I attended a 3-day Teaching Arabic Grammar workshop for university and school teachers at Leeds University on 22-24 July 2019.  We were 25 participants from the UK, Europe and the USA. Our excellent facilitators were Rasha Soliman and Amanda Howard.

This post is about the afternoon session of Day 1, which looked at Second Language Acquistion (SLA) theory.

Day 1: (afternoon) Scond Language Acquisition (SLA) theory

The first thing we talked about was terminology: what do we mean by form, meaning and use? What is grammar? 

Errors and learning theory in SLA 

Next, we discussed errors and learning theory. Why do language learners make mistakes? Should we correct them? If so, how?

  • In Behaviourism, error correction is extremely important since they are the cause of L1 interference
  • In Mentalism, errors are a part of learning and will disappear with more comprehensible input. You should therefore ignore errors.
  • In the cognitive/skills-based approach, errors are due to lack of knowledge or automisation, so learners need to notice their errors and self-correct
  • In socio-cultural theory, errors indicate learners need more scaffolding and may be due to L1 interference or natural developments in L2 learning

As with all things in life, moderation here is key. Learners will make mistakes, and it is a sign of the learning process taking place. But how, why and when we correct them will make a huge difference to the way they will experience learning a language.

We should aim for a variety of error correction methods, such as peer correction, self correction, teacher correction. We even have the option of making no correction, and instead going back and refocusing on a particular problem area that learners may be making repeated errors in.

Keep things positive and light, and never shame or ridicule a learner for making a mistake!

Activity: Key Concepts in SLA

We were given slips of paper with SLA terms and their definitions printed separately, and we had to match them. Using slips of paper is good for kinetic and visual learners. The activity was given a time limit but more time was given as we were engaged with the task.

    Top tips

    1. Always ensure students have previous exposure to the new grammar point being introduced and use it as an anchor. For example you can start the lesson by saying: ‘Remember when we saw this thing? We’re going to talk about it today’

    2. Students need frequent integration of the four skills, as well as explicit instruction (FoF – focus on form) and contextualised practice, which can be achieved through task-based learning. For example, putting the grammar point in a story to provide a context.

    3. Understanding (receptive) skills (reading and listening) are always stronger than production skills (writing and speaking) in the learning process

    Example activities

    1. Example activities for teaching idafa

    Relating back to the point about students having previous exposure, this is an information gap activity for teaching idafa:

    2. Another activity for teaching idafa, where students look at the images, practice naming the objects, then say who each object belongs to. The arrows on the slide are then hidden again, and students try to remember who each object belongs to.

    After the students have practised the rule and understand how to use it, comes the explicit explanation of the rule.

    3. Further ideas for activities integrating the four skills:

    It was a long but extremely informative and useful first day. Here is the summary of what was covered:

    So this concluded the first day. You can read more about Day 1 here and Day 2 here.