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AUTHOR: Graham Hall TITLE: Exploring English Language Teaching SUBTITLE: Language in Action SERIES TITLE: Routledge Introductions to Applied Linguistics PUBLISHER: Routledge YEAR: 2011
Deirdre Murphy, Centre for Language and Communication Studies, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
“Exploring English Language Teaching” provides an introduction to the topic of English Language Teaching from an Applied Linguistics perspective. The book’s conciseness emphasises its role as an introductory rather than an advanced text. According to the publisher, it is intended as a handbook for those new to the academic study of English Language Teaching (ELT), but with a particular interest in it. This category is presumed to include students embarking on postgraduate studies of Applied Linguistics, or language teaching practitioners returning to full-time or part-time study in a related area.
Despite its evident origins in academic research, the book also draws heavily on the practice of ELT, and follows the ‘practice to theory’ approach favoured by the Routledge Introductions to Applied Linguistics series, allowing it to provide an insight into how -- or whether -- real-world classroom situations are treated in the Applied Linguistics literature. The book is divided into four parts:
PART I: Classroom interaction and management PART II: Method, Postmethod and methodology PART III: Learners PART IV: Institutional frameworks and social contexts
Each part consists of three chapters, in which the main issues associated with each topic are highlighted and discussed. Each chapter also features a number of tasks to supplement the subject at hand, which aim to “raise questions, prompt reflection and seek to integrate theory and practice” (p. xii). Each chapter is summarised below.
PART I: Classroom interaction and management Chapter 1. The language classroom: roles, relationships and interactions The opening chapter introduces the notion of the ELT classroom, as distinct from other language learning environments, drawing on van Lier (1988) and Tudor (2001) among others to highlight its complexity. The chapter touches on teachers’ beliefs, the roles of students and teachers respectively, leading on to the analysis of various types of classroom interaction.
Chapter 2. Intervening in the language classroom: classroom management, interaction and learning opportunities The search for a model of ‘good teaching’ is strongly discouraged in this chapter, which instead seeks to explore various approaches employed by teachers in various classroom situations, and again highlights the fact that language learning does not take place in a vacuum.
Chapter 3. The language classroom in theory and practice: complex, diverse and ‘local’ This chapter strengthens the argument hinted at in previous chapters that all learning is local, while acknowledging the significant social component of any ELT classroom. Teachers are encouraged to reflect on their teaching practice as a means of overcoming this potential difficulty.
PART II: Method, Postmethod and methodology Chapter 4. Language, language learning and Method: dilemmas and practices In this chapter, a closer look is taken at how learners learn language. It is noted that recent research has seen the focus shifting away from the search for ‘Method’, a set of guiding principles for language teaching, and instead moving on to examine learners in more detail, specifically in given pedagogical contexts. A review is made of some principal theories of language acquisition, and how such theories underpin various classroom activities. In short, this chapter questions how the nature of language affects the teaching aims and strategies of the English language classroom.
Chapter 5. Language teaching methods: perspectives and possibilities A review of approaches to language teaching is provided here, similar to the review of language acquisition theories in the previous chapter, and the concept of ‘Postmethod’ -- a move away from the search for ‘Method’ -- is introduced. Teachers are recognised as experts in their own field, picking and choosing various approaches to teaching for their own and their learners’ purposes.
Chapter 6. Theoretical insights for a Postmethod era Following the discussion in Chapters 4 and 5, Chapter 6 addresses the move away from the search for a set of ideal teaching methods, and introduces the notion of ‘plausibility’, teachers’ ability to determine the appropriateness of a set of actions in the classroom. Like the previous chapters in this section, this chapter presents an overview of an aspect of Applied Linguistics, this time in relation to the development of major theories of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research, before acknowledging that knowledge of such theory is insufficient for effective English language teaching to take place, and teachers must also cultivate their own judgment within the classroom.
PART III: Learners Chapter 7. Focus on the language learner: individual attributes and attitudes With the importance of context having been established by Part II, the focus now moves to the learner. In this chapter, studies investigating the effect of various learner attributes such as age, gender and aptitude are presented. The author concludes that while no one attribute demonstrates an overriding influence over language learning ability, individual learners “are complex human beings who bring to class a unique set of dynamically interacting characteristics that add to the complexity and diversity of classroom life” (p. 142).
Chapter 8. Learner diversity and development: considerations for the language classroom ... and beyond This chapter presents a review of learner strategies, ultimately taking the position that no single strategy or set of strategies is ideal. Given the current tendency towards learner-centred learning, however, the chapter goes on to illustrate the dominant role of learner autonomy in extant Applied Linguistics literature, while providing appropriate caveats as to the range of its applicability beyond Western contexts.
Chapter 9. Images of language learners: from individual to social, and universal to specific Here, language learning is viewed from two opposing perspectives, individual and social. Various metaphors and images of language learners are presented, addressing these two perspectives, and the importance of enabling teachers to draw on either individual or social contexts is highlighted.
PART IV: Institutional frameworks and social contexts Chapter 10. From global trends to local contexts: language dilemmas in the ELT classroom Continuing the theme of Chapter 9, ELT is examined in a global context. The many faces of the English language are highlighted, and questions are raised regarding the relevance of the native speaker model in a variety of English language learning contexts.
Chapter 11. Planning and organizing L2 learning and teaching: contexts and curriculum, possibilities and realities Chapter 11 considers the process of planning L2 syllabuses and testing, and once again returns to the important role played by learners’ and teachers’ interaction with syllabuses and materials in a given classroom context. The interplay between ELT practice in a given institution and the wider social view of English is also considered, paving the way for the final chapter to investigate the role of ELT on a global platform.
Chapter 12. ELT in the world: education and politics, contexts and goals The final chapter of the book examines ELT from a global perspective, and how this influences English teaching in particular situations on a local level. Differing views of the ELT profession are presented, including from an educational and a financial perspective. Uppermost among contemporary issues facing the profession are the multiple varieties of English that are recognised today, and the questions they raise for the authority of a native speaker model, including the role to be played by non-native English speaker teachers (non-NESTs). The book concludes with the observation that the debates raised throughout this volume ought to lead to further collaboration between researchers and practitioners, and should serve as a “stimulus for reflection” (p. 234).
“Exploring English Language Teaching” examines the ELT profession through the lens of an applied linguist, striking a balance between research and practice that makes it ideally suited to learners who already demonstrate some knowledge of the subject at hand, but who may not be familiar with it from an academic rather than a teaching perspective. While it is primarily an academic text, its adherence to the ‘practice to theory’ approach mentioned above, and its frequent references to the practice of ELT, render it very readable, and in this reader’s judgment, accessible even to novices on the subject; though conversely, it is this very feature that may make the book less suitable for those with considerable experience in academic research on the subject. Undoubtedly though, those who will benefit most from its content are those for whom it is primarily intended: students embarking on postgraduate studies or practitioners returning to study after a period of time in the ELT profession.
The structural division of the book into four clearly-defined parts works well, and each section provides an informative and concise overview of the relevant topic, while largely refraining from delving into unnecessary detail. The book moves smoothly through the four parts, which are well chosen and equally well sequenced, and the ‘practice to theory’ approach is mirrored in the manner in which the author moves from the practical issue of classroom management in Part I to the more theoretical consideration of ELT in local and global institutional contexts in Part IV.
One particularly helpful feature is the presence of tasks in each chapter, which promote critical reflection and provide the reader with the opportunity to consider in relation to their own teaching experience the topics presented more generally in the chapter. For example, in Chapter 1, five different tasks are presented: Task 1.1 Thinking through ‘beliefs’ Task 1.2 Teacher and learner roles in the ELT classroom Task 1.3 Teacher talk in the L2 classroom Task 1.4 In your context: making sense of repair Task 1.5 Interaction, control and class size
Each task consists of a series of statements and follow-up questions based on topics raised in the chapter to date, encouraging the reader to relate new information to his or her personal and professional experience. For example, Task 1.2 asks, “Think of your own English language teaching context ... To what extent do learners expect teachers to be controllers and managers or prompters and guides? Why might this be so?” This type of activity performs the dual function of reviewing the information already presented, and also rendering it more ‘tangible’ for readers who are more familiar with the practice rather than the study of English language teaching. The tasks are supplemented by a series of commentaries, which serve to aid the reader in completing the outlined activities, and by a glossary which explains some of the more technical terms.
In addition to the cohesive structure of the book, the writing too aids its coherence. The brevity of each chapter greatly facilitates the book’s readability, and the author does well to record a balanced account of some occasionally complex topics within such a limited word count. It is noteworthy that the impartial stance taken reinforces the book’s status as a handbook for those with an academic interest in the subject, rather than merely a practical guide for teachers. For example, in the discussion in Chapter 5 of language teaching methods (and ‘Method’), the author draws on, among others, Adamson (2004), who argued that “no method is inherently superior to another; instead, some methods are more appropriate than others in a particular context” (p. 605, cited on p. 79).
This objective stance is on display again in later discussions of learner strategies (Chapter 8). Similarly, the author successfully condenses considerable quantities of information, such as the description of high versus low structure in the language classroom (Table 2.1, p. 24), and the outline of theories of language acquisition and learning in Chapter 4 (pp. 65-68). However, thoroughness is not used as an excuse for unnecessary verbosity, and the reader is occasionally referred to more comprehensive resources, e.g. in the discussion of the global spread of the English language and its attendant sociolinguistic impact (Chapter 10, p. 187).
One of the main benefits of “Exploring English Language Teaching” is that it addresses, in an informative manner, major issues facing ELT researchers and practitioners, such as the advent of ‘Postmethod’ (Chapters 4, 5 and 6), the importance of the effect of the local setting of the language classroom (e.g. Chapter 7), and the rise of learner autonomy as a valid element of English language teaching (Chapter 8). However, some discussions would, I believe, benefit from more in-depth examination of certain aspects of ELT, such as the implementation of Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) techniques in Chapter 2. Similarly, the author’s treatment of the subject of variation in English (Chapter 10) falls somewhat short of other sections in the book. Were the work of Kachru (1983) on his proposed concentric circles of English language use to be introduced in Chapter 10 instead of Chapter 12 as is done, subsequent discussions on the subject might, I feel, be more enlightening for all readers. Despite this very specific shortcoming, however, due consideration is given to the effect that recent changes in the number and composition of English language speakers have had on the language and its instruction (pp. 186-187).
The book is open in its acknowledgement that, far from having all the answers, contemporary ELT practitioners and researchers are now posing more questions than ever, with every section posing a wide variety of questions and problems too numerous to list here. However, among the most pressing topics highlighted for future research are the necessity for further empirical investigation to prove the effectiveness of learner training (see Chapter 8), and the question of how to enable teachers to contribute to effective research opportunities and findings. It must be acknowledged that this volume goes a long way towards addressing the second of these concerns. Overall, the author’s success in drawing together here the practical and theoretical aspects of the subject at hand lends significant credence to his argument in the final chapter for greater collaboration between teaching and research.
Adamson, B. (2004). Fashions in Language Teaching Methodology. In A. Davies & C. Elder (Eds.), The Handbook of Applied Linguistics (pp. 604-622). London: Blackwell.
Kachru, B. B. (1983). Models for non-native Englishes. In L. E. Smith (Ed.), Readings in English as an International Language. Oxford: Pergamon. Reprinted from The other tongue, by B.B. Kachru (Ed.), 1982, Oxford and New York: Pergamon.
Tudor, I. (2001). The Dynamics of the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
van Lier, L. (1988). The Classroom and the Language Learner. Harlow: Longman.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Deirdre Murphy obtained her Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from Trinity
College Dublin in 2011. She has been teaching English to adult learners in
Ireland for six years and currently is an instructor and student
coordinator on the English for Academic Purposes programme in her alma
mater. Her Ph.D. focused on the interface between learner identity,
motivation and autonomy in EFL pronunciation learning, and she continues to
nourish her interest in this subject by regularly attending international
conferences on the subject, as well as publishing both alone and in
collaboration with other researchers on pronunciation and on English
language learning more generally.