The Need for Exposure and Meaningful Use in Foreign Language Teaching


As second language teachers, we often think teaching grammar is necessary and we tend to overlook the crucial need for meaningful exposure in language learning. With the help of one particular study (Hong, 2005), I will show that even the best type of explicit grammar instruction to teach the use of articles in English did not result in the desired effect at all. In fact, there is very little to no empirical evidence that teaching grammar leads to effective use of a particular item. On the other hand, we do know that the amount of exposure to and meaningful use of the target language is the most  important factor in learning the language.  For example, Nguyen (2013) showed that an approach with a great deal of authentic exposure was highly effective in improving the learners’ general proficiency.

I will explain how language and language acquisition should be viewed from a dynamic usage based (DUB) approach (we need to focus on the language as a whole and repeat often) and what that entails  in teaching (we need real meaningful content to work with). I will argue that if the goal is to teach learners to be able to communicate in the target language, we need to expose the learners to the language and ask them to use it meaningfully. What better way is there than to eavesdrop on real target language speakers in an exciting and engaging context? The talk will end with practical ideas that can be implemented for any foreign language at different levels of proficiency.  

Huong, N. T. (2005). Vietnamese learners mastering English articles. Unpublished dissertation. University of Groningen.
Nguyen, T. P. H. (2013). A dynamic usage-based approach to second language teaching, Unpublished dissertation. University of Groningen.