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CLIL, or Deep Level ESP?
by Neil McBeath
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9. Provide a variety of language models.

Oddly, this is another fairly obvious point, but one which is receiving less attention that it ought to. Colledge (2008; 32) recently reviewed an ESP textbook (McCulloch and Wright 2008) and commented that while the voices on the CD attempted a range of British English accents "they are clearly those of actors and too mild."

This, however, is an improvement on the recorded material offered by Garnet Press in Phillips’ (2005) Skills in English; Speaking Level 3 and Morgan and Regan’s (2008) Take-Off; Technical English for Engineering. In the first of these courses, speakers called Ali, Carlos, Lucas and Murat all sound as if they come from the South of England, while in the second, Abdulhakim, Ali and Yusuf sound nothing like the Saudi Arabians they are supposed to be. There is no excuse for this. Hore and Hore (1982;1983) produced courses whose recorded material offered an incredibly wide variety of accents – native and non-native speaking.

10. Create a wealth of opportunities to use the language

“Proactive strategies such as groupwork, pairwork and activity centres are more effective than having a class do primarily written exercises, which you then correct by having one student respond at a time” (P. 107). This is true, but how many teachers still teach in the way described? Boynton writes as if no one had heard of the communicative approach.

Secondly, while groupwork, pairwork and activity centres all have their place, the importance of that place depends on the needs of the students. The recently published Airspeak (Robertson 2008) is designed for pilots who require practice in using the phraseology standardized by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. The pilot speaks to an air traffic controller and has to respond appropriately to “the particular forms of language that are required in the circumstances” (Irizar and Chiappy 2008; 13).  This is an individual task. It would only become a genuine pairwork task if each pilot were matched with a trainee air traffic controller.

11. Communication is of primary importance

“It is more important for students to communicate than to worry about having perfect grammar” (P. 107). This is not always true. Legal documents, in particular, are notorious for the importance that they place on exact interpretation, and accident reports, incident reports and formal complaints may fall into the category of legal documents.

While I was working at the Air Force Technical College in Oman, moreover, we experienced problems with one civilian mathematics teacher, who allowed students to “round up” calculations to the next whole number. This approach actually handicapped those same students when they moved on to their engineering modules, because at that stage, some measurements had to be correct to three decimal places.

12. Create a wide variety of opportunities to develop all four language skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing

Why? At RAFO Masirah I taught a Sri Lankan airman who was working in the Paint Shop. He never had to write anything.  Oddly enough, neither did the potential F 16 pilots who were being selected for courses at the Defense Language Institute at the Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

The RAFO painter had to be able to read technical and safety instructions; understand verbal instructions, and interact with his Omani counterparts. The pilots had to listen and read so that they could complete an extended multiple-choice test, and they had to  perform well in an extended interview which included a role play.

These demands, however, are unusual. For many Gulf Arabs, particularly agricultural engineers, aircraft engineering technicians, mechanical engineers, petroleum engineers and ICT specialists, reading skills may be far more important than the ability to hold a polite conversation. For these people, English is what Walton (Association of Arab Universities; 1976) describes as a “library language”.

Conversely, those working in the service industries, and particularly in Hospitality, may be required to speak and understand far more than they are required to read and write- in English, at any rate. The limousine driver, the flight attendant, the hotel receptionist and the waiter may all require a verbal fluency that need not be matched by English writing skills. Face to face interaction may be in English, but records will be kept in Arabic.

We do our students no favours if we follow a syllabus that ignores their true learning needs, and if we ignore their needs then we are teaching them things that are, effectively,  irrelevant.

13  Work systematically to build equal status for languages used in the school

This is the fundamental difference between theoretical and applied linguistics, most succinctly described in Crystal (1980). To theoretical linguists all languages and their systems are of equal value.

Applied linguistics, by contrast is “A branch of LINGUISTICS where the primary concern is the application of linguistic theories, methods and findings to the elucidation of LANGUAGE problems which have arisen out of experience. The most developed branch of applied linguistics is the teaching and learning of foreign languages, and sometimes the term is used as if this were the only field involved.” (Crystal 1980; 28-29).

Along with the teaching and learning of modern languages, of course, we encounter issues of power, access to information and areas of sociolinguistic concern. With regard to the teaching and learning of English, its present role as a global language is currently so widely accepted that few would dispute its importance. There may be those who are uneasy about the implications of the hegemony of English, or who oppose its spread on political or religious grounds, but they are unlikely to be found in English classes. Our students in the Arab Gulf, like their counterparts in Hong Kong and Singapore, “learn English because they want to compete with the Anglo world, rather than join it. (Babrakzai 2004).

14. Set high, but realistic expectations

Once again, this is no more than good pedagogy. In 2000, the former President George W. Bush spoke about "the soft bigotry of low expectations" (Morel 2000). In that instance he was referring to racial bigotry, but many of us have experienced the same obnoxious phenomenon in terms of social class.

Even so, this is a statement that cries out for greater definition. Earlier, I referred to Gordonstoun School in Scotland. The motto of that school is “Plus est en vous”, which at first glance could be regarded as an example of the type of hortatory slogan that schools tend to like. On the other hand, depending on the way it is interpreted at the school and by the school faculty and student body, that motto could set an impossibly high standard that no one could ever attain. It leads to the situation described by Gore Vidal where “It is not enough to succeed, others must fail.”

15. Find ways of recognizing student effort and success

Boynton hedges here. She correctly suggests that “Every student needs well chosen moments in the limelight”, but then says “Avoid constantly saying well done – the big pitfall of empty praise.” (P. 109).

Unfortunately, for some students, the only time that they EVER receive praise is in the classroom. For these students, no praise is empty. This does NOT mean that teachers should go around scattering “A” grades at random, but it does mean that work that is correct, that is handed in on time, that shows any sign of extra effort should receive acknowledgement.

There is, of course, a problem with this in the tertiary sector in the Arab Gulf. Many of my foundation level students at Sultan Qaboos University, particularly the girls, have been used to obtaining quite absurdly high marks at school. On arrival at SQU they have been mortified to find that they did not pass effortlessly into the Credit Programmes, and they are further horrified to find that they are receiving marks like ONLY 80% for essays that they expect to get 99%.

The problem here, of course, stems from the fact that they are the ones who are setting themselves unrealistically high expectations. They have to adjust to the fact that what was “excellent” at school may be only “good” in a more demanding university environment.

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