I was recently pleased to get an email reply from Michael Swan (he of learner English and practical English usage fame). He is something of EFL hero, and while I don’t agree with everything he says, he makes a lot of good points and no one writes as well as he does. He is particularly adept at cutting though the bullshit prevalent in our profession. If you find yourself overwhelmed with “autonomous communicative negotiated schemata skills” or the like, then have a look at some of his articles, many of which are available free on his website. Even if you don’t agree with what he says, as far as articles go, they make quite entertaining reading. I’ve included a few snippets at the bottom here.
“Meanwhile the students – or at least, the conscientious ones – write down hundreds of pieces of new information in those overfilled notebooks that someone once memorably called ‘word cemeteries’.”
“We need to face the sobering fact that language teaching won’t usually get very good results. Languages are hard to learn, and there is never enough time to teach them properly.”
Two out of three ain’t enough: the essential ingredients of a language course
(IATEFL 2006 Harrogate Conference Selections, pp. 45–54)
(talking about if he were a student)
“I do not want to be taught reading skills. I have reading skills. What I want is some Hungarian to deploy them on.”
contemporary applied linguistics volume 1
“Teachers usually feel guilty about something: translating, or explaining grammar, or standing up in front of the class and behaving like teachers, or engaging in some other activity that is temporarily out of favour”
“We actually know hardly anything about how languages are learnt, and as a result we are driven to rely, in our teaching, on a pre-scientific mixture of speculation, common sense, and the insights derived from experience. Like eighteenth-century doctors, we work largely by hunch, concealing our ignorance under a screen of pseudo-science and jargon.”
A critical look at the Communicative Approach 2
For the sake of argument, let us imagine that an international team of burglars (Wilberforce, Gomez, Schmidt and Tanaka) are busy doing over a detached suburban house. Wilberforce is on watch. A policeman comes round the corner on the other side of the road. Wilberforce reports this to the others. Schmidt, who learnt his English from a communicatively oriented multi-media course in a university applied linguistics department, interprets this as a warning and turns pale. Gomez and Tanaka, who followed a more traditional course, totally fail to grasp the illocutionary force of Wilberforce’s remark. Believing him to be making a neutral comment on the external environment, they continue opening drawers. Suddenly Wilberforce blurts out, ‘The policeman is crossing the road’, and disappears through the back door, closely followed by Schmidt. Gomez and Tanaka move calmly to the wardrobe. They are caught and put away for five years. Two more victims of the structural syllabus.
A critical look at the Communicative Approach 1
p.s. A friend sent me this. Very funny. I suppose these are meant as jokes, but I actually think quite a few of them are true.