In Language Acquisition “Rules” Don’t Matter, Says Renown Expert Bill VanPatten

Wust and VanPatten image
Guest speaker Dr. Bill VanPatten (right), accompanied by Dr. Valerie Wust (left), French Program Coordinator.

When it comes to acquiring a second language, “rules” — in the traditional sense of the word — don’t matter. That was the controversial message that Dr. Bill VanPatten conveyed to his audience during a recent invited talk at the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.

The talk was part of the department’s Spring 2015 Brownbag/Research Talks series that this year includes lectures by several distinguished speakers.

Dr. VanPatten is an internationally renown expert in the fields of Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition (SLA). Currently, he is a professor of Spanish and Second Language Studies at Michigan State University. He is also Director of Second language Instruction at the same institution.

According to Dr. VanPatten’s presentation, second language instruction is long overdue for an overhaul. Rather than focusing on learning explicit rules which are then practiced — as is the case in many approaches — SL instruction should focus on the most recent findings of how the brain actually works. For him, these findings show that the way in which rules are acquired does not match with typical pedagogical practices. “We can’t teach acquisition away,” was Dr. VanPatten’s resounding message.

A crowd of students and faculty, including Drs. Ruth Gross and Dudley Marchi, Head and Associate Head of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures respectively, were in attendance during the event that was followed by a reception in the lobby of Withers Hall.

 Posted by S. F. Sotillo

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