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中国学生口语自学的误区(二)

2005-08-31 00:00

  Consequently,many desperately look for native-speaking partners,some paying a small fortune for the luxury of speaking with inexperienced expatriates4 who do little more than chat. Worse yet,opportunities to speak regularly with a Chinese partner at little or no cost are ignored out of fear. In short,the “native speaker's English” craze is somewhat synonymous with the “chinglish”phobia5.

  The view that communicating with another student somehow damages your English rests on the age-old,erroneous6 assumption that language acquisition is a linear progression,with the native speaker at the top of the hierarchy7. Perhaps native speaker teachers are guilty of feeding this perception by labeling courses,students,textbooks sequentially in terms of levels (i.e. beginner,pre-intermediate,intermediate etc); in the arrangement of grammar structures from simple to complex; and in reading and listening passages selected by the number of words they contain (i.e. easy,moderate,difficult).

  Linguists who have studied the actual process of learning a second language know that developing a second language is anything but8 a linear process. It can follow patterns and steps but these steps and patterns frequently break down. Language learning often progresses randomly and chaotically9. We sometimes progress rapidly,at other times we learn slowly,there are areas we seem to master easily,and areas in which we never seem to  make any headway10. Sometimes the words and sentences come easily; sometimes they do not.

  Moreover,when we talk about the quality of English we must be prepared to acknowledge that it is very much a subjective and contextual evaluation. We know that formal standard professor may find her English very effective in front of her peers,but next to11 useless with inner city teenagers in New York. Therefore,can we still say that her English is better than the teenagers? Obviously,it would depend on who was judging. With English,quality is often an issue of appropriateness as well as grammaticality.

  Researchers who have studied English language learning have found that people progress as they practice,and ultimately they self-correct what they say. It is unnecessary to have someone correct your English constantly,because mistakes most often derive from a lack of English instincts rather than a lack of awareness or knowledge of the correct grammar structure. The same student who never makes a mistake doing grammar exercises on paper will make them while speaking but ultimately he will adjust his structures as he continues to use them.

  Moreover,researchers who have conducted studies of various groups of learners have found that learners who communicate with partners of a similar level tend to progress faster than learners whose partners' levels are much higher or lower. One can understand why this is so when a learner communicates with someone at a lower level,but why is it also true of those who communicate with someone at a higher level?

  The reasons are mostly psychological. Having a partner whose English is much more developed discourages the speaker and the fear of making mistakes tends to stifle smooth conversation. However,the researchers found that those who communicated with partners who were near their own level progressed faster. Thus,in fact your classmate who is at the same level of English as you may indeed be your finest teacher.

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