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Naturalistic vs classroom learning

In this video, Professor Ros Mitchell, Dr Richard Kiely and Dr Julia Huettner discuss the key differences between naturalistic and classroom learning.
PROFESSOR ROS MITCHELL: Hello. My name is Professor Ros Mitchell. And these are my colleagues, Dr. Julia Huttner and Dr. Richard Kiely. In this video, we’re planning to have a discussion about language learning in the classroom, and what we know– what research has told us about effective language teaching. So to start us off, we need to think about what the main differences are between language learning in a naturalistic context, and language learning in a classroom setting. DR.
RICHARD KIELY: Well, one principal difference is the input, the language that the students in the classroom are exposed to. Compared to a naturalistic setting, there is a lot less language. However, that is planned and sequenced and organised, so that there is a focus on what the teacher has planned for the focus of the lesson. And there is some recycling as well.
ROS MITCHELL: But what about authenticity, and what about spontaneous language use? Are those not features of talk in the classroom as well?
RICHARD KIELY: Yes, absolutely. Spontaneity is really important in classrooms, and this is the challenge of the teacher. This is the art of teaching, to make the language use, and the opportunities for learning, appear like naturalistic language learning, even though it is organised and sequenced.
ROS MITCHELL: So that’s one main area of difference. What would you say are the others? DR.
JULIA HUTTNER: I think the learners themselves are very different. I mean, being older, they’re cognitively more mature, so they have better memories. They have longer attention spans. They have also acquired knowledge before, so they can plan and organise their own learning, and that kind of influences everything they do in the classroom learning situation.
RICHARD KIELY: What about the situation with very young learners?
JULIA HUTTNER: Well, cognitive maturity is a development. So obviously, the younger learners are not as cognitively mature, so they have shorter attention spans. And actually, recent research in Southampton with five, seven, and 11-year-olds has also shown that the very young learners actually do not do as well in classroom-based language learning. But what they do have is a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of engagement with the language learning in the classroom, so even though they are not as good in the beginning, they eventually catch up, just based on their enthusiasm for learning.
RICHARD KIELY: So the effectiveness question. What has recent research told us about language learning in classrooms and what makes classrooms effective?
ROS MITCHELL: Well, in the 1970s and ’80s, we went through a phase of thinking that classrooms should really imitate naturalistic language learning, and classrooms should be imitating first language learning. I think research in recent decades has told us that that’s too simple a story, that classroom learning is a more complex business than that. Yes indeed, classrooms need to provide input, and need to provide a focus on meaning, and on learners making their own meanings, but classrooms also need to provide other things. First of all, it’s been shown clearly that classrooms can help learners by actually developing their conceptual understanding of language, giving them key ideas that will help them make sense of the structure of the new language.
I mean, one example would be the English article system, the use of “the” and “a.” There are many languages, like Russian, for example, that don’t have such a system, and to actually explain that concept– what is an article system, what does it do– is helpful to learners coming from those kinds of language backgrounds. So that’s one clear example.
JULIA HUTTNER: And I think one of the big issues about effective classroom teaching is getting the balance right between saying we focus on accuracy– we focus on, for instance, getting the article system right, getting the gender system right, if for instance you’re learning German– and also encouraging learners to communicate and actually just be fluent, communicate their meaning in the foreign language. Use the foreign language to talk about things that they wish to talk about, or write about them.
RICHARD KIELY: I think the challenge of the language classroom is to combine these areas, so that from the start, the learners are learning the grammatical system. They’re also learning the language as a system of communication within real world contexts, and they are building their own confidence in using the language, in extending their competence in that use, and are aware of the challenges, and the challenges that face them as learners in achieving these goals as language learning progresses. Finally then, we need to consider classrooms as language learning environments over the long haul. We need to have teachers organising activities to sustain confidence, to build motivation, and that’s the way classrooms can be effective.
ROS MITCHELL: Thank you.

In this video, Emeritus Professor Rosamund Mitchell, Dr Richard Kiely and Dr Julia Hüttner discuss naturalistic and classroom language learning.

What are the differences between naturalistic learning and classroom learning? Is one better than the other? What is the role of the teacher and does learner-age make a difference to effective classroom learning?

What do you think are the differences between naturalistic learning and classroom learning? Is one better than the other? Find a comment below that you disagree with and post your answer in reply.
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