The Psychological Bases of Second Language Learning

Leon A. James



       The topic of this paper is the psychological bases of second language learning, but the subject that really concerns me is that human being we refer to as „the learnerš and I consider a mere coincidence the fact that I happen to focus at this time on the activity involved in second language learning. 1 consider this kind of topical subdivision quite arbitrary, convenient and helpful for certain purposes, but at the same time potentially harmful when its arbitrariness and artificiality are forgotten and the division taken as real. Many factors, conditions, and situations in the educational system at all levels conspire to concretize and reify divisions in learning topics which originate from considerations that are separate from and irrelevant to the learning process itself. It is my feeling that the reasons that maintain curric–ular compartmentalization are either unrelated or actually detrimental to the student and the process of educa–tion. Disciplinary specialization has distinct advantages for certain pur–poses: for conducting research of a certain kind, for becoming a so-called expert in the field and the social. intellectual, and economic advantages that go along with having the status of an expert in our society, for professional and sociopolitical reasons having influence and so on. But it seems tome that too often considerations of this kind are allowed to interfere with the best interests of the student and his education.


The author, Visiting Fellow in the

Department of Psychology, McGill

University, delivered this lecture at

Indiana University, Bloomington, on

November 18, 1970.


        Consider the trappings that sur–round the academic subject of second language learning, professional, educa–tional, academic and political: the FL profession with its organizations. con–ventions, journals, licensing proce–dures, and career opportunities; the FL literature and research, themselves subdivided into areas of specialization and methodological applications; the sociopolitical activities that revolve around the maintenance of ethnic identity, the specialized laws enacted with these interests in mind, and so on.   These various divergent lines of interaction are somehow expected to converge into a meaningful topical unit of a classroom subject. But do they?


        „Second language learningš as a classroom subject is one thing, and being a bilingual person is another thing, and these two things have often very little to do with one another. I believe that both of these can have valid educational objectives, but to confuse them is to neutralize the advantages that either may have to offer. When I went to high school I took Latin and Ancient Greek as school subjects and it was clear to me. and it seemed so to the teacher as well, that the objective was not that of producing a bilingual individual. But when I took Flemish, and Spanish, and German, and French, and Hebrew, a confusion existed: the objective was ostensibly to produce a multilingual individual but the educational acti–vities surrounding these subjects did not differ much from those involving Latin and Greek.


        This was over twenty years ago, and it is now a matter of historical interest in FL education how this kind of confusion was supposedly eliminated. We speak of the advent of the audio-lingual age in FL teaching and we even have dates associated with the inaugu–ration of this new era. The last three or four generations of high school and college students are products of the language laboratory and of pattern practice and the activities that these imply are supposed to attest to the changing educational objectives of second language learning. The objec–tive of the current „modernš era in FL education is to produce a living viable bilingualism that is involved in talking, reading, and writing in two or more languages.


        I shall deal in a moment with the reasons that make me believe that such an objective is quite inadequate, ill defined, and unrealistic, but for the present, let us examine the degree of success of our current educational objectives in FL teaching. On the one hand, the number of students taking a FL has steadily increased over the years so that currently it is estimated that as many as 80% of all high school students in this country are exposed to such a course at one time or another in their educational career. and at the college level this proportion is even higher. This state of affairs attests to the vigor and influence of a profession dedicated to the universalization of FL learning. Let us consider that as a success.


        But now, let us consider some other criteria. How do the students involved in this massive effort feel about it, do they think they are getting anything worthwhile out of it? What proportion of them achieve a state of living bilingualism whereby they can talk, read, and write bilingually? Here, we are entering an area of great controversy and on past occasions when 1 have had the opportunity of discussing this issue in my writings and talks I found myself doing it in an atmosphere of polemics and defensive–ness. For the very act of raising the issue becomes a potential threat to that vast constituency of established and vested interests that is the FL profession. The question is threatening only because we have allowed a con–fusion to arise between the interests of a profession and the interests of the student population while they should have been kept separate in the best interests of both.


        I shall not go into the details of an empirical and experimental nature to support the following two claims: (1) that a majority of high school and college students remain unimpressed by the value of FL study and a good number of them have very distinctly negative attitudes towards these courses, and (2) that the proportion of students who develop sufficient com–petence in their second language to make it possible for them to use it outside the classroom is extremely small. I have attempted in some pre–vious writings (see Jakobovits 1970) to document the students‚ negative atti–tudes and their total lack of bilingual. ity but these two facts are so wide–spread and well known to all con–cerned that they in themselves are not the points of controversy. The contro–versy revolves around the explanation that accounts for these facts. There are those who claim that the fault lies in the audiolingual method. This is countered by the proponents of that method by laying the blame on its misapplication in the form of the uninspiring use of language labora–tories and rigid boring pattern practice exercises in the classroom. There are those who view the students‚ negative attitudes towards FL study as a symptom of a wider educational ma–laise that affects all courses and sub–jects that a "rebelliousš younger generation no longer finds „relevant.š There are those who consider the notion of „FLs for everyoneš a totally unrealistic and misplaced objective. There are those who advocate FLES programs as the only viable ones given the alleged relationship between early age and language learning. And, so goes on the gamut of claims and counterclaims, fault-finding and white–washing.


        I believe we should attempt to extricate ourselves from this level of discourse and take another look from a different vantage point. In the remainder of this paper, I would like to outline what it would take to achieve this new perspective on FL learning.


To begin with, let me state a number of premises that need prior discussion and some subsequent agree–ment:


(1) Bilingualism entails bicultural–ism.


(2) Bilingualism cannot as a rule be achieved in the FL classroom.


(3) There are valid educational ob–jectives in learning a second language that are other than the attainment of      



(4) Learning a second language has associated with it factors and consider–ations that are unique to it and are

     different from learning other school subjects.


(5) When a large proportion of students fail to learn a second language in school, their „failureš is not a reflection of

      the teacher‚s competence or the method he uses.


(6) The conditions that hold under a mass educational system are unfavor–able to the development of an effec–tive


FL curriculum.

I‚d like to take up each of these points in turn.

1.  Bilingualism and biculturalism.


        I suppose it would be possible to define bilingualism in a way that would invalidate the proposition that bilingualism entails biculturalism. In fact. peoples use of the term, both academic and other. varies consider–ably from one extreme that defines bilingualism as a state of linguistic interference involving two or more languages, to the other extreme that reserves the term to describe the state of an individual who is equally at home in two or more languages under all conditions of usage and in addition sounds indistinguishable from native speakers of either language. Actually, one can argue with some merit that the proposition that bilingualism entails biculturalism holds true for both of these extreme definitions, as well as all those in between. In that case, we need to discuss what it is to be bicultural.


        We are faced here with exactly the same problem as that of bilingualism. I find it useful to think of biculturalism in terms of the sharing of two cultures that have some identifiable identity of their own. This is ultimately a matter of classificatory convenience. Thus, in the case of political or national rea–sons, cultural boundary lines are set up that may or may not overlap with the boundaries set up on the basis of economic, religious. ideological, or his–torical reasons. Thus, I, along with many of my fellow Canadians, con–sider Canada a bilingual and bicultural country, meaning English and French, and this is a matter of historical classification. In fact, the Canadian population is made up of a number of other ethnic-linguistic groups as well and this has become on the part of the latter groups a point of contention to the work and official designation of the Royal Commission on Bi-lingual–ism and Bi-culturalism


        It is clear, then, that biculturalism can be defined on the basis of a number of different and equally rele–vant criteria. Therefore, it is important to always be clear as to the particular criteria used in any discussion.


        I would like for my present pur–poses to define biculturalism in terms of a communications criterion. Com–munication between. two individuals is made possible as a result of their sharing certain types of knowledge and certain types of inferential reasoning behavior. The shared knowledge in–cludes a linguistic code, semantic structures, certain attitudes, rules of conversation, and rules of the social and physical order of things. The shared inferential reasoning behavior includes expectations of what leads to what under particular conditions. When people interact on repeated occasions and do so for mutual bene–fit, they will learn each other‚s com–municative premises. Thus, subgroups of habitual interactants form cultural or subcultural identities. When a member of one subgroup interacts with a member of another subgroup he has to readjust his communication premises. It is at this point that he begins the process of becoming bi-cul–tural.


        Now, if we look at the nature of this readjustment process. we note that it involves acquiring new know–ledge, new expectations, and new ways of making inferences. A new linguistic code or changes in she linguistic code may or may not be involved. Thus bilingualism is not a prerequisite for biculturalism. Or to put it another way, while bilingualism always entails b biculturalism, biculturalism entails bilingualism only in the special in–stance where a new linguistic code is to be acquired when interacting with a member of the second culture. It is this special case that we are faced with in learning a second language, but the properties of the general class of which it is an instance should always be kept in mind. Unless this is done it would be difficult to distinguish the learning of a second language front the learning of an alternate code for communica–tion within a subculture such as the language of the deaf or the Morse Code. For instance, if two friends decided one day to leam finger spell–ing and started interacting that way, this would not be an instance of biculturalism. I suppose you might call this an instance of unicultural bi-codal–ism, Bilingualism, on the other hand, is more than bi-codalism, since the second language is not intentionally patterned on the first. It includes a reorganization of knowledge as embodied in the phonological, syntac–tic, lexical, and semantic structures of that language as well as certain socio–linguistic rules. This reorganization of knowledge contains different com–munication premises and constitutes biculturalism. It is for this reason that I stated that any degree of bilingualism entails some degree of biculturalism.


        This way of looking at second language learning allows a different perspective on FL teaching. The latter thus becomes a question of training in biculturalism. Once this premise is accepted, the problems involved in FL teaching methodology take on differ–ent dimensions. I believe that the issues involved in bicultural training are more productive than those in–volved in bilingual training. I do not have time here to explore this issue in detail. Let me simply sketch some of the parameters that I think might be involved in such an investigation.


        To begin with, a focus on bicultural training would give a more appropriate status to the role of language training per se. There is a widespread attitude among teachers and educators involved in FL training, which is shared also by students and their parents, that mas–tering the elementary mechanics of language is a necessary prerequisite for getting to the subsequent stage of some degree of bilingualism, this latter stage being the really worthwhile aspect of the experience because it then allows the incipient bilingual to come into contact with the culture of the people either directly through oral communication or indirectly through reading and exposure to the mass media. The assumption that lies behind this attitude seems to me to give an unwarranted amount of weight and importance to a particular form of bicultural communication, that which is directly mediated by the second code. Yet it seems to me that other forms of bicultural communication are equally worthwhile for various pur–poses and under many conditions. For instance, the amount of bilingualism gained through a few weeks travel in Japan is fairly negligible when unsup–ported by prior or concurrent language training, yet the degree of bicultural–ism one might absorb during the same time may have very lasting conse–quences for the individual. Similarly a serious interest in Oriental art, or Eastern philosophy, or even the regu–lar practice of karate, may transform an ethnocentric unicultural individual into a culturally more sophisticated person, who, even though he may know nothing of a second language, is well on his way to bicultural and multicultural competency. On what bases can it really be claimed that mastering the mechanics of a second language is a superior educational ob–jective to these other forms of bicul–ruralism, especially when that kind of demand actually stands in the way of bicultural experiences, as I believe it does for the majority of students in our FL programs? I think educators must face this issue head on and reexamine their attitude towards the universalization of the FL curriculum in its current manifestation. I have grave doubts about the value of cram–ming knowledge down the throat of anyone, whether it be a FL, or Orien–tal art, or trigonometry. I believe that expending massive educational efforts in teaching FLs in the absence of a genuine interest in that type of knowl–edge is not only futile but harmful. It seems to me that for the educational process to be effective it ought to be dispensed in a miserly fashion: give only as much as is demanded. To feel comfortable with this kind of educa–tional philosophy, the teacher must have two prior beliefs: one is that merely acquiring facts in the absence of an intrinsic interest is not ultimate–ly very useful, hence to attempt it is futile; the other is a belief in the intrinsic worth of the individual, that what matters is the process of satisfy–ing his creative and intellectual needs that in fact exist, rather than needs defined for him by others. Are FL teachers prepared to take off the colored glasses of their provincial per–spective and view the problem in its wider educational implications? I shall have a few more things to say on this issue in the last section of my presen–tation


2.  Can bilingualism be achieved in the classroom?


        Earlier, I stated the answer to this question in the negative. Let me now elaborate. When FL teachers and administrators are faced with the fact that the vast majority of their students do not attain a state of functional bilingualism at the end of their train–ing. their most common reaction is to look around for more effective meth–ods of teaching. This is not an irra–tional or surprising reaction. But if repeated searches for the best method fail to graduate a greater proportion of bilinguals, another conclusion should be seriously considered, namely that bilingualism cannot as a rule be achieved in the classroom. There are a number of considerations that can serve to rationalize this conclusion. Let me mention a few.


            (a) Developing communicative coin–petence in a language requires condi–tions in which communicative needs exist. One can put this in a slightly different way which might be more useful: the degree of communicative competence acquired by an individual is proportional to the extent of his communicative needs. Now, what are the communicative needs of an Amer–ican student in the classroom taking French, say? I can‚t think of very many that cannot be satisfied in English, short of the case of the pupil who falls in love with his pretty unilingual French teacher. While being present in FL classes where the use of English was forbidden, I have repeat–edly noted that whenever a genuine communicative need arose, the stu–dents automatically and insistently lapsed into the use of English. Carry–ing on a classroom discussion on some topic did in a few instances create genuine communicative needs when the students got involved in the sub–ject, but the requirement of using the second language was purely artificial and by the time the painful process of constructing a reasonably correct sen–tence was achieved, the need has come and gone and the discussion turned  into an artificial language exercise. I am not knocking the usefulness of discussions in the FL classroom; in fact, I believe they are distinctly more advantageous than pattern practice exercises. But I am drawing your  attention to the difficulty of crating genuine communicative needs in the classroom setting, and hence, accord–ing to the proposition I stated above, to the difficulty of developing func–tional bilingualism.


     (b)     Achieving functional bilingual– ism in the classroom requires a fairlyhigh degree of FL aptitude. I take aptitude to be an inverse function of time required to achieve a set cri–terion. Thus, even though it may be the case that almost all adults are capable of becoming bilingual, only a small proportion of them could achieve that status given the time limitations that hold in the school setting.


     (c)     Achieving functional bilingual–ism in the absence of extensive contact with unilingual native speakers re–quires an integrative orientation on the part of the learner. By „integrative orientationš I mean an attitude where–by the learner identifies with native models and perceives an intrinsic value in acquiring cultural characteristics that the native models possess, includ–ing their language. It is simply the fact that the vast majority of American students do not have such an integra–tive orientation towards foreign models.


            In the absence of any of the three conditions that I stated, namely genu–ine communicative needs, high apti–tude, and integrative orientation, let alone their combination, it is then unrealistic to expect that the class–room can produce very many func–tional bilinguals.


3.  Are there valid objectives in lcarn–ing a second language other than bi–lingualism?


        Earlier I stated the answer in the affirmative. (And here I can almost hear the sigh of relief on the part of FL teachers whom I have not as yet totally alienated and who are still listening to me.) That are some of these objectives?


        Let me start with the extrinsic ones. American culture attaches value to FL learning. While this attitude is neither simple nor universal, it has been strong and pervasive over the years and has made possible the recent drive towards universalization of the FL curriculum in our schools. Lan–guage loyalty and maintenance activ–ities on the part of ethnic groups in this country have remained very strong and active. I would guess that no less than half of the Americans living today can count in their parental or grand–pa rental generation an individual whose first language is other than English. In addition, there still lingers today the traditional European value whereby one is not fully educated unless one „knowsš a second language. Further more, many Americans have come to believe that international peace requires greater understanding and contact between the peoples of the world and thus by taking a FL course in school they feel that they are somehow contributing to world peace. Finally, many more Americans today travel abroad, or at least consider travelling abroad, and this fact is con–sistent with the study of FLs.


        It should be noted that some of these extrinsic motivations to FL study may not in fact be valid from the point of view of an impartial observer. That is, one may be consid–ered to be an educated person even though one is unilingual in English; one may not actually contribute to world peace by enrolling in a FL course; one may not make use of Spanish while travelling in France and Italy; and so on. But this is not the point. Given a prevalent cultural value for FL study, it can be considered a valid educational objective to have a strong and active FL curriculum.


        Now, to mention some other objec–tives that might be more intrinsic in nature. Exposure to a FL constitutes bicultural training. The teacher may be a foreigner. The content of the day‚s lesson may offer a new perspective on a different social order. Or it may be a foreign magazine, or a movie, or a book, or a meal. A new insight may be gained on the neighbors next door or on the foreign dignitaries that the president is seen meeting on the White House steps. History, geography, and anthropology may take on a slightly different perspective, one that might be closer and more relevant to per–sonal experience. Language, as a device for communication, becomes more concretized as the individual leaves the automatic, unthinking facility of his native language and moves into the painful, halting hesitancies of a foreign tongue as be deliberately tries to place the adjectives and verbs in their proper order. For the first time, the artificial structuredness of human language enters his awareness and becomes a living reality. There are undoubtedly rare but recurrent moments when he feels the architect‚s elation when view–ing the finished product of his imagin–ation as he beholds that rare phenom–enon of a novel well-formed sentence in the second languaae for which he himself is responsible. Then, for the very few, there is that supreme satis–faction that comes from viewing a French movie without having to bother to read the English subtitles, or settling down with a novel without pencil and dictionary - The mere con–templation of these two delights is sufficient to drive many a student to one more hour of a boring language laboratory session.


        Finally, let me mention along with these intrinsic values, a more esoteric argument that comes out of the psycholinguist‚s bag. In this view, uni–lingual speakers are compared to the egocentrism of young children who innocently believe that the word is the thing, and the concept is the word. The semantic structure of a language reflects the conceptual framework of speakers of that language, a notion that has led to the development of such serious disciplines as ethnolinguistics and cognitive anthropology. Learning a second language requires the acquisition of a new semantic structure that reflects a new order of things in the world. The learner makes the momentous discovery that lo and behold the world isn‚t as it is, and the cognitive dissonance that this realiza–tion creates may very well transform him into a more understanding, more humble, more compassionate, more flexible thinking human being.


        These, then, are some of the values of FL study other than functional bilingualism and I submit that they are not unimportant. Let no FL teacher, contemplating the so-called failure of the FL curriculum, feel defensive or sheepish about his contribution to the educational development of our youth. The attainment of bilingualism is by no means the only justifiable objective of a FL program.


4.  Learning a second language is un–like learning other school subjects.


        I have already referred to some of the particular attitudes that revolve around the study of FLs and these attach to it a cultural significance that is distinctly different from that of other school subjects. But now I have in mind another sort of difference which is related to the developmental learning steps involved in studying a second language and their attitudinal consequences. That „mathematics is difficultš is a common piece of folk–lore that most students and parents hold with unshakable conviction. Not to run into trouble there is no mean achievement, let alone be good in it. That „Spanish is a cinchš while „German is for the brainy peopleš are also interesting little bits of knowledge that you can discover when you spend your time administering opinion sur–veys to high school students, as I and some of my academic colleagues are fond of doing. But very few students enrolling in a second language course have any inkling of the pain they have let themselves in for by that action. Imagine how difficult it is to learn how to talk! This can‚t be! There must be something wrong somewhere! Either the teacher is no good or I have no aptitude for languages. And there goes another lost cause.


        There are three kinds of problems that face second language learners that I feel are unique: the self-evaluations concerning rate of progress and degree of achievement, the peculiar cumula–tive nature of their developing compe–tence, and the psychological resistance to flee expression. Let me discuss these in reverse order.


            There appears to be a qualitative difference for many learners in the significance they attach to making errors while speaking in a FL versus getting an answer wrong in another school subject. Getting the wrong answer for a problem in algebra or the wrong date for an historical battle is a pity because of the grade missed but there is something either sacrilegious or idiotic in unintentionally murdering a sentence. There is an interesting psychological phenomenon here that would surely be worth further investi–gation, but for the moment, let us simply note that this attitude serves to inhibit and retard the expressive leap in a second language. Teachers, too, I might add share this attitude with their students and although their ra–tionalization for it might be different (for instance, „it is more difficult to unlearn errors later onš) their low tolerance for phonological distortions and syntactic irregularities no doubt serves to maintain the students‚ resist–ance to communicative speech. (I can–not go into this now, but I have no doubt that error analysis would show up developmental patterns that neces–sitate intermediary forms of speech for which correction is futile and attitudinally harmful.)


        Next, another second language learning problem is that so much of it is initially in the form of latent knowl–edge and progress seems so uneven to the learner. For instance, the so-called „activeš skillsųspeaking and writingų are far behind the „passiveš skills of listening and reading, and while the latter proceed in noticeable steps, the former seem never to get off the ground. Actually, "active" and „pas–siveš are misnomers here because the deep structure analysis of a sentence is similar whether you generate it or someone else does it for you. The only passive thing about listening is that your peripheral vocal apparatus creates less disturbance in the air than when you talk, but syntactically you are equally active in both situations. This is not to say that the processes are identicalųotherwise they would devel–op at comparable ratesųbut the nature of the difference might not be what we suppose it to be


            There are, furthermore, problems associated with diagnosing areas of difficulty. A mistake in an algebra problem can be traced to a forgotten formula (that can then be relearned) or an error in subtraction (that can be shrugged off). Not so when an expres–sion in the FL is misunderstood or when a sentence fails to materialize in the quivering throat of the student. When second language learners are asked to list their major problems. one that is high on almost everyone‚s list is vocabulary. This is a doubtful assess–ment and experienced teachers know this. Another common candidate is gender and verb tense. But here too there are reasons to believe that the problem is more complex than that. There is room here for a great deal of more systematic observations than we now have available and 1 am simply throwing the problem up for discus–sion.


        Finally, the third kind of problem that seems to be peculiar to second language learning, one that is not unconnected to the other two, is the student‚s self-evaluation of the rate of his progress and the extent of his achievement. He seems to share with many a teacher and parent the delu–sion that he ought to know more than he does at any one point and that unless he ultimately achieves func–tional, easy going, native-like fluency in his expressions his efforts have been in vain. As I have pointed out earlier, not only is bilingualism not the sole valid objective of FL study, but that objective is quite unrealistic for many learners within the school system. and perhaps teachers could play a more active and constructive role in the formation of more realistic self-evalua–tions on the part of their students.


5.  The relation between student „failureš and teacher „failure.š


            There is a very pernicious sort of any serious attempt to investigate the problem. And yet, it seems to me that there are cogent arguments against the monolithic timeory. We know that reading in one‚s native language is a specialized skill, and particularly when it conies to reading textbook English, the variance to be found there in individual differences in competence does not seem to match the much smaller variance in competence we can note in the daily use of native English speakers. Similarly, the skill with which the French Canadian bus driver in Montreal handles me in English, when the need arises, totally belies his English competence as soon as I engage him in ~m political discussion. The same non-communicative situa–tion arises with the English saleslady to whom 1 make conversation in French after she has very competently sold me the piece of merchandise in French.            


            Thus observation supports the separateness of various communicative skills in a language. There remain then two problems in this connection.  First, is there not a minimum common core of linguistic knowledge that transcends specialized communicative settings and that should be taught to all language learners? And second, is the teaching of specialized goals justifiable and feasible given a great deal of hetero–geneity in need and unpredictability in later use?             


            Neither of these questions, seems to me, is amenable to a pat answer, but I believe that it is possible to set guide–lines that apply differentially to partic–ular situations.

            In the first instance it ought to be recognized that the resources available e to any particular language training y program, be it in a high school setting I or a special language school, are limited. Certain decisions have then to be made about the priority of needs to  be met. Then one must examined whether the learning conditions in that school and the larger community are favorable for meeting the priorited needs. For instance, offering a conver–sational course in Russian in a high school and community where there is one living speaker of Russian is asking her for trouble, unless it is made quite and clear to all concerned that bilingualism is not the goal of the course. Or, offering an audiolingual course in German to chemistry majors in college whose sole interest is to decipher journal articles, can only be done at the chagrin of the students and the peril of the teacher. And to teach the „two active skills and the two passive skillsš to Thai coikwe students who only wish to get through their engineering texts is not only futile, as experience shows, but positively heart–less. Obviously, we have to proceed with deliberar& panning in the specialization of second language courses, but equally obviously a pro–cess of unfreezing the current mono–lit.hic programs is long overdue.


6.  Towards compensatory or individu–ated FL instruction.


        The last of my six premises stated that an effective FL curriculum is not possible under present conditions of mass education. There is nothing so peculiar to FL instruction that this should be true only of it and not of other school subjects, and so my premise here is but an expression of the more general thesis that effective education and mass teaching do not go together. By „mass teachingš I wish to refer to the teaching that is guided by the principle that pupils are in school to be fed x amount of knowledge divided up in y units and chunks and administered in t amount of time. Thus it is not merely a question of teacher-student ratio but the concep–tion itself of the educational process.


        I am in agreement with Carl Rogers student centered conception of the educational process where the respon–sibility for learning is placed where it truly belongs, on the student and not on the teacher. I don‚t know who it was that said that that which can be taught is not worth learning, and that which is worth learning cannot be taught. A teacher‚s role is that of a catalyst that under the right condi–tions can facilitate the student‚s learning. This of course is an ideal model, a conception, a guiding princi–ple. It is neat and oversimplified. What are the right conditions? What happens in the meantime, while the right condi–tions decide to appear on the scene? Can the teacher create these condi–tions? I don‚t think anyone has the answers to these questions. but this state of ignorance need not render us helpless. There are little things that can be tried by the teacher. He need not wait for official policy and the expert‚s over-all program. ft‚s a ques–tion of attitude on the part of the individual human being that is in the person of the teacher and the quality of relationships he can tolerate when interacting with those other individual human beings that are in the person of the student.


        For instance, in one type of a FL class the students and the teacher must be willing to play a particular kind of a game whereby they pretend that they know no English and the only possible mode of interaction is either nonverbal or through the medium of the target language. Now, the students, if they become truly involved in this game, would attempt to use the knowledge of the teacher for facilitating the interaction within the rules of the game. They would ask for instance, „How do you say thus-and-thus in French?š and then would repeat it. At any time, the information the students are asking is determined by, not what is in lesson no. 16 in a textbook, but the communicative needs of the moment that the person-to-person interaction creates. I have tried this year to create such a classroom for the French class in an English school in the Montreal area with the coopera–tion of a teacher and although what I have just described did take place in some measure, another interesting, and to me unexpected. thing happened as well. These were ninth graders who have had two or three years of French classes before in the usual classroom setting and knew that they would be returning to that setting following this experimental year for them. After about three weeks of instruction along the student centered, teacher-as-facil itator pattern, they introduced certain demands into the situation. They wanted the teacher to lecture on the use of the subiunctive and to assign reading and writing homework. They furthermore insisted on being cor–rected by the teacher. What a marvel–lous development. Can you imagine students demanding a grammar lecture and homework! When I interviewed them after about two months of instruction they were critical of the course because they felt they weren‚t learning enough ųand this despite a visible and tangible increase in corn–municative facility on their part which could be noted on a set of tests I devised for them. Needless to say, the teacher gladly acceded to the demands for granunatical explanations and homework assignments for those students who wanted them for, al–though this was the sentiment of a majority of them, it was by no means unanimous.


        It seems to me that arrangements of this sort can be set up in most class–rooms whatever the specialized goals are of subgroups of students in the class. While it would be nice if a separate teacher were available for each subgroup, we cannot at the moment afford this kind of luxury of resources, but neither is it necessary for as I indicated earlier, it is not merely a question of teacher-student ratio, but an attitude on the part of teacher and student towards the kind of relationship they have.


        This completes my discussion of the six premises I stated at the beginning I should like to summarize briefly. There are valid educational objectives in learning a second language that are other than the attainment of bilingual–ism. Bilingualism is a process of enculturation and although the acquisition of some forms of bicul–turalisin represents a realistic and worthwhile goal, the achievement of a state of bilingualism is not to be expected for the majority of students. Learning a FL in school has associated with it certain unique aspects and the students successes or failures in learning are not a reflection of the teacher‚s competence or the language teaching method he uses. Instead. they are a joint function of the student‚s attitudes, needs, and aptitude, the quality of the existing relationship between the teacher and the student. and the specific objective of the course in terms of the specialized language skills the teacher and the student agree upon to pursue.


        These, to me, are the major premises that define the psychological bases of second language learning.




James. L A. 1 970. Foriegn Lan–guage L earning: A Psycholinguistic A analysis of the Issues. Rowley,

Mass:    Newbury House Publishers