Subido por yair Enrique Romero Ospino

The Induction-Deduction Opposition

The Induction-Deduction Opposition:
Ambiguities and Complexities of the Didactic Reality
Wilfried Decoo
Published in
IRAL: International Review of Applied Linguistics, vol. 34, n° 2 (May 1996), 95-118.
("didactic" = pertaining to teaching and learning in a school context)
An analysis of some of the scientific literature reveals that the terms "induction" and
"deduction" often point to various concepts. A number of modalities need to be discerned,
especially in the realm of "induction". Experimental comparisons of different methodological
approaches may also neglect, to some extent, the complexities of what is really taking place
in the classroom setting. The purpose of this article is not to take sides in the methodological
controversy, but to contribute to a greater awareness of terminology identification and of the
tangents, plural forms and crossings between didactic strategies that draw on "induction" or
Les termes "induction" et "déduction", tels qu'une analyse de la littérature scientifique nous
les révèle, renvoient souvent à des concepts différents. Il semble utile de discerner les
différentes modalités, en particulier dans le domaine de "l'induction". Les comparaisons
expérimentales de différentes approches méthodologiques semblent négliger, du moins en
partie, les aspects complexes de la réalité en classe. Cet article ne prend pas position dans
la controverse méthodologique, mais désire contribuer à une plus grande prise de
conscience d'une part des problèmes terminologiques, et d'autre part des tangentes, des
formes plurielles et des correspondances entre les stratégies didactiques qui se réclament
d'"induction" ou de "déduction".
0. Introduction
Already during the Reform Movement of the 1880's, the staunch conflict between direct and
indirect methods used the opposition "induction versus deduction" as a way to identify
"natural versus grammatical" foreign language learning. The conflict lingered on all through
the first half of the 20th century, reaching new heights in the sixties, in the clash between
audio-lingual methods and cognitive approaches. Since then, "induction" and "deduction"
have often been studied in the light of this opposition, with some attempts to reconcile the
dichotomy, but also leading to other definitions of "induction".
In the first part of this article we will probe into the matter by identifying various modalities of
induction and deduction in a more theoretical educational framework. An overview of some of
the literature on the subject will then allow us to see how these modalities fit in the views of a
number of authors.
In the second part we will move into the didactic reality of the teacher and the learner, to
identify some of the ambiguities of the theoretical framework and to draw possible didactic
1. Induction and deduction in a more theoretical
educational framework
1.1. The traditional dichotomy
Deduction is understood as the process that goes from the general to the specific, from
consciously formulated rules to the application in language use. It evokes the image of the
grammar-based methods and of cognitive approaches. In contemporary terminology it is
easily identified with learning.
Induction is the process that goes from the specific to the general, namely first the real
language use, from which will "emerge" patterns and generalizations. It evokes natural
language learning and a variety of direct methods. In contemporary terminology it is easily
identified with acquisition.
1.2. Refinement into five modalities
The traditional dichotomy, however, is not sufficient to identify a number of obvious
modalities of induction and deduction in the educational process. The following five brands
can easily be identified - but each of them could be further refined in complex and dynamic
subcategories, while some other combinations could be added:
Modality A - Actual deduction
Modality B - Conscious induction as guided discovery
Modality C - Induction leading to an explicit "summary of behaviour"
Modality D - Subconscious induction on structured material
Modality E - Subconscious induction on unstructured material
Modality A - Actual deduction
The grammatical rule or pattern is explicitly stated at the beginning of the learning process
and the students move into the application of this grammar (examples and exercises).
Modality B - Conscious induction as guided discovery
The students first encounter various examples, often sentences, sometimes embedded in a
text. The "conscious discovery" of the grammar is then directed by the teacher: on the basis
of the examples he normally asks a few key-questions and the students are led to discover
and formulate the rule. The rationale usually given is that students who discover the rule on
their own will profit from this.
Modality C - Induction leading to an explicit "summary of behaviour"
Here we take a first step into a more behaviouristic tradition. The learner first practises a
certain structure in an intense way. Through this practice the rule is "somehow" induced and
internalized. Then, at the end of the learning segment, the teacher summarizes the rule
explicitly. The methodologists advocating this approach avoid the impression that this
explanation is important, by simply calling it "a summary of behaviour". It was the approach
of early proponents of audio-lingualism and can be detected in a number of specific
methodological recommendations of the past three decades.
Modality D - "Subconscious" induction on structured material
"Subconscious" is put between quotations marks because the concept of consciousness or
not is often considered a slippery notion (Odlin, 1986; Schmidt, 1990). Subconscious
induction is understood here as the learning process that will not make use of explicitly
formulated grammar. Abstractions and generalizations are left to the "subconscious
capabilities" of the students. In subconscious induction on structured material, the students
are exposed to language material that has been structured in such a way to help the
inductive process. The principle advocates that through the systematic repetition of the same
pattern, through graded variations, through drill and practice, the student will come to an
"integrated mastery" of the rule, without conscious analysis. This modality was the major
technique advocated by many of the audio-lingual methods around 1960, and especially by
the French audio-visual methods.
Modality E - "Subconscious" induction on unstructured material
This is supposed to come as close as possible to "natural acquisition". Only intense
language practice is given, on the basis of authentic input, without any linguistic structuring
or manipulation. "Generalizations" will come naturally, comparable to first language
1.3. An overview of some of the literature
The distinction between those five modalities will help us to better identify the analysis of a
number of authors. Indeed, especially the term "induction" is sometimes used indiscriminately for rather divergent processes, namely modalities B, C, D or E. To help avoid confusion
in our treatment of the subject, we will always clarify our identification of the terms by
referring to the modalities.
In the second half of the sixties, when the cognitive reaction hit the audio-methods, the clash
was clear-cut: behaviouristic habit-formation was opposed to controlled mental processes.
To our students we like to explain this clash as the Waterloo of language teaching
methodology: the issues were black and white, the opponents well-defined, the battle
fascinating. Among the many opposing flags, the one with "induction" written on it was waved
against the one with "deduction".
But Wilga Rivers, who was identified with the cognitive camp, uses the terms deduction and
induction to discern between modalities A and B, not to oppose "conscious" versus
"subconscious". Induction thus happens when a student "evolves a rule" from the given
examples "with the help of his teacher" (Rivers, 1975:105; see also Rivers, 1972:81-83). In a
more detailed discussion of this process, Rivers recommends the use of an age-criterium to
select between the two approaches: the deductive approach (modality A) is most useful for
mature, well-motivated students, or for adult student in intensive courses, while the inductive
approach (modality B) is more appropriate for young language learners (1975:248). Rivers
does not, however, specify what age "young" learners have in her opinion. Since "induction"
for her still means coming to an understanding of explicit grammar, we may presume she has
somewhat older children in mind, capable of cognitive insight, e.g. age 10 and older.
The age factor is clearly defined in an experiment by Ingvar Werdelin (1968) who studied
"induction" versus "deduction" in the learning of a foreign language alphabet with sample
groups of sixth and eight grade pupils. Sensitiveness to the definition problem is shown in the
distinction Werdelin makes between "instruction in principle before application to examples"
(modality A) and "examples followed by principle clarification and supplemented by further
examples" (modality B), although the term "principle clarification" would need clarification
itself. The third method used in the experiment was "examples only" (modality C or D?). One
should also notice that the research dealt with the learning of a foreign alphabet, not really of
grammatical rules.
William Littlewood (1975) is also an author who makes distinctions between the various
modalities, while at the same time recognizing that "they are not exclusive and may function
together in varying proportions". He uses the terms "to induce", "inductions", and "inductive
strategy" for modalities C, D and E, clearly discerning between each of them. Littlewood then
considers two sub-strategies for the approach that makes the grammar explicit:
- The first is when the rule "is regarded as a summary of behaviour, coming after the
presentation of a piece of language, perhaps also after it has been practised for a time".
This seems to pertain to modality C, but the factor "time" is not clarified. A short time of a
few minutes would bring us closer to modality B.
- The second sub-strategy is clearly modality A, when "command of the rule through
explanation is regarded as the starting-point for language use". Littlewood calls this "an
overall deductive strategy", but adds: "it does not exclude using inductive classroom
techniques", no doubt referring to modality B.
As we will see later in our discussion, Littlewood is perfectly justified in closely identifying
modality B with both modality A and modality C.
Littlewood's article itself, in defence of explicit and functional grammar-teaching, hails "overt"
grammar teaching (using both deduction and conscious induction) as opposed to "inductive
processes", which then clearly mean modalities D or E of subconscious induction.
Herbert Seliger (1975) summarizes his doctoral dissertation devoted to a comparison of what
he called "an inductive method with a modified deductive method". An inductive method,
according to Seliger, is one where the learner "has discovered the underlying abstraction for
himself". In the description of his experiment, Seliger clarifies that the students working with
the inductive method first practise a certain structure (which lends itself "to clear and concise
verbalization as a language rule"), and that the grammatical explanation would follow each
lesson segment as a "summary of behaviour". Seliger thus understands this "inductive
method" basically as modality C.
However, some ambiguity remains in Seliger's occasional use of the term "induction" for
processes that belong to the natural, subconscious acquisition (modality E), for example
when he mentions the assumptions "that the child learns not by rules but by imitation and
induction" (p. 3). The same terminological uncertainty remains in Seliger's critical description
of "induction versus deduction in audio-lingual method", whereby it is not always clear
whether modalities C, D, or E are meant. By the same token, however, Seliger's thorough
analysis shows that many proponents of a non-deductive approach struggled with these very
incongruities, because of insufficient distinction between various forms of language
integration: from the most behaviouristic habit-formation, to some vague problem-solving
procedures, to stronger generalizations, and finally to real awareness of rules.
In an article specifically devoted to the "Deduction/induction controversy", Hector Hammerly
first draws a mini-history of deduction and induction through the centuries, using "deduction"
for modality A, and "induction" for modalities D and E, without distinction (Hammerly, 1975).
Hammerly calls the traditional dichotomy "an unnecessarily polarizing distinction" and claims
to have found an easy reconciliation, namely "audiolingual habit formation with deduction and
cognition". His methodology then starts from explicit grammar through modality A or B, both
of which Hammerly puts under the heading "deduction". This "cognition" is then to be
followed by intense application, so that "the rule can be gradually phased out from the
students' attention".
In the rest of his article, Hammerly presents another way to combine both deduction and
induction: "Certain structures are most amenable to a deductive approach while others -many others -- can be learned very well by an inductive approach". But a clear distinction
between modalities C and D is not made: a certain Spanish structure "can be learned
inductively by just about any class in a few minutes, given the right exercises". Here the
"inductive" way, firstly understood as "subconscious", seems to become more modality C,
leading to explicit grammar. Indeed, Hammerly concludes for this "inductive" approach, that it
"allows the learners to 'discover' by themselves how a part of the language works. This
makes the learning process more interesting and, according to psychologists, such 'learning
by discovery' is better retained."
Hammerly tackles the subject again in his Synthesis in second language teaching
(1982:410-417). Deduction and induction are still seen in the traditional dichotomy: deduction
is modality A, namely "from a rule statement to the application"; induction is modality D and
E, without distinction, namely going "from examples to a generalization". Hammerly clarifies:
"This generalization, however, is usually left unstated, so that the rule is supposed to be
learned through practice, without analysis." He then identifies modality B, conscious induction, and calls this appropriately "guided discovery". He devices a chart "for the determination
of teaching procedure for individual rules", based on the similarity and dissimilarity with the
native language and with the degree of difficulty. Hammerly claims that the dissimilar and
more difficult items (about 20 %) need to be explained through deduction, the similar and
easy items (about 20 to 30 %) through induction (meaning subconscious induction), the
medium items (50 to 60 %) through guided discovery. Hammerly does not mention how he
calculated these percentages and to what languages they apply.
Robert Fischer, in his article "The inductive-deductive controversy revisited" (1979) clearly
defines "deduction" as modality A, and "induction" as modality B. His description of induction
leaves no doubt as to this point of view: the student "discovers the grammatical principle",
and "his linguistic competence will guide him, in effect, in analysing the foreign language
data and formulating the appropriate rule". The only somewhat confusing terminological
identification comes in Fischer's statement that "historically, the inductive approach has been
associated with the audio-lingual method". This would refer to either modalities C or D, but
Fischer does not go into this distinction. Like Hammerly, Fischer believes that both deduction
and induction, as he views them respectively as modality A and modality B, have their place
in the learning process. He also tries to determine criteria to select the one or the other
approach. For him, contrastive analysis provides these criteria, in relation to a theory of
learning transfer: if the foreign language grammar rule is similar or dissimilar but simpler than
the native language rule, then an inductive approach is the most appropriate; if the foreign
language grammar rule is dissimilar and of equal or greater complexity than the native
language rule, a deductive approach is to be preferred.
Dulay, Burt and Krashen (1982) use the term "deduction" for modality A, and "induction" for
modality B: for them "induction" is conscious induction, namely "when practice precedes the
explanation, and when its goal is to help the student discover the form of the rule" (p. 17).
One can easily see the possible confusion arising from a superficial reading of Krashen's
publications, because his famous contrasting "learning" to "acquisition" does not match the
traditional dichotomy between "deduction" and "induction", where the latter pertains to
subconscious induction. Dulay, Burt and Krashen consider both deduction and induction as
part of conscious learning and they oppose both of them to acquisition. Therefore, both
deduction and induction are seen as part of "a conscious exercise in grammatical form" (p.
18). In the same vein, the three authors criticize "inductive ability" as one of the aptitudes to
predict communicative competence: inductive ability, for them, is only good to predict "who
will attain a high degree of metalinguistic skill awareness" (p. 69).
The functional-notional approach, as described by Finocchiaro and Brumfit (1983),
encourages to learn grammatical structures using a combination of modalities B and C. It
means that a new structure is first presented and repeated several times into a variety of
sentences, then studied under the guidance of the teacher so that the students "discover the
sounds, the written form, the position in the sentence, and the grammatical function of the
new structure" (p. 122). The authors do not use the terms "deduction" or "induction" in this
description. But the index refers to these pages under the heading "inductive process",
implying that to the authors induction means modalities B and C.
We should also, at this point, refer to the critical study of Terence Odlin (1986) who deals
with the definition and nature of explicit versus implicit knowledge. Although the aim of
Odlin's article is not to analyze the dynamic ways in which explicit knowledge is achieved,
she provides definitions and clarifications of explicit versus implicit knowledge as given
entities with peculiar tangents, viewed against some of the ideas of Krashen and of Bialystok.
Odlin thus contributes to a better understanding of the various forms of explicit knowledge,
which, of course, must have been achieved through various form of deduction and induction.
In his overview of experiments dealing with formal language instruction, Craig Chaudron
(1988) points at the large number of product-studies that have investigated the effects of
explicit versus implicit grammar instruction on achievement. Chaudron calls the implicit
approach "pattern practice or inductive" (modalities C or D). However, he himself adds the
critical remark that in a number of these experiments "classroom process variables have
typically not been observed closely or manipulated (thereby leaving some doubt as to the
true differentials in instructional treatments)" (p. 166). Chaudron therefore recommends more
narrowly focused research on particular instructional variables.
Constance Shaffer (1989) studies a comparison of inductive and deductive approaches, and
is very sensitive to the differences. According to Shaffer, an inductive approach was formerly
always equated with the audio-lingual method of the sixties, defined as habit-formation
(modality D or E), unless the teacher gave the students at the end of the lesson the
appropriate rule (modality C). For the purpose of her study, Shaffer clearly defines an
inductive approach as modality B: "The students' attention is focused on the structure being
learned... and the students are required to formulate for themselves and then verbalize the
underlying pattern" (p. 396). Shaffer's pilot study further indicates that also weaker students
benefit from this inductive approach.
In a similar pilot study of the same year, Virginia M. Scott (1989) addresses a comparison of
explicit and implicit teaching strategies. In this study, the explicit strategy is clearly modality
A, actual deduction (explicit presentation of a grammar rule, followed by a few examples) and
the implicit strategy is modality D, subconscious induction on structured material (the
students listen repeatedly to the material embedded naturally in a text; the text is "heavily
weighted" with the structures to be learned; no explicitation follows). The conclusion of the
study is "the superior performance of students exposed to explicit grammar" (p. 19). In a
follow-up study, however, Scott (1990) defines the explicit strategy as the "deliberate study of
a grammar rule, either by deductive analysis or inductive analogy". Here "inductive", in its
connection with "deliberate study" refers to modality B. The description of the experiment
does not, however, clarify the procedural differences between this "deductive analysis" and
this "inductive analogy".
Julia Herschensohn (1990) defends an effective role for explicit grammar in communicative
methodologies. She clarifies her position by stating that a "teacher's focus on grammatical
structure does not require a return to grammar-translation (deductive presentation) or
audiolingual (inductive rote presentation) methodology". "Deductive presentation" is certainly
to be understood as modality A, "inductive rote presentation" most probably as modality C or
D. In her defence of a grammar presentation and practice that can be adapted to current
communicative methodologies, Herschensohn refers to Shaffer's "inductive approach" (see
above), i.e. modality B, which she further identifies as an "interactive, participatory mode. In
this manner of explanation the teacher presents grammar points inductively, using realia and
visuals which involve students directly". It must lead to a consciously articulated "knowledge
of language", imparted in a direct and interactive way.
In her study on the role of grammar instruction in a communicative approach, Tracy David
Terrell uses the term "explicit grammar instruction", coined EGI, "somewhat loosely to mean
the use of instructional strategies to draw the students' attention to or focus on form and/or
structure" (Terrell, 1991, p. 53). The various techniques mentioned include explicitly pointing
out a phenomenon, giving a special sort of input with many examples, doing focused
exercises. Terell is manifestly aware of the variety and overlapping nature of brands of EGI,
although an analysis of their differences is not the purpose of her study.
Carol Herron and Michael Tomasello (1992) contrast the deductive approach (clearly
identified as modality A) with "guided induction", in which the learner takes an active role in
hypothesis testing on the basis of clear cut examples, but at no time does either teacher or
student explicitly state the rule. Basically this "guided induction" can be understood as
modality D, because explicit analysis is to be avoided at any time. On the other hand, the
obvious clarity of model sentence and drill practice, as described in the experiment by Herron
and Tomasello, is undoubtedly meant to elicit learner strategies, even if not externalized,
belonging to modality C or even B.
Richard Donato and Bonnie Adair-Hauck (1992) criticize the simple dichotomy between
deductive and inductive approaches, as if the former only entails explicit explanations by the
teacher (modality A) and the latter only implicit learning by the student (modalities D and/or
E). They draw the attention to the difference between monologic instruction (modality A) and
proleptic instruction, where the dialogue between teacher and learner provides for "guided
assistance" (modality B). Interesting in this study is the link to the Vygotskyan role of
discourse and the analysis of instructional protocols. What is not treated from our didactic
point of view, is a critical analysis of related aspects, such as learning styles and strategies of
individual students in what is meant to be a "collaborative" dialogue, the time-efficiency of the
procedures, the link to the nature of subject-matter, or the actual effect on linguistic
Finally, to conclude this overview with an eye to recent years, the emergence should be
noted of a (new) terminology that tends to replace the terms deduction and induction - "formfocused instruction", "code-focused instruction", "acquisition of implicit knowledge", "rule
internalization", "conscious hypothesis formation", "cognitive processing", "focused input
processing", and others (Mohammed, 1995; Jones, 1993; Van Patten & Cadierno, 1993;
Sharwood Smith, 1993; Harley, 1993). On the one hand the new terms can be very helpful,
sometimes precisely meant to refine some of the cruder concepts and convincingly
positioned within a framework of deepening and accomplished research. On the other hand
their use seems sometimes more sophisticated and trendy than more specific and therefore
they do not always solve the ambiguities we discussed.
In relation to our subject, we should also point at important recent terminological and
analytical studies about the role of interaction and attention on grammatical development in
second language acquisition (Braidi, 1995; Tomlin & Villa, 1994; Robinson, 1995). An
arresting domain is also the research dealing with "implicit learning", which emphasizes a
different mechanism than the one usually associated with unconscious induction. Richard
Schmidt (1990) characterizes implicit learning in oppositional terms to the kind of
generalizing induction towards rules. He defines it as "the gradual accumulation of
associations between frequently co-occurring features, rather than unconscious induction of
abstract rule systems" (p. 149). See also Ellis (1994) for a thorough treatment of explicit
versus implicit learning in languages.
2. Deduction and induction in real didactic classroom
Let us clarify that our starting-point pertains to traditional educational settings for adolescents
or adults, devoting a limited number of hours per week to foreign language learning. We do
not feel qualified to say that our conclusions would also apply to younger children or to
intensive courses. The following items will be discussed:
2.1. Tangents between deduction and conscious induction
2.2. Plural forms of conscious induction
2.3. Crossings between subconscious and conscious induction
2.4. The nature of subject-matter
2.1. Tangents between deduction and conscious induction
We will first compare modalities A and B, which quite a number of authors oppose as the
basic dichotomy between deduction and induction. But can the difference between these two
be very small or even non-existent? Indeed, when working with conscious induction the rule
can appear so evidently in the nicely constructed examples, that the step from the specific
examples to the generalized rule is taken simultaneously. Example, using an artificial
de vlop = the child
dei vlopi = the children
aksilan = to be tired
De vlop aksila. = The child is tired.
Dei vlopi aksilai. = The children are tired.
After having shown and read the preceding, the teacher asks:
"How does the verb aksilan change?"
Conscious induction leads to the "discovery" by the students:
→ -a for 3rd person singular (aksila)
→ -ai for 3rd person plural (aksilai).
But conscious induction is in this case a very rapid process, for many students probably
taking place simultaneously with the showing of the examples. This same simultaneity can
thus take place in the other direction, when one uses deduction, namely first stating a simple
rule and then applying it to examples. The teacher says:
"The third person singular of the verb ends with -a. → De vlop aksila.
For the third person plural we add -i. → Dei vlopi aksilai."
This is a case of deduction, but in such swift presentation it may make little difference for the
actual learning process, compared to the preceding example of conscious induction.
Moreover, we draw the attention to an important facet of the whole process, namely the
reality of a group of students in a peculiar didactic setting. When the teacher uses deduction,
some students may not or not fully understand the explanation. But when the examples are
given, these students may go through a quick conscious induction, as a kind of subsequent
interception of elements that were not clearly understood at the moment of the theoretical
formulation, or as concrete confirmation of the still somewhat abstract rule. In the internal
language of the student:
- (he hears the rule) "I don't quite get that".
- (he sees the example) "Oh, yes, -a is singular; plus -i for the plural".
Thus the difference between deduction and conscious induction may not always be so
conspicuous. It depends on the nature of the item, on the availability of translation, on the
way the item is presented by the teacher and on the ways individual students will react within
the same classroom for the same grammatical learning process.
Thus even more contrary to the methodological aims might be the approach using
explicitation at first (modality A), whereby a rather difficult theory is given: "In French, the
indicative mood is used to express reality, while the subjunctive is used to express a
subjective vision of reality. It appears in subordinate clauses after expressions of volition,
emotion, doubt, improbability, some conjunctions and locutions." Then the teacher gives a
number of examples. If such an approach is used to measure the impact of explicit teaching
strategies versus implicit ones, like in the study of Scott (1989), the question should be
raised if any student did undergo the explicit strategy as expected. It seems more likely that
most students come to the understanding of the rule through the examples, i.e. modality B.
It is also possible, and very usual, that the teacher uses deduction and conscious induction
in a dynamically intertwined way. He may start out with a theoretical sentence, immediately
followed by an example:
"Let us look at the agreement of the past participle:
Tu as écrit la lettre? - Oui, je l'ai écrite.
The past participle agrees with the direct object if it precedes."
The teacher may have paused after citing the example, thus leaving more room for
conscious induction; or he may have given the example very rapidly, and then emphasizing
the deductive process by giving the rule with didactic intonation. Or at the same time or
immediately thereafter he may have drawn a line with an arrow between "lettre", "l'" and
"écrite", whereby some students come only to induction (or is it deduction from the line with
the arrow?) at that moment. Whichever way the teacher did it, the various students in the
same group may have reacted differently to come to understanding (see also the analysis of
classroom language by H. Wulf, 1978).
Most of us have experienced this kind of varied ways to grasp a concept or understand a rule
in a classroom situation. There are complex and dynamic tangents between modalities A and
B, deduction and conscious induction.
2.2. Plural forms of conscious induction
Teachers may use conscious induction in so many different ways, that modality B, the guided
discovery, does not fit any more under one heading. The one extreme is represented by a
long and detailed quest, using many questions, verbalism and grammatical terminology, in
the atmosphere of a detective in search of the mysterious solution. Example:
"Today we are going to study two sentences which closely resemble each other:
- Les touristes admirent la Tour Eiffel.
- La Tour Eiffel est admirée par les touristes.
Now watch carefully. What is the subject of the first sentence? ... Yes, and now tell me the
mood and the tense of this verb. ... Right. What is again the grammatical function of "les
touristes" in the first sentence? ... Right, the subject. And what is the grammatical function of
"la Tour Eiffel" in this sentence? ... Right, the direct object. And what is the verb? ... So you
have three distinct parts in this sentence: the subject, the verb in the indicative present, and
the direct object. Now we are going to study the second sentence ... What happened to the
direct object of the first sentence? etc."
For this simple active/passive transformation, a teacher can use a fair amount of time in
questioning and analysing. It is obvious that this procedure, due to over-didactic zeal, is a
parody of an active or "proleptic" approach working with conscious induction. It would make
students believe that French grammar is difficult and theoretical.
In contrast to this approach stands a carefully controlled induction, which uses as few words
as possible and presents the examples in a very efficient and visual way. For the students it
becomes an Aha-Erlebnis, i.e. a sudden and delineated "in-sight." In presenting the example
of "Le passif," the teacher will only show the two sentences, possibly translate, and simply
draw two arrows to show the shifting of the functions. He could mention the name of the
grammatical functions, using a simple question, but even this will be done very briefly.
This quick and effective conscious induction requires didactic mastery and thorough
preparation, using excellent examples and preferably the support of adequate media, like
transparencies with overlay technique.
Between these two extremes of conscious induction, the one using the lengthy questioning,
and the other using the Aha-Erlebnis, there are many variants, depending on a number of
variables: the nature of the subject, the didactic skill of the teacher, the visuals being used,
the initial situation of the students, etc. Several studies in process-orientated research have
demonstrated the instructional variation due to divergent circumstances (Long, 1983; Harley,
1993), even within one and the same methodology (Spada, 1987). The complexity and
variety of learning styles and strategies among language students, as well as of teaching
approaches, in a similar setting has been shown in other studies (e.g. Oxford, 1985, 1989,
1990; Ehrman and Oxford, 1990; Jones, 1993; Abdesslem, 1993; Patil, 1994).
2.3. Crossings between subconscious and conscious induction
At first sight subconscious and conscious induction (modalities D and E versus modality B)
have little in common. Modalities D and E aim at implicit acquisition of rules, modality B at
explicit discovery of those rules. This opposition has been an important basis of the
controversy which polarizes foreign language education.
There is no doubt that there is a fundamental difference between both approaches, if and
when they take place as described. In the basic acquisition of language by a child, there is
little doubt that subconscious induction is applied as in modality E. In all learning situations
where rules are discovered explicitly and explained on basis of examples, it is clear that conscious induction is taking place as in modality B.
But when it comes to so-called natural or direct FL-acquisition (modality E) in an average
school-setting, taking into account the practical and varied ways different students learn, the
"intuition" of the subconscious induction can take quite different roads, because of the reality
of the complex psycho-educational processes.
On the lowest level we can consider a student with limited intellectual capacities and a rather
passive educational attitude. The induction will probably take place as described: a slow
penetrating of automatisms which eventually will lead to some intuitive rule-formation.
On some higher levels we will have students with a more active mind: the induction will come
close to a more conscious process, to a vague insight or casual comprehension. The re-use
of certain structures will strengthen the experience and confirm the insight. Such an
experience is not a pure subconscious induction: it takes place on the borderline of
conscious understanding and could be identified as a partial conscious induction.
On the highest level is the student who, when faced with new lingual material, will try to
comprehend and analyze. This student is conducting a private conscious induction. And we
should also consider, in the reality of the social environment, that some privileged students
will have external help to stimulate or confirm this private conscious induction, either through
family members or friends who "explain" and/or through reference to a simple grammar book.
In all of this, one should not forget the potential influence of grammatical insight learned in
the mother tongue. This influence may constitute a vast difference with natural acquisition
from a very young age on. When an analytical study of the mother tongue has started in
mother tongue education, learners are aware of word categories, structures and rules. Those
with a more active mind well realize that a similar insight is applicable to the foreign language
and that it will help them for comprehension and mastery. This will stimulate them to leave
the intended natural acquisition and to cross over to personal conscious induction.
The extent to which students will apply the one or the other form of more conscious
understanding will also be dependent on the actual way lingual material is presented within a
method using subconscious induction, namely modality D or E.
In modality E, subconscious induction with unstructured material, the presentation and use of
the language is fully natural: there are no construed indications that would point to a rule,
there is no strategic set-up of the material which would make sure a certain vocabulary and
certain structures are covered. The teacher and the students just use language according to
the need of the communication, as e.g. in some extreme communicative methods for adults.
Moving to modality D, however, the material presented would be subject to some limitations,
e.g. the use of basic vocabulary and basic structures. Here the teacher may for example, in
teaching the future tense, use a situation requiring this tense in a systematic way in
semantically loaded sentences: "What will we do tomorrow afternoon? We will... ". Or he may
use a text "heavily weighted" with the structures to be learned (Scott, 1989). But since the
presentation of subject-matter is so strategically directed, more students will be pushed to
make the step towards personal conscious induction.
It is obvious that each of these approaches represents a different variety of subconscious
induction. Modality E will impede conscious rule formation, but modality D will facilitate it, or
even encourage conscious induction, without stating the rule explicitly. In fact modality D, if
using very well structured material, may at some point be practically the same as the most
rapid form of conscious induction (modality B), namely the one presenting examples with a
minimal grammatical explanation.
2.4. The nature of subject-matter
Many authors dealing with the induction/deduction controversy point at the variables which
depend on the nature of subject-matter. There is a tendency to state that simple, obvious
structures can best be learned through an inductive approach (any of the inductive
modalities), while complex structures are best explained from the onset through a deductive
It seems that we need to define with care what we understand by "simple", "obvious" or
"complex" structures and rules. Let us draw examples from French.
Is the difference between the relative pronouns qui and que simple or complex? What if we
also add dont? First of all, the ease or difficulty of integration may depend on the distance
between French and the mother-tongue: if the mother-tongue of the student knows identical
distinctions, it would be unreasonable not to recognize the transfer effect. If this is not the
case, the distance to the mother-tongue could be evaluated in order to see to what extent
transfer effect can help or disturb the learning process. Whatever the answer, grammatical
explicitation, whether in modality A or B, will normally draw on function analysis:
→ qui is subject (C'est le taxi qui est en retard = le taxi est en retard).
→ que is object (C'est le taxi que vous avez appelé = vous avez appelé le taxi).
But the explicitation could also draw on an easier, simplified rule which only notices word
→ qui + verb (C'est le taxi qui est en retard);
→ que + person + verb (C'est le taxi que / vous avez appelé).
This "rule" could actually be the one a student evolves through a personal conscious
induction within a process meant as subconscious induction. The same subject could thus be
"difficult" or "easy", according to the ways it is presented or understood.
There is complex material that can be explicated in nicely structured ways, with a strong
visual dimension, such as in French the various question-types, with and without
interrogative element. But the point then still remains at what moment in the long-term
learning process the explicitation of the total picture should optimally occur. Students of
French can learn to ask questions with the simple intonation-type, requiring almost no
grammatical clarification (Vous venez tantôt? Marie est allée où?). The addition of the est-ce
que type will probably benefit from some explanation (Est-ce que vous venez tantôt? Où estce que Marie est allée?). The extension to inversion-types with and without repetition of the
subject may create a different situation, requiring greater explicitation (Venez-vous tantôt?
Où Marie est-elle allée?). And we can continue to expand, adding the variants (Où est-ce
qu'elle est allée, Marie?) or the popular types (Où Marie est allée?). It raises also the more
fundamental question of the most efficient didactic sequence of learning alternatives.
On the other hand, some "complex" material may not be helped much by formal theorization,
especially not when the subject expands beyond manipulated simplicity. The difference
between "l'imparfait" and "le passé composé" may be based on nicely selected examples,
either in modality A, B or C, but the student may soon discover that the given or discovered
"rule" does not apply in numerous instances. "Je suis allé à Princeton en 1985" versus
"J'allais toujours à Princeton" (basic examples in Shaffer's study, 1989) can just as well
appear as "J'allais à Princeton en 1985" versus "Je suis toujours allé à Princeton", depending
on how you view the situation. A study of the use of these two tenses by French authors or in
daily conversations quickly reveals the incompleteness of the theoretical framework, the
stylistic liberties, the fine nuances tied to a broader context or to specific message-aims. It
may thus be that some "complex" subjects can only be internalized through massive input,
with little or no help from explicitation - or with just the "simple" explicitation that mentions the
complexity and uncertainty of the subject: "This is something you will learn by reading and
listening a lot".
3. Some conclusions
3.1. The impact of the variables
It seems we must recognize the impact of complex variables in the individual learner, in the
didactic performance of the teacher and in the subject-matter. These variables preclude the
validity of some generalized statements and may explain some of the apparent contradictions in research findings.
Among these variables, as they apply to the presentation of language structures with an eye
to the internalization of rules, we should mention:
• Individual variables
1. Information-processing variables of the learner
form of focal attention: degree of active or passive thought
individual strategies to handle and organize information
strength of short-term memory
degree of language structuring ability
- awareness of word classes and functions
- awareness of morpho-syntactic patterns
- awareness of structuring aids
- degree of reference to internal graphic image
- pre-knowledge of rules
- ability to transfer insight to experiencing language
2. Attitudinal variables of the learner
- expectations as to the FL-learning process
- motivation
- willingness to practice and play communication
3. Didactic variables of the teacher
- general didactic factors
- mastery of efficient questioning techniques
- time efficiency in order to foster attention and motivation
- degree of limpidity in explanations
- speech factors
- degree of stressing and intonation for structuring
- use of strategic pauses to permit mental processes
- visualising factors
- use of timing in gradual visualisation
- degree of limpidity in visuals
B. Subject-matter
distance to mother-tongue
didactic sequencing and manipulation
degree of limpidity
univocity of material in relation to rule-formation
ratio of rule-bound material versus the total amount of language offered
For a study of the complexity of classroom variables in the real interaction between teacher
and students, we also refer to F.G. Könings and E.A. Hopkins (1986), who point out the
importance of the unique setting of classroom learning, precluding theoretical generalizations
and, especially, warning against a simple transfer from the second language acquisition
research context to foreign language teaching. See also for these variables Oxford, 1985,
1989, 1990; Ehrman and Oxford, 1990; Jones, 1993; Abdesslem, 1993; Patil, 1994.
3.2. The relativity of some efficiency-studies
Experimental studies, which compare the efficiency of inductive versus deductive
approaches, or direct versus indirect methods, or methods with versus without translation,
with versus without graphic form, etc., should therefore evaluate if they have enough control
over the variables in the real didactic classroom settings. Do we know how each individual
learner has actually been learning? All the precautions taken to divide experimental and
control groups in representative ways do not guarantee that the subjects in those groups will
work the way the experiment expects them to work.
This also means that the polarization between natural acquisition and more conscious
learning in a classroom context could be, to a certain extent, a theoretical one. In reality,
individual students may cross continuously over the borders in complex and unexpected
The preceding should not lead to scientific fatalism in the discussion of induction versus
deduction. It is not because the complex variables and a lack of control over the learning
strategies impede or complicate research that improvement should not be fostered by all
means. Many of the individual and subject-matter variables can be influenced in a direction
of greater efficiency. Ways have to be found or improved to measure these. There is still
immense research work ahead of us.
Wilfried Decoo
Research Centre Didascalia
University of Antwerp (UIA)
B 2610 Antwerpen-Wilrijk
Brigham Young University (U.S.A.)
e-mail: [email protected]
- I would like to thank Nadine Corbeels, Gilbert Schelstraete, and Edwig Van Elsen for their
comments on the first draft of this article.
- The research for this study was carried out as part of the programme "Language
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