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Verbal Verbal/Nonverbal

Sender Message Receiver Sender Message Receiver

Figure 8.1 Comparison of the information-transmission model (left) and the social-process model (right) of communication


The social-process view of language is then elaborated in terms of six qualities or subprocesses:

1. The whole-person process

2. The educational process

3. The interpersonal process

4. The developmental process

5. The communicative process

6. The cultural process

Explanation of these is beyond the scope of this chapter and, indeed, appears to involve elements outside a theory of language.

La Forge also elaborates on the interactional view of language un­derlying Community Language Learning (see Chapter 2). "Language is people; language is persons in contact; language is persons in response" (1983: 9). CLL interactions are of two distinct and fundamental kinds: interactions between learners and interactions between learners and knowers. Interactions between learners are unpredictable in content but typically are said to involve exchanges of affect. Learner exchanges deepen in intimacy as the class becomes a community of learners. The desire to be part of this growing intimacy pushes learners to keep pace with the learning of their peers. Tranel (1968) notes that "the students of the experimental group were highly motivated to learn in order to avoid isolation from the group." Intimacy then appears to be defined here as the desire to avoid isolation.

Interaction between learners and knowers is initially dependent. The learner tells the knower what he or she wishes to say in the target language, and the knower tells the learner how to say it. In later stages interactions between learner and knower are characterized as self-as­sertive (stage 2), resentful and indignant (stage 3), tolerant (stage 4), and independent (stage 5). These changes of interactive relationship are paralleled by five stages of language learning and five stages of affective conflicts (La Forge 1983: 50).

These two types of interactions may be said to be microcosmically equivalent to the two major classes of human interaction — interaction between equals (symmetrical) and interaction between unequals (asym­metrical) (Munby 1978). They also appear to represent examples of (a) interaction that changes in degree (learner to learner) and (b) interaction that changes in kind (learner to knower). That is, learner—learner interaction is held to change in the direction of increasing intimacy and trust, whereas learner-knower interaction is held to change in its very nature from dependent to resentful to tolerant to independent.

Theory of learning

Curran's counseling experience led him to conclude that the techniques of counseling could be applied to learning in general (this became Counseling-Learning) and to language teaching in particular (Community Language Learning). The CLL view of learning is contrasted with two other types of learning, which Curran saw as widespread and undesir­able. The first of these describes a putative learning view long popular in Western culture. In this view, "the intellectual and factual process alone are regarded as the main intent of learning, to the neglect of engagement and involvement of the self" (Curran 1972: 58). The second view of learning is the behavioral view. Curran refers to this kind of learning as "animal learning," in which learners are "passive" and their involvement limited (Curran 1976: 84).

In contrast, CLL advocates a holistic approach to language learning, since "true" human learning is both cognitive and affective. This is termed whole-person learning. Such learning takes place in a commu­nicative situation where teachers and learners are involved in -"an in­teraction ... in which both experience a sense of their own wholeness" (Curran 1972: 90). Within this, the development of the learner's rela­tionship with the teacher is central. The process is divided into five stages and compared to the ontogenetic development of the child.

In the first, "birth" stage, feelings of security and belonging are es­tablished. In the second, as the learner's abilities improve, the learner, as child, begins to achieve a measure of independence from the parent. By the third, the learner "speaks independently" and may need to assert his or her own identity, often rejecting unasked-for advice. The fourth stage sees the learner as secure enough to take criticism, and by the last stage, the learner merely works upon improving style and knowledge of linguistic appropriateness. By the end of the process, the child has become adult. The learner knows everything the teacher does and can become knower for a new learner. The process of learning a new language, then, is like being reborn and developing a new persona, with all the trials and challenges that are associated with birth and maturation. Insofar as language learning is thought to develop through creating social rela­tionships, success in language learning follows from a successful rela­tionship between learner and teacher, and learner and learner. "Learning is viewed as a unified, personal and social experience." The learner "is no longer seen as learning in isolation and in competition with others" (Curran 1972: 11-12).

Curran in many places discusses what he calls "consensual valida­tion," or "convalidation," in which mutual warmth, understanding, and a positive evaluation of the other person's worth develops be­tween the teacher and the learner. A relationship characterized by con-validation is considered essential to the learning process and is a key element of CLL classroom procedures. A group of ideas concerning the psychological requirements for successful learning are collected under the acronym SARD (Curran 1976: 6), which can be explained as follows.

S stands for security. Unless learners feel secure, they will find it difficult to enter into a successful learning experience.

A stands for attention and aggression. CLL recognizes that a loss of attention should be taken as an indication of the learner's lack of in­volvement in learning, the implication being that variety in the choice of learner tasks will increase attention and therefore promote learning. Aggression applies to the way in which a child, having learned something, seeks an opportunity to show his or her strength by taking over and demonstrating what has been learned, using the new knowledge as a tool for self-assertion.

R stands for retention and reflection. If the whole person is involved in the learning process, what is retained is internalized and becomes a part of the learner's new persona in the foreign language. Reflection is a consciously identified period of silence within the framework of the lesson for the student "to focus on the learning forces of the last hour, to assess his present stage of development, and to re-evaluate future goals" (La Forge 1983: 68).

D denotes discrimination. When learners "have retained a body of material, they are ready to sort it out and see how one thing relates to another" (La Forge 1983: 69). This discrimination process becomes more refined and ultimately "enables the students to use the language for purposes of communication outside the classroom" (La Forge 1983: 69).

These central aspects of Curran's learning philosophy address not the psycholinguistic and cognitive processes involved in second language acquisition, but rather the personal commitments that learners need tomake before language acquisition processes can operate. CLL learning theory hence stands in marked contrast to linguistically or psycholin-guistically based learned theories, such as those informing Audiolin-gualism or the Natural Approach.



Since linguistic or communicative competence is specified only in social terms, explicit linguistic or communicative objectives are not defined in the literature on Community Language Learning. Most of what has been written about CLL describes its use in introductory conversation courses in a foreign language. The assumption seems to be that through the method, the teacher can successfully transfer his or her knowledge and proficiency in the target language to the learners, which implies that attaining near-native like mastery of the target language is set as a goal. Specific objectives are not addressed.

The syllabus

Community Language Learning is most often used in the teaching of oral proficiency, but with some modifications it may be used in the teaching of writing, as Tranel (1968) has demonstrated. CLL does not use a conventional language syllabus, which sets out in advance the grammar, vocabulary, and other language items to be taught and the order in which they will be covered. If a course is based on Curran's recommended procedures, the course progression is topic based, with learners nominating things they wish to talk about and messages they wish to communicate to other learners. The teacher's responsibility is to provide a conveyance for these meanings in a way appropriate to the learners' proficiency level. Although CLL is not explicit about this, skilled CLL teachers seem to sift the learners' intentions through the teacher's implicit syllabus, providing translations that match what learners can be expected to do and say at that level. In this sense then a CLL syllabus emerges from the interaction between the learner's expressed commu­nicative intentions and the teacher's reformulations of these into suitable target language utterances. Specific grammatical points, lexical patterns, and generalizations will sometimes be isolated by the teacher for more detailed study and analysis, and subsequent specification of these as a retrospective account of what the course covered could be a way of deriving a CLL language syllabus. Each CLL course would evolve itsown syllabus, however, since what develops out of teacher—learner in­teractions in one course will be different from what happens in another.

Types of learning and teaching activities

As with most methods, CLL combines innovative learning tasks and activities with conventional ones. They include:

1. Translation. Learners form a small circle. A learner whispers a message or
meaning he or she wants to express, the teacher translates it into (and
may interpret it in) the target language, and the learner repeats the teach­
er's translation.

2. Group Work. Learners may engage in various group tasks, such as small-
group discussion of a topic, preparing a conversation, preparing a sum­
mary of a topic for presentation to another group, preparing a story that
will be presented to the teacher and the rest of the class.

3. Recording. Students record conversations in the target language.

4. Transcription. Students transcribe utterances and conversations they have
recorded for practice and analysis of linguistic forms.

5. Analysis. Students analyze and study transcriptions of target language sen­
tences in order to focus on particular lexical usage or on the application
of particular grammar rules.

6. Reflection and observation. Learners reflect and report on their experience
of the class, as a class or in groups. This usually consists of expressions of
feelings - sense of one another, reactions to silence, concern for something
to say, etc.

7. Listening. Students listen to a monologue by the teacher involving ele­
ments they might have elicited or overheard in class interactions.

8. Free conversation. Students engage in free conversation with the teacher
or with other learners. This might include discussion of what they learned
as well as feelings they had about how they learned.

Learner roles

In Community Language Learning, learners become members of a com­munity — their fellow learners and the teacher — and learn through in­teracting with members of the community. Learning is not viewed as an individual accomplishment but as something that is achieved collabo-ratively. Learners are expected to listen attentively to the knower, to freely provide meanings they wish to express, to repeat target utterances without hesitation, to support fellow members of the community, to report deep inner feelings and frustrations as well as joy and pleasure, and to become counselors to other learners. CLL learners are typically grouped in a circle of six to twelve learners, with the number of knowers varying from one per group to one per student. CLL has also been used in larger school classes where special grouping arrangements are nec essary, such as organizing learners in temporary pairs in facing parallel lines.

Learner roles are keyed to the five stages of language learning outlined earlier. The view of the learner is an organic one, with each new role growing developmentally out of the one preceding. These role changes are not easily or automatically achieved. They are in fact seen as out­comes of affective crises.

When faced with a new cognitive task, the learner must solve an affective crisis. With the solution of the five affective crises, one for each CLL stage, the student progresses from a lower to a higher stage of development. (La Forge 1983: 44)

Learning is a "whole person" process, and the learner at each stage is involved not just in the accomplishment of cognitive (language learning) tasks but in the solution of affective conflicts and "the respect for the enactment of values" as well (La Forge 1983: 55).

CLL compares language learning to the stages of human growth. In stage 1 the learner is like an infant, completely dependent on the knower for linguistic content. "A new self of the learner is generated or born in the target language" (La Forge 1983:45). The learner repeats utterances made by the teacher in the target language and "overhears" the inter­changes between other learners and knowers.

In stage 2 the "child achieves a measure of independence from the parent" (La Forge 1983: 46). Learners begin to establish their own self-affirmation and independence by using simple expressions and phrases they have previously heard.

In stage 3, "the separate-existence stage," learners begin to understand others directly in the target language. Learners will resent uninvited assistance provided by the knower/parent at this stage.

Stage 4 may be considered "a kind of adolescence." The learner func­tions independently, although his or her knowledge of the foreign lan­guage is still rudimentary. The role of "psychological understanding" shifts from knower to learner. The learner must learn how to elicit from the knower the advanced level of linguistic knowledge the knower possesses.

Stage 5 is called "the independent stage." Learners refine their un­derstanding of register as well as grammatically correct language use. They may become counselors to less advanced students while profiting from contact with their original knower.

Teacher roles

At the deepest level, the teacher's function derives from the functions of the counselor in Rogerian psychological counseling. A counselor's clients are people with problems, who in a typical counseling session will often use emotional language to communicate their difficulties to the counselor. The counselor's role is to respond calmly and nonjudg-mentally, in a supportive manner, and help the client try to understand his or her problems better by applying order and analysis to them. The counselor is not responsible for paraphrasing the client's problem ele­ment for element but rather for capturing the essence of the client's concern, such that the client might say, "Yes, that's exactly what I meant." "One of the functions of the counseling response is to relate affect... to cognition. Understanding the language of 'feeling', the coun­selor replies in the language of cognition" (Curran 1976: 26). It was the model of teacher as counselor that Curran attempted to bring to language learning.

There is also room for actual counseling in Community Language Learning. Explicit recognition is given to the psychological problems that may arise in learning a second language. "Personal learning conflicts ... anger, anxiety and similar psychological disturbance - understood and responded to by the teacher's counseling sensitivity - are indicators of deep personal investment" (J. Rardin, in Curran 1976: 103). In this case, the teacher is expected to play a role very close to that of the "regular" counselor. The teacher's response may be of a different order of detachment, consideration, and understanding from that of the av­erage teacher in the same circumstances.

More specific teacher roles are, like those of the students, keyed to the five developmental stages. In the early stages of learning the teacher operates in a supportive role, providing target language translations and a model for imitation on request of the clients. Later, interaction may be initiated by the students, and the teacher monitors learner utterances, providing assistance when requested. As learning progresses, students become increasingly capable of accepting criticism, and the teacher may intervene directly to correct deviant utterances, supply idioms, and advise on usage and fine points of grammar. The teacher's role is initially likened to that of a nurturing parent. The student gradually "grows" in ability, and the nature of the relationship changes so that the teacher's position becomes somewhat dependent upon the learner. The knower derives a sense of self-worth through requests for the knower's assistance.

One continuing role of the teacher is particularly notable in Com­munity Language Learning. The teacher is responsible for providing a safe environment in which clients can learn and grow. Learners, feeling secure, are free to direct their energies to the tasks of communication and learning rather than to building and maintaining their defensive positions. Curran describes the importance of a secure atmosphere as follows:

As whole persons, we seem to learn best in an atmosphere of personal secu­rity. Feeling secure, we are freed to approach the learning situation with the attitude of willing openness. Both the learner's and the knower's level of se­curity determine the psychological tone of the entire learning experience. (Curran 1976: 6)

Many of the newer nontraditional language teaching methods we discuss in this book stress teacher responsibility for creating and maintaining a secure environment for learning; probably no method attaches greater importance to this aspect of language learning than does Community Language Learning. Thus, it is interesting to note two <4asides" in the discussion of learning security in CLL.

First, security is a culturally relative concept. What provides a sense of security in one cultural context may produce anxiety in another. La Forge gives as an example the different patterns of personal introduction and how these are differentially expressed and experienced in early stages of CLL among students of different backgrounds. "Each culture had unique forms which provide for acquaintance upon forming new groups. These must be carefully adopted so as to provide cultural security for the students of the foreign language" (La Forge 1983: 66).

Second, it may be undesirable to create too secure an environment for learners. "The security of the students is never absolute: otherwise no learning would occur" (La Forge 1983: 65). This is reminiscent of the teacher who says, "My students would never learn anything if the fear of examination failure didn't drive them to it." How much insecurity is optimal for language learning in Community Language Learning is unfortunately not further discussed in the literature.

The role of instructional materials

Since a CLL course evolves out of the interactions of the community, a textbook is not considered a necessary component. A textbook would impose a particular body of language content on the learners, thereby impeding their growth and interaction. Materials may be developed by the teacher as the course develops, although these generally consist of little more than summaries on the blackboard or overhead projector of some of the linguistic features of conversations generated by students. Conversations may also be transcribed and distributed for study and analysis, and learners may work in groups to produce their own ma­terials, such as scripts for dialogues and mini-dramas.

In early accounts of CLL the use of teaching machines (the Chromachord Teaching System) is recommended for necessary "rote-drill and practice" in language learning. "The... design and use of machines ... now appear[s] to make possible the freeing of the teacher to do whatonly a human person can do... become a learning counselor" (Curran 976: 6). In more recent CLL descriptions (e.g., La Forge 1983) teaching machines and their accompanying materials are not mentioned, and we assume that contemporary CLL classes do not use teaching machines at all.


Since each Community Language Learning course is in a sense a unique experience, description of typical CLL procedures in a class period is problematic. Stevick distinguishes between "classical" CLL (based di­rectly on the model proposed by Curran) and personal interpretations of it, such as those discussed by different advocates of CLL (e.g., La Forge 1983). The following description attempts to capture some typical activities in CLL classes.

Generally the observer will see a circle of learners all facing one an­other. The learners are linked in some way to knowers or a single knower as teacher. The first class (and subsequent classes) may begin with a period of silence, in which learners try to determine what is supposed to happen in their language class. In later classes, learners may sit in silence while they decide what to talk about (La Forge 1983: 72). The observer may note that the awkwardness of silence becomes sufficiently agonizing for someone to volunteer to break the silence. The knower may use the volunteered comment as a way of introducing discussion of classroom contacts or as a stimulus for language interaction regarding how learners felt about the period of silence. The knower may encourage learners to address questions to one another or to the knower. These may be questions on any subject a learner is curious enough to inquire about. The questions and answers may be tape recorded for later use, as reminder and review of topics discussed and language used.

The teacher might then form the class into facing lines for three-minute pair conversations. These are seen as equivalent to the brief wrestling sessions by which judo students practice. Following this the class might be reformed into small groups in which a single topic, chosen by the class or the group, is discussed. The summary of the group discussion may be presented to another group, who in turn try to repeat or para­phrase the summary back to the original group.

In an intermediate or advanced class a teacher may encourage groups to prepare a paper drama for presentation to the rest of the class. A paper drama group prepares a story that is told or shown to the counselor. The counselor provides or corrects target language statements and suggests improvements to the story sequence. Students are then given materials with which they prepare large picture cards to accompany their story. After practicing the story dialogue and preparing the accom­panying pictures, each group presents its paper drama to the rest of the class. The students accompany their story with music, puppets, and drums as well as with their pictures (La Forge 1983: 81-2).

Finally, the teacher asks learners to reflect on the language „class, as a class or in groups. Reflection provides the basis for discussion of contracts (written or oral contracts that learners and teachers have agreed upon and that specify what they agree to accomplish within the course), personal interaction, feelings toward the knower and learner, and the sense of progress and frustration.

Dieter Stroinigg (in Stevick 1980: 185-6) presents a protocol of what a first day's CLL class covered which is outlined here:

1. Informal greetings and self-introductions were made.

2. The teacher made a statement of the goals and guidelines for the course.

3. A conversation session in the foreign language took place.

a. A circle was formed so that everyone had visual contact with each
other and all were within easy reach of a tape recorder microphone.

b. One student initiated conversation with another student by giving a
message in the LI (English).

c. The instructor, standing behind the student, whispered a close equiva­
lent of the message in the L2 (German).

d. The student then repeated the L2 message to its addressee and into the
tape recorder microphone as well.

e. Each student had a chance to compose and record a few messages.

f. The tape recorder was rewound and replayed at intervals.

g. Each student repeated the meaning in English of what he or she had
said in the L2 and helped to refresh the memory of others.

4. Students then participated in a reflection period, in which they were asked
to express their feelings about the previous experience with total

5. From the material just recorded the instructor chose sentences to write on
the blackboard that highlighted elements of grammar, spelling, and pecul­
iarities of capitalization in the L2.

6. Students were encouraged to ask questions about any of the above.

7. Students were encouraged to copy sentences from the board with notes on
meaning and usage. This became their "textbook" for home study.

This inventory of activities encompasses the major suggestions for class­room practices appearing in the most recent literature on CLL. Other procedures, however, may emerge fortuitously on the basis of learner-knower interactions in the classroom context.


Community Language Learning is the most responsive of the methods we have reviewed in terms of its sensitivity to learner communicative intent. It should be noted, however, that this communicative intent is constrained by the number and knowledge of fellow learners. A learner's desire to understand or express technical terms used in aeronautical engineering is unlikely to receive adequate response in the CLL class. Community Language Learning places unusual demands on language teachers. They must be highly proficient and sensitive to nuance in both LI and L2. They must be familiar with and sympathetic to the role of counselors in psychological counseling. They must resist the pressure "to teach" in the traditional senses. As one CLL teacher notes, "I had to relax completely and to exclude my own will to produce something myself. I had to exclude any function of forming or formulating some­thing within me, not trying to do something"(Curran 1976: 33).

The teacher must also be relatively nondirective and must be prepared to accept and even encourage the "adolescent" aggression of the learner as he or she strives for independence. The teacher must operate without conventional materials, depending on student topics to shape and mo­tivate the class. In addition, the teacher must be prepared to deal with potentially hostile learner reactions to the method. The teacher must also be culturally sensitive and prepared to redesign the language class into more culturally compatible organizational forms. And the teacher must attempt to learn these new roles and skills without much specific guidance from CLL texts presently available. Special training in Com­munity Language Learning techniques is usually required.

Critics of Community Language Learning question the appropriate­ness of the counseling metaphor upon which it is predicated, asking for evidence that language learning in classrooms indeed parallels the proc­esses that characterize psychological counseling. Questions also arise about whether teachers should attempt counseling without special train­ing. CLL procedures were largely developed and tested with groups of college-age Americans. The problems and successes experienced by one or two different client groups may not necessarily represent language learning universals. Other concerns have been expressed regarding the lack of a syllabus, which makes objectives unclear and evaluation dif­ficult to accomplish, and the focus on fluency rather than accuracy, which may lead to inadequate control of the grammatical system of the target language. Supporters of CLL, on the other hand, emphasize the positive benefits of a method that centers on the learner and stresses the hu­manistic side of language learning, and not merely its linguistic dimensions.


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