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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 4: The CLT paradigm shift and its implications

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Chapter 4 The CLT paradigm shift and its implications In the 1960s and early 1970s language competence was often equated with the ability to produce grammatically and phonologically error-free sentences with a reasonable degree of fluency (Multhaup, 1979). Lesson plans tended to follow a linear linguistic progression, which assumed that learners move from the simplest grammatical structures to more complex ones (e.g. Broughton et al., 1980). The 1970s and 1980s, however, marked a turning point in the field of language learning and teaching, as the perceived importance of the role of communication in the process of language learning began to grow (Neuner & Hunfeld, 1993; Celce-Murcia, 1991; Larsen-Freeman, 1986; K. Johnson, 1982; Neuner et al., 1981; Canale & Swain, 1980; Stern, 1983). It was also around the same time that the audiolingual method and mechanical drills were beginning to receive unflattering reviews as an insufficient and ineffective technique (Rivers, 1972). Jakobovits (1970) and S. Savignon (1972) were among the first advocators of a more communicative approach to foreign language teaching, which was influenced by research done in the field of L1 language acquisition and emphasized the role of authentic interaction and meaning exchange in the process of language learning. Stern (1981) also suggested a departure from behaviorist ways that placed learners in the role of detached observers who analyze and rehearse the language. Researchers also proposed to replace the structural syllabus with a notional- functional one, which comprised systems of lexical and functional themes that reflected the...

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