Major Surgery Due: Redesigning the Syllabus and Texts


  • Albert Valdman Ph.D.,

    1. (Ph.D. Cornell University) is Professor of French/Italian and Linguistics and Chairman of the Committee for Research and Development in Language instruction at Indiana University, Bloomington
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  • Helen P. Warriner-Burke Ph.D.

    1. (Ph.D., The Ohio State University) is Associate Director for Languages in the Virginia State Department of Education, Richmond.
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ABSTRACT In an attempt to develop higher levels of communicative ability on the part of high school and college foreign language students, some ill-advised methodologists have advocated the replacement of the traditional situational-structural syllabus by notional or “communicative” syllabuses. In this article we argue that the attainment of a higher level of communicative skills in regular foreign language courses requires instead clearer definition of objectives and limitation in the scope and content of features specified in syllabuses and introduced in textbooks. We also suggest four directions that should be taken to make the situational-structural syllabus more compatible with the imparting of a minimal level of communicative ability. These are: (1) giving semantic and functional notions higher priority than surface grammatical features in the selection and ordering of grammatical features; (2) making the use of grammatical features subordinate to the achievement of communicative ends rather than teaching them for their own sake; (3) introducing features of spoken (as versus written) language discourse in textbooks and providing more authentic speech samples; (4) reducing grammatical apparatus to a strict minimum and accepting less than full-formed utterances from beginning students. These new directions require not only a reduction in the scope of current textbooks but imaginative changes in their design and in the content and progression of syllabuses.