Constructivism in Foreign Language Learning

By Prefume, Yuko | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview
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Constructivism in Foreign Language Learning


Prefume, Yuko, Academic Exchange Quarterly


Abstract

As Standards for Foreign Language Learning by ACTFL suggests, communication skills are essential in foreign language/L2 acquisition. The author of this article identifies a constructivist approach as a useful and effective tool for improving communication skills in foreign language/L2 education. Although the aim of this article is not to overwhelm readers with the complicated paradigm of constructivism, it hopes to present a practical option in applying a constructivist approach in basic lesson plans.

Introduction

One of the prerequisites in foreign language/L2 acquisition is to become good communicators using the target language. Accordingly, Standards for Foreign Language Learning established by ACTFL (Standards, 1996) emphasizes the importance of communication skills in foreign language/L2 learning. According to the standards (1996), although recognizing the value of grammar and vocabulary is important, the ultimate goal of today's foreign language students is to acquire the ability to communicate with others in meaningful and appropriate ways. In other words, foreign language learners must become critical thinkers who know how to apply language or convey their thoughts in a variety of situations.

Effective classroom instruction strategies require more than an understanding of the significance of communication skills. To foster students to become proficient communicators, instructors must provide foreign language/L2 learners with conditions for applying and practicing the language they have just learned, yet, "language classes limit adequate practice opportunities for each student" (Lee, 1995, 11). Although various factors affect this problem, this paper identifies three issues: (1) overcrowded classrooms; (2) limited availability of target language speakers; and (3) conventional foreign language textbooks based on behavioristic learning. A constructivist approach is one way to address those issues.

This paper will first briefly explain constructivism. Next this paper will present the instructional experiment in which a constructivist approach was applied to a fourth-semester Japanese language course, along with discussion of its effects in the foreign language classroom. Finally, the paper will present student feedback concerning their classroom experience. The aim of this article is not to overwhelm readers with a complicated discussion of constructivism, but rather to present a practical option in applying a constructivist approach to even simple classroom lessons. Moreover, the students' positive feedback following this experimental lesson will hopefully encourage foreign language/L2 educators to experiment with their lesson plans and discover a more creative and active learning environment.

Constructivism

The development of constructivism in education is attributed to such psychologists and philosophers as Jean Piaget, Lev Vigotsky, John Dewey, and Jerome Brunner (Matthews, 2003). It is understood as a complex combination of learning theory, philosophy, pedagogy, and psychology (Goldberg, 2002). In the area of foreign language/L2 education, constructivism is often associated with the use of technology in the classroom (e.g., Chuang, & Rosenbusch, 2005; McDonough, 2001; Ruschoff, & Ritter, 2001). Constructivism emerged in reaction to the traditional educational approach widely practiced in eighteenth--and nineteenth-century Europe and America (Matthew, 2003). The teacher-centered traditional instruction strategy, also called the information transmission model, is an instructional approach in which a teacher transmits information to the students with relatively little emphasis placed on the practicality or significance of the content (Sercu & Bundura, 2005). In traditional education, instructors are able to predict the outcomes of the instruction based on the notion that they control what students will learn by linking student responses from lower level to higher level skills (Ruschoff, & Ritter, 2001).

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