Unfortunately, this aspect of text use is often neglected or ineffectively put into practice. A language-teaching text may simply be seen as something to be ‘gone through’ in one way or another, without any clear definition of the outcomes envisaged. (Text-work is an awfully convenient way of filling up a language lesson, and teachers often feel that any text-based activity is bound to be beneficial. This is not necessarily the case.) One approach to ‘going through’ is the traditional pseudo-intensive lesson where the teacher uses a text as the basis for a kind of free-association fireworks display. He or she comments on one word, expression or structure after another, elicits synonyms and antonyms, pursues ideas sparked off by the text, perhaps gets the students to read aloud or translate bits, and so on and so on. Meanwhile the students write down hundreds of pieces of information in those overfilled notebooks that someone once memorably called ‘word cemeteries’. When the end of the 'lesson' is approaching, students may answer some so-called ‘comprehension questions’. Students then go away to write a homework on a topic distantly related (or even not at all related) to that of the text. This kind of activity tends to fall between two stools: the text is too short to contribute much to learners' extensive experience of language, but the work done on it is not really intensive either. At the end of the cycle the students have been given much too much input, have engaged with it too superficially to assimilate much of it, and have used (and therefore consolidated) little or none of it. They have been taught – inefficiently – one lot of language, and then asked to produce a substantially different lot.
Another approach which has been fashionable in recent decades is to use a written text to teach 'reading skills'. The text is typically accompanied by a battery of exercises which require students to predict, skim, scan, identify main ideas, match topics to paragraphs, sort out shuffled texts, and so on. There is an implicit assumption that even perfectly competent mother-tongue readers actually need to learn to process text all over again in a new language. Here again, students may spend substantial time working through a text without any very identifiable payoff in terms of increased language knowledge or genuine skills development.
While texts can undoubtedly be valuable in various ways, I believe they are best used with a clear purpose in mind, and a reasonable certainty that they will help to achieve this purpose. In a second article I will focus on the intensive input-output cycle referred to above, which I believe is centrally important, and I will consider ways in which texts can be exploited efficiently to support this aspect of language learning.
Task 2. Make sure you can understand the following terms:
4. to recycle
5. language item
6. controlled production
7. envisaged outcome
8. to assimilate
9. lot of language
10. identifiable payoff
Task 3. Answer the questions:
1. How does the author define the notion of a text?