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PROFESSION AT THE CROSSROADS
By: John DeMado
In November, 1995, the National Standards for Foreign Language Learning were unveiled in Anaheim, CA. Their arrival precipitated a series of state documents and frameworks which aligned the respective state language agenda with that proposed nationally. In turn, the state agenda was to impact local instruction.
We are truly a profession at the crossroads. As the National Standards focus on language learning rather than language teaching, they have become a source of consternation for many language departments around the nation. Our national organization is the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Our national agenda is the National Standards for Foreign Language Learning. Are languages taught? Or are they, in fact, learned? This is the preeminent issue facing language departments as they swiftly approach the end of the twentieth century.
Most American language teachers are well tenured. Methodologically, they have witnessed, as well as survived, grammar translation, direct method, the onset of audio- lingualism, labored with the notional-functional syllabus and strained to implement the ever mercurial "proficiency" orientation.
Based upon my frequent interactions with language teachers around the nation, it becomes increasingly evident that what impedes us from implementing the recommendations of the National Standards for Foreign Language Learning (as well as its various state level satellites) is our historic "preparation."
Most of us have been amply trained with regard to "methodology;" that is, how the teacher teaches. Very few of us, including the newly arrived to our profession, have a fuller notion of "language acquisition theory;" that is how the human mind actually creates, acquires and learns a language. We are armed with an arsenal of teaching techniques that often miss their mark largely because we don't understand the nature of the target we have in our sights.
Engaged language departments around the nation are turning to the research. The documented contributions of Pinker, Gardner, Krashen, Asher, Chomsky, Freeman & Freeman and many more serve as catalysts for change. Professional and staff development workshops, heretofore focused primarily upon "teaching tips", now emphasize the language acquisition process. At the foundation of these workshops exists one overriding premise:
will never suffice for what learning must accomplish ...