Communication Breakdown

Pocket Quintilian

Yesterday, I was involved in quite a lengthy Twitter exchange regarding the distinction between knowledge and understanding in language learning, if such a distinction exists. One of the topics that came up in the course of this was the supposed superiority of “authentic” language learning activities. This is an area in which many of those who train prospective language teachers frankly show more enthusiasm than sense.

“Authentic tasks” are always a popular wheeze among education academics and quasi-experts, and in the area of languages an “authentic task” is often, somewhat incorrectly, taken to mean “mimicking a purposeful spoken or written exchange between native speakers” (usually the former). During my own language “method” training, such “communicative” tasks were championed as the only real method of squaring the LOTE circle: keeping students “engaged” while immersing them in the target language to sharpen their language skills.

In practice, these communicative activities often accomplish…

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