire accurate pronunciation, a good speaking knowledge, and good auditory comprehension of the language.

Still, she notes after describing teaching materials to result from this, "the principle contribution that linguistics has to make is the preparation of complete scientific descriptions of English and of each and every foreign language to be taught" (818). This, of course, allows the development of better teaching materials, but this doesn't help me--we're got these materials now.


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