by Costas Gabrielatos
Originally published in IATEFL Issues 172, April 2003.
Points marked with an asterisk (*) were not included in the
Much has been written in the ELT literature about the importance
of a teacher's self-awareness, and the extent to which personal
views and interpretations shape teaching. I for one am convinced
that knowing why I teach the way I do gives me control over
my teaching and development.
by an online discussion on ELT methodology1 I decided to draw
a brief outline of my practices and the rationale behind them,
as an exercise in self-awareness. I expected to end up with
a short piece, but the more I thought about the 'what' and
'why' of my practice, the more I wrote. I apologise for the
list format, but a proper text would defy the purpose of the
course this isn't a comprehensive account, and I would be
surprised if it contained anything that hasn't already been
said or done. Still, it's unique, because it's a subjective
interpretation of thinking in ELT and its informing disciplines
through an individual teacher's personal filters. I present
it as an invitation to colleagues to share their own personal
theories and methodologies.
I see language
Language was born, is used and develops in context; language
out of context has only potential for meaning. Given a de-contextualised
stretch of language, we automatically create a context in
Language is social and personal; it embodies and expresses
the world-view and experience of communities and individuals.
Language is not only a means of communication, but
also of getting things done (from declarations of love to
Language not only expresses, but also creates realities
(e.g. fiction and advertising).*
Language is not uniform; it has different varieties
according to the contexts of use, and so it characterises
its users, in terms of socioeconomic class, education, culture,
Language use varies according to the interaction between
medium (spoken or written) and context. There can be no safe
generalisations about spoken and written language. For example,
is the language of plays and comic books spoken or written?
Language is organised - with the same level of success
as human communities. It's imperfectly organised, not only
because its creators aren't perfect, but also because it's
always in the process of changing.
Language is form and meaning. Meaning needs a body
to become communicable (sounds and symbols). Form that hasn't
been assigned a mutually agreed meaning, or form the meaning
of which we don't know, is useless for communication. Form
and meaning are two sides of the same coin.
Presence or absence of form carries meaning (e.g. He's
so shallow and boring! - Oh, come on, he's not shallow.).
Selection between 'alternative' forms carries meaning - synonyms
don't have exactly the same 'meaning'. Language meaning is
layered - this is what makes metaphors possible.
Language is greater than its parts - texts are much
more than the words and structures in them.
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