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Variability in Learner Errors as a Reflection of the CLT Paradigm Shift

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Joanna Pfingsthorn

In the last three decades the field of language teaching and learning has undergone a paradigm shift towards Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), which has put an emphasis on meaningful interaction and implied an abrupt departure from an extensive study of learner errors. Although learners in CLT classes are expected to be competent, yet not perfectly accurate communicators, the impact of the CLT paradigm on learner errors has not been investigated thoroughly. This study examines the extent to which the CLT paradigm shift has left its mark on learner errors. Written production is analyzed and compared with learner data recorded in the early stages of the shift to CLT. The data reveal that while morphosyntactic errors have not undergone drastic changes, discourse organization and lexical skills have improved.

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Chapter 1: Introduction

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Chapter 1 Introduction In the 1950s and 1960s learning a foreign language was perceived as a relatively straight-forward process. It was believed that the sole task learners needed to accomplish was to form language habits and associate certain stimuli with appropriate responses. Educators of that era reasoned that such goals could be achieved in the process of repetition and memorization of chunks of language, and required perseverance and consistency. Consequently, language classrooms placed an emphasis on accuracy and automaticity, and learner errors had to be eradicated at all costs. In fact, researchers and teachers concentrated their efforts on pinpointing those areas of language in which learners would be most prone to commit errors. This kind of approach to foreign language learning and teaching quickly turned out to be ineffective, as learners leaving language classrooms were not necessarily able to communicate freely. Theoretical shifts in the field of psychology and linguistics also pointed to the fact that the approach simply failed to reflect the true nature of language as a phenomenon and the process of learning. The last three decades have marked a revolution in the field of language teach- ing and learning. A didactic paradigm shift has taken place, and Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) has become the leading pedagogical approach. The attention of educators has moved to the learning process, its outcomes, and to learners themselves. The paradigm shift has also implied a very abrupt departure from the extensive study of and emphasis on errors. Consequently, the...

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