The learners bring with them their whole experience of learning and of life in classrooms, along with their own reasons for being there, and their own particular needs that they hope to see satisfied. And the teacher brings experience too, of life and learning, and of teaching. The teacher also brings into the classroom the syllabus, often embodied in a textbook. But no matter what they all bring, everything still depends on how they react to each other (learner to learner as well as teacher to learner) when they all get together in the classroom (Allwright & Bailey, 1991:18).
This mission statement briefly looks at the purpose, the goals and the rationale behind language teaching and learning in the English as Foreign Language (EFL) environment, with particular focus on the 'false beginner' context that is found in university Freshman English programs.1 In this situation, professionalism at all levels is essential and teachers need the freedom (autonomy) and commitment (responsibility) to pursue their own professional paths (based on the framework of the curriculum), in order to maximize effective language learning on the part of their students.
Such teacher-freedom and professional responsibility includes:
- carrying out pre-course and ongoing formative needs analyses;
- adapting the textbook to the needs of the students;
- producing effective, meaningful, relevant and authentic supplementary materials appropriate for the students;
- addressing affective barriers to learning (anxiety, stress, unrealistic expectations, lack of confidence and motivation, inappropriate attitudes to learning);
- addressing cognitive barriers to learning (unfamiliarity with problem-solving, critical thinking, learning strategies, etc.);
- addressing social barriers to learning (inability to contribute meaningfully in groups, lack of intra-personal and inter-personal responsibility, focus on competition, rather than collaboration);
- carrying out formative classroom-based assessment (portfolios, journals, self/peer-assessments, learning conversations, etc.); and
- extending the learning experience through meaningful, enjoyable, activities which go beyond the classroom (projects).
What is the purpose of language teaching?
There are many practical goals, such as:
- developing communicative competence;
- helping students pass entrance examinations;
- helping students prepare for university life;
- helping students prepare to study abroad;
- helping students who want to travel;
- helping students prepare for careers.
There are also learning-oriented goals, such as:
- helping students learn how to learn;
- raising awareness of language-learning;
- raising awareness of learning strategies;
- promoting critical thinking;
- promoting problem-solving;
- enabling students to reflect on their goals;
- enabling students to assess their achievements;
Then there are intrinsic goals, such as:
- learning for the sake of learning;
- development of the individual.
Closely allied to all these are humanistic goals (e.g. Hongik Ingan, the official objective of education in Korea (UNESCO report on Education in Korea):
- affective learning (emotional management);
- social learning (collaboration,interpersonal responsibility);
- cognitive learning (problem-solving, critical thinking, etc.);
- education as a means of developing and improving society, through promotion of:
- creative abilities;
- reasoning abilities;
- informed knowledge;
- positive contributions;
- management of the emotions;
- ethical awareness.
The goals of English teaching and learning vary according to their context and purpose. However, it is important that teachers and students establish and uphold basic principles that inform everything that happens in the learning environment. In this respect, affective, social and humanistic goals become extremely important, especially if we consider H. G. Wells' observation: "Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe".
Here are some educational principles suggested by Carl Rogers (1980):
- Learning is the process of changing behavior in a positive direction.
- Learning is an experience that occurs inside the learner and is activated by the learner.
- Learning is the discovery of the personal meaning and relevance of ideas.
- Learning (behavioral change) is a consequence of experience.
- Learning is a cooperative and collaborative process.
- Learning is an evolutionary process.
- Learning is sometimes a painful process.
- One of the richest resources for learning is the learner himself.
- The process of learning is emotional as well as intellectual.
- Learning fuses work and play.
- Learning is a 'religious' experience.
- The learner is a free and responsible agent.
- The processes of problem solving and learning are highly unique and individual.
- Teaching is learning. (Rogers 1951:115)
Here are ten basic propositions "crucial for language teachers", offered by current educational authors:
- There is a difference between learning and education.
- Learners learn what is meaningful to them.
- Learners learn in ways that are meaningful to them.
- Learners learn better if they feel in control of what they are learning.
- Learning is closely linked to how people feel about themselves.
- Learning takes place in a social context through interactions with other people.
- What teachers do in the classroom will reflect their own beliefs and attitudes.
- There is a significant role for the teacher as mediator in the language classroom.
- Learning tasks represent an interface between teachers and learners.
- Learning is influenced by the situation in which it occurs. (Williams & Burden 1997:204)
The theme of this mission statement is that all these principles can be addressed by:
- treating learners as intelligent human beings;
- making a non-threatening learning environment;
- inviting students to assess themselves and each other;
- giving value to ongoing work though portfolios and projects;
- addressing lack of confidence in the students;
- motivating students to become involved with their own learning;
- helping students to become independent learners;
- encouraging students to learn how to learn;
- raising awareness of affective barriers to learning;
- helping students learn how to manage their emotions;
- promoting positive attitude change.
The continuing globalisation of every aspect of life means that the majority of tertiary students will use English increasingly in their future lives and careers, whether when travelling, on business, or through computer-related activities. In particular, residents of Korea will often be called upon to interact with other Asians, and English will be a common second language in this situation. Thus interactive, communicative and social skills will be necessary for such situations.
The PISA results for 2009 (Google search: PISA results 2009) place Korean students at or near the top in terms of world ranking, in reading, mathematics and science. However, they also point out that the need for routine manual, nonroutine manual and routine cognitive skills has decreased dramatically over the past 30 years, due to outsourcing and other factors: "The dilemma of schools: The skills that are easiest to teach and test are also the ones that are easiest to digitize, automate and outsource." The skills that freshman students need to acquire for the 21st century are nonroutine analytic skills (researching, analyzing, planning, evaluating) and nonroutine interactive skills (skilled professional and managerial, selling), which demand flexibility, creativity, generalized problem-solving, collaboration and complex communication skills.
It must also be recognized that society now has destructive potential that it has not possessed before. Previous attitudes to learning are no longer valid in this light. Students need to be able to make informed choices regarding the effect of their lives on pollution, over-population, destruction of world resources, depletion of natural food resources, extinction of species, etc.
In view of these considerations, language instructors need to be aware of their changing role in the promotion of life skills and professional skills for their students.
Language learners in Korea share a history of studying English in Middle Schools and High Schools via traditional structure-based syllabi, in learning environments in which conventional teacher/student roles are preserved and "language-learning success" means fulfilling prescribed local educational goals in knowledge-based examinations. This approach tends to produce students with low self-esteem as language learners, due to their continuing status as 'false beginners'. As Corder states however, success in language-learning is ...
Therefore any attempt to help students maximise their learning potential must look at methods of positively affecting such factors.
... nothing to do with people's innate ability to learn a second language, but has to do with variations in motivation, attitude, and so on; that's where the variation is(1990:115).
How can we do this? In Dickinson's words:
Allwright also speaks of the importance of classroom interaction:
the best guess we can make at what differentiates 'good' second language learners from the rest is their active, independent involvement with the target language (Dickinson, 1992:61).
the processes of classroom interaction determines what learning opportunities become available to be learned from. It may be that interaction is what somehow produces linguistic development. (Allwright, 1984:9)
Awareness of language-learning
An approach which fosters interaction as the learning process can be further enabled by the promotion of an awareness of language-learning, "without which it is impossible to make effective use of many learning strategies" (Dickinson, 1992:44). This is seen by Nunan to have a number of positive outcomes for the learners:
- learners come to have a more realistic idea of what can be achieved in a given course;
- learning comes to be seen as the gradual accretion of achievable goals;
- students develop greater sensitivity to their roles as language learners and their vague notions of what it is to be a learner become much sharper;
- self-evaluation becomes more feasible;
- classroom activities can be seen to relate to learners' real-life needs;
- skills development can be seen to be a gradual, rather than an all-or-nothing process. (adapted from Nunan, 1988:5).
Becoming a good learner
Becoming a good learner then becomes one of the overall aims of learning, and involves the participant in:
- finding his/her own way;
- organising information about language;
- being creative and experimenting with language;
- making his/her own opportunities and finding strategies for getting practice in using the language inside and outside the classroom;
- learning to live with uncertainty and developing strategies for making sense of the target language without wanting to understand every word;
- using mnemonics;
- making errors work;
- using existing linguistic knowledge, including knowledge of his/her L1, in mastering the target language;
- letting the context help him/her in comprehension;
- learning to make intelligent guesses;
- learning chunks of language as wholes, and formalised routines to help him/her perform "beyond his/her competence";
- learning production techniques (e.g. techniques to keep a conversation going);
- learning different styles of speech according to the formality of the situation. (adapted from Rubin & Thompson, 1983, reproduced in Nunan, 1990:78).
In view of these considerations, the syllabus in any language course should attempt to chart a route from a state of relative unknowing (linguistic and social) on the part of learners, towards the eventual use of the target language for particular purposes, in a range of situations, and in an ethically acceptable context. In doing so, this will need to focus on four main factors:
- communicative competence as the undertaking and achievement of a range of tasks;
- reliance on the contribution of the learners in the mobilisation of the linguistic competence which they might bring to the task;
- emphasis on the learning process as appropriate content during language learning;
- promotion of positive affect and attitudes.
These factors include being aware of language structures, mother-tongue interference, affective factors, methods of acquiring vocabulary, stages of learning, and effectiveness of communication, allowing grammar, structure, and lexis into the syllabus as learning aids for students embarrassed with and seemingly alone in their particular learning difficulties.
Tasks are a convenient unit of analysis for such a program for a number of reasons:
Tasks lend themselves to stimulating, intellectually challenging materials, especially those of a problem-solving nature, and of a kind which seem meaningful to teachers planning and implementing lessons (Long, 1990:p36).
This view is further reinforced and amplified by Skehan, who points out that:
A PPP approach looks on the learning process as a series of discrete items and then bringing these items together in common to provide further practice and consolidation. A task-based approach sees the learning process as one of learning through doing - it is by primarily engaging in meaning that the learner's system is encouraged to develop (Skehan, 1996:20).
Freedom to learn
When considering how to structure and present language-learning tasks, we need to remember that
recent empirical research ... has demonstrated that there is not always a direct correlation between linguistic predictions of difficulty and what learners actually do find difficult (Nunan, 1988:15).
It seems appropriate therefore to allow learners to discover their own preferred sequencing styles, and to include this freedom in the overall format. The learning-resources on this site therefore contain "Chapters" of suggested materials in a textbook-style format of interlinked and sequenced activities, providing the students with a structured base from which to begin. This offers teachers and learners a base from which to begin a process of growth.
It is essential, therefore, to remember that students will become (or might already be) members of society, at which time they will have to make decisions and accept responsibility. If they are to do so in an informed and responsible way, then promotion of critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and learning skills, must begin in the classroom, and must be the backdrop for everything that happens there. Students must be given the freedom and the responsibility to set goals, assess their achievements, and reflect on these before setting new goals. Such an approach, which puts the learner at the center of the learning process, requires 'learners' guides' to language learning, and 'ideas' and 'rationale books' for teachers.
Decision-making is a sophisticated activity, especially in a second language, and students might well wish to evade possible uncertainty and instability in the classroom. As Bassano mentions, there are a number of possible adverse reactions to the introduction and advocation of new ideas in any teaching situation, and these have to be recognised and addressed by the teacher:
- aggression - activities are controlled by a small number of students;
- discord - clique-forming, lack of politeness and consideration of each other;
- withdrawal - students find strategies aimed at avoiding participation;
- apathy - students are unwilling to participate within the group;
- evasion - use of L1 and other means of not talking about the task;
- egocentrism - students are interested only in their own contribution;
- confusion - students don't understand what is required of them;
- condescension - students are over-polite, but no real opinions are expressed;
- complaints - topics or tasks are rejected as impractical or unworkable. (adapted from Bassano, 1986:14-15)
In consideration of these possibilities, we need to promote a positive and sensitive atmosphere in which problems can be expressed and dealt with freely and openly:
As most learners find it difficult to articulate their needs and preferences, the initial stages of a course can be spent in providing a range of learning experiences. ... Learners should be encouraged to reflect on their learning experiences and articulate those they prefer, and those they feel suit them as learners (Nunan, 1988:6).
A typical classroom session could therefore consist of groups of students working on different tasks, interacting when they need to obtain information from members of other groups, and at times negotiating, (for example) in periods during which whole-class activities (e.g. jigsaw and pyramid tasks) were being performed. The role of the teacher during this time is to monitor, offer advice and counselling, suggest alternatives, promote discussion relating to effectiveness of learning strategies, and to model the language in a non-prescriptive manner. An important part of this role is to point out to the students that, despite their lack of confidence:
- they were making meaningful utterances in the target language;
- their preparation (learning strategies) had produced valid results;
- they were successfully communicating meaning to each other and to a native speaker;
- they had improved according to their own criteria.
Sano et al. (1984) claim that creative production is possible only in a "non-threatening environment" which encourages meaningful learning and the creative use of English. They see learning as dependent on:
warm-hearted interaction between teachers and learners, as well as among learners themselves. This friendly interaction is, in our opinion, the most essential factor in successful language learning. (Sano et al. 1984:171)
A number of researchers thus draw attention to the importance of the teacher in promoting learning environments "which are cognitively and affectively expanding, ¡¦ which enable the learner to become a more adequate and knowledgeable person" (Pine & Boy 1977:iii), and which recognise the place of affect in that process (e.g. Brock 1994:51). All too often, however, curriculum, teaching methodology, textbook, assessment and research, rely heavily and sometimes exclusively on narrowly-defined academic achievement, promoting "education from the neck up" (Rogers 1951) above development of qualities (i.e. genuineness, unconditional acceptance, and empathy) described by Rogers (1951) as being possessed by everyone, but rarely developed in a systematic way.
FInally, here are some quotes to complete the mission statement:
There is no substitute for personal warmth, tolerance and a positive attitude to people, to oneself and to others. (Legutke & Thomas 1991:35)
In addition to 'normal' testing, we need to pay attention to the basic moral purpose of education: promoting the self-actualization of every learner, to the fullest. (Van Lier 1996:120)
Education becomes a meaningless endeavour unless the education acquired has some impact on the human condition. (Pine & Boy 1977: 237)
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