Working Papers of the Bilingual Research Group 1989



Barry McLaughlin

University of California, Santa Cruz

One of the nice features about teaching at Santa Cruz

is that we get to teach broad liberal arts courses for our

undergraduates. At one point, I taught a course on

Psychology and Religion--a curious enterprise for a second-

language researcher, but a fascinating one. I want to begin

this paper with a bit of theology--specifically, I want to

discuss grace and predestination. These are issues that

brought about riots in the streets of Rome in the year 417.

The riots were between two groups: one group followed a

British monk, Pelagius; the other group consisted of sup-

porters of a North African bishop, Augustine. The Pelagians

were convinced that salvation requires good works--you save

yourself by the way you live. The Augustinian notion was

that you are saved by something that happens to you--

salvation comes about by the gift of grace freely given by


We don't have much rioting over such issues these days,

but I think there is a very similar debate going on in the

second-language literature. It comes to the fore especially

when we start discussing language instruction. What I would

like to do in this paper is trace what I see to be the main

lines of this debate and discuss some of the implications

for teaching. My position may seem heretical--indeed the

position I tend to favor, Pelagianism, was condemned as a

heresy--but I hope my readers will have a more open mind

than did the Church in the fifth century.

Nature: Chomsky

I would like to begin with what for many is accepted

dogma in matters linguistic--namely, the ex cathedra state-

ments of Noam Chomsky. As you know, Chomsky argued that the

ability to acquire a human language is genetically deter-

mined. The theory postulates that the child faces a "pro-

jection problem" in that the language-learning task must be

accomplished with deficient input data. The only way to

explain how children succeed is to assume that they possess

a Language Acquisition Device endowed with a Universal Gram-

mar that comprises a rich set of innate principles that

govern the emergence of language. These principles of the

human mind are, to a degree, biologically determined and

specialized for language learning. As Chomsky put it:

Universal grammar is taken to be the set of proper-

ties, conditions, or whatever, that constitute the

"initial" state of the language learner, hence the

basis on which knowledge of language develops (1980,


These abstract and linguistically significant principles

underlie all languages and comprise the essential faculty

for language with which all individuals are in general uni-

formly and equally endowed.

The Universal Grammar constrains the hypotheses that

children make and the child's language environment deter-

mines which principles of the Universal Grammar will be

accessed. Acquisition involves setting the parameters of a

particular language in a specific way.

Thus, the language properties naturally inherent in the

human mind are thought to consist of a set of general prin-

ciples that apply to all grammars and that leave certain

parameters open. Universal Grammar is seen to set the lim-

its within which human languages can vary.

The Chomskyan position views Universal Grammar as part

of the brain. Consequently, "learning" is not the correct

term to describe how language develops. To cite one commen-


A bulb becomes a flower; some cells become a lung.

We do not say that the bulb "learns" to be a flower

or the cells "learn" to be a lung, although in both

cases certain aspects of the environment such as wa-

ter and nourishment are necessary to the process.

Instead we say the bulb and the cells "grow." Their

growth is the realization of their genetic potential

in conjunction with "triggers" from the

environment...{Similarly} Universal Grammar present

in the child's mind grows into the adult's knowledge

of the language so long as certain environmental

"triggers" are provided....Language acquisition is

the growth of the mental organ of language triggered

by certain language experiences (Cook 1985, 3-4).

In other words, given the right environment, children natur-

ally acquire languages. It just happens.

Unfortunately, at this point in time, UG theory does

not have a great deal to say to teachers. There is simply

not enough empirical work that has been done in this frame-

work and much of the UG literature is terribly specialized.

Unless you are really into bounding nodes, pro-drop parame-

ters, and preposition stranding, the recent Universal Gram-

mar literature may seem to you to be a form of linguistic

scholasticism, where people are arguing over problems with

as much relevance to everyday concerns as the question of

how many angels can stand on the point of a pin.

Grace: Krashen

Now I would like to turn to second-language learning,

and specifically to the theory of Stephen Krashen. Like

Chomsky, Krashen believes that the human species is natur-

ally endowed with a Language Acquisition Device. Indeed,

Krashen has argued that adult learners have access to the

same Language Acquisition Device (LAD) that children use

(1982). Furthermore, Krashen goes beyond Chomsky in the

role he assigns input. Input for Krashen, I will argue,

serves the same purpose in his theory as grace in

Augustine's--it is the key to salvation.

Krashen's theory clearly represents the most ambitious

theoretical account of the second-language learning process

that we have. Indeed, Krashen has argued that his paradigm

provides a general or "overall theory" (1985, 1) of second-

language acquisition with important implications for

language teaching. And indeed, the theory has achieved con-

siderable popularity among second-language teachers in the

United States. This is due in large measure to Krashen's

ability to package his ideas in a way that makes them

readily understandable to practitioners. On the other hand,

the theory has been seriously criticized on various grounds

by second-language researchers and theorists (Gregg 1984;

Long 1985; McLaughlin 1978; Taylor 1984). Indeed,

"Krashen-bashin'" has become a favorite pasttime at confer-

ences and in journals dealing with second-language research.

Critics raise the following objections to Krashen's

theory and its five major hypotheses:

(1) The Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis. Krashen distin-

guishes "acquisition" from "learning." Critics argue

that this distinction is not clearly defined and that

it is impossible to determine which process is operat-

ing in a particular case. Hence a central claim of the

theory, that "learning" cannot become "acquisition,"

cannot be tested empirically. Nor is the notion of

acquisition that Krashen advanced seen to be consistent

with current linguistic theory.

(2) The Monitor Hypothesis. Krashen has been forced by

empirical evidence to place severe restrictions on the

conditions required for use of the Monitor. Because

the Monitor is so restricted in its application,

"learning," which is thought to involve the use of the

Monitor, can easily be dispensed with as an integral

part of gaining facility in a second language. Indeed,

Krashen argues that formal instruction is helpful only

because it is a source of comprehensible input. In his

most recent writings, Krashen gives little attention to

the Monitor notion.

(3) The Natural Order Hypothesis. The case for the Natural

Order Hypothesis is based largely on the morpheme stu-

dies, which, it is now generally agreed, are of ques-

tionable methodological validity and which, because

they focussed on final form, provided little informa-

tion about acquisitional processes. If the Natural

Order Hypothesis is to be accepted, it must be in a

weak form, which postulates that some things are

learned before others, but not always. Krashen has

provided no theory as to why this is the case, so this

hypothesis does not tell us much.

(4) The Input Hypothesis. The Input Hypothesis is unte-

stable because no definition is given of the key

concept, "comprehensible input." The argument that

effective input contains structures just beyond the

syntactic complexity of those found in the current

grammar of the acquirer leads nowhere, because it

assumes a non-existent theory of acquisition sequences.

The Input Hypothesis also fails to account for the

elimination of incorrect intermediate forms, and pro-

vides no way of distinguishing between different

instructional methods (each of which, if effective, can

be argued to provide comprehensible input).

(5) The Affective Filter Hypothesis. The Affective Filter

Hypothesis is also of questionable validity because

Krashen has provided no coherent explanation for the

development of the affective filter and no basis for

relating the the affective filter to individual differ-

ences in language learning. The hypothesis is incapa-

ble of predicting with any precision the course of

linguistic development and its outcome.

Obviously, these points require a longer treatise (see

McLaughlin 1987), but you can see that I believe that each

of Krashen's five hypotheses is open to criticism. Krashen

has made broad and sweeping claims for his paradigm, claims

that would be disputed by most researchers in the field

today. For instance, in advocating the Natural Approach to

second-language teaching, Krashen and Terrell argued that

this approach

is based on an empirically grounded theory of second

language acquisition, which has been supported by a

large number of scientific studies in a wide variety

of language acquisition and learning contexts (1983,


This is, at best, a controversial statement. Many of

Krashen's critics would maintain that he has not defined his

terms with enough precision, that the empirical basis of the

theory is weak, and that the theory is not clear in its


This is not to say that Krashen is wrong in all of his

prescriptions about teaching. I and many researchers work-

ing in the field agree with him on basic assumptions, such

as the need to move from grammar-based to communicatively

oriented language instruction, the role of affective factors

in language learning, and the importance of acquisitional

sequences in second-language development. But I and most

other researchers would stress the need for more research on

each of these topics. We are uncomfortable with general

all-inclusive theories at this stage of our knowledge.

In addition, I, and a number of other authors, find

that there are three unfortunate tendencies in Krashen's

writings: (1) to switch assumptions to suit his purposes

(Gregg 1984), (2) to make sweeping statements on the basis

of weak empirical data (Taylor 1984), and (3) to brush aside

conflicting evidence in footnotes (Takala 1984). The last

of these is especially disturbing, as the readers of

Krashen's works are unlikely to pore through densely printed

footnotes, which in many instances contain the most impor-

tant arguments against his theory.

Instead, many teachers accept the theory as the word of

God and preach it to the unenlightened. In their enthusiasm

for the Gospel according to Krashen, his disciples do a

disservice to a field where there are so many unresolved

theoretical and practical issues and where so many research

questions are unanswered.


What Chomsky and Krashen have in common, I would argue,

is a view of the learner as someone to whom something hap-

pens. For Chomsky language develops like a flower from a

bulb; for Krashen the learner gets appropriate input from

the environment and language is naturally "acquired." These

are very Augustinian positions; the learner is essentially a

passive recipient to whom language learning happens natur-

ally or through the saving grace of "comprehensible input."

The learner is predestined to learn the language, given

appropriate input.

These positions contrast sharply with the view of some

of the Pelagians in the field. For example, I would consider

Lily Wong Fillmore to be, at least, a semi-Pelagian. In one

of her papers (1985) she made a number of important points.

The first of these is that:

Learners have to realize they need to learn the tar-

get language and must be motivated to do so.

Wong Fillmore argued that learning does not take place by

osmosis. It is not enough simply to place a learner in an

environment where he or she hears "comprehensible input."

Motivation is basic to language learning, she contended.

This leads to the second point:

Learners have to participate in interactions with

native speakers.

The reason this is important, according to Wong Fillmore, is

that the quality of their participation plays a crucial role

in getting native speakers to use the language in special

ways that make speech samples usable as language learning

data. Such interaction requires special strategies, and

this is a third point:

Learners must make native speakers aware of their

special linguistic needs and get them to make what-

ever accommodations and adjustments are necessary

for successful communication.

Thus learning is thought of as an active process where

learners have to engage in the enterprise, trying out the

language and giving native speakers the cues they need to

know that they must adjust their language and help make the

communication work. In other words, learning a language--

like being saved for Pelagius, requires effort. You can't

just sit back and wait for it to happen gratuitously. You

have to do something.

I would count myself on the side of the Pelagians--or I

suppose more accurately, as a semi-Pelagian like Lily Wong

Fillmore. You need all the help you can get, but you need to

work on it too. You need good input, and you need to put

out the effort to make sense of it and to use it. I believe

it is wrong to stress one aspect to the neglect of the

other--this where babes and bathwater comes in.

Consider, for example, Krashen's arguments about the

effect of instruction. He argues that formal instruction in

a second language is helpful only because it is a source of compre-

hensible input. Teaching students grammar is seen

merely to provide a topic for discussion and is effective

because it serves as a carrier of comprehensible input. As

we have seen, the main function of the second-language class

according to Krashen is to provide learners with good and

grammatical comprehensible input that is unavailable to them

on the outside, and to bring them to the point where they

can obtain comprehensible input on their own in the "real


Such a position, however, ignores the advanced cogni-

tive development of adults and the advantages of formal

teaching and learning. Krashen argued that the best way to

learn a second language is to approach the language as chil-

dren do when they are acquiring their first language--rather

than focusing on form or memorizing vocabulary, the learner

needs to understand messages. But consider the time it takes

for a child to learn a first language: assuming that young

children are exposed to a normal linguistic environment for

at least five hours a day, they will have had, conserva-

tively, 9,000 hours of exposure between the ages of 12

months and 6 years. In contrast, the Army Language School in

California regarded 1,300 hours as sufficient for an

English-speaking adult to attain near-native competence in

Vietnamese (Burke 1974). Clearly, adult learners have cogni-

tive skills that enable them to take advantage of formal

instruction. To assert dogmatically that formal instruction

in the grammar is useless for more advanced learners is to

eliminate a valuable shortcut in the learning process.

Another problem for Krashen's theory concerns the elim-

ination of incorrect forms. If the learner has learned

incorrect intermediate forms, there is no way in Krashen's

system for these forms to be changed, except through more

comprehensible input. According to the theory, acquisition

is not affected by negative data or specific structural

teaching. Krashen acknowledged this problem:

The theory predicts that eradication of fossilized

forms that result from the acquisition of intermedi-

ate forms will be difficult.... The theory also

predicts that drill and conscious attention to form

will not be a permanent cure--using the conscious

Monitor will only cover up the error temporarily,

learning does not be come acquisition (1985, 48).

How then are such incorrect forms to be eliminated? The

answer is "large, fresh doses of comprehensible input:"

One possibility is that there may be a way 'around'

rather than a way out. While the acquirer may not

be able to forget, or 'un-acquire' acquired forms,

he may be able to acquire a new language, a new ver-

sion, a new 'dialect' of the target language (1985,


The absurdity of this explanation is immediately apparent.

Would the correction of each incorrect grammatical form mean

that the speaker had acquired a new 'dialect'? What happens

to the old 'dialect'? Presumably old versions remain, and

the learner speaks a new version as well.

More important, how does exposure to more comprehensi-

ble input lead to revision? Krashen (1985) suggested that

to initiate change the learner must compare _ i, the present

state of the system, with any data suggesting that a new

rule is required. If there is a discrepancy, the new rule

becomes a candidate for acquisition. Unfortunately, there

are cases where the inconsistency between the present state

of the system and the input data will not be apparent from

an examination of the input. Lydia White (1985) has pro-

vided a number of such examples. For instance, a French

speaker, learning English, must learn that in English,

unlike French, an adverb cannot come between a verb and a

direct object. In English we cannot say "The dog bit

viciously the boy." Yet adverbial placement in English is

relatively free, so that sentences such as "The dog bit the

boy viciously," "The dog viciously bit the boy," and

"Viciously, the dog bit the boy" are all allowed. A native

speaker of French who assumes that English is like French in

adverbial placement will not receive positive input indicat-

ing that this is not the case. Nor will this information

come from extra-linguistic sources. In other words, they

will have to be told the rule.

Another example is a Spanish speaker learning English

who assumes that empty pronouns are allowed, such as "Is

very busy" for "She is very busy." In Spanish, lexical pro-

nouns and empty pronouns are not mutually exclusive, and the

learner is likely to think that the same is true in English.

Hearing sentences such as "She is very busy" does not pro-

vide the learner with information that "Is very busy" is not

allowed. One way people learn these rules is through formal

instruction, where the discrepancy between their intermedi-

ate forms and target-language norms can be pointed out.

Indeed, by learning such rules adult learners can greatly

reduce the time it takes to become proficient a second


In short, I think that there is a place in the second-

language classroom for grammar instruction. Fortunately, so

do most teachers. Furthermore, there is research evidence

that formal instruction assists in the acquisition of new

structures (Ellis, 1989; Long, 1983). But what about voca-

bulary acquisition? Does the osmosis model hold for vocabu-

lary, or can vocabulary be taught?


Here is where I become more drastically heretical.

First, let me give the currently orthodox position. I think

it can be summarized as follows. Although there are dif-

ferent estimates of adult vocabulary size, there is general

agreement that the typical adult has a vocabulary of tens of

thousands of words. Six-year-old children have vocabularies

estimated at from 6000 to 24,000 words. Thus, during the

school years, children acquire thousands and thousands of

new words.

How do they do this? They do it, the answer is, by

reading. Children learn words naturally through reading,

just as they have learned words naturally through speech.

It is the child's search for meaning that "drives" him or

her to understand printed words. Comprehension of new voca-

bulary is acquired through context. Explicit, direct teach-

ing of vocabulary out of context is not helpful and may lead

to reading difficulties (Smith 1979). Instead the focus

should be on learning from context. This is one of the

major tenets of such currently popular methods as the

language-experience or total language approach.

One important aspect of learning from context is that

not just any text is effective in developing word meanings

in children. Carol Chomsky (1972) reported evidence that

those children who were read to most and who read more for

their own pleasure, were highest on measures of vocabulary

development and reading comprehension. Further, her study

indicated that the highest scores in reading achievement

were made by those students who read or were read to from

books on higher readability levels than their own linguistic

development. That is, reading books with hard words and dif-

ficult syntax contributed significantly to the development

of reading vocabulary and comprehension.

This, of course, is reminiscent of Krashen's "I + 1"--

that is, that the input to the language learner should be

slightly in advance of the learner's ability. Indeed,

Krashen (1988) has argued that the Input Hypothesis applies

to reading just as it does to speech, and that the best way

to develop a vocabulary in a second language is to read in

that language, especially material slightly in advance of

where you are in that language. After all, this is the

natural way in which vocabulary is built up in the first


Krashen argues further that direct instruction in voca-

bulary is not worth the extra time and effort, and that

research on direct instruction shows only modest effects.

His prescription: read, read, and read some more. Direct

instruction in vocabulary is ineffectual. Here I think we

are back to a babes and bathwater problem.

I think that Krashen and others arguing against direct

vocabulary instruction fail to make an important distinc-

tion: between (a) remembering what a defined vocabulary

item means given the meaning, and (b) inferring the meaning

from internal and external contextual cues. This distinc-

tion between remembering and inferring is important because

vocabulary-remembering strategies and vocabulary-inferring

processes are complementary and essential aspects of vocabu-

lary acquisition. Taking a strong (and perhaps heretical)

Pelagian line, I would like to argue that with all due

respect for the importance of the whole language approach

and the natural approach, there should be a place in the

language curriculum for the direct teaching of vocabulary.

Just as it is wrong to throw out grammar instruction, in my

opinion it is wrong--and at odds with a great deal of exper-

imental research--to discard the direct teaching of word


What I would like to do now is review briefly some of

the experimental evidence, then conclude with a few remarks

about implications for teaching vocabulary. As you might

suppose, my argument will be that learning by osmosis is not

enough--it doesn't just happen to you-- you have to work at


Salvation through Good Works

The distinction I just made, between vocabulary

remembering and vocabulary inferring relates to two dif-

ferent aspects of acquiring meanings. Learners can derive

vocabulary meanings from context, but this process does not

in itself foster retention of meanings. On the other hand,

techniques directed at remembering do not permit learners to

infer the meanings of undefined vocabulary words (Pressley,

Levin, & McDaniel 1987). Both processes are important and,

I would argue, both processes are involved in the child's

acquisition of vocabulary.

Obviously, we build up a great deal of our vocabulary

knowledge by inferring the meanings of words in context. We

are exposed to new vocabulary through textbooks, lectures,

newspapers, friends, and so on. Most of the words we learn

we learn from context, by inferring the meaning on the basis

of selective comparison of new and old information (Stern-

berg 1987). If we provide students with a rich language

environment, their vocabularies will develop and reading

comprehension will improve. Students in classrooms with

more varied and challenging materials show greater gains in

reading skills than students in classes where the books were

below the students' reading levels (Chall & Snow 1982).

But this is not to say that vocabulary cannot or should

not be taught directly without relying on context. Indeed,

for about 50 years research evidence has accumulated that

indicates that direct teaching of word meanings is highly

effective. In a study done in 1938, Gray and Holmes exam-

ined whether wide reading or a program of direct vocabulary

instruction was more effective for vocabulary development.

Using fourth graders as subjects, they found that direct

instruction resulted in significantly larger gains on tests

of vocabulary and reading comprehension and in greater

"interest and general command of ideas and words in group

discussions" (p. 56). The positive effects of direct

instruction were especially noticeable for children of lower


In a more recent study, Levin, Johnson, Pittelman,

Hayes, Levin, Shriberg, and Toms-Bronowski (1984) compared a

specific direct instruction method, the mnemonic keyword

technique, with a contextual-analysis strategy using fourth-

and fifth-grade children. The mnemonic keyword method is a

direct teaching method in which learners are trained to gen-

erate an image of the definition referent interacting with a

keyword. The keyword is simply a familiar concrete word

that resembles a salient part of the unfamiliar vocabulary

word. For example, the English word carlin means old woman.

Using the keyword car, a learner might generate an image of

an old woman driving a car. In this experiment, contextual

analysis required that the students search for clues con-

tained in short paragraphs, clues that enabled inference of

the meanings of unfamiliar vocabulary words contained in the

paragraphs. Students provided with keyword illustrations

later remembered about 50 per cent more definitions when

cued with the vocabulary words than did students in the

contextual-analysis condition. This held for both higher

and lower achieving students.

Similar results were found in a number of studies

involving children from fourth- to eighth-grade levels

(Levin, McCormick, Miller, Berry, & Pressley 1982; Pressley,

Ross, Levin, & Ghatala 1984). In these studies, children

using the keyword method recalled on the average 50 percent

more definitions than did subjects using context. Similar

findings have been reported in numerous studies with adults

(Pressley, Levin & McDaniel, 1987). Even when students have

been given extensive training in using context, the keyword

method is a superior vocabulary-remembering strategy.

What these findings indicate, it seems to me, is that

certain types of strategies can be used to learn and

remember vocabulary items apart from context and that this

learning and retention can be quite efficient and long-

lasting. Mnemonic techniques, such as the keyword approach,

are powerful strategies because they provide a direct link

between the vocabulary item and its meaning. In the keyword

approach there is a direct retrieval path: when cued with

the vocabulary word, the learner can proceed directly to the

keyword, then to the keyword interaction, and finally to the

associated definition.

Even proponents of the contextual approach concede that

the experimental evidence indicates that mnemonic tech-

niques, especially the keyword method, are faster and more

efficient than contextual approaches for learning specific

vocabulary. However, they argue that faster and more effi-

cient is not necessarily better. Sternberg (1987), for

example, raises the following objections to the use of

direct methods:

(1) The keyword method and other direct methods require

that the learner know in advance the meaning of the

words to be learned. Learning from context does not.

During the course of most vocabulary learning, one does

not have definitions readily available. Because most

of us are basically lazy, we prefer to derive the mean-

ing from context rather than looking up the meaning of

words in the dictionary and applying a mnemonic stra-


(2) The keyword method is not natural. Sternberg (1987)

likens it to speed reading. It is more efficient, but

how many people continue to use it beyond the time they

learned it. Like speed reading, mnemonic techniques

require a great deal of mental effort. The assumption

again is that people are not likely to want to expend

all that effort to remember words.

(3) Finally, direct methods such as the keyword approach

are just not efficient enough. There is too much that

has to be learned--learning from context is the only

way whereby we can learn so many words.

Actually, these criticisms are very Augustinian. For

Sternberg, as for Augustine, human nature is basically cor-

rupt. People are lazy and unwilling to put out effort.

Against this notion of a degenerate human nature is the more

Pelagian view, which in the present context translates into

to contention that learners do, in fact, put forth a great

deal of effort to learn and remember words and their defini-

tions. This is the view expressed by Michael Pressley and

his colleagues:

Much of naturalistic vocabulary instruction involves

explicit presentation of vocabulary words and their

definitions. That is, vocabulary instruction is

aimed at getting children to remember provided mean-

ings rather than getting them to infer meanings.

For example, much of vocabulary teaching with young

children involves repetitive matching of a name with

its referent, such as "ball" with a picture of a

ball (Werner & Kaplan, 1952). Labeling of referents

is a prominent part of mother-infant interaction

during the first 3 years of life (Chapman, 1977;

Moerk, 1972; Ninio, 1980, 1983; Ninio & Bruner,

1978). Preschooler's picture books are filled with

objects that parents label for their children

(Pressley, Levin & McDaniel, 1987, p. 108).

In school, this direct training of vocabulary words and

their meanings continues:

Grade-school reading programs include exercises with

vocabulary items and their definitions presented to-

gether (e.g., Whyte & Shular, 1974). Lists of words

and their meanings are included in most second-

language curricula (e.g., O"Brien, Lafrance, Brack-

feld, & Churchill, 1970), even when the method of

instruction is principally language use in context

(e.g., Ray & Lutz, 1969). Many high school English

and college-preparation courses include lessons on

vocabulary, including texts filled with lists of

words and their definitions (e.g., Lewis, 1982).

These examples fly in the face of the claim that

real world vocabulary acquisition follows principal-

ly from people inferring meanings from context

(Pressley, Levin, & McDaniel, 1987, p. 108).

I think that these authors are essentially correct. In

spite of the opposition to direct vocabulary teaching

without context, many children are continually exposed to

instructions involving the explicit pairing of new vocabu-

lary words and their definitions. Children learn lists of

spelling words with their meanings or they memorize vocabu-

lary in the second-language classroom. I would argue that

this is not a bad thing--as long as students are taught

efficient strategies for remembering vocabulary.

I need to be careful to underscore the point that pro-

moting the use of mnemonic strategies does not preclude

teaching students more efficient strategies for inferring

meanings from context. I am arguing for both approaches.

Earlier I made a distinction between remembering and infer-

ring meaning. We want students to remember words and their

meanings so that they can understand them when they confront

them in texts and use them in their writing and in speech.

Even after students succeed in inferring the meaning of a

word from context, they need to remember the word and its

meaning so that they do not have to go through the same

inferencing process the next time they encounter the word.

I think we all evolve our own strategies to encode in memory

the meanings of words we have figured out. That is,

vocabulary-inferring processes and vocabulary-remembering

strategies are complementary operations.


I mentioned earlier that Pelagianism was condemned; a

few centuries later Augustine's position was also rejected.

The Church decided that both grace and good works are neces-

sary for salvation. Rather than "either-or" we have the "via


Now that makes sense to me. And I think--to come back

to second-language pedagogy--that this "middle-of-the-road"

approach is what most teachers intuitively adopt. Even when

they have been firmly sold on the natural approach, teachers

are not likely to reject grammar teaching entirely. Nor do

I think most teachers are likely to reject direct teaching

of vocabulary.

The Zeitgeist is such that we are prone to favor more

natural and more open procedures in teaching. We believe

that such approaches lead to greater cognitive development

and greater satisfaction with school than more direct and

structured approaches. But the research evidence does not

always support this view (Chall, 1983; Rosenshine, 1979;

Stallings, 1975), and as we have seen from the research just

discussed, direct teaching methods can be more efficient and

produce greater long-terms effects than more natural,

wholistic, contextualized techniques.

However, I do not want you to give the impression that

I am arguing against experiential learning, wholistic learn-

ing, the natural approach, or any other currently sacrosanct

doctrines. I am simply noting that, historically speaking,

people who pushed particular doctrines to the extreme often

got burned--and not just figuratively. What is called for is

a healthy eclecticism.

Focusing attention occasionally on grammatical rules

and teaching techniques of memory management to facilitate

the acquisition and retrieval of words and their meanings

are not antithetical to a natural approach. Teachers who

train students to use learning and retention strategies are

not violating principles of the experiential or the whole-

language approach, but are providing their students with

higher level, metacognitive knowledge about learning

(Kohonen, 1989). Some students can acquire this knowledge

on their own; others profit from direct instruction.

I am calling for a more "catholic" approach and a

rejection of dogmatism. There is no denying that the dog-

matic insistence on grammar, pattern drills, and rote learn-

ing of vocabulary, reduced the language classroom to abso-

lute drudgery. But in our enthusiasm for what is natural,

spontaneous, and fun, we can fail to recognize that second-

language learning is hard work. For most of us, knowledge-

-unfortunately-- maketh a bloody entrance.

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