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Review of  Exploring English Language Teaching

Reviewer: Martin R. Gitterman
Book Title: Exploring English Language Teaching
Book Author: Graham Hall
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 29.3626

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This book, part of a series (“Introductions to Applied Linguistics”), has upper-level undergraduate students, those engaged in graduate study and those enrolled in teacher education courses as a primary target audience.The books in the series aim to link theory and practice, where theoretical considerations are addressed subsequent to issues of practice. This volume contains four basic (broad) topics (i.e., Parts, see Contents, pp. vii-viii), namely, “Classroom Interaction and Management,” “Method, Postmethod and Methodology,” “Learners,” and “Institutional Frameworks and Social Contexts,” with each Part containing three chapters. Thus, Part I (“Classroom Interaction and Management”) consists of Chapters 1, 2 and 3, and so on.

In Chapter 1 (“The Language Classroom: Roles, Relationships and Interactions”), Hall provides an introductory overview of classroom instruction and in so doing lays the foundation for much of what follows in the book. In particular, it is made clear that understanding the classroom dynamic extends well beyond what meets the eye. As Hall notes, “What goes on in a classroom is inevitably much more than the logical and tidy application of theories and principle; it is localized, situation-specific, and, therefore, diverse” (p. 4). A range of illustrative examples are provided which lend support to the undeniable notion that an understanding of classroom instruction is far from a simple task. Among the issues touched on in the chapter are the multifaceted roles played by teachers, their talk in the classroom (which is contrasted with both “foreigner talk” and “caretaker talk”), posing questions to students, and error correction.

In Chapter 2 (“Intervening in the Language Classroom: Classroom Management, Interaction and Learning Opportunities”) the reader is presented with examples that help illustrate the complexity of effective teaching. It is noted, that providing a simple definition of an effective instructor is not possible. As Hall insightfully points out, “…..what ‘good’ teachers do will vary according to their personality and beliefs, cultural and contextual background, and the aims and needs of learners…..” (p. 23). Regarding intervention in the classroom, the chapter highlights the degree to which classrooms might be teacher dominated (“high structure” and “low structure” teaching approaches). Classroom practices are also addressed in relation to current technology and to teaching large classes.

In Chapter 3 (“The Language Classroom in Theory and Practice: Complex, Diverse and ‘Local’”) a clearer understanding of the intricate nature of language teaching, building on the material provided in the earlier chapters, highlights the use of different metaphors, each of which serves to illustrate aspects of language teaching. These metaphors (e.g., “experimental laboratory”) are described and contrasted with each other. The role of values (of both instructors and students) is addressed, all adding to a fuller understanding of all that is taking place in the language classroom, yet not necessarily readily apparent to the casual observer.

Chapter 4 (“Language, Language Learning and Method: Dilemmas and Practices”) points out that current thinking is less focused on specifying a particular detailed method as one to which all language teachers should adhere. Nevertheless, it is argued that language teachers must reflect on aspects of method as a means to teach their students effectively. The chapter highlights numerous areas that merit the reflection of instructors, including the implications of particular theoretical orientations for classroom practices. Among the issues incorporated are the extent to which (and the manner in which) students should be aware of form (structure) while engaged in classroom learning and the relative role of language input vs. output in learning a second language.

Chapter 5 (“Language Teaching Methods: Perspectives and Possibilities”) describes, with attention to chronology, some of the most well known methods of language teaching (e.g., grammar-translation, direct method, audiolingual method, the silent way, communicative language teaching,). As noted, it is not always possible to delineate some methods from others with great precision, nor is it possible to specify with exactitude time frames associated with particular methods. Reference is made to a possible development currently of a Postmethod period, described as “eclectic” in nature. An attempt is also made in the chapter to define (and differentiate) some commonly used, and closely related, terms (e.g., method, methodology, approach).

In Chapter 6 (“Theoretical Insights for a Postmethod Era”) it is argued that an understanding of many aspects of the process of second language development remain largely elusive. Theoretical approaches (Models) aimed at describing the process as it relates to teaching are similarly inconclusive, and, in some cases, contradictory. Numerous theoretical models are outlined (e.g., The Monitor Model, The Output Hypothesis). The chapter also examines key concepts within the cognitive domain (e.g., working memory, procedural knowledge, declarative knowledge) as well as sociocultural factors deemed relevant to the process of second language learning. Again, it is suggested that the current climate in the second language community is one in which adherence to a strict method is increasingly less evident.

Chapter 7 (“Focus on the Language Learner: Individual Attributes and Attitudes”) treats those personal traits that can vary across different learners. Hall aptly states, “… is self-evident that learners differ from one another in a variety of ways including, for example, age, personality, motivation and attitudes” (p. 140). The chapter contains detailed analyses of a number of such qualities (i.e., where learners may vary). The analyses, touching on attempts at definition, grappling with the issue of whether particular characteristics of learners can be shaped and, critically, possible implications of these learner variables for second language instruction leave the reader with an awareness (intended by the author) of the many unanswered questions.

Chapter 8 (“Learner Diversity and Development: Considerations for the Language Classroom…and Beyond”) examines the notion of a “good language learner” and, in so doing, makes clear the challenges associated with providing a satisfactory definition/description of such individuals. Consequently, and as a natural outgrowth of these challenges, it is noted that implications for teaching methodology are unclear. Similarly, the challenges inherent in understanding the concept of learner strategies make evident the difficulties in establishing implications of such strategies for language instruction. Learner autonomy is also argued to be a concept about which a fuller understanding is needed. The chapter raises questions to help guide the thinking of readers in furthering their knowledge of matters treated in the chapter.

Chapter 9 (“Images of Language Learners: From Individual to Social, and Universal to Specific”) discusses the process of second language learning, delineating aspects common to learners from those where learners may differ appreciably from each other. Discussion of the former focuses on a proposed “internal syllabus” adhered to by learners, in general; discussion of the latter looking at how learners react individually to the social dimension in which the second language is being acquired. The chapter elaborates on a broadly recognized phenomenon, namely, “….. that the L2 classroom is a social as well as pedagogic environment” (p. 191).

Chapter 10 (“From Global Trends to Local Contexts: Language Dilemmas in the ELT Classroom”) indicates issues that need to be addressed within the English Language Teaching community, although their relevance might not be immediately obvious. Among the issues facing educators is coming to a decision about which variety of English (among the many possibilities) should be taught. The chapter discusses the concept of “real language” and its integral role in the decision-making process of second language educators. Difficulties that may be encountered in teaching English for Specific Purposes are also addressed. There is a growing awareness among educators about the complexities of second language methodology. As Hall states, “The social, cultural and, indeed, political dimensions of English language teaching and learning have been increasingly recognized in recent years” (p. 201).

Chapter 11 (“Planning and Organizing L2 Learning and Teaching: Contexts and Curriculum, Possibilities and Realities”) provides a detailed overview of issues related to designing a course. Types of syllabi are outlined, leaving those who design a syllabus with a range of options. While syllabi can differ from each other greatly, it is noted that a “hybrid” syllabus is undoubtedly widely used. The less than uniform use of the terms “syllabus” and “curriculum” is also noted. The discussion of testing aptly touches on the commonly treated areas of validity and reliability, adding pertinent remarks on practicality. The section on materials to be used in the classroom also helps make clear how decisions to be made are not always simple. An awareness of the appropriate use of textbooks, taking into consideration potential problems, is touched on as well.

Chapter 12 (“ELT in the World: Education and Politics, Contexts and Goals”) provides a nice conclusion to the book, highlighting a theme that runs through the previous chapters (i.e., that second language learning does not take place outside of societal influences). Readers are reminded that there is now an increasing awareness of this irrefutable reality. The values of individuals are reflected in judgments that are made about second language learning and instruction. Beliefs that are held, such as which variety of the second language should be taught or the advisability of hiring non-native speakers as second language instructors, are addressed. Increased involvement by instructors in second language research is, in addition, a central focus of the chapter.


This book provides an extremely thorough and well-researched treatment of a range of topics logically subsumed under the heading of second language learning and instruction. An effort by Hall to elucidate the intricate link between theory and practice (for a specified target audience, see above) is achieved. Those who read the book, regardless of their current specialization, are likely to benefit greatly. For those who are planning to teach or those currently engaged in teaching, the discussions in the book are certain to have a positive influence both on their thinking about second language learning and on their classroom teaching, adding to their effectiveness as second language instructors. For those outside the educational system, the book provides a very insightful and engaging presentation on the notion of theory and practice that is relevant, in some measure, to other disciplines. In short, the issues discussed in the volume are certain to be of interest to a broad audience, with readers needing primarily an intellectual curiosity about human behavior and interaction to derive satisfaction from reading it.

There are numerous strengths that come to mind while reading this book. The primary strength is, undoubtedly, that it encourages instructors to rely more on their own judgments in making pedagogical decisions. The book does not propose any methodology as rigid dogma. It notes rather a current movement into a postmethod period, defined by its more “eclectic” approach to teaching practices. Instructors are encouraged to be informed about methodological issues and to think about and analyze such matters. Of importance, instructors should not feel overly constrained in the decision-making process. They are uniquely qualified to determine what works best with the students they are teaching. Hall states, “As we have seen in all our discussions, there are very few clear straightforward solutions when trying, for example, to locate the ‘best’ or most effective ways of teaching, identify how learners learn and what conditions might promote learning, or understand the broader socio-political contexts of learning” (p. 256). The persuasive presentation in support of teacher flexibility in crafting a workable (appropriate) methodology should help encourage teachers to be more active in deciding on such issues. Such an outcome would certainly benefit second language learners. Of importance, the book makes clear that decision-making by educators should be informed; it does not suggest or imply that any methodology is satisfactory with any group of students. Fortunately, the book is so substantive in its treatment of second language learning, including an extensive list of references, that the decision-making process is facilitated by the groundwork laid therein.

The tasks included within the chapters are very useful. They are designed to move readers to think more about particular issues and, when appropriate, to encourage them to relate topics covered to their own personal experiences (see p. 257). By so doing, readers gain a fuller understanding of the topics. Consider, for example, questions such as “Why do you think some people seem to be more successful language learners than others?” Task 7.1, p. 141; “Thinking about a group of learners you know, what kinds of social identities do they bring to class, and how does this affect classroom life and your own practices as a teacher?” Task 9.2, p. 193; “Is it possible to imagine teaching a different variety of English in principle…and in practice? Why/Why not?” Task 10.2, p. 210. These representative questions are probing and substantive. Woven in as they are at appropriate points in particular chapters, they are likely to heighten an understanding of the material covered in those chapters. While not every question in the book will be directly relevant to every reader, there are sufficient questions to provide ample opportunity for all readers to benefit greatly by the inclusion of these exercises. Also to be commended is the inclusion of a section (“Commentary on Selected Tasks”) with “prompts” to promote thought on a subset of the tasks contained in the chapters.

Should the author undertake a revised version of the volume at some point, there are suggestions that might enhance this outstanding work. While the Tables and Figures are very useful, it might be advisable to make sure all are sufficiently large. In particular, Figure 5.1 (p. 92), to be seen comfortably, should be somewhat larger. In addition, while the author’s point regarding instructors having wide latitude in determining aspects of methodology is certainly very well argued, it might be useful to mention that there are some aspects of teaching, regarding routines, in particular, that are useful to follow, and probably universally accepted, regardless of methodology (e.g., giving all students an equal opportunity to participate in the lesson). This point is probably taken as understood, and is in no way inconsistent with anything presented in the book. Nevertheless, a brief comment might be fitting.

In sum, this book is clearly one that should be on the reading list of second language instructors, those preparing to teach and other interested individuals. It covers a range of complex material in a concise and well organized manuscript. It promotes thinking and does so by treating the topics with great clarity and in a framework that refers to an extensive body of literature. Those who read it will gain insights, both theoretical and practical.
Martin R. Gitterman is Professor Emeritus at Lehman College and The Graduate Center, The City University of New York. He served as Chair of the Department of Speech and Theatre at Lehman College for six years and as Executive Officer of the Ph.D. Program in Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences at The Graduate Center, also for six years. His areas of specialization include bilingualism, second language acquisition and neurolinguistics.

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9781138722811
Pages: 314
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