Brian Barabe comments on ACTFL featuring “Speak the Language,” on SMARTBRIEF. "Speak the Language" appeared in a highly circulated magazine, and promoted heavy grammar study, memorizing vocabulary and forced speech:
I am appalled at the damage you have risked doing to, and the low regard you show for, our profession by your link to Eil’s article “Speak the Language” in the Washington Post. First, the Post’s subtitle, “A State Department staffer reveals his tricks for becoming fluent fast,” is truly misleading. Just one example: Eil states that he has "given press conferences in confident Russian." Well la-de-dah! That is a consummation devoutly to be hoped for, considering that he has an A.B. from Harvard in Russian history and literature and lived in Russia in 2000, 2001, and 2002-2003. And just how does his pursuit of Russian fall under “tricks for becoming fluent fast”?
Eil’s advice of “Take a hard class with lots of grammar,” and his explanations of why this is advisable are linguistic cretinism. In fact, this advice is among the most disputed claims among scholars of language acquisition. And “Open your mouth,” if it means going for output early in your pursuit of a second language, is a close second.
Fortunately, Eil does give some good advice: travel abroad, get a job where you will hear the language, and go on a date. All of these come under the heading of exposing yourself to input. Problematically and unfortunately, he doesn’t bother to explain this nor to explain how important it is to seek “comprehensible input.” Likewise for his advice, “Call your old friends abroad regularly, meet native speakers at home, watch movies, listen to foreign music and read literature.”
In the future, please show much more respect for the profession ACTFL represents.
NOTE: ACTFL = American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages