The official website of educator & arts patron Jack C Richards

Applied Linguistics’ Position and Future

Question:

Submitted by Mehran Darabi, Azad University, Iran

  1. What is the position of applied linguistics in relation to other language-related disciplines?
  2. What are some future directions in applied linguistics? Are corpus linguistics and CALL possible future directions?

Dr. Richards responds:

Applied linguistics refers to the study of language in relation to real-world issues. Language teaching is one branch of applied linguistics, but applied linguistics also sometimes includes such things as language and the law, language planning, and language in the media. Applied linguistics differs from other fields of language study that may have a descriptive or explanatory purposes but do not seek to resolve issues in education or society.

Corpus linguistics and CALL have been a part of applied linguistics for many years.  More recent issues in applied linguistics include World Englishes, the use of technology and the internet in language learning and teaching, translanguage language use as well as identity in language learning.

Principles of the Eclectic Approach

Question:

Tina, Ridgeway Campus UNZA, Zambia

What are the principles of the eclectic approach?

Dr. Richards responds:

The term “eclectic approach” refers to a teaching approach that is not based on a single method (e.g. task-based teaching, or CLIL) but that draws on several different method principles that are made use of in practice. It is a problem-based approach to teaching that is based on the following principles:

  • What particular problem do my learners encounter in mastering this aspect of language or language use?
  • What procedures can I make use of from available methods and approaches that could be used to address this problem?

Evaluation, Use, and Adaptation

Question:

Submitted by Mohamed Bakkas, Rabat, Morocco

What’s the difference between textbook evaluation, textbook use and textbook adaptation?

Dr. Richards responds:

Evaluation refers to the process by which a textbook is reviewed and assessed according to a set of criteria. There are a number of check-lists that have been developed for this purpose.

Textbook use refers to how a teacher implements a textbook in his or her class, and involved collecting information on how much time was spent on particular activities, what grouping arrangements the teacher made use of, and how he or she used realia and other course components. The focus is on description rather than evaluation.

Text book adaptation refers to changes the teacher made to the book to make it more suitable to a particular class. Changes could include adding or dropping activities, changing activities, replacing topics or content etc.

For further information see my book Key Issues in Language Teaching.

Qualifications

Question:

Submitted by L.K., Sri Lanka

Are qualifications such as CELTA and similar qualifications necessary to be an English teacher?

Dr. Richards responds:

Despite the fact that many people, whose only asset is their knowledge of English, still enter language teaching with no training or experience, English language teaching is not something that anyone who can speak English can do. It is a profession, which means that it is a career in a field of educational specialization. It requires a specialized knowledge base, obtained through both academic study and practical experience, and it is a field of work where membership is based on entry requirements and standards.

The professionalism of English teaching is seen in the growth industry devoted to providing language teachers with professional training and qualifications such as CELTA – a recognition of the fact that employers and institutions have come to realize that effective language-teaching programmes depend on teachers with specialized training, knowledge and skills. This professionalism is reflected in continuous attempts to develop standards for English language teaching and teachers and in the proliferation of professional journals and teacher magazines, conferences and professional organization. CELTA and similar qualifications are entry-level qualifications and are not equivalent to a university degree.

However not all university degrees are relevant to a career in teaching English. A degree in literature, for example, will not prepare a teacher to design and use teaching materials, prepare valid and reliable tests, use appropriate teaching methods, design curriculum and materials and so on, any more than a degree in history or geography would do so.

Teacher Training

Question:

Submitted by Paresh Kumar Bhoi, India

1.What goes into the pre-service training of a language teacher at the elementary level?

2. What skills and knowledge-bases are required to be a part of a pre-service teacher training programme at the elementary level?

Professor Richards Responds:

Teacher training normally involves providing novice teachers with the practical skills and knowledge needed to prepare them for their initial teaching experience. Teacher training involves processes of the following kind:

  • Understanding basic concepts and principles as a prerequisite for applying them to teaching.
  • Developing a repertoire of classroom techniques, routines, skills and strategies.
  • Having opportunities to try out different strategies in the classroom.
  • Developing ability to teach using a textbook and classroom technology.
  • Monitoring oneself and getting feedback from others on one’s practice.

Training involves the development of basic concepts, theories and principles and a repertoire of teaching skills, acquired through observing experienced teachers and engaging in practice-teaching in a controlled setting, e.g. through micro-teaching or peer teaching. Taking this perspective, good teaching is seen as the mastery of a body of basic knowledge and a set of skills or competencies. Qualifications in teacher training such as the CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) are typically offered by teacher-training colleges or by organizations such as the British Council, and provide novice teachers with a recognized entry-level qualification as an ESL/ELT teacher. The worldwide demand for qualifications of this kind has led to the development of many courses, available both in face-to-face formats or online. For example, the Teaching Knowledge Test (TKT) is a test developed by Cambridge English Language Assessment for teachers of English to speakers of other languages. The TKT tests knowledge of concepts related to language, language use and the background to and practice of language teaching and learning. TKT consists of three core modules: language and background to language learning and teaching; lesson planning and use of resources for language teaching; and managing the teaching and learning process. There is also a practical module and a further three specialist modules (Knowledge About Language, CLIL, Young Learners).

Teacher development serves a longer-term goal and seeks to facilitate growth of the teacher’s general understanding of teaching, of the teaching context and of his or her performance as a teacher. It is often the focus of in-service education. It thus builds on the initial knowledge and skill base acquired through teacher training. One aspect of teacher development involves developing a deeper understanding of the knowledge base of language teaching. This has typically meant mastering the discipline of applied linguistics and developing a more advanced and theory- based body of knowledge, not linked to a specific teaching context. Applied linguistics encompasses the language-based subjects (e.g. grammar, phonology, sociolinguistics, discourse analysis), the learning-based subjects (e.g. second language acquisition, psycholinguistics, learning strategies), the teaching-based subjects (e.g. methodology, teaching the four skills) and the curriculum-based subjects (e.g. course design, materials design, assessment). 
Another dimension of teacher development, however, deals with the examination of different dimensions of one’s own practice as a basis for reflective review, and that can hence be seen as practitioner-driven. Qualifications in teacher development such as the DELTA course or an MA degree, are offered by training organizations and universities and are intended for teachers who have already developed their practical teaching skills and now wish to acquire the theory and knowledge base that supports these skills. Many such courses today are also available online or in distance mode, to suit the circumstances of the many practising teachers who are unable to take time off for full-time study.

MEXTESOL Journal celebrates its 40th anniversary

MEXTESOL JournalThe journal of the Mexican TESOL Association – MEXTESOL Journal – will shortly celebrate its 40th anniversary. To celebrate the anniversary the journal will add a special feature to each issue, described as “A Vintage Article–an article that has had great influence on our readers or that has a place in the history of ELT.” They have chosen to feature an article by Jack Richards published  in the journal in 1994 entitled Teacher Thinking and Foreign Language Teaching.

New Educational Consultant role

Professor Richards has been invited to serve as en educational consultant to Cambridge English Teacher – an on-line teacher development site for English teachers – a joint project of Cambridge University Press and Cambridge ESOL. Professor Richards will be involved in planning new courses to be made available on CET and will also be able to respond to questions from members of CET. For more information see here.

Book Recommendations: Professional Development

Question:

Submitted by Artemis, UK

What books can you recommend on professional development?

Dr Richards responds:

Here are some suggestions:

  • Borg, Simon. 2006. Teacher Cognition and Language Education. London: Continuum.
  • Burns.,Anne. 2010. Doing Action research in English Language teaching: A Guide for Practitioners. New York: Routledge.
  • Burns, Anne and Jack C Richards (Eds). Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University press.
  • Richards Jack C and Thomas Farrell. Professional Development for Language Teachers. New York: Cambridge University Press 2005
  • Roberts, Jon. 1998. Language Teacher Education. London: Arnold.
  • Tedick, Diane J. (Ed). 2005. Second Language Teacher Education: International Perspectives. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum

Book Recommendations: Teaching speaking

Question:

Submitted by Monserrath Ramirez,  Ecuador

Can you recommend books about the methodology teaching speaking?

Dr Richards responds:

I recommend the following:

  • Bygate, Martin 1987. Speaking. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Fulcher, Glen 2003. Testing Second Language Speaking. Harlow: Pearson.
  • Goh, Christine C.M. and Anne Burns. 2012.  Teaching Speaking: A Holistic Approach. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Luoma, Sari 2004. Assessing Speaking. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Pridham, Francesca 2001. The Language of Conversation. London: Routledge.
  • Thornbury, Scott. 2005. How to Teach Speaking. Harlow: Longman.
  • Thornbury, Scott and Diana Slade. 2006. Conversation: From Description to Pedagogy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Content of FLteacher Education courses

Question:

Submitted by Nafise, Iran

What would be the content of in-service FLteacher education courses?

Dr Richards responds:

Teacher development seeks to facilitate growth of the teacher’s general understanding of teaching and of himself or herself as a teacher. It often involves examining different dimensions of one’s own practice as a basis for reflective review, and hence can be seen as practitioner-driven. It typically meant mastering the discipline of applied linguistics and developing a more advanced and theory-based body of knowledge not linked to a specific teaching context. Qualifications in teacher development, typically the MA degree, were offered by universities, where the practical skills of language teaching were often undervalued. After teachers have been teaching for some time, however, their knowledge and skills sometimes become outdated or there may be a lack of fit between the skills the teacher possesses and what the school needs. For example, a teacher may have to take on more difficult tasks for which he or she has not received any formal training, such as the preparation of tests, or as a result of staff changes, the teacher may have to take on new assignments that were not previously part of his or her teaching; or a key staff member may leave and his or her teaching may have to be taken over by others, none of whom share the teacher’s specialization. Qualifications too soon become outdated as a result of changes in the field of TESOL.
The most practical response to this situation is for the school to provide the means by which teachers can acquire the knowledge and skills they need. Here, teacher development is primarily conceived in terms of the needs of the institution. Because it refers to developmental activities within a school or institution, it is usually referred to as “staff development” and often takes the form of in-service training. However other forms of development may also be needed that the school cannot provide. Some teachers may be quite competent but lack a professional qualification such as the CELTA – a certificate level qualification. Others may have been teaching for some time and seek to take a more advanced qualification, perhaps the DELTA or an MA in TESOL either part time or by distance, to enable them to take on more senior roles in the school. Enabling teachers to participate in staff development as well as to acquire professional qualifications directly or indirectly enhances the performance of the institution as a whole as well as to contributes to the teacher’s individual development.

Consequently, opportunities for professional development should be provided for all staff. A program coordinator may well need to complete a master’s degree in TESOL, but a newly hired teacher may also need training in how to assess student learning. Both needs are equally important because the success of a school program may well depend on both the strengths of its curriculum and the teaching skills of its junior staff. They are both part of the process of institutional development. The content of an in-service course will depend on the needs of the teachers in the institution, but may include:

  • Disciplinary knowledge: understanding of the disciplinary basis of TESOL, those areas of applied linguistics and that define the professional knowledge base of language teaching.
  • Pedagogical expertise. Mastery of new areas of teaching, adding to one’s repertoire of teaching specializations, improving ability to teach different skill areas to learners of different ages and backgrounds.
  • Understanding of learners. Deepening understanding of learners, learning styles, learners’ problems and difficulties, ways of making content more accessible to learners.
  • Understanding of curriculum and materials. Deepening one’s understanding of curriculum and curriculum initiatives, use and development of instructional materials.
  • Research skills. Knowledge of reach approaches used to investigate one’s own classroom practices and to conduct small-scale classroom research.
  • Career advancement. Acquisition of knowledge and expertise necessary for personal advancement, including mentoring and supervisory skills.