Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom - Review

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  • Brumt argues that linguistics is far from the onlydriving force in the real world, since motives areat least as important as linguistics (p. 175).Language is too important and ubiquitous to be leftto the linguists. There follows a complex discussionof post-modern critiques, and how linguisticsshould respond to them. How do we deal with the paradox of communicating about theimpossibility of communication? (p. 182). He nonethe less approves a weak form of the post-moderncritique. Constantly concerning ourselves withclarifying what is shared and what is unique abouthuman experience demands a willingness toproblematize and critique. (p. 184). His conclusionis that applied linguistics needs a plurality ofapproaches. (p. 186).

    This is not an easy book to read, partly because ofits ambitious range. There are many diversestrands which do not always splice into a rope. Thearguments are tightly organized, but the hinges aresometimes loose. The book also makes more thanaverage demands on the readers syntactic tenacityand discoursal ingenuity. This is compounded bythe public expression of the authors own internalconicts and exploration of paradoxes.

    This is, however, an enormously rewarding book.What unies it is the authors passionately-heldbeliefs, which surface both in the matter and themanner of the arguments. For the record, theseinclude a belief in rational, dialectic argument, indemocratic, public discussion, in accountability; abelief that language is not a discrete entity removedfrom worldly contact or inquiry from disciplinesother than linguistics; a belief in the value oftheoretical and empirical enquiry; a belief thatreality is complex, but that we have a duty toengage with this complexity; and a belief in theeectiveness of education as a force for socialgood. And a belief that it is important to documentthe past, in order to protect the present from folly.

    ReferencesEllis. R. 1997. The Study of Second LanguageAcquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Graddol. D. 1997 The Future of English. London: TheBritish Council.

    The reviewerAlan Maley divides his time between the Institutefor English Language Education at AssumptionUniversity, Bangkok, where he directs the post-graduate programme, and freelance writing andconsultancy work. From 196388 he worked for theBritish Council in Yugoslavia, Ghana, Italy, France,

    PR China, and India. From 198893 he wasDirector-General of the Bell Educational Trust,Cambridge, and from 199398, Senior Fellow at theNational University of Singapore. He has publishedover 30 books on ELT, and is Series Editor of theOxford Resource Books for Teachers.Email: mteaml@au.ac.th

    Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom

    Tricia Hedge

    Oxford University Press 2000, 447pp, 15.40

    isbn: 0 19 4421724

    This is a worthy, and weighty, book which aims toencourage reection and the building of a criticalperspective (p. 3), in order to make teachers think.It takes the view that this will be achieved byrelating the knowledge base derived from variousdisciplineseducation, applied linguistics,sociolinguistics, and pragmatics, for exampletothe practical business of classroom teaching andlearning. The author sets about this not in apatronizing way, as she states in her Introduction(p.2) that The discussion is not embedded in arationale based on the belief that teachers sit at thefeet of educationists and applied linguists waitingfor ideas to drop, like crumbs, to sustain them.This work is the product of a career spent not justin knowing the relevant theories, but also inlistening to teachers, and creating constructivedialogue between theory and practice.

    Although Teaching and Learning in the LanguageClassroom is a daunting 447 pages long, it is writtenin a uent and straightforwardly readable style, anddivided clearly and logically into readily digestiblelumps. It is, from the outset, clearly of themainstream communicative canon; it does notexplore the wilder shores of our professionthereader will not nd concordancing or neuro-linguistic programming in the index. Nor is theauthor by any means a slave to theoretical fashions;she takes her perspective starting from the 1970sforwards, and does not discard a useful idea orinsight just because it is no longer new. The book ismore summative than speculative, engaging thereaderthe practitionerto apply the relevantresearch, and the appropriate theories, in their ownways and in their own working context.

    There are four main sections: A framework forteaching and learning, Teaching the languagesystem, Developing the language skills, andPlanning and assessing learning. Each section

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  • begins with a series of questions which address therange of issues to be discussed, followed by anintroductory task. There is also a series ofdiscussion topics and projects, and a list of furtherreading, at the end of each section and chapter. Itbecomes evident that this is not so much a bookabout English Language Teaching as a tool forteacher education. Hedge always prefers to pose aquestion rather than to lay down the ELT law, as herintended audience is composed of teachers(teaching adolescents and adults) who can readilydraw on their classroom experience, and willalready have encountered most of the relevantissues in their work context.

    The rst chapter in A framework for teaching andlearning is entitled Learners and learning,classrooms and contexts. It seeks to relate whathas been learnt about learning, learners, andlanguage use in relation to materials andmethodology for the classroom. Theories oflearning and learning processes provide thefoundation for the teachers consideration ofmaterials and methodology. Hedge observes thatGood teachers have always taken a positivelycritical approach to appraising their work (p. 39),and this section examines the relationship betweentheory and research and professional development.

    The next chapter looks at the communicativeapproach to language teaching and learning. It isaxiomatic in this work that the communicativeapproach is the established methodology; indeed,to some it may already seem old hat. Yet this is avery competent survey of the principles andimplications of the communicative approach, andit does the practitioner no harm to be remindedwhat they are. As Hedge points out, there are manymisconceptions regarding the communicativeapproach, for example, that accuracy and grammardo not matter. This is hardly surprising, as for yearsnow the word communicative has been stuck onalmost every teaching product, rather as food andother goods are labelled eco-friendly or green. Itis useful to be reminded of what the real thing is.

    Hedge concludes this rst section by looking atlearner autonomy and learner training. This is ameasured and thoughtful discussion of the eld,suggesting rather than proselytizing,recommending that teachers guide learnerstowards dierent forms of autonomous learning indierent educational and cultural contexts. Theabsence of any discussion of state of the arttechnologies may be surprising, but the authorevidently chooses to concentrate on the learner andlearning processes.

    The second section, Teaching the languagesystem, is conventionally structured in chapters onvocabulary and grammar.

    It is gratifying to nd the acquisition of vocabularytreated with such prominence. Communicativemethodology can stress teaching skills to thedetriment of teaching vocabulary; the learnercannot exercise their language skills if they have notyet acquired sucient language items. Hedge(p.110) quotes Wilkins (1972: 109) as declaring thatLinguists have remarkably little to say aboutvocabulary, and one can nd very few studies whichcould be of any practical interest for languageteachers. Since then, of course, we have had theCollins Cobuild (Collins 1987) dictionary, and anexplosion in corpora, but their practical value forlanguage teachers remains debatable: Jane andDavid Willis splendid Cobuild English Course didnot bring about a revolution in syllabus design andcommercial publishing. Rather, aspects of thelexical syllabus are gradually being incorporated inmore recent textbooks. Once again, the authordoes not dwell on the high-tech aspects of lexicalresearch so much as on the learning processes,and their implications for teaching methodology.Hedge emphasizes that teachers should use arange of methods and activities to stimulate theacquisition of vocabulary, and concludes sternlyand pragmatically that learners need to take on aconsiderable measure of responsibility for theirown vocabulary development (pp.1389)exhorting students to learn the wordsbut inclass as well of out of class.

    Grammar, like vocabulary, has suered a period ofneglect not just within the communicativemovement but also at the hands of its immediatepredecessors and allied methodologies insecondary school English teaching. Many Britishstudents growing up in the 1960s only learnt formalgrammar if they studied a foreign language. Hedgeattributes the unpopularity of grammar in EnglishLanguage Teaching to Krashens (1982) notion ofnaturally acquired grammar, but the reviewerconsiders it to have been part of a generaldisaection across the various language teachingdisciplines. In part, that distaste for the formalteaching of grammar arose because the methodsand materials used were didactic, repetitive,tedious, andall too oftenjust plain bad. Thegood news is that the pendulum has swung back inthe last decade towards foregrounding pedagogicgrammar, and that the materials and methods havebeen much improved.

    Hedge succeeds in examining the processes of

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  • grammar acquisition while judiciously avoiding thefearsome technical jargon, or rather jargons, thatspecialists indulge in. This is no mean feat.Teachers operating in an international context mustbe at least grammatically bilingual in British andAmerican terminologies. At the level immediatelybeyond the pedagogical grammar, of course, thethicket of jargon becomes impenetrable. But Hedgeremains resolutely orientated towards the teacherand the learner: in spite of all the theories, sheargues that for beginner and elementary studentsthe grammar component of a syllabus is usuallyselected on the basis of received wisdom (p. 170).This is all very well, but it does beg the question ofwhose wisdom, how it is imbibed, and whether it iswise. Textbooks at this level almost always over-teach the present continuous, which is not muchused as a present tense; and any is taught as theinterrogative of some, when Have you got some? is entirely acceptable. She concludes that thereis almost too much theory, or too many theories, topermit a carved-in-stone perspective for pedagogicgrammars, and so advises teachers to chooseeclectically (p. 179). This may seem adisappointingly conventional piece of advice, but itis as inevitable as it pragmatic: most good teachersare too sensible and too sceptical to be zealots inthe cause of one grammatical fad or another.

    The third section, Developing the language skills,maintains a conventional pattern in approachingthe subject in the order Reading, Listening,Speaking, and Writing. Hedge has alreadywarned us in her Introduction that this traditionalapproach is a convenience which serves us as aframework for organizing (sic) what in practice isa complex of interrelated aspects (this is probablythe most graceless utterance in an otherwise lucidlywritten book). At this point, we have to confrontthat received wisdom bugaboo again:practitioners, such as, for example the reviewer,may question the convenience of that particularparadigm. Writing courses often involve moreemphasis on reading input and discussion thanactual writing, just as reading courses may centreon classroom discussion, presentations, and reportwriting or reviewing. Meanwhile, extensive readingis likely to take place outside the classroom, andbetter speaking and listening activities may occurin Reading and Writing classes than in thedesignated Speaking and Listening slot.

    This said, the discussion that follows is thoroughand interesting. Chapter 6, on reading, does notprovide an answer to the ineable question of howto make learners in non-reading cultures, and

    cultures which are becoming increasingly based inoracy, want to readnot least on the Internet. Right now, outside of teacher mandated tasks, thereviewers students, for example, engage in readingand writing almost exclusively from the Internet.

    In Chapter 7, Hedge argues that listening has beenpopularly described in ELT literature as neglectedand reminds us that in everyday communication 9per cent is devoted to writing, 16 per cent toreading, 30 per cent to speaking, and 45 per cent tolistening (p. 228). While one wonders how suchround numbers are derived, two points must bemade here: rstly, that communicativemethodology is essentially discussion-basedi.e.it is interactive at the level of speaking andlistening, and secondly, that competence inspeaking and listening varies enormously from oneculture to another. Practitioners who have taughtmixed groups of Arab males and Japanese females,for example, will readily concur.

    If we have strayed into speaking here it is becausethese two skills are impossible to untangle. Amajority of users of the English language do notneed to write, apart from occasional form-lling. Itis possible to be a uent speaker-listener withoutfeeling the need to read, or while remainingfunctionally illiterate. Indeed, 10% of Britons comeinto this category. But unless the speaker is aterminal windbag, and the listener psychologicallydamaged, as Hedge puts it: in the world outsidethe classroom (listening) is often participatory (p.255). For often read always, or the listener isprobably not listening after all. The key to honinglistening skills, says Hedge, is condence, andwithout joining in, that condence cannot grow.

    Hedge provides a useful and understandable guideto the theories of speaking skills, at the point whereanthropology in the form of conversational analysisintersects with language teaching and learning.Some readers might feel surprised that such animportant component of language behaviourshould be placed third in the order of languageskills: what happened to the primacy of oracy? Butthat is the way of received wisdom.

    In Chapter 9, Hedge argues that the teaching ofwriting has undergone considerable changeor asshe puts it, dramatic departures from traditionalapproachesin the 1990s. Essentially, thisinvolves leaving behind model texts and practisinglanguage points, which are essentially rehearsingfossilized grammar exponents, and moving on tolearning to write through writing (p. 301), i.e.learning by doing, with the support of other

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  • learners and the teacher. This is evidently anobjective devoutly to be wished, but would it not bewonderful if there were a halfway sensible textbookto support this endeavour? At this point, theory letsus down. There are a number of excellent booksabout writing, some of which Hedge cites at theend of the chapter (though, strangely,...