Which Route to Take??!     A Lot of Food for Thought from Scott Thornbury Plenary Birmingham 2016

     I really enjoyed listening to Scott Thornbury’s Plenary talk for a second time after IATEFL was over!! The Spirit of the Conference is still in the air with a lot of sessions and interviews to follow!!

     Scott started his talk with the 1966s and how linguists and educationalists gave great importance to teaching grammar and following rules without giving enough importance to ‘Communicative Competence’. He gave examples of linguists who tried to go against this trend as Dell Hymes who divided learning the language into:

n  Sociolinguistic competence
n  Linguistic competence
n  Strategic competence

While New Mark called for not teaching bits and bits of language. “Language is learned a whole act at a time not an assemblage of tasks”. Followed by Pit Corder who said that “language is not knowledge, but a set of skills”. Also Asher came forward introducing the idea of Total Physical Response.

       Yet these ideas were contradicted by linguists like Bruce Pattison in 1967 Plenary of ATEFL saying “The much publicized revolution is not a leap forward, but a regression into routine and dullness.” We could also hear people speaking about training students “to learn by making as few mistakes as possible”.

        These ideas went to and fro until the call for ‘Communicative Language Teaching’ started to appear by 1971 with Postman and Weingartner, Chris Candin, Savignon, Widdowson……etc. This was followed by a mix of the two trends during the following years, yet the sounds for ‘Communicative Language Teaching’ became louder and more acceptable.

       Here Scott started attracting our attention to a fact that we need to “rebrand what we do as ‘educational’…… We can’t forget that we are part of the bigger field of education.” Teachers should not be turned just into service providers, suffering from the fact that they have to train students how to pass tests. Publishers as well need to be looking into the real needs of Students not just to think that they think they only want to learn about grammar.

      As a final conclusion, Scott summed up the whole situation of teaching English into Three Routes:

1.                 Pragmatic Route
            Listen ---- English is a subject to be practiced and tested
                              Developing the Reading ability should be an Objective

2.                 Dogmatic Route
n  Get rid of the Course Books and go back to using language in class for its purpose
n  Use language Communicatively
n  Perhaps we could think of getting rid of teachers as Sugata Mitra mentioned last IATEFL!!

3.                 Dialectic Route
n  Combine both  ---- use Holistic Method

     As a way out, he gave two examples of two very interesting projects as food for thought for the future:

1.                 Learning in the Wild (Nordic Countires)
           Where the people learning the native language are asked to go out to the streets to places or shops where they inter act with people and try to use the language and if they get stuck, they can call a volunteer for help!! It is a way to communicate class with real Language use!!

2.                 Hands Up Project  by Nick Bilbrough and the British Council
           Where Nick tries to help students in areas like Gaza and Syria to learn English and improve their communicative ability by communicating with them online.

     Ending up with L.G.Kelly’s quote “The Place of grammar in the learning process has never been really clear, for even when the tide has been running in a certain direction, some teachers have always tried the opposite”, he gave us food for thought for the future of English language teaching!!

      It is time for a new outlook for teaching for the future, should we only be thinking of following, any of the routes mentioned, or the dialectic one or have a braver leap of mixing ‘real language use’ with everyday teaching classes???!!

PS: For full references, refer back to Scott Thornbury’s Plenary on https://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2016/session/plenary-scott-thornbury

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