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TESOL Transformed; From Job to Career?
by Neal McBeath
- 4

Curriculum

And this brings me to the topic of WHAT is taught; to the curriculum.

In the 1970s we taught English, but it was the Queen’s English. In 1972 A Grammar of Contemporary English had appeared (Quirk, Leech, Greenbaum and Svartvik) but it had been a prescriptivist work. It was based entirely on the grammar of written English, ignoring the differences that occur when the language is spoken (Pawley and Snyder 1983) and dealt exclusively with the “standard” language used in the South East of England. EFL teachers were allowed to acknowledge that this form of the language had a sort of illegitimate half brother – American English – but they were not encouraged to linger on that theme.

Within Britain, among native speakers, of course, this unquestioning acceptance of a single “standard” form was already under scrutiny. The English Speaking Board, to its eternal credit, was prepared to accept speakers who had local accents, and it was prepared to accept that literature written in local dialects could have merit. In Scotland, the cult of Robert Burns made it impossible to banish dialect from schools, but in EFL older standards prevailed.

When I was retraining as an EFL teacher in the late 1970s, we were still encouraged to measure pronunciation against the forms prescribed in Daniel Jones’ English Pronouncing Dictionary, ignoring the fact that it was based on what were, by then, hyperlectal variants of RP, and that RP had been a dying standard even when the book first appeared in 1917.

Now there are some excuses for all this. It is easy to forget how little we really knew about language and the workings of language at that time. Ignorant of many of the basic ideas of today’s linguistic theory, it was difficult for even the best intentioned EFL teacher to do a very good job.

Trudgill’s groundbreaking book, Sociolinguistics, was not published until 1975. A full decade after that, there was a public showdown between Randolf Quirk and Braj Kachru at a conference that had been designed to showcase the wonderful advances that had been made in EFL. (Quirk and Widdowson; 1985) Kachru rather spoiled this party by suggesting that it was time to move on from the concept of hegemony in language teaching. Kachru (1985) introduced the concept of “Englishes” and then developed his famous concentric circles model (Kachru 1986).

There were no personal computers in those days, so the concept of CALL did not exist. Neither, of course, did corpus linguistics, which was later to give us the Collins COBUILD Dictionary (Sinclair 1987). In those days, there was no way that anyone could compare the type of language that was being taught, with the language that was actually being used. Nor was it possible to analyse that language and arrive at the concept of a genre. Genre analysis (Swales 1990) lay in the future. Even the concept of frequency, which can be tested today in a quick and dirty way by using a Google search, was beyond the scope of most teachers.

Against that background, the economic historian who I mentioned earlier can hardly be sanctioned for showing a lack of cultural sensitivity. Harrison’s collection of papers – Culture and the Language Classroom – did not appear until 1990, and the very idea of linguistic imperialism (Phillipson 1992) would find even later expression.

Remember, IATEFL did not become international until 1971. The original 1967 body had been the Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language, and had been based on the assumption that all those teachers came from the British Isles. The Association of Recognised Language Schools (now English UK) had been founded in 1960, and that body is still exclusively British.

Looking back to the first ATEFL Conference, Swan (2007; 45) remarks “when I started in ELT, you had to know grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary and the ‘four skills’”. What he does NOT mention is that you had very few aids to help you do this. There were only a handful of graded readers, and those that existed were of poor quality. Cutting edge technology was a reel-to-reel tape recorder, which had to be lugged from class to class, and some very advanced institutions had their own language laboratory, for whose effectiveness over-inflated claims had been made (Moore 1965). The courses used in this language laboratory relied on pattern practice exercises recorded by “resting” actors with cut glass accents:-
/ henrei, hev jiu got ei pen?
Nou ei hevnt/

Again, at the first ATEFL Conference, “We discussed methodology and the pros and cons of structure drilling and language labs” (Swan 2007; 10) but a lot of the methodology at that time was actually based around structure drilling. Helen Monfries, Chair of the RSA/CTESFL Sub-Committee for Further Education, actually published a book called Oral Drills in sentence Patterns (Monfries 1963) in which she cheerily suggested that ten minutes choral drilling every morning acted as a kind of oral PT.

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