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Review of  Exploring English Language Teaching

Reviewer: Deirdre Murphy
Book Title: Exploring English Language Teaching
Book Author: Graham Hall
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 23.3671

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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
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.

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
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
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.

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.

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