Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My response to Takashi Matsui concerning the Keio symposium on Pedagogical Grammar

Takashi Matsui, one of the official commentators at the Keio Symposium on Pedagogical Grammar (see the hashtag "#keiopg" on Twitter) repeats his questions to the panelists (including me as the modulator) in the latest article on his blog.

Here is my translation of his questions.

1 When did you, as a learner, feel that you embodied the 'system of English grammar' or 'mechanism of English'?

Was the system/mechanism the whole of what you had learned? Was it condensed, compressed or crystallized? Or did you feel something inexplicable that was larger than the whole?

2 While the notion of 'pedagogical grammar' often connotes a reductive description of the entire 'whole' of English grammar (with different degrees of simplification), the notion of Lexical Approach advocated by Michael Lewis (1993) (“language consists of grammaticalised lexis---not lexicalised grammar.”) suggests a piecemeal approach. I believe the approach is an anti-thesis to our conventional idea of pedagogical grammar in the sense that it regards the conventional pedagogical grammar as a 'useless whole' and claims itself as 'useful accumulation of pieces'. What's your opinion?

3 Relating to the two questions above, what's your opinion about the 'minimal essentials', 'selection of learning materials' or 'sequence of learning/instruction'?

[Please go to http://d.hatena.ne.jp/tmrowing/20110912 to read the original in Japanese.

I believe I have touched upon these issues in my remarks at the symposium or in my blog articles before it, but I didn't answer his questions directly in the way he framed. So, here's my answer.

1' I may not share the assumption of the first question that I felt I have embodied the 'system or mechanism' of English. I certainly felt on various occasion the 'hang' (or 'knack') of using English as a foreign language, but I'm not exactly sure whether it was the systematic whole as you suggest in the second paragraph of the first question. There are two episodes, though, that show the senses of progress that I felt in my language learning: dreaming at night in English and beginning to find a 'voice' in the print, as I wrote in "'Feeling' of language as a sign of autopoiesis".

2' The contrast between the 'systematic whole' of traditional grammar versus the 'ad hoc pieces' of (very flexible) pedagogical grammar is one of the issues that I find the most interesting in the symposium arguments. As an act of communication (cf My summary of Swan, Michael (1994) "Design Criteria for Pedagogic Language Rules"), (meta)linguistic account of pedagogical grammar should be particularized to the needs of a particular learner and hence be ad hoc. However, an inconsistent series of 'convenient fictions' as provisional accounts of pedagogical grammar (Please read my summary of Leech, Geoffrey N. (1994) “Students’ Grammar -- Teachers’ Grammar -- Learners’ Grammar”) would only lead to the confusion of the learner. The systematic approach and the ad hoc approach must complement each other. So I believe the lexical approach is quite effective, but it should be supplemented by some systematic account of English grammar.

3' The third question is indeed related to the second question in particular, and I believe the 'minimal essentials', 'selection of learning materials' or 'sequence of learning/instruction' must be specifically designed and implemented. (After all, it is what teaching is all about.) It should be added, though, that there should be more than one type of essentials, selections, or sequences in English teaching. An ex-bureaucrat of the Ministry of Education, Japan, commented after the symposium that the primary reason of dropping the subject of 'English Grammar' from the high school curriculum was to deregulate grammatical teaching (well, at least, this is what he said.) Pedagogical grammar descriptions should compete with each other to better satisfy the needs of various learners at different stages of language development and with different motivations for language acquisition. I do not have my own version of pedagogical grammar, and all I've been doing so far is writing a comment like this one.

I thank again Matsui-sensei for his direct question style. This is one of the things Japanese linguistic culture needs.

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