I’m very glad to be here and to say some words about teaching English as a foreign language in China and in other countries where the English language is a foreign language.
The topic of my speech is Cognitive Communicative Principle of Language Teaching (CCPLT is the short form of it). This principle is firstly suggested by a Chinese foreign language teaching methodologist Qian Shuyun who is now in America. She has written and published an article fifteen years ago, the name of which is On Cognitive Communicative Principle Stressing on Students’ Subject Role. So the main idea of my speech is drawn from the article of Qian, and here I must express my thanks to her for her help in my foreign language teaching research.
The cognitive communicative principle of language teaching is based on human nature, on language nature, on learning or acquisition nature, and on communication nature. As we all know, every person has two sides in his or her psychological development. One is cognition. The other is behaviour. So do the human language, the human learning and the human language communication. The beautiful angel in the sky has two wings and can fly high. A language learner-user as a human being on the earth also has two wings-cognition and behaviour. These two together make language learner-user, including foreign language learner-user, fly higher and gain more. These two together make language learning-using easier and happier. It is our God who gives us, human beings, both cognition and behaviour. These two must be composed in one whole in teaching language, in teaching foreign language, in teaching English as a foreign language in China and in other countries. This is why we would like to claim and to stress on the cognitive communicative principle of language teaching.
Cognitive communicative principle of language teaching is a more wide concept and system in comparing with communicative language teaching, or communicative approach. As a system, it consists of both implicit learning and explicit learning of language, while communicative language teaching makes people focus mainly on the implicit learning of languages, as some applied linguistics researchers have noted. As a language educational system, the cognitive communicative principle of language teaching consists of all methods and approaches, including grammar translation approach, cognitive approach, natural approach, while communicative language teaching focuses on functions and notions teaching, and tasked-based teaching. In one word, cognitive communicative principle is such a language education system in which different methods and approaches are in coordination and cooperation, as different food and drinks are in coordination and cooperation in our life.
Now let me explain the cognitive communicative principle of language teaching in details.
The first thing I want to talk about is the theoretical basis of this principle. As an old Chinese, I think Chinese philosophy is most important for explanation of it. And Chinese philosophy, from ancient times till now, always gives us instructions that everything consists of two basic sides dependent on each other and complementing each other, such as man and woman, day and night, right and left, plus and minus and so on. So if we talk about the fundamental principle of language teaching, it must have two composing parts in concept and framework and in terminology. And the cognitive communicative principle is just formed according to the Chinese philosophy instructing that everything is the “unity of two basic opposites.” In Chinese philosophy there is also the stress on “the middle and harmony make everything” thought, as the Chinese famous philosopher-educator Confucius taught his students and his students taught their students, and so on and so forth. In this philosophical thought a middle course between the two extreme courses is considered the best. According to this thought, the cognitive communicative principle of language teaching, including English teaching in China, can be proved theoretically not only by philosophy, but also by linguists, by some linguistic scientific laws and our popular knowledge or our common sense. As everyone knows, language firstly means phonetics, grammar and vocabulary. There are as language building materials and language building rules. As to the speech, both spoken and written, it can not be produced without phonetics, grammar and vocabulary. Phonetics, grammar and vocabulary are based on both experience and knowledge. In this sense we can say that language is as linguistic knowledge, knowledge in system, knowledge in structure and pattern, knowledge creating sounds, words, sentences and discourses. In this sense we can say that language in its nature is cognitive and creative and generative. And just this nature of language makes language using, learning and teaching effective. We can teach language fast, depending on knowledge, on cognition, on phonetic, grammatical and lexical rules. We can teach students most, depending logical thinking, logical association, on logical memorizing and logical producing of speech. Linguistic knowledge, including phonetics, grammar and vocabulary, gives teachers and learners opportunities for using their mind, their intelligence, their wisdom in language teaching and learning. And the cognitive communicative principle of language teaching is just a conceptual framework, a work system of language teaching and learning in use of wisdom. Here we can classify two types of language teaching and learning. One is the surface teaching and learning depending on activities, physical actions. The other is the deep teaching and learning depending on generative knowledge, mental actions, logical thinking. And the best way of language teaching and learning is the two-mixed way, because language is not only the total of communication, but also the total of thinking, and, as we know, the so-called communicative competence grows up on the ground of linguistic competence. And furthermore, linguistic performance and communicative performance are based on linguistic competence and communicative competence. Here the term “competence” has the meaning of knowledge. So it is very clear that the better or the best way of language teaching is a “rail-way of two rails”. One rail is cognition in the form of knowledge, system of patterns. The other is communication in forms of activities, tasks and functions.
As I mentioned above, the second thing I want to say more is teaching language as language. It is good to say that language is a set of habits. It is good to say that language is a vocabulary and way of using it. It is good to say that language is the method of human communication. It is good to say that language is a highly integrated system. It is good to say that language is the mirror of society. And it is good to say that language is the mirror of mind. But it is better to say that language is language. And language teaching must be in consideration of the cognitive communicative principle of language teaching. As we think of language teaching more deeply, we may get an idea of the important place of the more important place of teaching principle and less important place of teaching method or approach. In this sense, the language teaching problem solving is more in the study of language theory in relation with the study of language teachers, language learners, language courses, language classes, and language teaching-learning materials. In this sense, when we speak about the students’ subject role, the leading role belongs to the teachers whose teaching idea decides teaching things, decides teaching activities and learning activities, decides the learners’ mental actions and physical actions, in harmony or not. So we must recognize and say openly that only good language educators can educate good language learners, and only good language theory can educate good language teachers. And, of course, here the problem is: what is good language theory? Applied linguistics? Social linguistics? Psycholinguistics? The answer is yes and no, because any of them is too complex to be studied by language teachers. So I often say that today’s applied linguistics is too complex to be applied. We must reconstruct a new system of linguistics. The more simple it is, the better. As a book, the thinner it is, the better. If we require language teachers to read many thick books and to know many terms, we must be failures forever. A good book is not only a collector of knowledge, but also a helper of thinking, a producer of thinkers. A good language teacher is not only a trainer, but also a thinker. The more simple language theory is teaching language as language. This is the most important theory that needs to be focused on now in China, explicit learning is considered not good, and systematical and intensive teaching of phonetics, grammar and vocabulary is also considered not right. But if we say language is language, it means that language is, first of all, phonetics, grammar and vocabulary. And teaching phonetics, grammar and vocabulary is in the first place of language teaching, including English teaching in China. No systematic teaching of phonetics, grammar and vocabulary in system, no real teaching language as language. There is no language without phonetics, grammar and vocabulary. So the teaching of phonetics, grammar and vocabulary is the first thing we must first do. As to the other things, however fashionable they are considered to be, they are in fact less important in comparison with phonetics, grammar and vocabulary. If I don’t know English phonetics, grammar and vocabulary, I can’t open my mouth. I can’t say any word, any phrase and any sentence, and I can’t express any idea in English. If I don’t know the function, notions and strategies, using in English communication, I, knowing the English phonetics, grammar and vocabulary, can create them basically by transferring from my native language to the English language, using my head, my brain, my mind and my logic thinking. When I know the sounds and meanings of “hello”, “good morning”, “how are you” and other greetings, it is not difficult for me to use them to greet someone. I needn’t know that their function is greeting. But when I don’t know their sounds and meanings, I can’t do anything to greet anyone. There is a typical example of how the Chinese can learn and use English well without training of functions using. It is my father’s English learning. My father learned English four years in a Chinese ordinary middle school as an ordinary student. He didn't learn the function, didn't do functional exercises. After four years’English study my father and his classmates began to study in preuniversity course, and they were able to attend all classes given in English, such as mathematics, physics, chemistry and so on. Besides books, text books, grammar book, dictionary, supplementary readers, they had no other learning materials. But their English learning was more effective than now. Why? The reason is that their learning was in a very close connection of cognition with communication. Their learning combined competence and performance in one whole, knowledge and skill in one whole, language and speech in one whole, written language and spoken language in one whole. Their learning was so simple and so easy that they were able to use the learning methods and learning strategies directly borrowed from native language learning like reading aloud, reciting texts, using cards for memorizing words, listening to teacher’s explanation and understanding, reviewing, story enjoying and analyzing words, sentences and texts. Here the students were students. They studied English, got knowledge and skills in system and in cognition. They used English to get scientific knowledge and social knowledge in system and in cognition. There was no communication for communication, but communication for getting new knowledge, new information and new ideas. This was real communication.
The third thing I want to discuss is teaching language as literature. Literature is the soul of a language. A person’s speech without literature tastes like a flower without colour and fragrance. Literature is in combination of thoughts and images. Literature is the combination of logical thinking and imaginative thinking. Literature is the combination of culture and language. Literature is the combination of philosophy, psychology and sociology. Literature is the combination of knowledge, information and feelings. Literature is encyclopedia of life. Words, phrases, sentences and texts in literature are more clear and living in meanings and usage. They are more easy to be understood, memorized, recalled, associated and creatively used. So many successful English learners are English literature learners and researchers. Here I can mention some names of them, as Xu Zhimo, Zhu Shenghao, Zhu Guangqian, Lin Yutang, Qian Zhongshu, Ye Junjian and others. Their successful English learning can be said as literature-language learning or an important form of cognitive communicative learning, learning in thinking, researching and using. If we talk about the tasked-based learning, I would like to say that literature studying, reading, writing and discussion are the best task-based learning. Easy, happy and effective English learning cannot be done without literature enjoying, reading, reciting, studying and using. And here I want to stress on the importance of reading in English learning. In China people often use the word “reading” instead of “learning”. It means no reading, no learning. This is a popular truth. It is also true for English learning and teaching, from the beginning to the ending. Of course reading must be in combination with listening, speaking and writing.
The last thing I want to speak about is teaching students as students. Students are school boys and girls. They learn English language in schools. And they learn not only English, but also Chinese language, math and other subjects. So they have experience and knowledge as how to learn, as how to review and preview, how to memorize and recite, how to think and speak in Chinese. They can study by analysis and synthesis, by generalization and reasoning, by classifying and analogy. These learning knowledge, learning skill and learning habits are general to all subjects, including the English language as a foreign language. Students can use their basic learning knowledge, skill and habits in their English language learning. And they like to do. Students get to be more interested and involved in English learning, using these general learning knowledge, using thinking skills, using cognitive strategies. Students gain more and enjoy more in such learning. The deep-rooted and long-term enjoyment of learning is in thinking, in cognition, in mental action. Thinking learning is happy. Cognitive learning is easy. The thing discussed here is the students’ learning competence that is as important as the linguistic competence and the communicative competence are, if not more. In the learning competence center is the logical thinking. No logical thinking, no interesting learning.
Now I am going to finish my speech. In conclusion I would like to repeat that as a simple person, I like to make language teaching theory and practice simple, so that most of language teachers can do best teachings. The cognitive communicative principle of language teaching is proposed for this purpose. The proposed teaching language as language and literature, and teaching students are students are presented here for this purpose. At last, let me say thank you for your listening. Thank you very much.