ELF7 soundbites: Evolution, not revolution

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ELF7logoThis is the second in a series of mini-posts featuring “soundbites” from the 7th Annual Conference of English as a Lingua Franca, held from 4-6 September 2014 in Athens, Greece.

The aim of this series of posts is to give a flavour of the breadth of topics covered at the conference and simply to share some of the ideas, words and moments which made this year a memorable one for me.

Soundbite #2: Andrew Blair

“Evolution, not revolution.”

Dr. Andrew Blair noted several trends in teacher education and teacher development, noting that for ELF to be accepted by more teachers (among others) as a legitimate use of the English language, teacher education is key, and earlier rather than later in their careers.  He has conducted research into awareness of ELF among experienced teachers, and cited some participants who commented that earlier exposure to concepts such as ELF “would have been incredibly useful”.  He tentatively concluded that initial teacher training does not adequately address ELF and related ideas.

Based on my own experience of teacher training, I’d have to agree with this, as well as another point he hastened to remind us of: that change takes time.  Hence, development and/or change at the levels of language policy, teacher education, teachers’ and learners’ attitudes and so on is more a question of evolution than of revolution.

This reminded me of Robin Walker‘s explanation in his 2010 book:

“Teaching pronunciation for ELF is primarily about re-thinking goals and re-defining error, as opposed to modifying classroom practice.” (p. 71)

In other words, teachers who are hesitant about accepting the basic principles of ELF and/or uncertain about how to apply these to their classrooms should remember that it isn’t necessary to overhaul everything they’ve ever believed or done!  But it is important to question our beliefs and practices from time to time, to be aware of how English is used in the world, and to consider how our own students might fit into this picture.

At ELF7, Andrew was referring to change in teachers’ beliefs and practices, but the same is true for language change.  No language is a fixed entity.  Languages are dynamic systems which evolve as people use them.  Some will argue that learners need “clear and consistent learning models” (Swan, 2012:384); but when dealing with changing goals and moving targets, teachers may well ask, “How/Where do we start?!”

That’s a question to be addressed in multiple other posts, I think…

 

Andrew Blair is the convenor for the MA English Language Teaching course at the University of Sussex, teaching on the Second Language Acquisition,Principles and Practice, World Englishes, Research Methods in ELT modules. He is also a Trinity College TESOL trainer and runs courses for overseas teachers of English and language assistants.

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