Form-Focused Vs. Meaning-Focused Instruction

The study presented by Maria J. de la Fuente, on L2 (second language) vocabulary acquisition is flawed. Her research not only opens up the definition of “form-focused instruction” to include meaning-based instruction, but also fails to address different learning styles. It is my experience that learning a second language is easier when it is taught in the context of meaning. Overall, I have to agree with the statement made in the “Conclusions, limitations and future research” section of her paper: there are “limitations to the generalization of these results” (Fuente, 2006, p. 287).

Fuente proposes that “a certain amount of focus on form is needed in order to acquire the L2” (p. 265). It is clear in second language classrooms today that this belief is held strong. When I took French classes, in elementary school especially, I was taught the language with a form-based approach. However, I feel as though learning a language is never easier than when a person is placed in a foreign country and forced to learn the language, in a sense. Fuente does not elaborate on Long’s research on meaning-centred instruction or the “negotiation of meaning,” and the context which she presents is in itself unclear in the analysis. That being said, my knowledge of the French language is strong in terms of grammatical understanding and written word, but when it comes to actually having to communicate orally in French, I am relatively weak. I think this reflects the form-focused approach that was adopted by my French teachers in the past.

When we compared L1 acquisition to L2 acquisition, I think it is important to keep in mind that L1 acquisition is not taught with any explicit form-based structure. Every new word and new concept is a new formula based on meaning alone. For this reason, I find it hard to agree with Fuente’s conclusions. Importantly, Fuente included “meaning” into her analysis. She refers to Doughy and Williams’ research to say that “the term form must not be limited solely to grammar points, but rather include all aspects of the L2…” (p. 366). So, in Fuente’s view, form-based instruction is highly important. Though I must ask : if it includes all aspects of the L2, what differs it from meaning-based instruction?

For me, I imagine my students–rough, inner-city kids. How would I approach teaching them a second language? Would I hammer out grammatical forms at them? Absolutely not. I would ask them to create meaning for themselves, in a sense. Form-based instruction, although great in theory, only appeals to those learners with high motivation. Meaning-based instruction may appeal to a wider audience. Not to mention the complexities that come with form-based instruction. What about students with IEP’s or intellectual disabilities? It seems as though Fuente’s study fails to address these types of students. In a first-language English class, learning grammar is generally the students’ least favourite unit. This is because grammar can be complicated, and I firmly believe that you do not need good grammatical skills to be competent in a second language. If you ask the average native English speaker about when to use a comma, chances are they could not give you a complete and fully correct answer. This is because writing conventions are often skewed in normal, everyday conversation. Language learners should be exposed to every day language and acquiring meaning, first and foremost, in my opinion.

Reference

De la Fuente, Maria J. (2006). Classroom L2 vocabulary acquisition: Investigating the role of pedagogical tasks and form-focused instruction. Language Teaching Research; 10; 263. DOI: 10.1191/1362168806lr196oa.

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