Review of Language in Language Teacher Education
Date: Thu, 13 Mar 2003 01:45:39 +0200
From: Nadia Economou Subject: Language in Language Teacher Education
Trappes-Lomax, Hugh and Gibson Ferguson, ed. (2002) Language in Language
Teacher Education. John Benjamins Publishing Company, vi+257pp,
ISBN 1-58811-260-8, $32.95, Language Learning and Language Teaching 4.
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-212.html
Reviewer: Nadia Economou, Institute for Language and Speech Processing
As stated in the introductory chapter, the aim of the present book is to
fill in a gap between, on the one hand, books about language which do
not deal with teacher education and books about language teacher education
which do not deal extensively with language.
Hugh Trappes-Lomax: INTRODUCTION. Language in language teacher
education: a discourse perspective
After a period when language (as "grammar") occupied a central role in
language teacher education (LTE), we moved to communicative theories of
language teaching where the role of language was either downplayed or
ignored. Today, "language" is back in LTE especially in the form of
awareness about language and together with communicative proficiency
constitute the important elements of functionally-oriented approaches to
ELT. From a more theoretical (Part 1) to the most practical (Part 2),
the book emphasizes the importance of language awareness activities
embracing both teacher and learner language and teaching material. Widely
dealt in the literature topics like cultural awareness (Barnes), attitudes to
language varieties (Wright), register, genre and language of particular
professions (Ferguson) co-exist in this volume with much less dealt topics
like reflexive nature of language (Grundy) and error analysis (Wright).
Part 1 Concepts of language in language teacher education
The five chapters explore different ways in which language is involved
in language teacher education. Important elements that are stressed are:
the notion of "languaging", the social dimension of language, its nature as
a pedagogic subject, reflexivity of language learner and discourse types
that ensure learning opportunities.
John E. Joseph: Is language a verb? - conceptual change in linguistics
and language teaching
After providing a brief history of applied linguistics in the 20th
century, Joseph suggests an "alternative perspective" as to what language
represents within the process of language teaching and learning. He explores
the possibility of treating language as a verb instead of a noun, which will
enable us to deal with speech and thought as a single function.
Conceiving language as a verb, it means that we see it as dynamic rather
than static, as an "action" rather than a "thing".
Adhering to a communicative approach to language teaching means adopting
the verbal conception of language; it means getting students to "do" things,
to "perform" functions. The communicative approaches to language pedagogy
have shifted the emphasis from language as an institutional thing to language
as a verbal practice. Seeing the English language as an institution,
however, is not an unproblematic concept since it is not a single universal
institution. Joseph draws from his experience in Hong Kong to give examples
of the variability of Hong Kong English. The English standards are declining in
Hong Kong, one might notice, however, not in a random way; people commit
errors influenced by their principle language. Hong Kong English as an
institution differs from international Standard English; teachers and
teacher trainers have to find the balance between the two which
presupposes more or less intervening in the cultural process.
The basic issue put forward in this chapter is that teaching a language
means constantly making decisions about whether to teach the language as
institution or as practice.
Alan Davies: The social component of language teacher education.
Davis takes this verb-like and noun-like aspect of language a step
further and emphasizes the importance of the "social component" in
language teacher education. Unlike physical growth which does not presuppose
any kind of interaction, language development will not take place without
interaction with other language users. This means that students in language
teacher education courses should not only learn the grammar (the rules) of the
language they plan to teach; they almost certainly need to know how and
when to operate these rules. Davis puts down three elements of the social
component of LTE: the complexity of speech communities, the variety
which we need to teach and whether LTE should be linguistically prescriptive
Regarding the first issue, being a member of the speech community means
sharing common attitudes as to what is appropriate use of a language,
what is standard language etc. Training teachers then means encouraging
them to realize such complexities and appreciate heterogeneity.
The second question, which English variety should we teach, is related
to the previous one. The easy way out is to teach Standard English. But
then, what is Standard English? What about the marxist, feminist etc
critique of Standard English? What is the place of varieties, dialects
LTE entails then a constant decision regarding these issues.
Finally, as far as the description-prescription relationship is
concerned, students of LTE need to be made aware of the ongoing debate
about norms which are conventional but cannot be dismissed and prescription.
Rather than providing straight answers, LTE courses need to make students
aware of the social component of their education.
H.G. Widdowson: Language teaching: defining the subject
In his chapter, Widdowson seems to be stating the obvious: teachers
should know their subjects: English, French, science etc. Although
recognizing its practical utility, Widdowson however, wants to go beyond
this superficial statement and work on the crucial distinction between object
(language) and pedagogic subject. By possessing the knowledge of their
language subject, he argues, language teachers acquire their authority and
professionalism. Language as a subject differs from language as experienced
by native speakers. This is the reason why being a native speaker of a language
is not a necessary prerequisite for being a teacher and it may even be an
obstacle for a native speaker to acquire the necessary knowledge and become
language teacher. The subject, then, is not English, French or German, but
English as a foreign language, French as a foreign language. The knowledge that
the native speaker does not necessarily possess but which is very important
for the language teacher is "recognizing this foreignness and recognizing
how the language is foreign in different ways for different groups of
students" (p. 25).
To illustrate this point, Widdowson gives an example of a newspaper
article which contains abstruse words crucial to its interpretation but which
may be incomprehensible for a reader who does not share the cultural values and
attitudes of the writer. He concludes by stating the role of teacher education as
follows "to guide teachers into an understanding of the principles that define
their subject" (p. 80). Foreignness of language encompasses different ways and
calls for different kinds of manipulation that prospective language teachers need
to be made ware of to warrant their professional authority.
Peter Grundy: Reflexive language in language teacher education
Grundy takes Wissowson's point about teaching a language instead of
language further and stresses the importance of conscious awareness of the
reflexive nature of language in language teaching methodology. By "reflexive
language" Grundy means "these diacritic features of language which instruct
audiences how to interpret the speech they are hearing" (p. 85). He discusses
examples of data from second language classes which suggest that learners
have more control over the reflexive than over the formal properties of
language. This is contrary to what language teachers believe since the latter
usually fail to recognize that second language learners do possess reflexive
control over their own language. Drawing from his experience in Hong Kong
Polytechnic University, he describes how inspiring it was for his students to
use samples of learner talk from their own classrooms (in an introduction to
pragmatics course) to gain awareness of the importance of reflexivity in
their own teaching.
Grundy's conclusion is that languages are learnable rather than
teachable and that if learners are exposed to talk rich in reflexive features,
it is these features that enable them to acquire language since they make the
impute comprehensible to them.
Scott Thornbury: Training in instructional conversation
The author shares Widdowson's and Grundy's concerns with language that
learners can learn from; what he is interested in is the type of
discourse which creates opportunities for learners. He values c
onversation-like talk where learners have the opportunity to develop a sense
of control and, as a result of that, a sense of ownership of the discourse and a
sense of being empowered.
The institutional goals and the classroom context, including the
relationship between the interactants and the way the discourse is
managed, are parameters which are interrelated. In order to prove this
interdependence, Thornbury relates these ideas to the approach adopted
on in-service Diploma courses at International House in Barcelona. Trainees
are encouraged to gauge their learners' responses to instruction; this is
basically what training for "a pedagogy of possibility" is about.
Thornbury argues for instructional conversation where the learners adopt
the role of controlling the discourse, of constructing meaning without at
the same time challenging the authority and expertise of their teacher.
Part 2 Working with language in language teacher education
Moving on from theory to practice, part 2 is a collection of papers with
the emphasis on practice with language in LTE. Two main themes link these
papers together and to the first part: 1) the importance of language awareness
interpreted as the explicit knowledge about language and how it works
and 2) the role of language in the improvement of teachers' personal language
skills in the classroom.
Tony Wright: Doing language awareness. Issues for language study in
language teacher education
Wright's opening chapter deals with issues having to do with the content
and teaching of language teaching. Following Widdowson, he states that being
a fluent mother-tongue speaker of English (and, in fact, of any language)
does not guarantee successful practice as a language teacher. Neither being
a good "linguist" (having successfully completed courses in syntax and
semantics) guarantees a successful language teaching practice. What a
prospective teacher needs is to possess language awareness that enables
him/her to understand not only how language works but also how students
work with language as well as the nature of their mistakes. Language
awareness is a goal and a method for LTE.
Language awareness can operate within three domains in teacher education:
the "user" domain, the "analyst" domain and the teacher domain. The
example of a specific text is used to illustrate how newly acquired knowledge
about language can be linked to classroom practice; specific activities are
described to show how the data can be exploited for language awareness
work with trainees in all three domains. The chapter concludes by summarizing
a number of principles for appropriate classroom practice.
Gibson Ferguson: Language awareness in the preparation of teachers of
English for specific purposes
The issue of language awareness is taken further in Ferguson's chapter
where it is applied to English for specific purposes (ESP) contexts. He argues
for the adoption of a discourse perspective on language that will enable
users to understand the differences between the language used in law,
business, medicine etc. as variation in discourse and genre rather than lexis and
grammar. In the final part of the chapter, the author describes one of the
language awareness activities employed on a short ESP teacher education course
which was used to introduce participants to the principles of genre analysis
and to the idea of the role of communicative purposes in making particular
Martha C. Pennington: Examining classroom discourse frames. An approach
to raising language teachers' awareness of and planning for language use
This chapter aims at increasing teachers' professional development,
awareness of their own and their students' language use and
understanding of classroom dynamics. To chive this, Pennington uses classroom
discourse data in the form of audio and video recordings and classroom observation
in Hong Kong and Britain. She presents a scheme for the classification of
classroom discourse into different communicative frames. In this way, apprentice
teachers are helped towards raising their awareness of classroom
dynamics in relation to larger contexts. The frames identified are: lesson frame,
lesson-support frame, institutional-support frame and, finally, commentary
frame. The latter is being influenced by popular culture and vernacular
language; this is where participants express their opinion and reactions
to classroom context and the world at large.
Clare O'Donoghue and Tom Hales: What was that you said? Trainee
generated language awareness
The authors start by describing several possible models for the language
awareness component of teacher education courses. Using self-generated
transcript-data, they develop a series of grammar awareness activities
for teachers. What is really unusual is that students of pre-service
training courses are encouraged to examine authentic instances of language
and consider themselves as researchers of language rather than consumers
or transmitters of knowledge. Trainees work in groups to perform dialogue
and concordance tasks, to apply their theoretical learning to authentic data
and investigate if grammatical descriptions and coursebook paradigms hold
Heather Murray: Developing language awareness and error detection. What
can we expect of novice trainees?
This chapter reports on an investigation of teacher trainees' ability to
detect and classify language learners' errors. The trainees were
attending a CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) course.
The author points out that the importance of error detection has been
underestimated in teacher training courses despite the fact that errors
constitute evidence of the level of difficulty of an exercise or
activity and indicators of learning success or failure. Specific training
activities are described which help trainees identify and classify errors
with greater linguistic sensitivity.
Ann Barnes: Maintaining language skills in pre-service training for
foreign language teachers
Barnes stresses the importance of language skills maintenance for modern
foreign language teacher trainees taking a postgraduate certificate in
education (PGCE). The programme is given by the University of Warwick
and encompasses several aspects of subject knowledge. The author describes
the rationale behind the development of the programme as well as the content
and the tasks. The Language Centre provides the programme with audio and
multimedia material, satellite TV and printed materials. Trainees are
given specific tasks to complete using the materials available, some of which
are open-ended. Language learning refreshment classes are combined with
independent language learning sessions. The author concludes by
stressing the encouraging results of the programme, especially of the
language refreshment classes.
Richard Cullen: The use of lesson transcripts for developing teachers'
Cullen uses lesson transcripts made from video recordings of classroom
teaching to develop teachers' classroom language skills on in-service
courses to deepen their understanding of teaching processes. The
emphasis is placed on questioning (to get students to think, to check
understanding, to get them practice language forms etc.) since this still
constitutes an essential aspect of effective teaching especially for non-native
speaker teachers. The ultimate aim of Cullen is to raise the teachers' awareness
of the pedagogical role of different types of teacher questions and to
improve their proficiency in reformulating pedagogically useful questions.
Teaching skills are improved together with language skills.
Susan Lavender: Towards a framework for language improvement within
short in-service teacher development programmes
Together with Murray's chapter, this one can be considered as an example
of action research. The author used an on-going research methodology,
collecting data at various points to capture possible changes of
perceptions of both teachers and tutors. The data were obtained from two
groups of primary and secondary school teachers of English from Korea attending
in-service teacher development programmes. The aim of the programme was
to upgrade the teachers' ELT methodology, to provide insights into British
culture and to improve their languages skills. The analysis of data from
diaries, interviews and questionnaires has proved that trainees and
tutors keep changing their perceptions of the language improvement component
of the course. The more confident the teachers become as far as their language
abilities are concerned, the better able they are to employ English in
the classroom and encourage their students to do likewise.
As pointed out in p. 23, teacher education, being a form of service
industry, in the business not of mass-producing machines (in this case,
human) but of creating added value. The beneficiaries are of course
prospective teachers and in-service teachers, as well as learners,
parents, employers and society at large. However, the nature of value added
is very difficult to define since it is not always easy to define the
relationship between teacher education and teacher performance.
The same holds true for the present volume. Its value lies in the fact
that we can select from the pages issues that are common in teacher
education settings despite cultural differences. This is especially true for
the second part of the book. The various forms of practice described in
this part are contextually specific and not straight forwardly replicated in
other places. However, they constitute an invaluable source of practice
and have wider implications for various educational settings.
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Nadia Economou holds a Ph.D. in Educational Linguistics from the University of Lancaster, U.K. She has taught courses in General Linguistics and Discourse Analysis in private institutions in Greece. She is currently working as assistant researcher in the Division of Educational Technology at the Institute for Language and Speech Processing (ILSP).a