A critical Review of: Rod Ellis (2005) Principles of Instructed Language Learning

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In Principles of Instructed Language Learning, Ellis offers a reasoned, if succinct, discussion of a number of SLA studies in order to formulate a set of general principles for language pedagogy. For the presentation and the demystification of what
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  Article Review Muhammad Al-Qadi A critical Review of: Rod Ellis (2005) Principles of Instructed Language Learning ELSEVIER System 33 (2005) 209-224 Reviewed and Critiqued by: Muhammad Moustafa Al-Qadi Assessment Coordinator King Saud University PY EFL Program  Article Review Muhammad Al-Qadi In Principles of Instructed Language Learning  , Ellis offers a reasoned, if succinct, discussion of a number of SLA studies in order to formulate a set of general principles for language  pedagogy. For the presentation and the demystification of what he calls “provisional specifications ”, he  draws on a variety of theoretical perspectives, although primarily on the computational model of L2 learning (Lantolf, 1996). First, learners need to develop a rich repertoire of formulaic expressions, which may cater for their fluency. In the meantime, this may serve as a basis for the later development of a rule-based competence, which Ellis considers a  principle for achieving learners‟ accuracy.  Second, focus on meaning is as important as focus on form. Distinction has to be made between semantic meaning, i.e. the meaning of different lexical items, and pragmatic meaning, the contextualized meaning in acts of communication, arguably crucial for language learning. However, it is widely accepted that attendance to form is necessary for acquisition to take place . Schmidt argues for that effect saying “more attention results in more learning” (2001, 30).  Third, instruction needs to develop implicit knowledge of L2 without neglecting explicit knowledge. Knowing “what”  about the language through enhancing declarative knowledge is as important as knowing “how” by means of boosting procedural knowledge. Fourth, instruction needs to take into account the learners‟ built -in-syllabus, possibly achieved through: adopting zero-grammar approach, ensuring learners are developmentally ready for acquiring specific L2 features, and teaching explicit rather than implicit knowledge. Fifth, successful instruction requires extensive input and opportunities for output. The former, being comprehensible, accounts for, and accelerates the rate of acquisition, while the latter forces syntactic processing and tests hypotheses about L2. Sixth, providing an acquisition-rich classroom and a context for language use creates chances for interaction, which is crucial to L2  proficiency. Seventh, teachers need to cater for the variation in their learners‟  aptitude and motivation by adopting different strategies and matching techniques. Finally, conducting different types of measurement of both free and controlled production demonstrates the extent of the effectiveness of instruction, which in turn informs teachers‟  decisions about teaching and learning. This article has numerous good points. By its descriptive value and theoretical validity, Ellis‟s article undoubtedly advances our knowledge and understanding in the field of Second Language  Article Review Muhammad Al-Qadi Acquisition. Not only does it provide teachers with a set of general principles that can help them adopt appropriate approaches, but it also enables them to look beyond theory and textbook to  better investigate and implement what learners need in order to make progress in the acquisition of a second language. With focus on different aspects that relate to language acquisition, this study is comprehensive in scope. Ellis aims at, what he calls, understanding of and contributing to more effective instructed language learning. The study is a source of advice for language teachers and forms a sound basis for teacher training as well. Furthermore, postulations from different theories and studies of SLA have been fully analyzed in order to formulate this set of principles for language pedagogy. In connection with this, Ellis endeavors to preempt the pitfalls of current SLA theories and studies in an attempt to filter their implications and direct his findings towards more effective instructional techniques. Thus, he reiterates, for instance, the importance of focusing on formulaic expressions by following a notional syllabus and a rule-based competence by means of using a structural syllabus as well. Towards the end, Ellis makes a clear distinction between language use and language acquisition. He underlines that use is a means for acquisition, and thus language teachers can incorporate the idea and reflect on their practices. From the onset it must be recognized that any critique setting out to uncover the pitfalls of Ellis‟s article is going to face a significant hurdle, given the comprehensive approach  that underpins the author‟s development of his ten principles.  However, there are weaknesses and shortcomings inherent in the very descriptive power, the external validity, and the practicability of the article. First, the article is stylistically too theoretical, which may challenge readers. For instance, language teachers who do not have a wide range of LT terminologies or enough  professional experience may struggle with such terms as „ explicit knowledge ‟ , „ formulaic expressions ‟ , and „  built-in syllabus ‟ . This may limit the chances of incorporating findings from this study in many classrooms taught by such novice teachers. Second, although one forte of this article lies with its comprehensiveness as Ellis describes contradictory aspects and theories around each one of his principles, this results in an overgeneralization that may be confusing. Some teachers may not be able to weigh different  points of view presented for each principle, which may mislead and confuse rather than guide them. Third, Ellis fails to present a clear definition of what instruction is. The exposition of  Article Review Muhammad Al-Qadi general principles for effective language instruction without any framework for this kind of instruction limits the descriptive validity of his article. Fourth, it is explicitly noted that the overall study draws on psycholinguistic perspectives, which mainly derives from a computational model of SLA (Lantolf, 1996). In connection with this, the article neglects social dimensions as it fails to acknowledge the important role of social contexts in the process of language learning. Fifth, the article deliberately overlooks the concurrent trends in communicative language teaching. Ellis‟s principles go agai nst much of the recent stress on the importance of communicative approaches in Second Language Acquisition. Ellis himself, in the conclusion, pinpoints the need to formulate a set of principles which are based on broader conceptualization in order to address different social as well as cognitive aspects of second language acquisition. Finally, again the overgeneralization in the processing of these principles entails limitations as to their practicability. Rhetorically speaking, Ellis offers the content but forgets the vessel. Some issues, related to curriculum, are left dangling. For instance, how can a curriculum, which caters for the development of both formulaic expressions and rule-based knowledge, be designed? Is there a curriculum that predominantly focuses on pragmatic meaning? According to one investigation into the discourse features of seven dialogues in textbooks and contrasting them with comparable authentic interactions (Gilmore, 2004), textbooks still fail to sufficiently expose L2 learners to natural language, which leaves learners short of noticing pragmatic meaning in acts of communication. To sum up, this article offers a basis for a course in SLA. It is an excellent resource for teachers to start from as it provides a firm ground for a further research in the key topics and ideas covered. However, the pitfalls outlined need addressing to that effect.  Article Review Muhammad Al-Qadi References: Gilmore, A. (2004) A  comparison of textbook and authentic interactions. ELT Journal Volume 58/4. Oxford University Press.   Lantolf, J. (1996) Second language theory building: letting all the flowers bloom ! Language Learning 46, 713  –  749. Schmidt, R. (2001) Attention. In: Robinson, P. (Ed.), Cognition and Second Language  Instruction . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
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