Per un insegnamento sostenibile dell'italiano Matt Absalom | The University of Melbourne

Subito alla pratica!

Can't see the wood for the trees

  • too much time spent doing things that don't lead to language learning...
  • what does research tell us?
  • what can we do to make languages teaching/learning sustainable?

What have I discovered?

Rules ain't rules - languages are complex and difficult to explain; we use languages without being able to explain them; the idea of interlanguage (Selinker, 1972)

Even simple rules aren't simple - trousers/trouser; spaghetti/spaghetto

Telling isn't teaching

Teaching something once doesn't lead to learning

Learning often happens despite or in spite of what I do

Sometimes what I think is just not right - e.g. my own learning of Italian, my decades-long blind faith in explicit teaching of language

What can applied linguistics tell us?

Henshaw & Hawkins (2022) Common ground: SecondĀ language acquisition theory goes to the classroom - ...are we all on the same page with respect to what acquisition is? (p. 3); The frustration that comes with not seeing improvement in terms of accuracy is usually because we are guilty of rushing a very slow and complex process... And you can't hurry love or acquisition (p. 191)

Lightbown & Spada (2021) How languages are learned 5e - Classroom-based research on L2 learning and teaching has given us partial answers to many questions (p. 224)


How to achieve sustainability

  • Comprehensible input is the raw material needed for language acquisition (theory independent)
  • No evidence that explicit teaching leads to implicit knowledge
  • Practising speaking/writing does not improve speaking/writing
  • Second language anxiety is real

VanPatten, Smith & Benati (2020) Key questions in second language acquisition Cambridge

What is comprehensible input?

From Henshaw & Hawkins (2022)

Where do I find comprehensible input?

You are the best resource = sustainability

  • use visual cues: pictures, drawings, charts, objects, etc.
  • use body language: act things out, make gestures, model instructions, etc.
  • use target-language equivalents: paraphrase, rephrase, define in simple terms, use a synonym, use related words but avoid long definitions (if too hard, give a quick translation
  • use examples and common associations: brands, places, famous people, etc.
  • use cognates: words that look or sound similar in both languages (you might need to write the target language form)
  • slow down and simplify: this doesn't mean sacrificing grammaticality or speaking unnaturally

Other resources

  • Resources made for language learners
  • Authentic materials

Maximising input

Story listening and reading


Sustainability: lots of resources online

Something else the research tells us: time

Krashen is unequivocal about using what time we have to provide compelling input

See Lightbown, P., & Spada, N. (2020). Teaching and learning L2 in the classroom: It's about time. Language Teaching, 53(4), 422-432.

So, what about grammar?

Two questions:

  • Why do we teach grammar?
  • Is teaching grammar about language acquisition?

My experience

  • Students don't need explicit grammar to progress in learning (L1; le mie/nostre esperienze)
  • Not forcing output creates an environment which promotes learning

Un altro esempio

Per concludere

I can share two mystical, amazing facts about language acquisition. First, language acquisition is effortless. It involves no energy, no work. All an acquirer has to do is understand messages. Second, language acquisition is involuntary. Given comprehensible input, and a lack of affective barriers, language acquisition will take place. The acquirer has no choice.

Stephen D. Krashen (2003) Explorations in Language Acquisition and Use: The Taipei Lectures Pearson

Grazie mabsalom@unimelb.edu.au