What Works: Helping Students Reach Native-Like Second-Language Competence





Table of Contents
What Works: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . i
Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . v
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vii
1. Individualize the Learning Plan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
2. Conduct Periodic Diagnostic Assessment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
3. Incorporate Sensitivity to Learning Styles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
4. Treat Learners as Peers and according to their
Personality Types. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
5. Promote Learner Autonomy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
6. Break Limiting Forms of Strategic Competence . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
7. Develop Memory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
8. Develop Students’ Capacity for Sophisticated Forms of
Communication . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
9. Develop an Understanding of Native Speaker–Non-Native
Speaker Communicative Differences and Close the Gap . 43
10. Develop Automaticity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
11. De-fossilize . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
12. Develop Students’ Ability to Control
the Linguistic Interaction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
13. Expand Students’ Linguistic Repertoire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
14. Develop Students’ Ability to Control Self-Expression . . . . . . 61
15. Reduce Students’ Accents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65
16. Develop the Ability to Hear Natural Error Correction and to
Obtain Natural Clarification from the Interlocutor . . . . . . 69
17. Build an Understanding of Genre . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73
18. Build a Deep Understanding of Culture through Film and
Television and Social Events . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75
19. Encourage Voracious Reading. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77
20. Ask Students to Find Materials and Teach Class . . . . . . . . . . . 79
21. Teach Handwriting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83
22. Teach Dialects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87
23. Encourage the Use of Models and Native Speakers Rather
than Dictionaries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
24. Devise Appropriate Study Abroad Programs for
Higher Levels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93
25. Incorporate Childhood Experiences, Including Games,
Music, Folklore, and K-12 Studies (Science, Math,
History, Social Science) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101
26. Provide the Appropriate Kind and Quantity of Work
(e.g., an educated environment) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107
27. Choose an Appropriate Approach and Teaching Method . . 111
About the Contributors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113
CDLC Publications by Virginia Institute Press . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119
Other Foreign Language & Culture Books
by Virginia Institute Press . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121

Introduction

Many articles have appeared, especially in the United States,
of late that condemn the appalling state in which very few Americans
are able to communicate at a native-like level of language and
culture with citizens of other countries. This impairs the ability of
the United States to interact appropriately, let alone well, in the
international arena and makes its leaders dependent on fluent
speakers from other countries.
Underlying these articles, concerns, and even increasing levels
of government funding for language programs is the assumption
that native-like language competence not only is not being achieved
in foreign-language programs but also that inherently it cannot be
achieved, given what we currently know about second language
acquisition. Ironically, quietly, in a small number of programs that
are unheralded, students have been brought to native-like levels of
foreign-language proficiency frequently and even routinely. It is not
easy for either student or teacher; in fact, teachers generally find
teaching highly proficient students to be significantly more challenging
than teaching students at lower levels of proficiency (often
contrary to their initial expectations). There is no magic formula,
no perfect method; it requires targeted time on targeted task and
intense individualization. Nonetheless, with the right set of variables,
students do reach native-like proficiency, and teachers do
help them to get there.
Where most programs that would like to bring students to high
levels err is in thinking that contemporary approaches used at lower
levels of instruction will, with enough time, bring students to the
highest levels. However, survey results indicate that this is not the
case. The instruction, curriculum, and program design used in highlevel
language study must differ significantly from language instrucviii
tion at lower levels—or, perhaps, as some have suggested, we need
to re-consider how we currently teach language at all levels. This
conviction is held by both highly proficient language learners and
highly successful language teachers with learning and teaching experience
at the superior and distinguished levels of proficiency, and
it is reflected in the pages of this book. The articles in this book do
not focus on general good teaching practices, and therefore assumptions
and practices that are uniform across all levels of proficiency
and well known to foreign language teachers are not included here.
Rather, the “smorgasbord” of practices described in these pages is
the result of focusing very narrowly on those specific practices that
either must change or be introduced at higher levels of proficiency
if students who have reached Superior-level proficiency are to reach
a level that approximates that of the native speaker and allows the
student to a language user who can participate in sophisticated and
culturally appropriate ways in all social and professional facets of
the target culture.
The “recipes” for developing high-level proficiency contained
in this booklet are summaries of the experience of the members of
the Coalition of Distinguished Language Centers and participants
in its annual conferences and represent successful practices that in
some cases have been used for more than two decades. Teachers
with high-level-proficiency teaching experience are, indeed, a
nearly microscopic subset of the body of foreign-language teachers
in the USA and abroad. The information contained in these pages
comes from this small but highly experienced and successful set
of teachers. In all cases, the advice that has been gathered in these
pages comes from individuals who are not only program managers
and/or teachers for high-level proficiency but who have themselves
also learned one or more foreign languages to a native-like level of
proficiency.
None of the advice in these pages comes from theorists, researchers,
or even leading language teachers and gurus who have
not been able to achieve superior and distinguished levels of foreign-
language proficiency themselves or who have not had a relative
wealth of personal success in teaching students at the highest levels
of proficiency. This is the first time that the information has been
distilled into one concise set of formulae for getting from low-level
to high-level.
The purpose of this book is two-fold. First, to make a statement
that bringing students to high levels of foreign language proficiency
in the United States (and even elsewhere) can be done. Second, to
show how it can be done, based on decades of combined success of
its authors.

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