3.2.4 Rules in Schools



The rules you’re taught are not the same thing as the rules you use

L2 learners are often explicitly taught rules as statements using words like question, verb, auxiliary etc. For example, on the website Eslbase the question rule Barbara constructed is described in the following terms (with example sentences omitted):

    • 1. In questions, the first auxiliary verb comes before the subject.
      2. If there is no auxiliary verb we use do (or does, did).

What is the relation between statements like these and the rules or constructions stored in learners’ minds?


activity  Activity

Here are examples of Barbara’s use of the question rule from Fig. 3.13:

    • Would you read this one (.) would you read it for me?
      Will you look at them now?

When Barbara actually forms questions like these, can she possibly be looking up the actual words of the rule as it is stated in Eslbase or a textbook?


Barbara was four years old when the recordings we’ve been looking at were made. When she went to school, she would have learned how to read and write, and may also have had grammar lessons in the ‘standard’ version of her native language, like many children around the world. She would certainly have been exposed to more formal language (both lexically and grammatically), and would hear accents from beyond Belfast and Ireland itself.


activity  Activity

    • ● What effect do you think this would have on her language, both as mental representation and as actual practice?
      ● Can you identify any parallels between what happens with pupils like Barbara in a ENL school context and what happens with the students in traditional EFL or ESL classes?