Remember all that agonisingly boring memorisation of strings of verbs that led virtually nowhere in terms of genuine second language acquisition? Remember all that hard grind that meant that one only ever concentrated on the method of expression rather than what was being said? Recall all that slog, only then to be humbled by the comparison with the child who had spent all their summer holidays in France and could therefore happily gabble away without a moment's effort?
It seems though that educational theorists, notably the eminently sensible Stephen Krashen have the situation just about right. What learners actually need is caretaker speech (ie: speech that is tailored to the ability of the learner to understand), and to be kept in stress free conditions to listen to this for as long as is necessary for them to then start expressing themselves. Mistakes need not be corrected since the system self-corrects, the more speech that is heard.
How well the National Curriculum can adapt to these sensible suggestions I am yet to find out, but for the Home Educated out there who would like to adopt this sort of approach, the Beeb Language Website seems to offer a Krashen-like approach. It seems I must stop begrudging my licence fee!
Update: Thanks to PGCE teacher trainee for an assessment of the current situation in schools. To quote verbatim:
"Teaching languages in schools today does seem to incorporate a lot of the old and the new theories but given the existence in current schemes of work of some of the problem areas that have been defined by Krashen (such as no allowance for a silent period or insisting on following a grammatical progression), it is unlikely that much benefit can be seen from what they do that is good. The National Curriculum definitely doesn't allow for use of the new methods because it demands constant assessment (and therefore instant performance - no silent period consequently) and it expects that grammatical progression is in evidence, at least in part. Whilst marking is no longer at all dependent on correcting and only on communicative ability- a good thing - the teachers seem to prefer using rote learning as a way of ensuring that all pupils will pass, nevertheless".
HT: DD and Sarah P.