The beliefs they had

The beliefs they had

“Wait. Let me just get this straight,” Barsha looked incredulous. “You’re saying that they believed that the materials that had been created specifically for the students weren’t authentic, but any text that wasn’t created with the students’ needs in mind was considered ‘authentic’, and better, as a result?”

“Yes. At least some of the writers were arguing this.” Audible gasps, and some laughter was heard.

“So, what was the point of the coursebooks? Who used them?” Yong asked, also sounding sceptical.

“Good question. I think there was a difference between what was being argued for in the literature – the SLA academics and the methodologists – and what happened in actual practice, just like today.” Naoko looked at her co-presenters for support.

Petro backed her up: “Yes, we looked at several coursebooks and they seemed to include lots of what were called ‘semi-authentic’ texts. They adapted them from newspapers and websites, and so on, sort of pretending to be authentic, but in reality they were integrated into the curriculum.”

“OK. That makes more sense.”

Olufemi had his hand raised: “Sorry, you said SLA, Naoko. What was that?”

“It stood for ‘second language acquisition’, it was one of the fields used for research into language learning; it focused mainly on cognition.”

“Any more questions?” Ayanda checked the time “We’ve got time for a few more before we wrap up for today.”

“I have one,” said Mahmud, “You said something that confused me, about this ‘strong’ form of commercial language teaching, and this…”

Naoko interrupted him: “Communicative, the C stood for communicative.”

Communicative?” Mahmud was surprised.  “As opposed to what? Anyone ever heard of non-communicative language?” Everyone laughed. “That’s as daft as talking about ‘edible food’! Anyway, what did they call it, this form focus thing. You said that they believed that if the teacher told the students what they were learning they stopped learning. Did I get that right?”

Naoko looked at the others. Petro and George both looked unsure, so she responded: “Sort of, yes. Proponents of the stronger form of communicative language teaching thought that it was important not to explain or clarify the language before they gave their students an activity that was intended to get them to use it. They believed that once they were aware of it, they wouldn’t learn it implicitly. The explicit knowledge would get in the way.”

George’s eyes lit up. Suddenly he was able to help: “Ah, yeah! I read about this. They didn’t understand the relationship between different types of learning. Some of them even thought they were completely detached, like er, Karshen, or Krafen, or, I’ve forgotten his name, but that’s basically what he believed” George looked pleased with himself.

“Are you sure? It sounds a bit like Meno’s Paradox to me. How could they learn anything if they didn’t know what they were supposed to be learning!”

“Yeah, I know it sounds weird. Remember that they were only interested in learning for spoken use. Back then, that was considered to be what mattered, so they were obsessed with ‘implicit learning’, as they called it.”

Li-Jing, one of the graduate students at the back, offered a suggestion: “Perhaps this is one of these historical myths that has been cultivated, like the link between audiolingualism and behaviourism, or the belief that there was an approach called ‘grammar translation’.”

Ayanda smiled: “Quite possibly. Or the Language Acquisition Device.” Everyone laughed.

“Oh come on! No-one believed in that, did they?” Barsha again, incredulous.

Petro returned back to the topic: “Don’t forget that at that time of CLT, they were so focused on spoken language learning. You actually had to memorise the lexicon and grammar, and use them in real time. There were no translators, all writing was manual, and you had to do everything face-to-face. Like if you wanted to buy something, you actually had to go to a ‘shop’, as they called it. That’s actually where the term ‘go shopping’ comes from – you literally went to the retailer!” Everyone laughed at this idea. A few students gasped.

CLT lesson
Figure 1. A CLT lesson c.2005, presumed UK. Note the charts on the walls, which were believed to have had some relation to the need to emulate what was then called ‘native-speaker’ pronunciation, and the presence of students of a range of nationalities in the same physical space.

Li-Jing raised her hand. “You mentioned that CLT wasn’t just being used to teach the English language, but we didn’t see any evidence of this. What other languages was it used for?” The presenters looked at each other. George whispered something.

“Er, we’ll have to get back to you on that. We’re not sure that was correct.” Naoko responded for the team.

“OK!” Ayanda took over. “Let’s give them a round of applause. Great job!” The presenters handed back control to Ayanda. “Just one little query from me. You didn’t mention anything about the decline of CLT, was there a reason for that?”

“Oh sorry. We thought that was obvious. We can cover it now if you like?” Naoko was ready to take over again.

“Let’s check. Can everyone answer on their boards?”

“Answer what?” Dan asked. He was fading in and out. Connections with North America were always dodgy at this time of day.

“Sorry. Everyone, just answer on your boards so everyone has time to think. What caused the decline of CLT?” Ayanda paused. “OK. Yeah, you’ve all got it. I guess you’re right Naoko, it was obvious!”

The 3-minute reminder appeared. Ayanda wrapped up: “OK. So for next week, I think it’s Group C, who are going to present on languaging in the mid-twenty-first century. If you can all read the 2109 paper by Mahapatra and Chi before then, that would be great, although things always get easier to understand once you get past CLT. We’d better finish there. I know it’s late where some of you are. Don’t forget to send me your assignment outlines this week if possible. I still haven’t got everyone’s…” There were some replies, although other students were disappearing. Dan’s signal finally improved just as he turned off his avatar. “Oops, sorry! Still getting used to this thing! See you next week.” He disappeared.

“Bye.” Ayanda removed her translator, stepped out of the pod and checked the virus forecast – medium to high. She frowned. “Another virtual run, I guess.”

One thought on “The beliefs they had

  1. Nice story.
    I agree that some small real time translation could render Language Teaching obsolete.


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