Friday, December 02, 2016

Teach and Learn: Reflections on Communicative Language Teaching

A Course Book for Teaching English as a Foreign Language
By Peter McKenzie-Brown
Teach and Learn: Reflections on Communicative Language Teaching. A Course Book for Teaching English as a Foreign Language
© 2012 Peter McKenzie-Brown
ISBN: 978-0-9881503-0-0
English Language Teaching and Learning
Revised, December 2016

I found the cover graphic for this book on the Internet in the early 2000s. The originator appears to be unknown.

Foreword

This is one of seven books I have written as author or co-author. It is available in PDF format at this link. Enjoy it. It will contribute to your understanding of English and also to your teaching success.

The statistics beyond the English language are startling. Of all the world’s languages, of which there are approximately 2,700, it is easily the richest in vocabulary. The multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary lists about half a million words. A further half-million technical and scientific terms haven’t even been catalogued yet according to traditional estimates. “About 350 million people use the English vocabulary as a mother tongue: about 1/10 of the world’s population, scattered across every continent and surpassed, in numbers, though not in distribution, only by the speakers of the many varieties of Chinese,” wrote a team of linguists in the 1980s, and in the years since the prominence of the language has grown far greater. English is the global tongue – the language of business, science, technology, sports, glamour and virtually every other international activity and enterprise you can think of.

To teach English to the great masses of potential students requires armies of English teachers, and this book over the years contributed considerably to the enormous effort. For that reason, I am proud to bring it up again in this online format. Its purpose is to help its users become great English teachers. Yes: you read that right.

To become a great English teacher, what do you need to know and what do you have to do? I reflected continually on those questions during a four-year teaching sojourn in Thailand. This book presents my answers.

After being invited to develop a course in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) at Chiang Mai University’s Language Institute, I developed this text for my students – all of them westerners preparing for a stint teaching English overseas. I improved the text continually while I was teaching, and revised it again once I decided to make it available as an e-book.

The book’s structure is straightforward: Study notes, essays, readings, and appendices. Besides commentaries on the complexity of the English language theory and the many challenges English teachers face, these materials cover grammar, pronunciation, a summary of writing errors (and ways to correct them,) and a glossary of language teaching terms. Clearly useful for my teachers in training, these materials are equally valuable for teachers in the field.

I would be remiss not to describe the TEFL course itself. Besides three-hour classes, five days a week, my students – typically 12-15 in number, who generally became close friends for the duration of the course – broke into three groups each evening to participate in two- hour English classes for Thai students. (Three experienced teachers – I was one of them – conducted the classes). For the last two weeks of the five-week program, the students took turns preparing their own lesson plans. Each conducted one lesson while the instructor observed.

This book covers information about Thai history and culture. For those expecting to teach outside Thailand, this material may be interesting only. However, it also carries a lesson for the teacher working far away: Because of the importance of socio-linguistic understanding, wherever you find your teaching assignment you need to take the initiative and learn about local culture and history. Ideally, you should also begin to learn the local language. Becoming part of local society, rather than remaining an outsider, makes life easier for you. It also helps you appreciate the language learning challenges your students are facing.

The classroom is an unpredictable place where almost anything can happen, and what you need to do often involves gut feel. My most vivid experience occurred when one of my students – a very pleasant woman in her 40s (and a vegetarian) – didn’t show up for class. Since attendance was mandatory, this surprised me. The reason for her absence became clear half an hour later, when one of the other students received a call. He went into the hallway to receive it, and then summoned me out to talk.

It turned out that my student was in the Chiang Mai jail, because the previous night she had shot to death the father of her many children. I had to make a decision quickly, and I asked the student who received the call to say nothing, so the day’s classes could continue. Another teacher may have chosen instead to call off classes for the day.

Many books served as sources for the material used in this book and are noted in the bibliography and endnotes. Of particular note for the language teacher, though, is Stephen Krashen’s Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning – the other textbook for my TEFL course. Other valuable resources include How Languages are Learned (in the early days, also used as a textbook for this course) by Patsy Lightbown and Nina Spada, and Teaching American English Pronunciation by Peter Avery and Susan Ehrlich.

I owe a debt of gratitude to my own teachers, Laurie Anderson and Ruth Epstein of the University of Saskatchewan, and I need to thank one of my former students.

Presently a math and English teacher at Thanyaburi High School in Thailand, Dave Walker recently asked for the latest draft in PDF format, because the document is now impossible to come by in Thailand. That simple request – and the continuing popularity of my Language Matters: Studies in Language, History and Energy blog, in which my online essays on language are particularly popular – started cogs moving in my head. I soon concluded that by publishing this book I could again contribute to the great institutions that are growing up around the need to serve the multitudes of people around the world who seek instruction in the five skills needed to master English.

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