Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Question of Terminology

David-BarkerBy David Barker
Author and Publisher of Materials for Japanese Learners of English

Back to Basics Blog for Teachers

I am writing this entry in response to a question that was posted by Scott on one of my older entries, “Why I am not a fan of the Communicative Approach.” Here is what Scott wrote:

Hi David,

I’m doing an MA Tesol and one of my assignments is on CLT. I’ve scoured several textbooks and about a thousand websites, but no one seems to really define what CLT actually is! Although, there are plenty of texts that say what it ISN’T. Any thoughts on how to define it?!

Here is my answer:

Hi Scott,

I’m afraid you have come up against one of the biggest problems in ELT, which is the lack of a body of universally accepted definitions and terms. Here is my own interpretation of how and why we have ended up with this state of affairs.

As any successful learner knows, languages are learned rather than taught. Learning a foreign language as an adult requires an enormous investment of time and effort, and teaching methods and materials are only a tiny part of the puzzle. However, as these are the only things that we can directly control, their importance gets blown out of all proportion.

As teaching is so relatively unimportant in the big picture of language learning, new ideas and theories about materials and methods tend to have very little impact on actual outcomes. When one new method or approach turns out to be less effective than its proponents initially claimed, this leaves the field open for the next contender. And so the cycle continues.

If you look back over the history of ELT, you will see a series of what were actually nothing more than limited insights into the learning process or good ideas for activities being put forward as all-encompassing teaching methods.

What tended to happen is the following cycle:

  1. Teachers are told that a revolutionary new method or approach has been discovered, and that what they have been doing so far is wrong and should be abandoned immediately. At this point, the new idea is usually clearly defined, easy to understand, and intuitively appealing. It is also likely to be quite idealistic and quite impractical. (Suggestopedia, anyone?)
  2. Teachers realize that the method/approach has some useful new ideas, but also that implementing it in its “pure” form would be impossible. As a result, they integrate the parts of it that they like into what they were doing before while claiming to be following the new orthodoxy. Confusion begins to arise about the new idea as teachers notice that others who are claiming to be doing the same thing as them are actually doing something quite different.
  3. Supporters of the method/approach try to justify the original idea by “toning down” some of its claims. As you very astutely noted, this defence tends to take the form of saying what the new idea / method is not rather than what it is.
  4. As the number of these “weak forms” of the initial idea increases, everyone ends up totally confused about what it actually is.

This is pretty much exactly what happened with CLT, which is why you cannot find a standard definition.

As I understand it, (and I must stress that this really is just my own interpretation), the original insight of CLT was that communication is not just the goal of language learning, but actually the method by which languages are learned. In other words, we don’t just learn in order to communicate; we communicate in order to learn.

This was definitely a useful insight, and it is difficult to argue with unless it is taken to mean, “languages can only be learned through authentic communication,” i.e., that all language teaching must be Communicative. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened with CLT.

Eventually, teachers and academics realized that students still wanted and needed plenty of “non-communicative” teaching as well, which meant that defenders of CLT had to come up with different ways of defining so that it did not sound quite so extreme.

I think I mentioned this in my original post, but I remember having a debate with a Japanese university professor about the efficacy of CLT. He was very much in favor of it, and I was very skeptical. After arguing for about an hour, we realized that we were actually talking about two very different things. He assured me that under the “latest” and “most authoritative” definition, CLT refers to any kind of teaching that over the long term aims to improve the students’ ability to communicate. So basically, just “teaching” then!

A similar problem can be seen today with Task-Based Teaching. TBT began with the idea that tasks were the best way to organize language teaching. (Once again, I should note that this is my own interpretation.) The key proposition was that the language to be taught should arise naturally from meaning-focused tasks rather than being pre-selected by the teacher. Of course, this didn’t generally work in practice, so new definitions began to emerge. These generally refer to differing degrees of incorporating tasks into a broader syllabus, something that teachers and materials writers have doing for years anyway. The problem now is that many of these teachers claim that what they are doing is Task-Based Teaching when it is nothing of the sort. If you ever have to write a paper about TBT, therefore, I’m afraid you will run into exactly the same problems of definition.

In a paper I read recently, the respected academic Rod Ellis says that criticisms of TBT “reflect a failure to acknowledge that multiple versions of task-based teaching exist.” The same can probably be said of CLT. If this is true, however, then surely it is not possible to have any kind of meaningful debate about either of them.

To answer your original question, the reason that you were unable to find a single, universally accepted definition of CLT is simply that there isn’t one. For the purposes of writing a master’s paper on the topic, I would suggest that you discuss the difficulty you had finding a definition and conclude that, “there does not appear to be a consensus within the profession as to what CLT actually means.” Unfortunately, I guarantee that you will find teachers who tell you that an authoritative definition does indeed exist, and I also guarantee that whatever they tell you, you will have no trouble finding others who disagree with it. Such is the nature of terminology in ELT.

Hope that helps!

Comments

Comment from Fresh Sawdust
January 11, 2017 at 5:57 pm

Hi David. You don’t need an accepted definition of CLT to ask basic but still communicatively-informative questions about the language you’re teaching or learning, and it’s easy to show how asking such questions would help improve the (inauthentic) classroom practice that you’ve endorsed (especially in your earlier article), and incidentally debunk the strawman”No inauthentic questions!” CLTer that you’ve painted (that is, genuine CLTer objections may have more to do with possible alternatives than with having NO alternatives, but as you unwilling or unable to grasp the communicative mindset, you’re consequently unable to posit what those alternatives might be, which is I think doing the reader, or at least the casual reader, to say nothing of more capable CLTers, a disservice).

For example, the paired questions of ‘What is your name?’ and ‘How do you spell it?’ (‘How do you spell that?’ (deixis 101?)) from that (French) lesson you took are a *possible* pairing (assuming the name presents any real spelling difficulties), but who is asking the question, and why? Brisk receptionists (too brisk?), perhaps, but for anyone else this will hardly be conversational gold dust, and there are in any case more straightforward, and yes, somewhat “non-communicative” ways to practice the alphabet (e.g. The Alphabet Song; lists of initialisms; spelling bees for tricky words; and possibly the NATO phonetic alphabet or similar), so why not teach the students how to e.g. start conversations with “strangers” in a more interesting and authentic way than engaging in apparent language banditry? Pseudo communication indeed.

It’s a similar storywith the (Japanese) lesson you took, although there it isn’t so much the question (asking for the whereabouts of things, which is an understandable and necessary-enough need sometimes) or indeed the answer (the students are after all in on the pantomime, and prepositions or similar aren’t that hard to learn in such basic senses in my experience) that’s the problem, but rather the assumption being made in the phrasing regarding the .”knownness” of “the” (i.e. quite which) pen etc. Back in the real world, people could be forgiven for asking ‘Er, what pen?’, but in the sort of “easy” lesson that you apparently love (easy for the teacher, but of no great help to the student) you decree that prepositions, not determiners nor any other form of identifying modification for the noun concerned, is to be today’s focus, and are thus content with the imposition of rhetoric and pseudo-phrasing that needs the pantomime to support it. Unfortunately real English is more complex than that (e.g. even if we were to simply say ‘Where’s my pen?’, it still might need further describing), so the least we could do is compile lists of nouns that actually support the definite reference (the remote control, the board eraser, the keys, rack rack), and an ambitious lesson might consider the differences within a set of examples such as (on the street) ‘Is there a toilet around here?’ (or possibly ‘Where’s the nearest toilet?’ for more advanced students needing to get to grips with the aforementioned identifying modifications), cf. ?/*Where’s a toilet?, versus (in a restaurant) simply ‘Where’s the toilet?’, versus (if you’re a new guest in somebody’s home) perhaps ‘Can I use your toilet? (which solves both the whereabouts and a permission to use question in the one utterance). But even if we stick to just your focus on producing prepositions, improving the article usage in the questions will at least aid passive acquisition of that “unrelated” area.

I hope the above will help people appreciate and now give due consideration to factors of authenticity, complexity (though this is obviously systematic when taken as a whole rather than in too select or patently invented parts), and real-world use, but if you and others would prefer (perhaps due to time constraints or whatever other excuses) to continue to confine your practice to pseudo communication, then so be it. All I can say to that however is that the more thought one gives to authenticity (and if necessary consulting authentic data etc), the easier it becomes easier to design more realistic, wide-ranging and thus effective practice. Don’t knock it until you’ve actually tried it.

Comment from David Barker
January 11, 2017 at 11:57 pm

Hi Fresh Sawdust,

Thank you for your long and considered comment. The number of parenthetical elements threw me a bit, but I think I understand what you are saying. Please correct me if I have misinterpreted anything.

The first thing that struck me was your reference to “genuine” and “more capable” CLTers. I cannot help wondering how these people might be identified and who would be the arbitrator of claims to such illustrious titles. I have never met anyone who self-identified as a CLTer while adding “but not a particularly genuine or capable one.” That was the crux of my argument, really: I can’t say what a “genuine” CLTer is because I don’t know what “genuine” CLT is.

I would also take issue with your assertion that the “No inauthentic questions!” CLTer is a straw man argument. I have met many teachers making this claim during my career, and the idea that nothing should be included in an ELT lesson unless it is authentic was sacrosanct when I did my initial CELTA course. To be fair, that was way back in 1992, but that was definitely the governing philosophy in mainstream ELT teacher training at the time. Much later in my career, I remember attending a presentation where a teacher in the audience stood up in the middle and shouted, “But I would never have a conversation like that in real life!” I guess that you might argue that she was not a “genuine” or “capable” CLTer, but I suspect that she would claim that she was, so that just brings us back to the problem of who adjudicates on those claims.

In reference to my example from my Japanese lesson, you said, “in the sort of “easy” lesson that you apparently love (easy for the teacher, but of no great help to the student).” I’m not sure what you mean there, because as I think I made clear, I was the student in that class, not the teacher, and I found the exercise extremely helpful. What I needed at that stage in my language development was practice in manipulating the structures, slowly, and with time to think about it. It did not matter to me in the slightest that what I was doing was not authentic. Of course, I fully appreciated that I would never have conversations like that outside the classroom, but I also realised that I would need to use prepositions in real-world exchanges, and I wanted to take some time to practise them in isolation without worrying about the context.

Perhaps the tone of my article caused me to misrepresent my position, but just to clarify, I am not against either authenticity or genuine communication in the ELT classroom. What I was trying to say is that it is quite possible for classroom exercises and activities to be extremely helpful and beneficial for students without being either authentic or communicative. Regarding my thoughts on CLT itself, my position remains that it makes no sense for anyone to claim to be either for it or against it until we reach a consensus on what it actually is. In my opinion, unless we can properly define key terms in our field, our claim to be a profession will always be a weak one.

Comment from Fresh Sawdust
January 12, 2017 at 2:40 pm

Hello again David (or should I say Dr Barker!), thanks for replying, especially so promptly! 🙂 I’d’ve replied quicker myself had I not had some non-ELTy tasks to complete. Sorry also for the parentheses, but I find they become a bit unavoidable when adding lots of little points, reformulations or asides here and there, and when time for rewriting and shortening things down isn’t infinite. 🙁 😉 Oh and I also like smileys a bit, as you can see. 😀 Anyway, I’ll try to make this post a bit more readable, and having your post to respond to helps!

Regarding who is and isn’t a CLTer (or what is and isn’t CLT), there are actually plenty of teachers (in fact I’d hazard that it’s the majority, if internet discussions are anything to go by) who do and thus see nothing wrong with lessons pretty much like the ones you took, yet they(‘d) consider themselves Communicative teachers through and through, and often have at least a CELTA or similar to “prove” it. The bar is thus pretty low as to what constitutes “communication”, so one man’s (your) perceived absence of it is another’s “generous dollop” (so you both see each as helping[s], in your “different” ways). Either way, you both feel that what you each do is (in:)authentic enough for certainly just a classroom (mere practice, drills etc), and as we generally just call ourselves language teachers rather than communicative language teachers, the (big) C can in literal practice lie dormant, merely assumed and paid the scantest lip-service, most of the time…unless of course the “unfortunate” teacher gets a wannabe heretic or apostate observing or advising them against the orthodoxy of the day.

Anyway the reason for the above “confusing” state of affairs surely has something to do with how mere method- rather than approach-level thinking took over CLT (thanks, UCLES, BC etc), meaning that the revolution wasn’t as through as some would like to believe (and for anyone who hasn’t read it, Lewis’ The Lexical Approach is pretty good on how founding principles were abandoned and often throwback methods “fallen back” on, simply for want of actually understanding or trying that much with the new. Thornbury also isn’t bad for at least tracing more continuities than suggesting that there should be “too many” discontinuities).

Now I’m not saying that one needs to go dusting off old Widdowsons or Brumfit & Johnson or Wilkins or Hymes or whatever, as it should be obvious enough that one of the central aims of CLT was (and still is) to consider real-world factors and expand and/or amend the stock of linguistic items such that the user’s (learner’s) general if not specific communicative needs are being adequately met. From that quasi-definition it should furthermore be obvious that utterances like ‘Where’s the pen?’, while “fine” in a strictly-controlled and rhetoric-laced classroom, become adrift and indeed cannot but seem functionally inappropriate in the real world (unless one is e.g. witnessing an argument between someone looking for a pen that they know the other knows about, and presume has stolen, but since when did dramas like that ever get a real look-in in most classrooms).

To repeat what I said before, the definite article there is making an assumption that the noun concerned generally does not warrant, to which I’d add that there are in any case more polite and indirect ways of asking (versus pretty much brusquely demanding) where things might be: ‘Do you know where…?’, ‘Have you seen…?’, and so on (hence the function of Asking Where Things Might Be can be fulfilled by more than just the one exponent of ‘Where’s…’). You really need to address this issue of “linguistic stock” (and thus why some, dare I call them genuine CLTers again, might place little stock in your limited selections) to understand what the essence of CLT is (IMHO). Otherwise, and with all due respect, you will continue to seem more interested in abstractions and perhaps too-fine or artificial distinctions than in fully grasping the nettle of how to more substantially increase (real-world) communicative ability.

Personally, I take words like ‘where’, ‘pen’, ‘book’ and ‘under’ either as a given, or (if teaching absolute beginnners) will make the trickier of the items (“e.g.” ‘the’) more amenable to learning and indeed acquisition (or is that a totally false dichotomy in your classroom world? Or, do you just leave the acquisition, the “real learning”, to the real world? etc LOL). I certainly didn’t find it too hard to learn such basic Japanese under my own steam, and recall getting eyeroll strain when the couple of JFL lessons that I had to sit through during my initial JET prefectural induction went through cr*pola like ‘Kore wa pen desu (ka?)’ (‘Iie. Sore wa PPAP’ ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1W3sslyiUfg :)). “Bonus”: my sis once told me about her JFL learning experience (just the one or two lessons before she voted with her feet LOL) and it was exactly the same for her, right down to the pen example. I asked her if she could think of more compelling alternatives, but as she isn’t a language teacher let alone a CLTer, her mind drew a blank. She was duly impressed with my (off-the-top-of-my-bonce) suggestion that one might be better looking through each other’s photo albums and explaining or asking questions about the people, places etc pictured, but “it’s hardly rocket science”, is it!

Hope all that answers the questions you had in your second paragraph (‘I have never met anyone who self-identified as a CLTer while adding “but not a particularly genuine or capable one.” That was the crux of my argument, really: I can’t say what a “genuine” CLTer is because I don’t know what “genuine” CLT is’), and to showing that I for one am not making claims to illustrious titles, but simply trying to point out what the linguistic facts and allied “behaviours” are “beyond” the classroom, as opposed to the easy fictions that are peddled within most of them (CLT banner or not hanging on their door). The “final” arbitrator or arbiter is thus the language itself, no matter how much one would prefer to simplify, escape from, or ignore it, and as I’ve often said in various discussions, ‘It (the language itself) contains, provides, could well be, the very methodology, provided one looks closely enough at it’.

I am not by the way opposed to things like rote learning of vocabulary (best done at home though, just invest in a decent dictionary!), a certain amount of drilling, giving succinct instructions and explanations (in the students’ L1 if possible, when teaching mononational rather than multinational classes I mean, as this helps prevent a “wall of sound” in which the actual L2 focus items can get lost) etc, so I’m not arguing for 100% real-time communication all the er time as there’d be quite a lot of silent downtime if we did that (even though, to misquote Debussy, “a good half of music is the spaces between the notes”), but the less authentic is ultimately no substitute for as much honest-to-goodness, as-near-authentic instantiation (“Be the examples”) as possible. I’m always amazed at how many teachers plump for invented, artificial-sounding examples and arm’s-length instruction when more authentic communication could be just within their and the students’ grasp (were certainly the teacher to bother to make better selections). Why the divide between classroom and real world? It’s not like most classrooms supercharge that much (other than money, from impressionable and potentially wishful if not lazy students). Point taken though that many supposedly “hardcore” CLTers may be drifting along not daring to do anything at all “inauthentic” (while also not doing anything that communicative either, I suspect and like I said above!).

Just for a final laugh (and if you’ve got the time), can I ask what you make of the following two beauties (sources in brackets)? Do they strike you as fine and dandy, “approved” (approvable?), good (for) teaching? Granted they’re a bit more complex than pens and books and names, but it doesn’t seem as if the thinking behind the pedagogy presented has increased at all commensurably to cope with and indeed help reduce the extra demands that will be being placed upon any students unfortunate enough to have to sit and suffer through this “teaching through” the language (in the same way a bulldozer bulldozes snow aside, say).

> ‘They’d started the meeting when she arrived’ (Given only a “She was late” rather than any possible “No she wasn’t!” reading via the CCQs [urghh] and “contrasting” ‘They started the meeting when she arrived’ in Gower et al’s TP Handbook [Heinemann, 1996], but similar stuff is presented in e.g. Aiken’s still in-print Teaching Tenses. I mean, it’s not like the Past Perfect example could be describing the same event as the Simple Past one, just in somewhat “Rewound” or “Flashback” rather than straightforward “Play” mode, is it?! NB: Do NOT mention ‘already’ and ‘by the time’!)

> ‘We ran downstairs to find our wonderful presents [which were] hidden under the tree’ (Rolf Tynan masterclass on “reduced relative clauses”, from the DVD accompanying Harmer’s TPOELT. Whatever you do, don’t mention COMMAS!!)

Comment from Fresh Sawdust
January 12, 2017 at 3:57 pm

Oops 4th to last paragraph’s final sentence reads better thus:

Point taken though that many supposedly “hardcore” CLTers may be drifting along not wanting to do anything too rote (I hesitate to say inauthentic, see next clause), while at the same time not doing anything particularly communicative either, I suspect (but hey, I’m just repeating myself now)!

Comment from Fresh Sawdust
January 12, 2017 at 5:51 pm

Tl:dr version of our posts might be that rote is rote (which is fine, assuming one is mastering actual facts and relative norms), but that inauthentic is often just plain inauthentic (or, the mental effort required to internally if not externally “authenticate” the “usage” may simply not be worth it).

Putting that another way, just as nobody would want to be learning words from a dictionary that had too many latent or plain unattested usages in it, nor should anyone want to be trying to learn grammar from too many “purpose-invented” sentences.

Comment from Fresh Sawdust
January 13, 2017 at 5:28 pm

My reply to you is still awaiting approval (perhaps due to being longer than average), David, so I’ve posted it over on eslcafe (where I’m fluffytwo by the way). I actually first posted some thoughts on your article there rather than here, but as the discussion there can be quite slow or lacking nowadays, I rewrote things a bit and posted here too. Anyway I don’t want to keep bothering you and think we’ve both made the points we wanted to. All I’ll say in closing is that in my opinion, unless we can properly select and contextualize key language more convincingly in our lessons, our claim to be a helpful and progressive profession will always be a weak one. 🙂

Comment from Fresh Sawdust
January 14, 2017 at 5:47 pm

OK, one last try…

So, you’ve done a masterclass on prepositions e.g. placing a pen under a book then solemnly intoning “Where is the pen? Why, it’s under the book!”.

Most of the students loved it, but one pain of a bespectacled student timidly raises their hand and in a fearful quavering voice asks ‘Please Sir, why do we use ‘THE pen’ there?”.

Do you

A) glare at them and tight-lippedly hiss that as you’ve shown them which pen they should damn well be able to understand why the ‘the’ was used (even though asking about pens that people have seen you “hide” is hardly a real-world activity, and introduces a Showwinger’s pen-like quality to the lesson – Is the pen hidden, or not? – and all this simply for the sake of practicing prepositions, which was of course the lesson’s only possible focus),

or

B) at least rethink your choice of sought items next time (e.g. ‘Where’s the remote control for the TV?’), if not the style of the query generally (‘Hey, have you seen or do you know where the/my/David’s…is?’)?

Comment from David Barker
January 15, 2017 at 9:07 pm

Sorry, I was away over the weekend. I think the blog administrator approved it for me.

Comment from David Barker
January 15, 2017 at 9:28 pm

Or C) answer, “Because both the speaker and the listener know which pen they are talking about,” and then get back to the preposition practice.

I don’t know how much of a monster my article made me seem, but I think I must have misrepresented my teaching philosophy quite seriously if you think that a) I would consider a student who asked a question to be “a pain,” b) a student in my class would be fearful of asking a question, or c) any student in my class would call me “Sir”! (All my students call me David.)

Anyway, I don’t see how this would lend any support to arguments in favour of either CLT or authenticity. In my opinion, contrived situations and rote activities are a far better way to teach (and learn) articles than “communicative” ones. If I wanted to teach the difference between “a” and “the” (as I have done countless times in my life), I would explain it (possibly using a totally made up and unrealistic story that nevertheless showed how the use of articles can completely change the meaning), and then have the students do gap-fill exercises where they had to choose the appropriate article for each sentence.

Please also remember that the anecdote regarding preposition practice was from my own experience of learning Japanese, a language that does not have articles. And rest assured that I am not particularly obsessed with the teaching of prepositions! I was simply using that story as an example of how an activity that could not in any way be described as either communicative or authentic was actually very beneficial and interesting for me, the learner. You may disagree, but a) you weren’t there, b) you aren’t me, and c) I ultimately succeeded in learning the language to a level where I was able to write books and give presentations in it, so I must have done something right along the way.

Anyway, thanks for the interesting discussion. If you have not done so already, I would urge you to read Michael Swan’s articles on CLT. He makes the case against it (and the need for authenticity) in a much more eloquent way than I ever could.

Comment from Fresh Sawdust
January 16, 2017 at 9:08 am

Hello again David, hope you had a good weekend! 🙂 My first reply to you still isn’t appearing however, so please try and fix that as it’ll help those trying to follow the discussion here. For example, in it I addressed the status of the practice you are recommending (from the ‘while “fine”…’ bit):

<<>>

Or let me again put all that another way. In your sort of syllabus, the student will have to rely on some potentially quite distant lesson (presumably later than previous) to really get to grips with articles etc (relative clauses and what have you) to make the ‘Where’s the pen?’ line of questioning clearer if not more appropriate, but in mine, ‘Hmm, where’s the e.g. remote control?’ has given the students something that makes total sense immediately and could thus be used in the real world no problem and without the waiting in limbo to (if ever!) be authenticated (sorry to sound like Widdowson there).

If you cannot see the value of authenticity with regards to basic vocabulary selection~immediate functional pay-off , then I’m not sure there is any point in seeking more rarefied definitions or discussions of ‘authentic’ (besides, you rather begged off of those in your previous article, as you were tired from your PhD. Now it seems to be the reverse eh). It basically comes down to a numbers game: countless people have asked and will for the forseeable future still have a need to ask ‘Where’s the remote control?’, but the number of people who (outside of classrooms I mean) ask ‘Where’s the pen? with no further elaboration, or use of other determiners entirely, must surely be relatively small, almost insignificant.

I can’t claim to have written books in Japanese, but I’ve presented lessons using non-trivial amounts of it in elementary schools (I dislike exclusively “Direct” method, too “wall of sound”, especially for that age group), so I have at least some basics down. I think it would be more accurate to say that one reaches whatever level often in spite of than necessarily due to classroom lessons, but I’ll admit that even self-study courses are teachers of a kind (but at least one can shut those close and find alternative references if they’re lacking in certain respects!), especially if they are generally unimaginative LOL.

I did by the way read the pair of Swan articles before even posting on eslcafe, and it seems the main point in them that you’ve latched onto is the apparent refusal of “too-communicative” types to ever ask an inauthentic question, despite people like me trying here to show that that translates into far more than an empty vacuous refusal to do anything, but rather into always striving to ask authentic ones – authentic at least in terms of being useful in the real world beyond the classroom, rather than in necessarily knowing the answer (that is, the whereabouts of the remote control are quite immaterial if I seem unable to find it at the moment of asking for its whereabouts). Nobody is opposed to a bit of play acting, but many are understandably opposed to misrepresenting the language and making it disfunctional or too simplified for longer-term gain. That really is a pantomime too far.

Or, to turn what seems to be your central pillar on its head, why can’t “non-communicative” teachers (though like I say, I’ve seen little real difference between your lessons and many a proud CELTA~DELTA holder’s) ask more communicative questions? As there seems little IMHO to be gained from the two example lessons you’ve shown here of the Non-Communicative “Approach” (your personal eventual higher level of Japanese notwithstanding).

Comment from Fresh Sawdust
January 16, 2017 at 9:10 am

Oops the bit within the <<>> didn’t appear, here goes again:

Now I’m not saying that one needs to go dusting off old Widdowsons or Brumfit & Johnson or Wilkins or Hymes or whatever, as it should be obvious enough that one of the central aims of CLT was (and still is) to consider real-world factors and expand and/or amend the stock of linguistic items such that the user’s (learner’s) general if not specific communicative needs are being adequately met. From that quasi-definition it should furthermore be obvious that utterances like ‘Where’s the pen?’, while “fine” in a sterile, overly-controlled and rhetoric-laced classroom, become adrift and indeed cannot but seem functionally inappropriate in the real world

Comment from Fresh Sawdust
January 16, 2017 at 10:27 am

Tl:dr x666 is that it probably helps if students (and teachers!) don’t have to second guess the presented language too much.

Oh, and I note that in one of your other articles you question the validity of what monolingual plenary speakers have to say. Me, I have time for monoglots, provided they say that they’re still busy learning about English or whatever their L1 is! Unfortunately, pen-centered methodology (not that it’s a conference goldmine, right?) just doesn’t give me that feeling and isn’t ultimately saying much, sorry (despite or indeed because of [too much of] a focus on or distraction by the prepositions in this particular instance).

I’m glad that it works for you, but I’m sure that there is a sizable minority if not an actual majority of people who feel somewhat differently nowadays. I am one of them. Whenever I see a teacher doing too much pen or whatever panto, I switch off, as I don’t feel that teacher is giving their lessons sufficient thought for me to be able to trust using their examples willy nilly.

Yup, I know that articles aren’t a feature of Japanese (I’m not sure that prepositions are quite either LOL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preposition_and_postposition#Terminology ), but we’re dealing with the English version of that lesson, aren’t we!

Comment from Fresh Sawdust
January 16, 2017 at 10:29 am

[Posted again due to link (now cut) apparently being the thing requiring webmaster approval]

Tl:dr x666 is that it probably helps if students (and teachers!) don’t have to second guess the presented language too much.

Oh, and I note that in one of your other articles you question the validity of what monolingual plenary speakers have to say. Me, I have time for monoglots, provided they say that they’re still busy learning about English or whatever their L1 is! Unfortunately, pen-centered methodology (not that it’s a conference goldmine, right?) just doesn’t give me that feeling and isn’t ultimately saying much, sorry (despite or indeed because of [too much of] a focus on or distraction by the prepositions in this particular instance).

I’m glad that it works for you, but I’m sure that there is a sizable minority if not an actual majority of people who feel somewhat differently nowadays. I am one of them. Whenever I see a teacher doing too much pen or whatever panto, I switch off, as I don’t feel that teacher is giving their lessons sufficient thought for me to be able to trust using their examples willy nilly.

Yup, I know that articles aren’t a feature of Japanese (I’m not sure that prepositions are quite either, see the Terminology section in the wiki article on Preposition and postposition), but we’re dealing with the English version of that lesson, aren’t we!

Comment from Fresh Sawdust
January 16, 2017 at 10:32 am

And here finally is my first reply to you David, again sans the offending link, glad I could do the webmaster’s work for them]

Hello again David (or should I say Dr Barker!), thanks for replying, especially so promptly! Smile I’d’ve replied quicker myself had I not had some non-ELTy tasks to complete. Sorry also for the parentheses, but I find they become a bit unavoidable when adding lots of little points, reformulations or asides here and there, and when time for rewriting and shortening things down isn’t infinite. Sad Wink Oh and I also like smileys a bit, as you can see. Very Happy Anyway, I’ll try to make this post a bit more readable, and having your post to respond to helps!

Regarding who is and isn’t a CLTer (or what is and isn’t CLT), there are actually plenty of teachers (in fact I’d hazard that it’s the majority, if internet discussions are anything to go by) who do and thus see nothing wrong with lessons pretty much like the ones you took, yet they(‘d) consider themselves Communicative teachers through and through, and often have at least a CELTA or similar to “prove” it. The bar is thus pretty low as to what constitutes “communication”, so one man’s (your) perceived absence of it is another’s “generous dollop” (so you each see yourselves as helping[s], in your “different” ways). Either way, you both feel that what you each do is (in:)authentic enough for certainly just a classroom (mere practice, drills etc), and as we generally just call ourselves language teachers rather than communicative language teachers, the (big) C can in literal practice lie dormant, merely assumed and paid the scantest lip-service, most of the time…unless of course the “unfortunate” teacher gets a wannabe heretic or apostate observing or advising them against the orthodoxy of the day.

Anyway the reason for the above “confusing” state of affairs surely has something to do with how mere method- rather than approach-level thinking took over CLT (thanks, UCLES, BC etc), meaning that the revolution wasn’t as thorough as some would like to believe (and for anyone who hasn’t read it, Lewis’ The Lexical Approach is pretty good on how founding principles were abandoned and often throwback methods “fallen back” on, simply for want of actually understanding or trying that much with the new. Thornbury also isn’t bad, at least for tracing continuities than rocking the boat “too much”).

Now I’m not saying that one needs to go dusting off old Widdowsons or Brumfit & Johnson or Wilkins or Hymes or whatever, as it should be obvious enough that one of the central aims of CLT was (and still is) to consider real-world factors and expand and/or amend the stock of linguistic items such that the user’s (learner’s) general if not specific communicative needs are being adequately met. From that quasi-definition it should furthermore be obvious that utterances like ‘Where’s the pen?’, while “fine” in a sterile, overly-controlled and rhetoric-laced classroom, become adrift and indeed cannot but seem functionally inappropriate in the real world (unless one is e.g. witnessing an argument between someone looking for a pen that they know the other knows about, and presume has stolen, but since when did dramas like that ever get a real look-in in most classrooms).

To repeat what I said before, the definite article there is making an assumption that the noun concerned generally does not warrant, to which I’d add that there are in any case more polite and indirect ways of asking (versus pretty much brusquely demanding) where things might be: ‘Do you know where…?’, ‘Have you seen…?’, and so on (hence the function of Asking Where Things Might Be can be fulfilled by more than just the one exponent of ‘Where’s…’). You really need to address this issue of “linguistic stock” (and thus why some, dare I call them genuine CLTers again, might place little stock in your limited selections) to understand what the essence of CLT is (IMHO). Otherwise, and with all due respect, you will continue to seem more interested in abstractions and perhaps too-fine or artificial distinctions than in fully grasping the nettle of how to more substantially increase (real-world) communicative ability.

Personally, I take words like ‘where’, ‘pen’, ‘book’ and ‘under’ either as a given, or (if teaching absolute beginnners) will make the trickier of the items (“e.g.” ‘the’) more amenable to learning and indeed acquisition (or is that a totally false dichotomy in your classroom world? Or, do you just leave the acquisition, the “real learning”, to the real world? etc LOL). I certainly didn’t find it too hard to learn such basic Japanese under my own steam, and recall getting eyeroll strain when the couple of JFL lessons that I had to sit through during my initial JET prefectural induction went through cr*pola like ‘Kore wa pen desu (ka?)’ (‘Iie. Sore wa PPAP’ (look up that now infamous song on YouTube LOL)). “Bonus”: my sis once told me about her JFL learning experience (just the one or two lessons before she voted with her feet LOL) and it was exactly the same for her, right down to the pen example. I asked her if she could think of more compelling alternatives, but as she isn’t a language teacher let alone a CLTer, her mind drew a blank. She was duly impressed with my (off-the-top-of-my-bonce) suggestion that one might be better looking through each other’s photo albums and explaining or asking questions about the people, places etc pictured, but “it’s hardly rocket science”, is it!

Hope all that answers the questions you had in your second paragraph (‘I have never met anyone who self-identified as a CLTer while adding “but not a particularly genuine or capable one.” That was the crux of my argument, really: I can’t say what a “genuine” CLTer is because I don’t know what “genuine” CLT is’), and to showing that I for one am not making claims to illustrious titles, but simply trying to point out what the linguistic facts and allied “behaviours” are “beyond” the classroom, as opposed to the easy fictions that are peddled within most of them (CLT banner or not hanging on their door). The “final” arbitrator or arbiter is thus the language itself, no matter how much one would prefer to simplify, escape from, or ignore it, and as I’ve often said in various discussions, ‘It (the language itself) contains, provides, could well be, the very methodology, provided one looks closely enough at it’.

I am not by the way opposed to things like rote learning of vocabulary (best done at home though, just invest in a decent dictionary!), a certain amount of drilling, giving succinct instructions and explanations (in the students’ L1 if possible, when teaching mononational rather than multinational classes I mean, as this helps prevent a “wall of sound” in which the actual L2 focus items can get lost) etc, so I’m not arguing for 100% real-time communication all the er time as there’d be quite a lot of silent downtime if we did that (even though, to misquote Debussy, “a good half of music is the spaces between the notes”), but the less authentic is ultimately no substitute for as much honest-to-goodness, as-near-authentic instantiation (“Be the examples”) as possible. I’m always amazed at how many teachers plump for invented, artificial-sounding examples and arm’s-length instruction when more authentic communication could be just within their and the students’ grasp (were certainly the teacher to bother to make better selections). Why the divide between classroom and real world? It’s not like most classrooms supercharge that much (other than money, from impressionable and potentially wishful if not lazy students). Point taken though that many supposedly “hardcore” CLTers may be drifting along not wanting to do anything too *rote* (I’d hesitate there to say inauthentic – for that, see next clause instead!), while at the same time not doing anything particularly communicative either, I suspect (but hey, I’m just repeating myself now)!

Tl:dr version of our posts might be that rote is rote (which is fine, assuming and PROVIDED THAT one is mastering actual facts and relative norms), but that inauthentic is indeed usually just plain inauthentic (or, the mental effort required to internally if not externally “authenticate” the “usage” may simply not be worth it – not that ‘Where’s the pen?’ is in quite the same league as things like that silly ‘Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo’ LOL). Putting that another way, just as nobody would want to be learning words from a dictionary that had too many latent or possibly unattestable usages in it (though how likely is that nowadays given that most learner dictionaries draw upon corpus data), nor should anyone want to be trying to learn grammar from too many “purpose-invented” sentences (this is however unfortunately still happening in classrooms, despite all the reams of authentic data, revealing criticism of inauthentic methods, etc). It’s counterproductive, doesn’t help get the hills of beans into tins any quicker.

Just for a final laugh (and if you’ve got the time), can I ask what you make of the following two beauties (sources in brackets)? Do they strike you as fine and dandy, “approved” (approvable?), good (for) teaching? Granted they’re a bit more complex than pens and books and names, but it doesn’t seem as if the thinking behind the pedagogy presented has increased at all commensurably to cope with and indeed help reduce the extra demands that will be being placed upon any students unfortunate enough to have to sit and suffer through this “teaching through” the language (in the same way a bulldozer bulldozes snow aside, say).

> ‘They’d started the meeting when she arrived’ (Given only a “She was late” rather than any possible “No she wasn’t!” reading via the CCQs [urghh] and “contrasting” ‘They started the meeting when she arrived’ in Gower et al’s TP Handbook [Heinemann, 1996], but similar stuff is presented in e.g. Aiken’s still in-print Teaching Tenses. I mean, it’s not like the Past Perfect example could be describing the same event as the Simple Past one, just in somewhat “Rewound” or “Flashback” rather than straightforward “Play” mode, is it?! NB: Do NOT mention ‘already’ and ‘by the time’, or partial alternatives like ‘without her’!)

> ‘We ran downstairs to find our wonderful presents [which were] hidden under the tree’ (Rolf Tynan masterclass on “reduced relative clauses”, from the DVD accompanying Harmer’s TPOELT. Whatever you do, don’t mention COMMAS!!)

Comment from Fresh Sawdust
January 16, 2017 at 10:44 am

And even Part B was still too long, jeez what a blog 🙁

Shorter Part B:

Personally, I take words like ‘where’, ‘pen’, ‘book’ and ‘under’ either as a given, or (if teaching absolute beginnners) will make the trickier of the items (“e.g.” ‘the’) more amenable to learning and indeed acquisition (or is that a totally false dichotomy in your classroom world? Or, do you just leave the acquisition, the “real learning”, to the real world? etc LOL). I certainly didn’t find it too hard to learn such basic Japanese under my own steam, and recall getting eyeroll strain when the couple of JFL lessons that I had to sit through during my initial JET prefectural induction went through cr*pola like ‘Kore wa pen desu (ka?)’ (‘Iie. Sore wa PPAP’ (look up that now infamous song on YouTube LOL)). “Bonus”: my sis once told me about her JFL learning experience (just the one or two lessons before she voted with her feet LOL) and it was exactly the same for her, right down to the pen example. I asked her if she could think of more compelling alternatives, but as she isn’t a language teacher let alone a CLTer, her mind drew a blank. She was duly impressed with my (off-the-top-of-my-bonce) suggestion that one might be better looking through each other’s photo albums and explaining or asking questions about the people, places etc pictured, but “it’s hardly rocket science”, is it!

Hope all that answers the questions you had in your second paragraph (‘I have never met anyone who self-identified as a CLTer while adding “but not a particularly genuine or capable one.” That was the crux of my argument, really: I can’t say what a “genuine” CLTer is because I don’t know what “genuine” CLT is’), and to showing that I for one am not making claims to illustrious titles, but simply trying to point out what the linguistic facts and allied “behaviours” are “beyond” the classroom, as opposed to the easy fictions that are peddled within most of them (CLT banner or not hanging on their door). The “final” arbitrator or arbiter is thus the language itself, no matter how much one would prefer to simplify, escape from, or ignore it, and as I’ve often said in various discussions, ‘It (the language itself) contains, provides, could well be, the very methodology, provided one looks closely enough at it’.

Comment from David Barker
January 16, 2017 at 7:07 pm

Hi again, thanks for all your comments, but I’m afraid I don’t have time to read them properly and respond at the moment. I’m sure they will be very interesting for anyone who has followed our discussion, though.

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