Gianfranco Conti’s The Language Gym is a blog, but really it’s a sales pitch for his book The Language Teacher Toolkit. Actually he’s the co-author but it’s hard to find the other bloke’s name.
There’s another web site too, with a front page that reminds me of Orwell’s 1984. Try it. I think it’s horrific, like you’re trapped, like you can’t get out, like you have to do the work out, like come on, sign up, follow.
The book claims that the tools it describes can successfully help teachers to get learners to transfer knowledge held in some version of working memory to some version of long term memory, and then ensure some version of communicative competence. Conti and his co-author use the distinction between working memory and long term memory as if they knew how the two constructs worked in SLA; as if, that is, they were working with some theory of SLA that had some definitive explanation of the putative transition. None exists. What do Conti and his co-author think happens to input? What do they think the difference between input and intake is? What do they think “noticing” does? Come to that, what do they think “noticing” is? What theory is it that they think explains how knowledge supposedly held in working memory goes into long term memory? What happens then? The book is stuffed with baloney, but I’ll deal with the book more fully on another day.
Six Useless Things Foreign Teachers Do
It’s the blog that I want to criticise here. Recently, I noticed to my surprise that people whose opinions I respect “liked” the posts on Conti’s blog, and, in particular, they “liked” the latest post Six Useless Things Foreign Teachers Do. Well I don’t like it. I object to it because
- There’s a strident sales pitch.
- There’s scant respect for research.
The Sales Pitch
The sales pitch is evident throughout this blog. Each and every post ends with a “Buy This Book” call. As if that weren’t enough, there’s a special page devoted to promoting the book where “Oxford University ‘legend’, Professor Macaro, reviews The Language Teacher Toolkit”. Macaro is an Oxford University Legend? Really?
The Respect for Research
As for the scant respect for research, there are claims in Conti’s post which rely on cherry picking academic work and which make little attempt to present the real complexities of the matters discussed. Here are 2 examples
1. As several studies have clearly shown, recasts do not really ‘work’.
This is false. See Long (2007) Problems of SLA, Chapter 4, “Recasts in SLA, the Story so Far”. The case for recasts should be properly considered, not argued with disregard for a proper weighing of the evidence.
2. Direct correction, whereby the teacher corrects an erroneous grammatical form and provides the correct version of that structure with an explanation on margin is pretty much a waste of valuable teacher time.
This is also false. See Bitchener and Ferris (2011) Written Corrective Feedback in Second Language Acquisition and Writing for why it’s false.
When he’s not misrepresenting research findings, Conti is just blowing off. For example, he says
Indirect correction, on the other hand, is not likely to contribute much to acquisition as the learner will not be able to correct what s/he does not know (e.g. I cannot self-correct an omission of the subjunctive if I have not learnt it) and if s/he is indeed able to correct, s/he will not really learn much from it.
Note that this blather is followed by this:
To learn more about my views on this issue read my blog “Why asking students to self-correct their errors is a waste of time”.
Go on, have a look, go and see what he says about why asking students to self-correct their errors is a waste of time, and I hope you’ll note that he’s once again over-stepping the mark.