Saturday, 26 March 2016

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’ (http://pdcinmfl.com). The point is this: it’s all very well saying there are no ‘methods’ for teaching a foreign language any more but it can’t then be a free-for-all with teachers doing exactly what they want to do. As much as I believe in teacher professional autonomy, language teaching is so complex that you have to have a series of guiding principles.
 So “make sure students receive plenty of meaningful input in the L2” – absolutely! I’ve never come across a successful classroom that doesn’t provide plenty of that.
“make sure students have lots of opportunities to practice orally” again totally agree but I would go a step further and say that they have to take risks with saying things they are not sure are correct. Take a look at “Steve’s tips for developing spontaneous talk’ on page 85, he brings the notion of risk-taking in very nicely but it should be part of the actual principles in my view.
“be prepared to explain how the language works but don’t spend too much time on this” – this is really key! I always use the expression “at what cost?” At what cost, given the amount of teaching time you have,  are you explaining the difference between the perfect and imperfect tenses, in the L1, when they could be doing something much more skilled-based.
So I think the 12 principles are sound (is there some reason there are 12?). I think the last one about ‘a significant focus on the L2 culture’ needs some more unpicking. Exactly what culture are we talking about? Smith and Conti are teachers of French and Spanish I believe. Well ok we can have some notion of the culture of the people who speak those languages and it is possible to give learners some insights into them but we have to be careful a)not to trivialise the culture and b) not to centre it on some European (‘metropolitan’ as the French would say) idealised culture. And then of course if you are a teacher of English as an L2 the notion of culture enters a completely different theme park!
 Anyway take time to read Smith and Conti’s book. It’s packed with lots of interesting and not too ‘whacky’ ideas.
 Ernesto Macaro
Professor of Applied Linguistics, University of Oxford

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