What is the role of the trainer in that process?
Jim Scrivener, in his book Learning Teaching, proposes six stages a learner will need to navigate in order to learn a new language item (Scrivener: 2011). These are as follows:
Ignorance: The learner doesn’t know anything about the item.
Exposure: The learner hears or reads examples of the item (maybe a number of times) but doesn’t particularly notice it.
Noticing: The learner begins to realize that there is a feature he/she doesn’t fully understand.
Understanding: The learner starts to look more closely at the item and tries to work out the formation rules and the meaning, possibly with the help of reference information, explanations, or other help.
Practice: The learner tries to use the item in his/her own speech or writing (maybe hesitantly, probably with many errors).
Active Use: The learner integrates the item fully into his/her own language and uses it (without thinking) relatively easily with minor errors.
How the trainer guide a learner through these stages?
The first stage is where the learner doesn’t know anything about the language item. As language trainers we need to establish the needs of our learners, and find out as much as we can about their knowledge gaps, so that we can focus on filling these gaps in our lessons. We need to know the appropriate level of proficiency of each of our learners. Based on the needs, knowledge gaps and proficiency of our learners, we set the learning objectives for each individual component of our training.
The second stage is the “exposure stage,” where learners listen to or read examples of the language item. The trainer normally selects appropriate materials according to the proficiency level of the learners. Learners are exposed to authentic examples of language use, which are often contextualized to aid student understanding. Trainers need to select materials that are related to the learners interests and professional context.
In the third stage, the “noticing stage,” learners begin to realize that there is a feature of the language item that they don’t fully understand. The trainer tends to focus on specific language features that learners are expected to know at their relative proficiency level.
In the “understanding stage,” which is the fourth stage, learners start to look more closely at the language item and try to work out the formation rules and the meaning. A language trainer can facilitate this stage by providing learners with examples and practice exercises that allow them to use the language item in context and gain a deeper understanding of its use. This is where scaffolding comes into play, as teachers initial offer a lot of support but reduce this in order to allow students to become more independent.
In the “practice stage,” which is the fifth stage, learners try to use the language item in their own speech or writing. At this stage, a language trainer can facilitate the process by providing learners with opportunities to practice using the language item in different contexts and situations. This can be a whole range of exercises which are progressively more challenging for students. As the instructional scaffolding is scaled back, learners are expected to become a lot more independent. A language trainer can create a supportive learning environment that encourages learners to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them. Feedback is mostly formative at this stage, as the focus is on helping learners to identify areas of strength and weakness.
Finally, in the “active use stage,” learners integrate the language item fully into their own language and use it relatively easily with minor errors. This is often achieved by free production tasks such as discussions, role-plays, case studies, etc. The trainer does not provide scaffolding at this stage and focuses on assessing learners and offering delayed feedback.
In conclusion, the role of a language trainer in the language acquisition process is crucial in facilitating learners’ progress and achievement of their language goals. The trainer has to support their learners with authentic materials, good lesson planning, tapered off scaffolding, timely feedback, and correction. If all these elements are included, the training will be successful and the students will acquire new language.
Jim Scrivener, Learning Teaching: The Essential Guide to English Language Teaching, Macmillan 2011
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
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