Monday, September 12, 2011

Swan, Michael (1994) "Design Criteria for Pedagogic Language Rules"

Swan, Michael (1994) "Design Criteria for Pedagogic Language Rules" is another paper I quickly read after the Pedagogical Grammar Symposium at Keio University. However, I did not find the paper very informative or enlightening. Yet, it is important to share the knowledge that I'm supposed to have when discussing pedagoic(al) grammar.

'Pedagogic rules' and 'pedagogic grammar'

The following definition by Swan seems obvious, but I'd like to call your attention to the parts that I italicized.

By 'pedagogic rules' I mean rules which are designed to help foreign-language learners understand particular aspects of the languages they are studying (whether these rules are addressed directly to the learners, or to teachers and materials writers who are expected to pass on the rules to the learners in one form or another, is immaterial). I shall refer to a collection of such rules, unoriginally, as a 'pedagogic grammar'. (p. 45)

The italicized part suggests that pedagogic(al) grammar -- hereafter 'pedagogical grammar' for my expressions-- is learner-specific: it should be designed for a particular type of learners, on a particular stage of language development, with a particular linguistic background, of a particular cognitive capabilities and so on. In this sense, writing or explaining pedagogical grammar is nothing but an instance of language use, a linguistic communication. Using metalinguistic descriptions of the target/object language to learners must be thought of, and refined as, an act of linguistic communication.

Going back to Swan's paper, he lists six criteria of pedagogical grammar. But as he says, the first three criteria are general conditions that apply to any kind of rules (they are, in fact, unattainable ideals in pedagogical grammar in my opinion).

General criteria of rules: truth, demarcation, and clarity.

The following three are general criteria, which are, I guess, self-explanatory.

(a) Truth: Rules should be true. (p. 46)

(b) Demarcation: A rule(1) should show clearly what are the limits on the use of a given form. (p. 47)

(c) Clarity: Rules should be clear. (p. 48)

Note (1): Although what Swan actually says is "A pedagogic rule" , I deleted "pedagogic" here because these three criteria are, as Swan himself says, "relevant to any kind of rule." (p. 46)

Three criteria for pedagogical grammar

Swan lists simplicity, conceptual parsimony, and relevance as criteria for pedagogic grammar.

(d) Simplicity: A pedagogic rule should be simple. There is inevitably some trade-off with truth and/or clarity. (p. 48)

(e) Conceptual parsimony: An explanation must make use of the conceptual framework available to the learner. It may be necessary to add to this. If so, one should aim for minimum intervention. (p. 50)

(f) Relevance(2): A rule should answer the question (and only the question) that the student's English is 'asking'.

Note (2): Swan's "relevance" is quite different from the notion of "relevance" in Relevance Theory.

As simplification in pedagogical grammar descriptions is one of our main topics from the previous article, I'll quote Swan on this topic.

The first quotation endorses our proposition that simplification is necessary in pedagogical grammar.

One of the things that distinguish pedagogic rules sharply from general-purpose descriptive rules is the requirement that they be simple. The truth is of no value if it cannot be understood, and since ordinary language learners tend to have limited prior knowledge and are not usually natural grammarians, some degree of simplification is nearly always necessary. (p. 49)

The second quotation reminds us that descriptions of pedagogical grammar, or using them in a teacher's explanation, is also an act of communication.

Whether or not a particular simplification is valid depends ultimately on who it is addressed to, how much they already know, how much they are capable of taking in, and what value they and their teachers place on complete accuracy. (p. 50)

A use of pedagogical grammar, as an act of communication, is to achieve its perlocutionary act. Having learners understand the illocutionary act (i.e., the teacher is trying to teach the students grammar) is too obvious and not enough (The locutionary act of having learners comprehend the literal meaning of grammatical descriptions including technical terms is not enough, either). The perlocutionary act that the teacher intends is enabling learners to make use of the grammatical rules she is trying to embody in them. In order to achieve the goal, the teacher must do her best in her linguistic communication: achieving the optimal relevance in the sense of Relevance Theory.

As Sperber and Wilson integrated the four Gricean maxims into one: Relevance, I believe we can, and should in terms of Occams' razor, integrate the above six criteria into Relevance, as I argued in "Two EFL pedagogical grammar books by Akira TAJINO and Goro TAJIRI"). In a language classroom, the target/object language is not the only language that is used communicatively. So is the metalanguage of pedagogical grammar.

Swan, Michael (1994) "Design Criteria for Pedagogic Language Rules" In Bygate, Martin, Tonkyn, Alan and Williams, Eddie (eds.) Grammar and the Language Teacher. New York: Prentice Hall. pp. 45-55.

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