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Review of  Teaching English in Multilingual Contexts

Reviewer: Alia Amir
Book Title: Teaching English in Multilingual Contexts
Book Author: Azra Ahmed Graeme Cane Mehnaz Hanzala
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 23.5217

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EDITORS: Ahmed, Azra; Cane, Graeme, and Hanzala, Mehnaz
TITLE: Teaching English in Multilingual Contexts
SUBTITLE: Current Challenges, Future Directions
PUBLISHER: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
YEAR: 2011

Alia Amir, Department of Culture and Communication, Linköping University, Sweden


“Teaching English in Multilingual Contexts: Current Challenges, Future Directions” is an edited collection of eleven papers presented at the fifth International Seminar organized by the Centre of English Language (CEL) at the Aga Khan University (AKU), Karachi, Pakistan, in April, 2009. It is a collection of papers which discuss present day practices and issues connected with the teaching of English in multilingual countries. The contributions, edited by Azra Ahmed, Graeme Cane and Mehnaz Hanzala, offer a variety of perspectives and ''discuss issues related to English language teaching” (p.xiii), including Andrew Littlejohn’s questions about top-down approaches where leaners and teachers are led by models which ignore the social or human element in teaching and learning.

The chapters are organized into three sections: Section 1 comprises six chapters dealing with teaching English in multilingual situations, Section 2 offers two chapters discussing code-switching and code-mixing practices in Pakistan. Section 3 includes three chapters discussing assessment in language teaching and learning. The book includes a one-page foreword by Camer Vellani, professor at Aga Khan University (AKU), and a preface by the editors, which introduces each chapter included in the two sections of the book.

In his foreword, Camer Vellani acknowledges the centrality of the efficient ways of acquiring competence in the use of English in multilingual contexts and places the university support in the publication of this book in the context of both for Aga Khan University’s students and staff as well as Pakistani adult learners’ competence in relation to a competitive world. In particular, he notes the Centre of English Language at AKU’s efforts to explore “efficient ways of acquiring competence in the use of English for learning and work in multilingual societies” (p. xi).

In the opening chapter, entitled ''Real-world teaching,” Andrew Littlejohn discusses what is required for ''Real-World Language Teaching.'' He questions the underlying conceptualisations of what should be the focus in language teaching by taking insights from the study of economics. Based on an alternative paradigm in the study of economics known as ''Real-World Economics,'' he asks if the social psychology of the classroom has been considered sufficiently. Littlejohn argues that language teaching is both a psycholinguistic and a social process. There has been more stress on the former, but the latter has not been dealt with sufficiently. Although he does point out that classroom life research has been gaining momentum, most of the studies generally use either a psycholinguistic framework or the social one. He suggests considering both the social and psycholinguistic aspects of the language classroom.

The second chapter entitled “Building Communities of practice for teacher development: a comparative study,” by Fauzia Shamim presents a strategy for teacher development in Pakistan. She argues that one-off workshops and short courses might be unsuccessful because they are not related to the specific needs of teachers. She suggests building communities of practice (hereafter COPs), and analyses the development of COPs in two educational contexts in Pakistan, one at the AKU and the other at the University of Karachi. She argues that forming a COP can be a successful factor in individual teacher development.

In the third chapter, ''From Autonomy to Autonomous Language Learning,” Hayo Reinders challenges the pedagogical concept of learner autonomy. He proposes to rethink and redefine the behavior that characterises autonomy rather than defining autonomy. In order to understand the pedagogical term “learner autonomy,” Reinders traces the use and the development of the term in the fields of education, sociolinguistics and psychology. He critically examines the definitions of autonomous learning from the 1970s to the 1980s and concludes that it is not possible to talk about a learner as autonomous or not, but that one has to look at learners' actions to decide if there is autonomous learning.

The fourth chapter, ''The Right approach to Teaching Writing in an ESP Setting: Some Perspectives,” co-authored by one of the editors, Azra Ahmed, together with Mirat Al Fatima Ahsan, explores ways to develop academic writing competence of nursing students in a Pakistani university. The writers begin by briefly reviewing the current situation of Pakistani English language learners and current methods of teaching writing, for instance English is only an optional medium of instruction at the state run schools. They discuss three approaches (product, process and genre based approaches) currently popular in the teaching of English writing skills and propose an approach for English for Academic Purposes writing, in which they combine the strengths of the product approach with those of the process-based writing approach. The authors generalise from their study that their model with its integrated e-learning component allows improvement in lexical and grammatical development and overall writing of their students.

In the fifth chapter, a unique idea of peer classroom observations through video clips for ELT is developed by Nasreen Hasnain and Shaista Bano Zaidi in their paper called “Using critical Incidents to Develop Reflective ELT Practitioners.” The authors introduce the concept of Critical Incidents and Critical Incident Analysis to English language teacher trainees through peer classroom observations using video clips of their own teaching, and setting up email discussions between trainers and trainees. The authors argue that reflecting on critical incidents can help the teachers understand what is happening in their classrooms and can also improve their teaching practices. The authors argue that the identification of these critical incidents by ELT practitioners can help them understand and improve their teaching practices.

Chapter six, “Affective Education: How Effective is our Learning?” by Fatima Dar, looks at essential elements of affective education such as feelings, emotions and self-esteem. She argues that paying attention to these factors can not only improve an English language curriculum but will have longer-lasting impact on the learners.

Section two examines code-switching practices in the Pakistani context. The first paper “Code-mixing in textbooks: Current Practice in Pakistan,” by Samina Qadir, examines the use of English in school text books in two subjects namely Urdu and Pakistan studies. Qadir finds that the use of English words in Urdu textbooks, for which there are equivalent words available in Urdu, has serious consequences for development and sustenance of Urdu, such as loan words and borrowing from English to Urdu.

In the second article in section two, chapter eight, Sarwet Rasul looks at code-mixing in the Pakistani media in her paper entitled “ Code-mixing in Pakistani Television Advertisements: A Socio-linguistic Analysis.” The author analyses twelve advertisements from the beauty and health domain where English and Urdu are used. The author highlights the role of the media in promoting and using English loan words in these advertisements.

Section three, entitled “Assessment in Language Teaching and Learning,” consists of three papers. In chapter nine, Nasreen Ahsan in her paper entitled “Portfolios as an Alternative Assessment: A first-time experience for Students and Teachers” describes an action research strategy by using Portfolios. She describes the lack of confidence among learners in English for Academic Purposes or written communicative Skills courses in Pakistani context. She reports that her experience of using portfolios and getting the students to critically reflect on their own development was well received by the teachers and students.

In chapter ten, Wajdan Raza in her paper entitled “A rating Scale for the Assessment of Writing Skills” introduces a rating scale developed for the assessment of English writing skills by University students in Pakistan. Eight qualified ESL teachers were first trained and later they were assigned the task of rating seventy scripts of engineering students studying at a private University in Karachi. The results showed that the use of the scale can have useful effect on the reliability of assessments.

In Chapter 11, Isbah Mustafa in her paper entitled “Equity in the English Listening Comprehension Examination: Does Region Matter?” discusses the role of regional and economic background on the performance of a candidate in examinations. The aim of this study was to find out the differences in achievement of the candidates in the English listening comprehension test developed by the Aga Khan University Examination Board in various provincial and urban regions of Pakistan. The scores of students from different regions in the English listening comprehension test and in grade 10 exams in eight core subjects are compared. Students in cities show a different trajectory from students in the provinces; in particular, their English listening scores are higher than their scores on the grade 10 examination.


This edited collection presents the reader with a collection of papers that shows a detailed picture of several issues faced by practitioners in the teaching of English in Pakistan today. It adds to existing studies that elucidate the nature and importance of English in educational contexts in Pakistan (for example, Baumgardner, 1993, Bashiruddin, 2011). This collection aims at filling the gap in the area of teaching English in multilingual contexts, specifically in Pakistan. With the exception of two papers (by Andrew Littlejohn and Hayo Reinders), all contributions focus on the multilingual context of English Language Teaching (ELT) in Pakistan.

However, although the book presents a wide range of active research projects and innovative approaches, it does not show the true diversity of languages in Pakistani classroom context and how to approach multilingualism in ELT. There is also a lack of linguistic approaches in the current volume. Although all contributions present an array of studies in the field of ELT in Pakistan, the edited collection is not fully representative of the multilingual situation in Pakistan, particularly that found in classrooms, considering that more than seventy languages are spoken in Pakistan. In this regard, the title of this edited collection does not align with the main agenda outlined in the preface. Another limitation is that Most of the contributions take their data from educational institutions in urban contexts in Pakistan. None of the papers deals with ELT in the rural contexts of Pakistan. Nor does the volume compare any local languages of Pakistan with English, in order to highlight the differences and problems that may arise for a speaker of particular language when learning English. Only two papers (Qadir and Rasul) highlight the bilingual/ multilingual ground realities in Pakistan. Even among these two papers, only Qadir deals with the bilingual/ multilingual situation of Pakistani classrooms, whereas the Rasul studies the code-switching practices in the Pakistani television media.

The volume would also have profited from a more thoughtful ordering of contributions, as some contributions (e.g. Littlejohn, pp. 3-16) would fit better in a different section, or else are not grouped together with thematically similar contributions within a section. The first section could be simply called “Language Teaching and Learning” and under that heading the papers by Littlejohn, Reinders and Dar could be placed. Another section could be formed with the rest of the papers . The main reason for this criticism is that the title for this section called “Teaching English in Multilingual Situations” does not accurately inform about the papers included in this section.

In spite of such small drawbacks, this collection of papers will prove to be a great resource for those working in ELT. Not only will these studies contribute to the development of English language teaching in Pakistan, they will also benefit teacher training and yield new insights into general issues in language teaching and teacher training, such as teaching writing English to speakers of other languages, and how it is different from that of the monolinguals.


Bashiruddin, A. (2011). Learning and Teaching of English in Pakistan. Lambert Academic Publishing.

Baumgardner, R.J. (1993). The English language in Pakistan. Karachi: Oxford University Press.

Wenger, E. (1988). Communities of Practice: Language, Learning, and Meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Alia Amir ([email protected]), a recipient of a fellowship from the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, is currently working on her dissertation at the Department of Culture and Communication, Linköping University, Sweden. Her project focuses on English as a Second Language classrooms in Swedish schools, seen from an ethnomethodological conversation analytic perspective. Her research interests are language in education and bi-/multilingualism in education (including policies and talk-in-interaction).

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781443826730
Pages: 225
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