I'm lucky in that I do a lot of travelling, mainly to conferences to give talks and workshops.

I'm lucky in that I do a lot of travelling, mainly to conferences to give talks and workshops. Whenever I can, I escape for a few hours and search out second-hand bookshops in the city where I happen to be, and look for old English language teaching textbooks and teachers' guides. (Two places where I found a lot of places selling such books were Lima in Peru, and Ljubljana in Slovenia).I collect these books because they are a rich source of information as to the way language teaching has evolved over the years. But also because they often contain insights which suggest that not a lot has changed, and that some of the claims about learning that we think are relatively new are in fact quite old.Here is a selection that I've picked, fairly randomly, from my collection. To me, these are all examples of excellent advice. Do you agree?“No amount of sentence-constructing ingenuity can replace the patient daily repeating and reviewing of foreign-word groups” (Palmer, H. 1925.  ‘Conversation’. Re-printed in Smith, R. (1999) The Writings of Harold E. Palmer: An Overview. Tokyo: Hon-no-Tomosha, p. 187)  “The teacher should beware of giving any firm rules for intonation, or for any other feature of the language for that matter” (Hornby, A. 1964 Oxford Progressive English Alternative Course: Book A Teacher’s Handbook. p. x-xi)  “It is as well to remember that language is life itself, and that life is very largely language… Language is not a sterile subject to be confined to the classroom. One of two things must be done: either life must be brought to the classroom or the class must be taken to life” (Strevens, P. 1956. Spoken Language. p. 69)  “A command of structure is more easily acquired by reading, speaking and writing the language than by hearing and studying explanations” (Gurrey, P. 1955. Teaching English as a Foreign Language.  p. 80)  “Language is not words, but words together; it is not word—word—word, etc., but word + word + word, etc., and so language learning must be learning words put together”  (Chapman, L. 1958, Teaching English to Beginners. p88. )   “Be friends with your pupils. Let them help you to teach; they will then have the happiest of feelings about all their English lessons” (French, F. 1949. The Teaching of English Abroad: Part II The Junior Course. p.33.) 

Comments

I love these quotes.  For me not only because I agree with some, but because they prove that methods/methodology are not linear affairs and that we are not progressing along some sort of enlightenment pathway towards the ultimate truth. The best way of doing things is always a matter of interpretation. I think there is a bit of a tendency in ELT to believe that we are getting better and better when in fact this can only happen by accepting first and foremost that ELT, like any other field, is full of diverse opinions which reflect different ideas/ideologies.

Standing back and really "seeing" that is really important.  Thank goodness as it is easy to feel swamped by the popular belief that everything which went before CLT (as if this were a unified concept) was a waste of time - clearly not true!  There has been creativity and dynamism around in language teaching forever, and it depends on who is doing the teaching and what questions they are asking.  Nice one!

Yes, Sara, I have to admit that I myself fell for the "grand modernist narrative", i.e. the steady progress from methodological darkness into light. Reading Kelly's wonderful (1969) "25 centuries of Language Teaching" I realise how right he was in saying that “Old approaches return, but as their social and intellectual context are changed, they seem entirely new” (p. 396). That was written before the advent of CLT, but CLT was itself a re-kindling of the ideas that motivated the Reform Movement in the late nineteenth century.

Both developments represented a reaction away from an orthodoxy perceived as being out of touch with learners’ needs, and out of synch with educational reality. Both approaches decried the form-focused teaching procedures and materials currently in use. The direct method offered an alternative to the grammar-translation fixation on decontextualised sentences of dubious usefulness (“The old-fashioned disconnected sentences proved to be a failure for many reasons, and one reason was because there was nothing else to do with them but to translate them” (Jespersen 1904, pp. 190-191). In the same spirit, the communicative approach countered the existing structuralist paradigm, as represented by audiolingualism (the direct method’s natural successor), with the argument that “an overemphasis on drills and exercises for the production and reception of sentences tends to inhibit the development of communicative abilities” (Widdowson 1978, p. 67). 

 

Both reforms invoked the notion of communication as not only the goal of language learning but also the means to achieving that goal.  Jespersen wrote, “Language is not an end in itself, … it is a means of communication” (1904, p. 4) and added, “we ought to learn a language through sensible communication” (op cit., p. 11). Seventy-five years later, Allwright (1979) was making the same point: “If communication is THE aim, then it should be THE major element in the process” (p. 167, emphasis in original). 

Thanks for gathering these wise words Scott!

[quote=Jo Budden]Thanks for gathering these wise words Scott![/quote]

My pleasure, Jo. I particularly like the Strevens quote. Don't you?

S.

Hi again. Feeling what google scholar's punchline says- Stand on the shoulders of giants. I'm in right company and I enjoy returning. Thanks for the insightful posts.

What an interesting hobby. I think this possibly ties in quite well with your other thread about methods. One can't but help notice how someone could take one or two of these simple but sound ideas and possibly try to build an entire, and unecessarily thorough, method out of them.

Perhaps, if we just take on as much good advice as we can, without turning every good idea into the latest fad (or method) we wouldn't have to bother becoming eclectic in our approach when the next fad comes along.

[quote=Duncan M]

Perhaps, if we just take on as much good advice as we can, without turning every good idea into the latest fad (or method) we wouldn't have to bother becoming eclectic in our approach when the next fad comes along.

[/quote]

 

Good point, Duncan. In fact, that's what some scholars such as Kumaravadivelu (see my article on Methods, on this site, for references), who are aligned to a "post-method condition", are attempting to do, by suggesting a finite set of macro-stratgeies for effective teaching. Allwright's (2003) "Exploratory Practice" framework offers similar good advice, e.g. "Put quality of life first; work primarily to understand language classroom life; involve everybody; work to  bring people together..."  All good stuff, although perhaps just a whiff of the Boy Scout pledge!

I suppose my concern is that 'a finite set of micro strategies' is actually a method in disguise if someone else is telling me what those principles are, or should be.

My devil's advocacy has now swung the other way: perhaps it takes someone to make a mountain out of a molehill (or a method out of a principle) before it can become widely accepted and thus one of the 'micro strategies' that you mention? The most obvious example is the delightful Chapman quote from 1958:

“Language is not words, but words together; it is not
word—word—word, etc., but word + word + word, etc., and so language
learning must be learning words put together”

This idea seems to form the foundation of quite a number of recent books, and yet perhaps it is only because of all those books that this profoundly simple idea now has such a clear resonance?

Perhaps any idea needs to be built up into something fundamentally elaborate before its simplicity can take hold? Maybe we do need to build the idea of wandering into a classroom without materials into a 'method' before it can be taken seriously as nothing more than another simple, practical, useful idea?

[quote=Duncan M]

I suppose my concern is that 'a finite set of micro strategies' is actually a method in disguise if someone else is telling me what those principles are, or should be. [/quote]

 

Yes, this is a fair comment, and one that in fact has been made before (e.g. Bell, D. 2003 'Method and postmethod: Are they really so incompatible?' TESOL Quarterly 37/2). I suppose that the postmethodists would argue that their macrostrategies (and yes it is macro- that wasn't a typo!) are not prescriptions at the level of actual classroom procedures, but more at the level of principle. But still prescriptions, arguably. Prabhu, on the other hand, argued that teachers should simply aim to achieve "a sense of plausibility" in their teaching, i.e. that it should feel right to them according to their own principles (Prabhu, N. 1990 'There is no best method - Why?' TESOL Q 24/2).  The notion of 'plausibility' sits uncomfortably with the culture of 'accountability' that is rife in most educational instititutions nowadays. But that's another story...