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Promoting Language Development through Systematic Explicit Instruction

February 14 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Please join us and our guests in a series of lectures open to Columbia language community and beyond. Register here
About this Event

Every semester, the LRC hosts a series of lectures open to the language community at Columbia. We hope that these talks illuminate recent research and practices in the field, while allowing for an opportunity to develop relationships with colleagues from other institutions.

Promoting Language Development through Systematic Explicit Instruction

with James P. Lantolf

Greer Professor in Language Acquisition & Applied Linguistics, Emeritus , The Pennsylvania State University

Changjiang Professor , Xi’an Jiaotong University School of Foreign Studies

It is uncontroversial that the goal of classroom instruction is to maximize the development of proficiency in the target language. How to achieve this goal through instruction and practice is, however, not free of controversy. Over the years the pendulum has swung from explicitly foregrounding language structure accompanied by extensive student practice through various drills and exercises, to little or no explicit focus on language accompanied by extensive communicative activities designed to encourage students to discover the systematic properties of the target language. Early approaches to explicit instruction (which continue to have their influence on contemporary language pedagogy) were based on assumptions about language that were not particularly appropriate for pedagogical instruction either because they failed to provided in-depth knowledge and relied heavily on context-specific “rules of thumb” explanations, or because they were grounded in linguistic theorizing that was difficult to adapt to classroom needs. Communicative approaches to instruction downplayed explicit knowledge and assumed that despite the limited amount of exposure available in classrooms learners would nevertheless be able to figure out the often subtle and complex properties of the target language on their own, or with minimal teacher guidance. As it turns out, neither approach has resulted in high levels of language proficiency among classroom learners. The argument made and illustrated in this presentation is that explicit knowledge is indeed necessary if language development is to occur, especially with regard to the complex and subtle features of the target language (which learners are not likely to discover on their own), but this knowledge must be systematic and generalizable, it must be based on language as meaning rather than structure, it must be offered to learners in a visual and holistic manner, and it must be linked to communicative activities that allow learners to explore innovative ways of using the knowledge to fulfill their own communicative intentions. The presentation will first discuss the psychological and linguistic principles that support the importance of explicit instruction. It will then consider the results of several classroom studies in various languages, including English, French, Spanish, and Chinese.


February 14
2:00 pm - 4:00 pm


Language Resource Center

Language Resource Center