C is for Contrastive analysis

An A-Z of ELT

Charles-BridgeAn article in the latest Applied Linguistics (Scheffler 2012) makes a robust defence of some discredited classroom practices, including the use of translation. While lamenting the lack of research into the effectiveness of translation, Scheffler reports a couple of studies that suggest that learners exposed to cross-linguistic comparison (also called contrastive metalinguistic input) out-perform those who have had grammar presented to them solely in the target language. The author concludes that ‘teachers who resisted the ban on [translation] in the classroom may have known what they were doing’ (p. 606).  In this wise, Scheffler echoes the thrust of Guy Cook’s (2010) book, discussed in this blog here.

Interestingly, neither Scheffler nor Cook reference the work of the ‘Prague School’ of linguistics, and especially of its founder, Vilém Mathesius, whose application of cross-linguistic comparison to the teaching of foreign languages seems to have been a methodological staple in (then) Czechoslovakia…

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