A Psycholinguistic Teaching Approach
(ABORDAGEM PSICOLINGUÍSTICA PARA AULAS PARTICULARES)

Ricardo E. Schütz

This approach is inspired by Stephen Krashen's Natural Approach and acquisition theory and is applicable ideally to small groups and private tutoring in non English speaking countries. We have been using it with a great rate of success at our ESL school in Brazil. We do not follow any specific plan or course of lessons and books, but promote language and culture exchange in communicative activities. As language is a result of human interaction, our school becomes a bilingual living and learning center with small groups led by a native in the target culture. The instructor functions as a language counselor and facilitator. We respect each instructor's style and rely on their ability to build relationships within the group and create a natural need for communication.
We also offer language learning through the study of grammar as a complement, but the emphasis is on language acquisition through communication, in which the role of the native speaker is essential.

THE PSYCHOLINGUISTIC APPROACH: The ability to carry out creative and effective communication is the main goal of all learners. Proficiency does not depend on linguistic knowledge. Language knowledge is secondary when compared to the functional ability of understanding and speaking, and reading and writing as a result. Therefore, while a structured syllabus can provide some basic language knowledge, it is only through the creative effort to communicate that complete communicative competence is acquired. The full process, from passive listening to understanding and from active thinking to speaking, needs to be thoroughly exercised. This can be achieved only through real human interaction.

In other words, nobody acquires significant language ability with only books, audio recordings or on-line exercises. Although such materials are helpful when designed according to contrastive linguistics, a brain needs another brain to interact with. Like Stephen Krashen, I also believe that language acquisition is a more effective approach than language learning. But an enlightened combination of methods can still provide a good language teaching design. For this reason I believe that natural acquisition through real-life communicative experience can be complemented with audiolingual exercises and even with occasional grammar clarifications. Our unique teaching materials based on contrastive analysis play here an important role.

Whenever possible, the student should have a living experience in a country that represents well the target language and culture – for example: the United States, Canada or England for English. Along with the traveling and the living experience, and especially when this is not possible, I also support an approach like Charles Curran's CLL (Communicative Language Learning).

Curran believes that psychological counseling and foreign language tutoring are closely related. He advocates a unified concept of man and says that physical, intellectual, psychological and emotional factors can all influence language acquisition. Affection and an intimate relationship between the instructor and the learner, with both on the same level, provide the necessary framework. The instructor plays a non-authoritarian and non-directive role and activities are student-centered. The focus shifts from grammar and sentence formation to a deep sense of personal communication. When language is used an instrument to satisfy a strong desire to communicate, results can be impressive.

Taking into consideration the predominant characteristic of the Brazilian people – open, communicative, and good at improvising – I support a psychological-communicative approach as conducive to optimal language acquisition.

In this psycholinguistic approach, the counselor-teacher needs to try to build a personal relationship with the learner. The more personal the relationship, the more the target language will be learned. Of course, this psychological involvement depends greatly on the student's personality. Therefore, the teacher must be constantly alert and able to recognize the communicative moments and opportunities and to explore them when they arise.

The key element of a psycholinguistic approach is the personal and intimate contact between learner and counselor. The learner's interests are explored and his own ideas are used as teaching materials. As in psychoanalysis, learner and counselor immerse in each other's mind. Instead of texts or tapes the thoughts of the learner, even the ones of neurotic origin, are discussed and brought to light in clear and appropriate language. The goal is to increase the emotional load of the conversation, making the sessions more appealing and engaging. Resorting to the same resources used in psychoanalysis, the counselor-instructor plays the role of confidant and brings the conversation (always in the target language) to the center of the learner's interest. The instructor adapts himself to the learner. If the learner is introverted, the instructor takes a leading role talking about himself, about his experience with the foreign culture, his difficulties and his weaknesses, opening his own heart, thus improving the mutual trust and creating an atmosphere for the learner to get ready. If the learner is extroverted, the instructor understands with empathy the learner's points of view encouraging him to express himself confidently and accurately. The instructor helps the learner to reaffirm his opinions giving the precise language, just a little beyond the learner's capability (Krashen's comprehensible input). The learner will then see his convictions in convincing language, with good power of communication.
We do not emphasize error correction but communicative ability with beginners because psychological obstacles must be overcome before linguistic accuracy can be attained. Self-confidence and independence are the first steps. Still, linguistic forms like pronunciation and sentence patterns are not completely overlooked. These are discussed whenever necessary to address the learner's specific deviations. Again, the instructor needs to adjust his interventions to the learner. Introverts normally lack self-confidence and therefore should be less frequently interrupted and corrected than extroverts.

This communicative-psychological approach we recommend is ideal for intermediate and advanced students and requires a skillful instructor. If not thoroughly bilingual, the person should be a native speaker of the target language with some command of the learners' native language. Besides the instructor's qualification the language therapy groups must be very small and homogeneous, with affinity between group members being very important.


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