04 November 2011

Choose your terminology carefully

People often get confused with all these fancy words in language learning and teaching.  I discussed my basic views on terminology before, but I want to look at one of the big problems that poor thought over terminology can cause: false dichotomies caused by false opposites.

For example, in the use of reading or listening, we often talk about intensive and extensive input.
  • Extensive input means reading or listening to a lot.
  • Intensive input is reading or listening closely and carefully, perhaps going back over material to get a lot of detail.
These things are not opposites, and on a conscious, intellectual level, most people recognise this.  Of course, they're not completely compatible either, because it's hard to read a lot if you're reading it slowly and carefully.

But once you stop thinking very carefully, most people start talking about the two things as though they were truly opposite.  Why?  Because whoever chose the terminology wanted two names that looked like a set, but inadvertantly made them look like opposites.

(Of course, this is just an extreme example of the problem of counterintuitive grammatical terminology, such as "regular" in the earlier article).

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