sábado, 25 de julho de 2009

Global English and the CLT - part 2

This post is the second and final part of a reflection about the limitations of the Communicative Language Teaching concerning the present reality where English has become the new lingua franca. The fist part is here.

As CLT misses the point about pour present world, so it does concerning the classroom. Once the typical CLT class aims to prepare students for “real life” situations, the classroom itself tends to be seen as an artificial environment. This very conception endangers the quality of classroom interaction as the real communication is assumed to happen later, out there. One enters a new paradigm when sees that the classroom “is in fact a real social context – only too real, sometimes, for young people who spend such a large part of their lives there!” (Andrewes, 2005b.:4-5). It should be added that for a teacher who spends about 40 hours a week in classrooms, the class cannot be anything else but a real social context either.

As probably many English teachers around the world, I have questioned myself why I was supposed to give so much importance to topics such as asking and giving directions and other tasks that are typically part of materials produced by followers or proponents of CLT when teaching students who do not have plans to travel abroad or welcome speakers of English in Brazil. Instead of “real life”, these tasks may seem unreal to many of our students.

What are the benefits of following such syllabus? Should we just follow what is assumed as necessary by an author, publisher or language institution? It seems quite obvious that classes should meet our students’ needs. But should we not also help the students to understand their own needs? Certainly there is a necessity to assess and rethink what we have been taught to teach in terms of content.

The idea of teaching either a second, foreign or additional language assumes that the learner already has at least one language that he/she uses to communicate. CLT has traditionally created a problem in its view of the non-native’s mother tongue, going “as far as to consider the L1 as a dangerous source of contamination of the target language” (Andrewes, 2007:9). In other words, the traditional thinking could be summarized as follows: “The two languages cannot inhabit the same space. It is either the one or the other” (Rajagopalan, idem: 16). If one considers that learning happens through experiencing the new knowledge in contact with the previous knowledge, how unrealistic is the idea that a student has to forget his/her language to acquire or learn another.

From this brief overview that outlined some of the limitations CLT presents in our day, it is clear that a new paradigm for language teaching is needed and such shift has to start with the understanding of English as a global language.

Illustration by Jared Chapman.

domingo, 19 de julho de 2009

Global English and the CLT

I am posting the first of a series of reflections that try to assess the Communicative Language Teaching approach in face of English as the new lingua franca.

From a historical perspective, the CLT was a reaction against the previous focus on drilling and the mastering of linguistic structures that once dominated the field of language teaching through the Audiolingual method. Different from other methodological attempts that also reacted against the previous mainstream methodologies and were in fashion in the 1970’s, as the Total Physical Response, the Silent Way, Suggestopedia, etc., the CLT was not a method in the strict sense of the word, but rather an approach; it was grounded on more solid and reliable views of language and learning that gave it the status of “a generally accepted norm in the field” of language teaching (Brown, 2001:42, emphasis added).

Similar to what had happened to the establishing of the Audiolingual method in the U.S., the CLT also counted on academic and governmental funding and support:

The rapid adoption and worldwide dissemination of the Communicative Approach also resulted from the fact that it quickly assumed the status of orthodoxy in British language teaching circles, receiving the sanction and support of leading applied linguists, language specialists, and publishers, as well as institutions such as the British Council.
(Richards and Rodgers, 2001:172)

Even thought the new approach represented back then an important step towards a more humanistic and better communicative practice in language classrooms – what explains its long life -, its principles should be now questioned in terms of the historical context and goals it had or still has. So far, no solid approach or methodology has yet replaced the CLT and we do not know if such will ever take place. It has even become a cliché the statement that we now live in a post-methods era. However, as the English language itself is seem from a different perspective today, the language teaching is expected to develop further as it has developed in the past.

Most principles espoused by the CLT are based on the reality of English as a Second Language and classes filled with international students from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds, who would then need to learn how to communicate with native speakers in English-speaking countries. When brought to the context of English as a Foreign Language, however, the same principles may be less appropriate or desirable. And the questioning goes even deeper if we now consider English as a global language or lingua franca. Many English teachers have taken for granted the idea of national varieties of English (American, British, etc.) and have never stopped to think about what may sound too obvious – what English is today.

As Rajagopalan reminds us,

Most of the familiar approaches to language teaching - (…) [including] communicative method (…) - have typically tended to take the identity of the language(s) in question as a given, as something more or less unproblematic.

Nowadays, the view of English as a national language spoken in certain countries is being reviewed and amplified in the light of the understanding of English as a lingua franca, a global language that allows communication among speakers from different national, cultural and linguistic backgrounds who have English as an additional language (Canagarajah, 2007). Therefore, English in this context does not belong to a limited geographical area or relate to certain national cultures. Also, the participation of a native speaker in the interaction is not a necessary condition for the use of “real” or “authentic” English.

The concept of English as a lingua franca challenges the core assumption of CLT that learners should be trained to speak to natives and deal successfully with the English-speaking culture. Explaining how culture in seem in CLT, Larsen-Freeman states that “Culture is the everyday lifestyle of people who use the language natively” (1986:134, emphasis added). This view assumes that non-natives should learn the target language and culture so that they can be understood and accepted by the natives only in the terms of the later, as if the non-native identity were less valuable. What is the culture behind a global language if not a host of different local cultures?

How much have we progressed in our field in terms of honoring the difference and particularity? Some authors have used the term imperialism to describe this perception of language and culture that still promotes a sort of colonial relationship between the center (represented in the concepts of target language and the native speaker) and the periphery (in the concepts of L1 and non-native). Therefore, unless language teachers reflect about and question these assumptions, we will be helping to perpetuate English as “the repository of the colonial spirit” (Rajagopalan, op. cit.:18).

An essential assumption of the CLT, the dichotomy of native versus non-native speakers and the virtual interlanguage that separates them, must be questioned as a valid way to approach language, given the reality of a multilingual world, where the so-called native speakers have become a minority and in many contexts the boundaries between languages are not so clear as we have imagined. In this scenario, the concept of nativeness is more likely to be useful to ideological than explanatory purposes. Or, it can only make sense when English is understood as a national language. Then, there are native speakers of American English, Jamaican English, British English and so far. But who are the native speakers of English as a lingua franca?

In his critique of CLT, Simon Andrewes points to the fact that authors “nowadays openly or tacitly agree that many of the principles of CLT methodology should be discreetly dropped or modified” (2005:5). Concerning the understanding of English as a global language, however, it should be noticed that some coursebooks have tried to add a global “flavor” using foreign accents in their audio materials or foreign names and faces on the print. However, the idea of the foreigner living in the Anglophone world continues to be almost always present.

See the second part of this discussion here.


Andrewes, S. The CLT Police: questioning the communicative approach. Modern English Teacher – MET. April 2005. 14, n. 2. 5-11. London: Pearson Education.

Brown, H. D. 2001. Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy. 2nd ed. New York: Longman.

Canagarajah, A. Suresh. Lingua Franca English, Multilingual Communities, and Language Acquisition. Modern Language Journal, 91/5 (2007): 921-937.

Larsen-Freeman, D. 2000. Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. 2nd. ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rajagopalan, Kanavillil. Postcolonial world and postmodern identity: some implications for language teaching. D.E.L.T.A. Revista de Documentação de Estudos em Lingüística Teórica e Aplicada. Especial 2005, 14. 11-20. São Paulo, EDUC.

Richards, J. C., and T. S. Rodgers. 2001. Approaches and methods in language teaching. 2nd. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

quinta-feira, 16 de julho de 2009

"Multiligual speakers of English"

Below is an interesting food for thought on (and for) non-native teachers. Suresh Canagarajah questions the dichotomy native versus non-native and says that teachers that are "multilingual speakers" must "move from the periphery of the profession to the center".

Ana Wu:
You have written various articles about NNES issues. What do you think of the label "Non-native speaker" of English? Is there anything you would like to see the NNEST Caucus do or initiate?

Professor Canagarajah: The label served a purpose at one time to draw attention to those who spoke English from outside the dominant Anglo communities that traditionally claimed ownership over English. As globalization, the migration of people, and hybridizing of identities and communities become more pronounced, I don’t think the term is useful anymore. Scholars are questioning if there is anything called a pure native speaker in English. English is part of the linguistic repertoire and identity formation of millions of people from their birth. I grew up with English, Tamil, and Sinhala from my childhood. It is difficult for me to say if I spoke English or Tamil first. I can call myself a native speaker of Sri Lankan English if the terms are stretched a bit!

More importantly, the positive experience of being a multilingual is perceived in a defensive and negative way when we use the term “non-native” to describe ourselves. We don’t have to be some “nons”! We can label ourselves more positively and affirmatively. Besides, in using the label “non-native” we are still giving power and meaning to the outmoded concept of native speaker.

The time has come for the NNEST professionals to move from the periphery of the profession to the center. It is time for us to argue that we represent the experience that is the norm for the majority of English speakers around the world—i.e., multilinguals for whom English is an additional language in their speech repertoire and identity. It is time for us to reshape pedagogy and linguistic theories to address the concerns of those who enjoy (or those who desire to develop) hybrid proficiencies and identities as we all do. The time to be defensive, apologetic, and even confrontational is gone. There are no more battles to be fought. There is the serious task of living up to our responsibility of making knowledge that is relevant to the majority of people in the world—multilinguals. Perhaps that’s the label we have to start using—not nonnative speakers of English but multilingual speakers of English.

To read the complete interview by Ana Wu, click here. Another interesting interview with Canagarajah is vailable here on The Other Journal.

sábado, 11 de julho de 2009

Humor in class

Humor is a natural part of human interaction in many environments. As teachers and learners of English, most of us are used to experiencing some moments of joking and laughing in our classrooms. But what is the role of humor in the language class? Does it have any implication for learning itself?

Humor in class can benefit teacher-student interaction, as it motivates the student’s participation and help them

to build on and sustain their interpersonal relationships as a community of English language learners
(…) (Hall & Walsh, 2002:193)

Once that learning in our classrooms is accomplished through interaction, humor can create an environment where students may feel they belong to and overcome the natural barriers that they face in learning a foreign language as it relates to their self-image, etc.. That means that the use of humor in class can be an inclusve tool to promote participation and learning.

This humor many times may happen as a playful approach to the language itself:

The final characteristic of the language used in successful lessons is that of richness and occasional playfulness as well ... The teachers in successful classes tended to use language in ways that called attention to the language itself. (idem: 194)

Because of some Latin roots that Portuguese and English share in many cases, it is interesting to see my students in Brazil playing with the use of some suffixes of Latin origin. For example, they will add -ation to an English verb or adjective and see if it works as a noun, as in modernization or acceleration. But in case the process fails to produce an existing word in English, the outcome is a humorous play with the target language, moving away from the labels right and wrong. The same happens when they translate idiomatic expressions or pronounce local words with an English pronunciation.

As Simon Andrewes points out,

The intervention of the mother tongue in the foreign language learning process through such actvities as code switching, free and direct translation (...) can be
extremely enlightening, as well as enjoyable
(2007: 8)

Given the bias that still exists in our field concerning the use of mother tongue, however, this humor and playfulness using or refering to elements of the mother tongue may be perceived by some teachers as not beneficial to learning or, at least, a waste of time. That is of course a misconception.

Humor can not only "break the ice", but also raise awareness about the language, and focus on it as a real means of communication.


Hall, Joan Kelly & Walsh, Meghan. Teacher-student interaction and language learning. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics (2002) 22, 186-203. Cambridge University Press.

Andrewes, Simon English, Foreign languages and language. Modern English Teacher (2008) Volume 16, number 04.

Picture by Marc Ducrest