By Andries W. Coetzee
Apr 21, 2013
Professor Diane Larsen-Freeman continued her busy presentation schedule in April (see here and here for reports on other presentations that Diane gave over the course of the past year). On April 4th, Diane gave an invited colloquium presentation in the Department of Modern Languages at Carnegie Mellon University. Diane's presentation dealt with a fundamental question of foreign language learning: what should be the goal of foreign language instruction? She argued that the attainment of native-like performance is not only unrealistic for many learners, but also not necessarily a valid goal. In stead, she argued for a non-telic view of language, under which language is a complex adaptive system with no fixed endpoint. The title and abstract of Diane's presentation are given below. A flyer distributed by the Carnegie Mellon University to promote Diane's presentation is available here.
The Goal of Modern Language Instruction
What should be the goal of studying a modern language? It has long been acknowledged that native-like performance is not a realistic outcome of language instruction, certainly not for the majority of learners. Even if it were, the very definition of what native speaker performance is is problematic (Davies 2003). Furthermore, there is the political question of whether a monolingual native speaker should be the model for second language learning (Ortega 2005). Besides these objections, there is the matter of the nature of language itself. In this presentation, I will make the case for the non-telic nature of language. I will propose that language is a complex adaptive system (Ellis and Larsen-Freeman 2009), with no endpoint (Larsen-Freeman 2005). Further, I will suggest that the view that language users are mere hosts of the language (Kroskrity 2004) they are learning is inaccurate, and denies their agency. I recognize, however, that teaching is essentially a normative process. I will conclude the presentation with some preliminary thoughts on how to reconcile the normativity of teaching with a non-telic view of language.