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.

4 comentários:

  1. Please do not overestimate the position of English.

    I live in London and if anyone says to me “everyone speaks English” my answer is “Listen and look around you”. If people in London do not speak English then the whole question of a global language is completely open.

    The promulgation of English as the world’s “lingua franca” is impractical and linguistically undemocratic. I say this as a native English speaker!

    Impractical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.

    Undemocratic because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is essential.

    An interesting video can be seen at http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU Professor Piron was a former translator with the United Nations

    A glimpse of the global language,Esperanto, can be seen at http://www.lernu.net

  2. Well, I would like to see some examples of how to contextualize the instruction in your classroom and seize the "social context" you talk about.

  3. Brian,

    the whole process is completely undemocratic - as you said - if you consider hthe historical reasons why English has become so important. Someone has said that if Hitler had won the WWII, German would now be the international language. Alo, a very clear expression of this undemocratic process is the liguistic policies that are behind institutions such as the British Council, etc., that despite the great job they do in providing trainning and resources abroad, promote a certain variety of English as the "norm" and its national culture as a "civilizing" tool.

    This sounds pretty much like an updated version of "the white man's burden". That's why many authors nowadays talk about linguistic imperialism. "My language is better than yours; my culture is better than yours" seems to be the message.

    But, on the other hand, the same English language that was/is the language of British and American imperialism is now approriated by those who suffer/have suffered from this undemocratic process. India is probably one of the most obvious examples. In terms of numbers, they are more people speaking English in India than in England. And it is not British English anymore, but India English.

    Language is a human tool for communication (among many other things) and it is basically impossible to be controlled. So any undemocratic process related to language is going to be undermined by this very nature of language.

    What happens today is that English is most of the time used in interactions between people who both have different mother tongues - and none of them is a native speaker of English.

    So that is why we can talk about English as a lingua franca or global language. This is the language that most people speak nowadays. It is not British or American English.

    Of course, we should try to learn other languages as well to communicate with people who don't speak English (and/or Portuguese in my case). But since we have a natural limit on the number of languages we can be proficient in, English helps a lot.

    If I - a Brazilian - had never studied English, I guess we wouldn't be able to have this exchange and reflect upon this process together. So, even though English has been imposed to my culture for obvious political and economic reasons, it is now for me a tool to question this very process we are all part of.

    I enjoyed a lot your comment. Please feel free to post a comment whenever you feel like!

  4. Hi, Viovio,

    we are always teaching a specific group of people, in a specific place, using a specific way of teaching. Things are very very situated or contextualized from the outset.

    To make instruction more contextualized, teachers need to have in mind who they are teaching, as well as where and why they are teaching.

    Recipes don't work well well exactly beacuse they ignore the context. Methodologies and materials should never be considered ready to use without a critical look.

    There are lots of topics that can be discussed in class that relate to the learner's life and the reality that surrounds them.

    For example, students can discuss about the city or neighborhood where they live, its problems, touristic places, etc. When discussing the use of "please", they can be asked if in their native language there are other ways of expressing politeness, such as intonation. When talking about the culture of English speaking countries, a nice topic for discussion is about cultural stereotypes that "we" think "they" have about us and vice-versa.

    These are just a few examples that come to my mind now. I hope that at least they make sense. Probably they are too obvious. What do you think?

    Thanks for the comment!