by Costas Gabrielatos
my views on language translate into methodology
Helping learners investigate and produce language in context
(both real and imaginary). Examining language in its natural
Helping learners become aware of and accept the fuzzy
and inconsistent aspects of language, as well as understand
its organising principles, and create a basic framework on
which to build.
Teaching the 'coin'; that is, helping learners to manipulate
form to produce intended meaning, and interpret form to infer
Helping learners realise the existence of different
registers and genres, and become aware of the factors that
influence variety in language use, so that they can make informed
Helping learners see the link between the language
and the culture behind it. There are two problems here: Which
culture? What is the culture behind 'international English'?
Making language use both social and personal, by treating
the classroom as a social context and helping learners use
the new language to develop a communal identity and interpersonal
relations in class, and helping them project their own personality
through the new language.
Making language use purposeful, not only by creating
opportunities for the transmission of information, but also
helping learners use language to achieve goals.
Making language use critical, i.e. aiming not only
at comprehension, but also at interpretation.
I see (language) learning
Learning an additional language is not the same as learning
your native language. Also, learning within a community that
speaks the language is not the same as learning outside such
Trying to explain something helps you clarify and increase
your own knowledge.
We need an incentive in order to put time, effort and
money into learning something. The incentive may come from
interest (which also makes learning enjoyable) and/or need.
Interest is maintained by combining the familiar with the
Some people need to take something apart in order to
understand it, and then try to put it back together again.
Others prefer to be given the parts and try to put it together.
Some people like to observe (and usually reflect on)
how something works before trying their hand at it. Others
prefer to spring into action first and then reflect on the
process and outcome. Others combine elements of both.
Some people need to have things demonstrated and/or
explained before putting them to use. Others need comments
(and usually demonstration and/or explanations) after they've
given it a try.
Learning language chunks is very helpful, particularly
in the initial stages. Some learners can use their observations
of how such chunks behave and interact to deduce the underlying
mechanisms of language; others need to be told, shown, or
guided to understand how those mechanism work.
Conscious knowledge about the 'what', 'how' and 'why'
of a language enables us to be productive, flexible and autonomous.
It can be particularly helpful when we encounter difficulties.
We don't always understand something completely, commit
it fully to memory, or do it perfectly the first time round.
Repetition and recycling are necessary, particularly when
levels of attention are low.
Learning is helped by support and challenge. Different
people need different proportions: too much support stifles
development; too much challenge is discouraging.
Learning involves making mistakes - and some people
don't like that. A feeling of safety minimises the negative
impact of mistakes and encourages risk-taking.
Learning language for real-life use entails that learners
should be in a position to use language in situations of conflict.
Learning involves interaction. The chemistry between
teacher and learners, and among learners, can make or break
attempts at teaching/learning.
I see (language) teaching
Language teaching is about helping others develop 'detective'
skills - observation, juxtaposition, inference. Input, demonstration,
exemplification, guidance, practice and feedback all contribute
towards that goal.
The ultimate goal of teaching is for the learners to
no longer need the teacher; not because they have learned
everything, but because they can keep learning on their own.
Teachers are not authorities, they just have knowledge
and skills that learners don't have (and vice versa). Teaching
is essentially about mutual collaboration towards a common
goal: language learning.
Teaching is not a performance, though some acting skills
can prove helpful.
my views on learning and teaching translate into methodology
Treating learners as team members or fellow explorers, rather
than guinea-pigs or disciples.
Trying to make learning interesting, by dealing with
topics relevant to learners' interests and needs, but also
exposing them to new issues/angles/views.
Fostering an investigatory approach to learning. Helping
learners develop study and observation skills, so that they
can keep learning autonomously.
Providing opportunities for both reflection and interaction,
by mixing individual and group work, offering and inviting
feedback, and encouraging collaboration and peer-feedback.
Using both input and discovery techniques, as well
Finding the right balance between support and challenge.
Trying to achieve the following balancing act: on one
hand, helping make the classroom a safe, collaborative environment
where all learners' efforts and views are equally respected;
on the other trying to create conditions of friction and competition
to prepare learners to use the new language in different types
of real-life situations.*
Instead of a conclusion
back at this outline I confirm that there isn't a clear one-to-one
correspondence between principles and practices. To me, this
implies that looking for direct applications of theories and
principles may not be the most productive course of action.
It also shows that we can gain insights into appropriate methodology
from the nature and use of language as much as from the way
languages are learned.
this outline strengthened my view that merely choosing among
packaged methodologies is too inflexible and limiting. What
looks more promising is recognising the oblique and contextualised
implications of our knowledge and experience and developing
our own methodology.
1. IATEFL Teacher Trainers and Educators Special Interest
Group discussion list, 13-19 June 2002, http://groups.yahoo.com/groups/ttedsig/messages.
Gabrielatos, C. 2002. 'The Shape of the Language Teacher.'
In Pulverness, A. (ed.) 2002. IATEFL 2002: York Conference
Selections. IATEFL. (Also available online: http://www.ihes.com/ttsig/resources/articles/31.doc).
Gabrielatos, C. 2001/2002. 'Shopping at the ELT Supermarket:
Principled Decisions and Practices.' ELT News 144, February
2001. Revised version published in Developing Teachers.com,
March 2002: http://www.developingteachers.com/articles_tchtraining/eltshop1_costas.htm.
Gabrielatos is a teacher and teacher educator, currently
working towards a PhD at Lancaster University, doing corpus
research on conditional sentences in English. His interests
revolve around the implications of language description
for English language teaching and learning.
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