ABSTRACT  Research in second language acquisition supports the notion that learners must have access to meaningful language (Sorenson, 24; Newmark, 15; Krashen, 13). In addition, Piagetian research in intellectual development indicates that learning is an active process of “constructing” knowledge and that there are three basic routes to knowledge: (1) the “perception” of data, (2) “action” with the data, and finally (3) a “conceptual” route consisting of formulas or generalizations about the data (Duckworth, 3). Many language teachers rely mainly on the third route; that is, they teach “correct” forms or generalizations about language and neglect to foster the use and interconnection of the other two routes.

In this essay, I present data from observations of two different ESL classes. In one of the classes, the teacher uses a “prescriptive” approach and demands linguistic accuracy from the students at all times. By contrast, in the other class observed, the teacher's role is to motivate the need in the students to constantly use the language in order to share ideas about topics of immediate concern or vital interest. In this setting, students are expected to take risks, err and “construct” language. Much of this “building of language” takes place when students resolve linguistic conflicts which occur in their attempts to understand and make themselves understood. I examine the two classes in light of Piagetian research concerning the routes to knowledge and conclude by supporting the methods used in the latter class because they adequately interassociate the three routes to knowledge and help the students move beyond their current levels of linguistic development.