Thursday, January 31, 2013

Chinese Room effect in language teaching

Once more the questions are coming up about school budgets. We don't know whether there will be a sequestration in March, but we do know schools need to make every dollar count. What should teachers be focused on? What is the main purpose of a language class?

At QTalk we are always stressing oral fluency, especially the ability to interact in real-time conversations. It's the language equivalent of a martial arts sparring class - the time when you not only find out whether a student has the proficiency, but also the more they practice the better they get. No amount of memorization or parroting will get you there. Real, live people need to interact, in order for language to be acquired.

Without any question, there is a vogue about computers and mechanics that seeps into our thinking about learning a language. People even say things like, "My hard drive is full," when they feel overwhelmed, or they'll say, "I need to reboot," when they want to take a rest and "recharge batteries," well, you get the point.

We so completely agree with Chris Livaccari's points in this excellent article from the Asia Society newsletter:

Very much worth reading for every language teacher and student, and may especially for every administrator and parent. What seems to be "fluency" can perhaps be a Chinese Room effect. What does YOUR textbook, curriculum, assessment protocol, grading system actuall reward and measure? I think we all very much need to think about this.