LINGUIST List 23.3671

Tue Sep 04 2012

Review: Applied Linguistics: Hall (2011)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <monicalinguistlist.org>



Date: 04-Sep-2012
From: Deirdre Murphy <murphyd3tcd.ie>
Subject: Exploring English Language Teaching: Language in Action
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AUTHOR: Graham HallTITLE: Exploring English Language TeachingSUBTITLE: Language in ActionSERIES TITLE: Routledge Introductions to Applied LinguisticsPUBLISHER: RoutledgeYEAR: 2011

Deirdre Murphy, Centre for Language and Communication Studies, Trinity CollegeDublin, Ireland

SUMMARY

“Exploring English Language Teaching” provides an introduction to the topic ofEnglish Language Teaching from an Applied Linguistics perspective. The book’sconciseness 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 theacademic study of English Language Teaching (ELT), but with a particularinterest in it. This category is presumed to include students embarking onpostgraduate studies of Applied Linguistics, or language teaching practitionersreturning to full-time or part-time study in a related area.

Despite its evident origins in academic research, the book also draws heavily onthe practice of ELT, and follows the ‘practice to theory’ approach favoured bythe Routledge Introductions to Applied Linguistics series, allowing it toprovide an insight into how -- or whether -- real-world classroom situations aretreated in the Applied Linguistics literature. The book is divided into four parts:

PART I: Classroom interaction and managementPART II: Method, Postmethod and methodologyPART III: LearnersPART IV: Institutional frameworks and social contexts

Each part consists of three chapters, in which the main issues associated witheach topic are highlighted and discussed. Each chapter also features a number oftasks to supplement the subject at hand, which aim to “raise questions, promptreflection and seek to integrate theory and practice” (p. xii). Each chapter issummarised below.

PART I: Classroom interaction and managementChapter 1. The language classroom: roles, relationships and interactionsThe opening chapter introduces the notion of the ELT classroom, as distinct fromother language learning environments, drawing on van Lier (1988) and Tudor(2001) among others to highlight its complexity. The chapter touches onteachers’ beliefs, the roles of students and teachers respectively, leading onto the analysis of various types of classroom interaction.

Chapter 2. Intervening in the language classroom: classroom management,interaction and learning opportunitiesThe search for a model of ‘good teaching’ is strongly discouraged in thischapter, which instead seeks to explore various approaches employed by teachersin various classroom situations, and again highlights the fact that languagelearning 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 alllearning is local, while acknowledging the significant social component of anyELT classroom. Teachers are encouraged to reflect on their teaching practice asa means of overcoming this potential difficulty.

PART II: Method, Postmethod and methodologyChapter 4. Language, language learning and Method: dilemmas and practicesIn this chapter, a closer look is taken at how learners learn language. It isnoted that recent research has seen the focus shifting away from the search for‘Method’, a set of guiding principles for language teaching, and instead movingon to examine learners in more detail, specifically in given pedagogicalcontexts. A review is made of some principal theories of language acquisition,and how such theories underpin various classroom activities. In short, thischapter questions how the nature of language affects the teaching aims andstrategies of the English language classroom.

Chapter 5. Language teaching methods: perspectives and possibilitiesA review of approaches to language teaching is provided here, similar to thereview of language acquisition theories in the previous chapter, and the conceptof ‘Postmethod’ -- a move away from the search for ‘Method’ -- is introduced.Teachers are recognised as experts in their own field, picking and choosingvarious approaches to teaching for their own and their learners’ purposes.

Chapter 6. Theoretical insights for a Postmethod eraFollowing the discussion in Chapters 4 and 5, Chapter 6 addresses the move awayfrom the search for a set of ideal teaching methods, and introduces the notionof ‘plausibility’, teachers’ ability to determine the appropriateness of a setof actions in the classroom. Like the previous chapters in this section, thischapter presents an overview of an aspect of Applied Linguistics, this time inrelation to the development of major theories of Second Language Acquisition(SLA) research, before acknowledging that knowledge of such theory isinsufficient for effective English language teaching to take place, and teachersmust also cultivate their own judgment within the classroom.

PART III: LearnersChapter 7. Focus on the language learner: individual attributes and attitudesWith the importance of context having been established by Part II, the focus nowmoves to the learner. In this chapter, studies investigating the effect ofvarious learner attributes such as age, gender and aptitude are presented. Theauthor concludes that while no one attribute demonstrates an overridinginfluence over language learning ability, individual learners “are complex humanbeings who bring to class a unique set of dynamically interactingcharacteristics that add to the complexity and diversity of classroom life” (p.142).

Chapter 8. Learner diversity and development: considerations for the languageclassroom ... and beyondThis chapter presents a review of learner strategies, ultimately taking theposition that no single strategy or set of strategies is ideal. Given thecurrent tendency towards learner-centred learning, however, the chapter goes onto illustrate the dominant role of learner autonomy in extant AppliedLinguistics literature, while providing appropriate caveats as to the range ofits applicability beyond Western contexts.

Chapter 9. Images of language learners: from individual to social, and universalto specificHere, language learning is viewed from two opposing perspectives, individual andsocial. Various metaphors and images of language learners are presented,addressing these two perspectives, and the importance of enabling teachers todraw on either individual or social contexts is highlighted.

PART IV: Institutional frameworks and social contextsChapter 10. From global trends to local contexts: language dilemmas in the ELTclassroomContinuing the theme of Chapter 9, ELT is examined in a global context. The manyfaces of the English language are highlighted, and questions are raisedregarding the relevance of the native speaker model in a variety of Englishlanguage learning contexts.

Chapter 11. Planning and organizing L2 learning and teaching: contexts andcurriculum, possibilities and realitiesChapter 11 considers the process of planning L2 syllabuses and testing, and onceagain returns to the important role played by learners’ and teachers’interaction with syllabuses and materials in a given classroom context. Theinterplay between ELT practice in a given institution and the wider social viewof English is also considered, paving the way for the final chapter toinvestigate the role of ELT on a global platform.

Chapter 12. ELT in the world: education and politics, contexts and goalsThe final chapter of the book examines ELT from a global perspective, and howthis influences English teaching in particular situations on a local level.Differing views of the ELT profession are presented, including from aneducational and a financial perspective. Uppermost among contemporary issuesfacing the profession are the multiple varieties of English that are recognisedtoday, 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 raisedthroughout this volume ought to lead to further collaboration betweenresearchers and practitioners, and should serve as a “stimulus for reflection”(p. 234).

EVALUATION

“Exploring English Language Teaching” examines the ELT profession through thelens of an applied linguist, striking a balance between research and practicethat makes it ideally suited to learners who already demonstrate some knowledgeof the subject at hand, but who may not be familiar with it from an academicrather than a teaching perspective. While it is primarily an academic text, itsadherence to the ‘practice to theory’ approach mentioned above, and its frequentreferences to the practice of ELT, render it very readable, and in this reader’sjudgment, accessible even to novices on the subject; though conversely, it isthis very feature that may make the book less suitable for those withconsiderable experience in academic research on the subject. Undoubtedly though,those who will benefit most from its content are those for whom it is primarilyintended: students embarking on postgraduate studies or practitioners returningto 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 relevanttopic, while largely refraining from delving into unnecessary detail. The bookmoves smoothly through the four parts, which are well chosen and equally wellsequenced, and the ‘practice to theory’ approach is mirrored in the manner inwhich the author moves from the practical issue of classroom management in PartI to the more theoretical consideration of ELT in local and global institutionalcontexts in Part IV.

One particularly helpful feature is the presence of tasks in each chapter, whichpromote critical reflection and provide the reader with the opportunity toconsider in relation to their own teaching experience the topics presented moregenerally in the chapter. For example, in Chapter 1, five different tasks arepresented:Task 1.1 Thinking through ‘beliefs’Task 1.2 Teacher and learner roles in the ELT classroomTask 1.3 Teacher talk in the L2 classroomTask 1.4 In your context: making sense of repairTask 1.5 Interaction, control and class size

Each task consists of a series of statements and follow-up questions based ontopics raised in the chapter to date, encouraging the reader to relate newinformation to his or her personal and professional experience. For example,Task 1.2 asks, “Think of your own English language teaching context ... To whatextent do learners expect teachers to be controllers and managers or promptersand guides? Why might this be so?” This type of activity performs the dualfunction of reviewing the information already presented, and also rendering itmore ‘tangible’ for readers who are more familiar with the practice rather thanthe study of English language teaching. The tasks are supplemented by a seriesof commentaries, which serve to aid the reader in completing the outlinedactivities, 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 itscoherence. The brevity of each chapter greatly facilitates the book’sreadability, and the author does well to record a balanced account of someoccasionally complex topics within such a limited word count. It is noteworthythat the impartial stance taken reinforces the book’s status as a handbook forthose with an academic interest in the subject, rather than merely a practicalguide for teachers. For example, in the discussion in Chapter 5 of languageteaching 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 learnerstrategies (Chapter 8). Similarly, the author successfully condensesconsiderable quantities of information, such as the description of high versuslow structure in the language classroom (Table 2.1, p. 24), and the outline oftheories of language acquisition and learning in Chapter 4 (pp. 65-68). However,thoroughness is not used as an excuse for unnecessary verbosity, and the readeris occasionally referred to more comprehensive resources, e.g. in the discussionof the global spread of the English language and its attendant sociolinguisticimpact (Chapter 10, p. 187).

One of the main benefits of “Exploring English Language Teaching” is that itaddresses, in an informative manner, major issues facing ELT researchers andpractitioners, such as the advent of ‘Postmethod’ (Chapters 4, 5 and 6), theimportance 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 Englishlanguage teaching (Chapter 8). However, some discussions would, I believe,benefit from more in-depth examination of certain aspects of ELT, such as theimplementation of Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) techniques inChapter 2. Similarly, the author’s treatment of the subject of variation inEnglish (Chapter 10) falls somewhat short of other sections in the book. Werethe work of Kachru (1983) on his proposed concentric circles of English languageuse to be introduced in Chapter 10 instead of Chapter 12 as is done, subsequentdiscussions on the subject might, I feel, be more enlightening for all readers.Despite this very specific shortcoming, however, due consideration is given tothe effect that recent changes in the number and composition of English languagespeakers 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 questionsthan ever, with every section posing a wide variety of questions and problemstoo numerous to list here. However, among the most pressing topics highlightedfor future research are the necessity for further empirical investigation toprove the effectiveness of learner training (see Chapter 8), and the question ofhow to enable teachers to contribute to effective research opportunities andfindings. It must be acknowledged that this volume goes a long way towardsaddressing the second of these concerns. Overall, the author’s success indrawing together here the practical and theoretical aspects of the subject athand lends significant credence to his argument in the final chapter for greatercollaboration between teaching and research.

REFERENCES

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. Reprintedfrom The other tongue, by B.B. Kachru (Ed.), 1982, Oxford and New York: Pergamon.

Tudor, I. (2001). The Dynamics of the Language Classroom. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.

van Lier, L. (1988). The Classroom and the Language Learner. Harlow: Longman.

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.


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