Tongue lashing

November 13, 1998

Alan Thomson is right to express criticism of the foolish notion that students can effortlessly learn a foreign language in the classroom in the same way that infants acquire their first language - simply by exposure without attention to rules. But he is wrong to attribute this view to Chomsky. Chomsky has consistently stated that his theories have no relevance to foreign language teaching. For example, in a published answer to a question at the end of the Managua lectures, he says: "I don't think modern linguistics can tell you much of practical utility...Psychology and linguistics have caused a great deal of harm by pretending to have answers to those questions and telling teachers and people who deal with children how they should behave." It is the interpreters of Chomsky's ideas who have done harm to language teaching, not Chomsky himself.

Guy Cook Professor of applied linguistics University of Reading

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