Henry Widdowson: Henry Widdowson. I’m at the moment in the University of Vienna. That’s where I teach now.
Well, uh there are certain things of uh—that have to do with character, qualities of character, I think. Um, very generally what makes a—a teacher—a good teacher of anything um, perseverance and patience and sense of empathy with the people you’re teaching. That’s one thing. And another I think is um a matter knowing your subject. And I think knowing what the subject of um English is—English as a foreign language or English for speakers of other languages, um is it self, I think, quite a controversial issue. So I think that um it partly qualities of per—of the person, personality which I’m not sure you can do very much about and the other part is um having um a knowledge, a competence in the subject that you are teaching. Whether this be physics or in our case uh, uh English.
If you think of the subject, English, um it has to do with something to teach. So it has to do with a what. It has to do with who you are teaching. Um, you define a subject in relation to these two aspects, these two—these two um participants if you liken the process. So if you think of um the teaching process you can always think of it as um, um considering the verb teach which is a verb with two objects. Um, I teach English, I teach students. All right? And uh the subject is a relationship between the what and the who. I think if you look at development over um well certainly since I’ve been working in the profession, I think that the developments have to do with reconsideration of either or both of those two things. The what and know. So there have been changes in the thought about what it is we should teach. What is English? All right? And there have also been changes to how we take account of the who and what involvement the who, the student, should have in the process. And so if you—I think the two major developments um which impinge on our field, which impinge on English as a foreign language or English of speakers of other languages um as a subject. You have a whole area of research, which relates to who. The process that um the person has to go through to learn a language. And there’s been a whole lot of research on the what, particularly recently in work on corpus descriptions of a language which um, um claim with a good deal of justification that now for the first time we can capture what it is that uses the language actually produced whereas previously it was left to intuition. So I think that there—the developments have to do with um how the what, the language itself for teaching, has been redefined. And also in relation to who the learners are and what kind of process they go through in the actual learning process they go through in the actual learning process.
What we—what we know about the learning process and—is in spite of the vast amount of research that’s been done in um—in second language acquisition research is still very limited. And in a way it’s bound to be so because it seems to me that um the process of—al though there are unquestionably general processes of language learning which we can identify as to some degree at any rate universal, there are also local constraints, local conditions. And these are not obviously universalably knowable. So one of the things we don’t know and in a sense cannot know are what the local conditions for learning are. For example, we know that although one might um identify a certain general processes of language learning, that there are also influences in relation to who the learners are, what their background is, their age, their level of cognitive development, their own language, their own first language, and these are local conditions which clearly cannot be made global. I mean you know what kinds of things to look for, the variables so to speak, but the specific values are only knowable by people, teachers, and learners in that local context. Um, so we—we know—we know a good deal in general about learning uh processes. But there are certain things, which I think never can be learned. I don’t know whether that uh (interruption) What was the other—the other uh, what…
I think what we still need to understand or at least what we still need to appreciate um is that there needs to be a localization always, a localization of learning. I think that there’s also a tendency to assume that a certain principle which may, in fact, appear to be universally uh viable and universally valid because it works in a particular part of—a particularly influentially part of the world, that this is transferable to other circumstances. And I think we need to relatavise and need to recognize the um—the local—the local conditions that have to be taken into account that are often I think in the past we’ve tried to generalize to broadly and to readily. And we’ve tried to be, if you like, to—but of course it suits many people that it should be global because you can claim to have certain global principles and techniques, which work everywhere. Then, of course, it makes the task apparently much easier. And, of course, those who have the power and—to promote this approach uh would wish clearly uh to maintain this illusion. That is in their interest to do so. But increasingly it seems to me that uh (clears throat) we that in particular circumstances, people learn in very different ways. Uh, and the language they learn also, English, is foreign in different ways. And some may say that English is a foreign language, it is—that is what we’re teaching. It’s—the subject is English—not English as it were generally, but the subject is as a foreign language. And its foreignness is bound to be different depending on who the different students are in different circumstances. So you can’t generalize foreignness. All you can say is it is foreign, but it is foreign in very many ways for many different kinds of students. And I think it’s what we need to know, at least we need to acknowledge, is that the subject, English, what we’re teaching and who we’re teaching is effected by who we are teaching it to because the subject we’re teaching is foreign in different ways in relation to the students we are teaching it to. So the subject has to be defined in terms of the what in reference to the who. (interruption) Yes, I don’t think that there’s an infinite number of variable, I think that one can identify a number of salient variables, age, um cognitive development, and um status of uh the student’s own language, degree of literacy in that language, for example, um the attitude to the language being learned. Because English begin learned by someone, for example, in one country, they may have a very different attitude to English uh from those learning it in another language. That English is Africa or Nigeria, for example, is not the same language as it is let us say in Austria. And so that we know we—in a way we can identify certain dimensions, sudden variables. But the values that they take on in particular circumstances is something that I think is very, very different from place to place. (interruption) Yes, yes. That’s right.
The difference between—I’m not sure that there’s a difference um or that I would wish to make a difference between uh skill building and the development of communicative competence. Um, communicative competence is a tricky concept. Um, it is sometimes used to refer to knowledge, the knowledge we have, and sometime to the ability to act upon that knowledge and sometimes both. Um, if one is talking about acting upon knowledge or realizing what you know in some acts of uh—some activity rather, um you’re into skills. To what is tradition called skills. And I think that um when one takes um a—if one looks at the nature of language as communication I think one has to rethink what skills are because I think that there’s a very big difference between skills in uh perhaps the traditional sentence of simply um, uh making manifest what you know as in uh give me a sentence of English uh, “My tailor is rich.” or “The sky is blue.” Now that you’re demonstrating the skill of giving voice to what you know about an English sentence, about the structure being descended, repet—repetitive drill would be the same. Um, exercising skills, practicing the ability to give voice to sentences or write them indeed um is I think a traditional notion of skill. If you think of why one would normally wish to do this, then I think that it’s better to think in terms of an ability to act upon what you know in order to achieve a purposeful, communicative, meaningful outcome. So it’s the ability to uh—ability for me is an accessing of knowledge called language as a communicative source to achieve meaning which is—which has some point—which has some purpose. Not simply displaying language, but actually realizing it in order to achieve some kind of purpose or other.
A very—again—the—the—the motion of communicative competence. (doorbell) I think there are two ways of—communicative concept uh was the concept, which comes from Dell Himes, embraces by um people working in um uh, communicative language teaching taking a communicative orientation to language teaching. And I think you could interpret in two ways. Um, you can think of communicative competence, the development of communicative competence as—as rehearsing students in patents of appropriate behavior. Appropriate that is to say, to context of language use. So you can say what we must do is to provide um students with um examples of—of actual communication. Communication, which would pass muster as communication in the world outside the classroom and somehow rehearse them in patented behavior so that they are competent to cope with the real language outside. Another way of looking at say—well, um rather than try to rehearse um students in patented communicative behavior, we need to invest in um certain kinds of knowledge and ability, which they can subsequently realize as is when the occasion arises. I think that there is a problem with the rehearsal principal, if you like. That is that you really uh—well, there are several problems, I think, with rehearsal principal. One is that you don’t really know uh what kind of situation your students are going to find themselves in. You do—you simply do not know what kind of appropriate responses or appropriate language behavior they will be called upon to produce in the users world. It’s unpredictable. Um, another is it’s unteachable. Um, you cannot, it seems to me, predict and therefore you cannot teach um, um the particulars that fine grain detail of appropriate—culturally appropriate language behavior. I think all you can do is to invest in those features of language knowledge and ability, which are going to give you the best kind of return. And that means teaching features of language from which learners can subsequently learn not only in the classroom, but after they finish their course of instruction because in a sense the end of the course of instruction marks the beginning of learning, not the end of it. Because it’s what people—how people can exploit what they know and exploit their ability for subsequent learning. How they can fine-tune what they have uh been taught and adjust to the various situations they meet. That’s something that you can’t teach, but can only—but can only learn. Um, and so I think with communicative competence um I don’t think there’s any—there’s any uh future in trying to somehow import uh a native users communicative competence into the classroom and set that up as what is to be achieved. I think that the only thing that we can do is to find—is to identify um, um what is crucial about the language as a communicative resource and invest in that. So you have a teaching investment, which will activate learning at the time and perhaps more importantly afterwards. I think we try to teach more than can be taught and we—we—we still seem to assume that the only—the only things that learners can learn is what we teach them.
I’ll try to give you an example of the difference between what I call a rehearsal—the rehearsal principle and the investment principle. (interruption) Um, um if I were following a rehearsal principle, what I would say is, “Well, um my guess is that my learners will um arrive one day in the United States or in Britain or um in other native speaker environments and will uh need to know how to behave when they’re in that context. So I will um, uh teach them, for example, that in Britain you don’t shake hands, that uh the—the normal patent of interaction is um, uh “How do you do, how do you do.” Um, and uh in American particularly I think it is very much a matter of exchanging names, which is not the case in Britain. So there are cultural differences here. And I would say, well, if they’re really going to be competent, communicative competent, in this language they’re learning um then uh they ought to learn these patents of appropriate behavior. Otherwise they’ll be marked as a foreigner. And that’s agile. Uh, now I would argue that um, um there is really no point in teaching this because in the first place, um as I pointed out, it varies from place to place. And the second place—in the second—in the second place—secondly, um the uh—this is something that they will acquire, fine tune to very rapidly indeed. And thirdly, I suppose, even if they don’t, so what. And there’s—there’s no reason why they should imitate the customs and conventions of a particular culture. They are learning English as an international language. Why should they conform to the cultural marries of a particular group of speakers? Now an investment principle wouldn’t teach that at all. And it would um get learners to do meaningful things in the classroom, meaningful to them even though they may be very remote from the real world, to get them to realize the communicative value of the kind of language that they’re learning in various kinds of activities. All right? So that they learn the language as a communicative resource by doing things that may be very different from what is done in the real world, in the sociocultural context of the—of the world of the users. In other words, I think that the investment principles shift the emphasis to the learner in the sense that its starting point is to say what’s real for learners? What—how do we make the language real for the learners? How do we get them to use the language in ways that they feel are purposeful, meaningful to them. If you can do that, you invest in the language in the sense that you give them a sense of what they can do with it. They can interact with it with their own uh—with—within their own classroom community. They can express information in it. They can express feelings in it. They can even joke with it. They can do communicative things with the language. But these communicative activities don’t have to be replications of the real world of the language user, nor they’re for rehearsals for that world. But they—they—they are activities which are meaningful to those so that they can appropriate the language as the investment for subsequent use. (interruption) Can I just add? (interruption) Um, if one thinks of this rehearsal investment, of course, this is—this is not to say that as learners progress and particularly if you are—if you do have a clear idea of what their destination is—is to be, that is to say in terms of ultimate use of the language, there’s no reason why one should not include the reality of the users world, the context of actual languages. So I am not saying you—you um, uh leave it out as a matter of principle, I’m saying that the crucial for me, uh the crucial condition is context of the learner and the context of the classroom to provide this momentum for learning which is subsequently then as it were developed by the learners themselves.
Well the—the two terms, authority and autonomy um, um have um, um—have—are in fact quite controversial and they—they um have emerged as being significant I think overt he last um 10, 15 years, particularly the notion of autonomy. Now um, authority um relates to the teacher. All right? And autonomy to the learner. If one thinks of teachers and learners of playing two kinds of role um, um and the—the relationship of the two, the process, which involves these two participants, is the teaching/learning process and the teachers in charge of the teaching side and the learners in charge of the learning side of it. Now it seems to me that um that being so, it is—it is the teacher who’s responsible for setting the agenda. The—the teacher ultimately directs the process. Now that doesn’t mean to say that it has to be a one-way transmission. It doesn’t mean that therefore the learners have no room for maneuver, um have no room for autonomy. But the autonomy I believe has to be limited uh because learners I think do not find their own way by some kind of in build homing device. They—I believe they have to be guided and directed and to believe otherwise is, in my view, to actually um, uh withdraw from your responsibilities as a teacher. I think a teacher’s job is to set the agenda, is to direct operations while allowing for learn—learning intervention, uh for the learner to um—for the teacher—the teacher has to be sensitive to the—to the reactions of the learner and be ready to take up opportunities which may not have been in advance. So that the learner, of course, uses uh oppor—every opportunity um to um develop the learners pro—uh progress. But I think ultimately uh it’s the teachers program. But there is a responsibility here that the authority of the teacher to direct or to circumscribe uh without restricting and the autonomy of the learner, has to be based up on expertise, a knowledge of some sort. Uh, which is why, it seems to me uh teacher education is so crucial, that unless teachers accept the responsibility of being professional, they really have no right to direct the learning process. They can’t direct and presume a sense of—they can’t uh force the learners to learn. They can only set up conventions for learning. But they are in the business of setting up these conditions. And this must be based on some expert knowledge. All right? Some—some expertise beyond just experience. All right? So there’s no use, I think, a teacher saying, well, you know, ‘I—I can teach English because I know English and I have the experience of English therefore I can teach it.’ It has to be an expertise beyond experience. And this expertise, I believe, has to do with understanding the nature of the subject, the relationship between the language, which is the destination, which the learners are going to arrive at, and the process that the learners have to go through in order to get there.
Um, one can I think interpret the term global language in two quite different ways. Um, one can talk about global language uh in the sense that it’s um, English for example, is to found all over the globe. OK? So you find it spoken by native speakers or second language speakers, everywhere from Nigeria, India, Australia, New Zealand, United States, and so on. So it has a global sort of spread. Um, but it’s also global I think in a somewhat different sense and that is that it’s global as a lingual franco. So it’s not only that it’s global in that its used around the globe as a native tongue, let’s say, but it’s also used and increasingly so between people who do not have a native tongue at all. And in—quite—quite soon I think we are told by those who have studied the question, that the English that is spoken as a lingual franco by people who do not speak it as it were natively will outnumber those who speak it natively. So uh you’ve got one definition of local, which is as it were a scatter of loc—of global as a scatter of local languages. English is global because you go across the globe, you’ll find it in Australia as well somewhere else and so on. But it’s also more important it seems to me, global in the sense that is developed into international lingual franco. Now that has enormous implications for the definition of the subject because then you have to ask, “Well, what is this e—this English as a foreign uh language or English for speakers of other languages are we talking about?” This English has to be defined in relation to who you’re teaching it too because it’s foreign in different ways for different kinds of learners, but these learners are not learning for—for the most part, are not I think learning the English in order to chat with people in Britain or Australia or New Zealand. They’re learning it in order to um key in with a whole range of global activities through the Internet and elsewhere in business and in science and technology and goodness knows what um, for international exchange and conferences and so on. And that is not a language, which belongs to any of the native users. It is a lingual franco, which is become uncoupled from the specific groups of language users. So then if you think in those terms, you think to yourself, “Well, we better think—we’ve got to think about the subject again in respect to two—two things. One, who the learner—not only who the learners are in terms of what their experience and what their own language is and where they—what their background is but, what the—what the destination is. Uh, what do they need language for? And at the moment, all of our descriptions of English are essentially descriptions of native speaker English. That is not the English that most people are learning the language for. They are learning it differently. So they not only use it uh—uh, as the English of TESOL or the English of EFL, not only is English foreign, but it’s also a lingual franco. And if you take those two things together, it really has enormous implications for how we define what we do and how we interpret what people tell us uh about the nature of language and the nature of language learning. So it provides us with a way of being critical in a positive sense about what, for example, descriptive linguists tell us about what language—what language is really like and it also, of course, makes us think again what people in psycholinguistics tell us about the nature of language learning in general.
Uh, an enormous amount. We can—if one looks at that the pragmatic uses of language is normal context of occurrence um and this has been done um extensively over recent—recent years. You—you can find out an enormous amount um about how language is used not only to communicate but to mediate social relationships, how language is used in the exercise of power, uh how language is used not only to liberate but also to oppress and—and there’s—over the last two—two or three decades, there’s been enormously important work done uh on the pragmatics of actual language use. And—but it—but I think one—one has also to look at areas where this has not been done. I mean it’s—it’s tended to be done in context of nature speaking use, but there’s also an enormous task which is not yet been started on for describing the way English is used as a lingual franco between people uh who do not have it as another tongue, the pragmatics of the lingual franco English. And that is something I think we have yet to discover.
Um, error analysis um and second language acquisition research has been very influential um, um over the last what 30 years or more. And—and it’s—it’s very illuminating in the sense that it indicates what kinds of errors or what kinds of uh language—language learners that the—the basic point being um that when a language learner produces a so-called error, you could of course look at this as a negative feature of their behavior because um they’re learning does not conform to your teaching. Right? And that is it were a teaching based negative assessment of uh error. Or, of course you can say exactly the opposite and say, well, if you shift your focus to the learning process after all—the subject has to do with the teaching/learning process. If you think not of how far do learners measure up to what I’ve taught, but how far have they taken the initiative to learn, then you can see the errors can be seen as evidence that they have taken the initiative. They are learning. They are in a sense appropriating the language to themselves. And that ultimately is what we have to do as a learner of a language. We have to appropriate it to ourselves. We have to make it our own. So errors can be seen as this process of—of the learner actually appropriating language. And work on their analysis um has indicated what kinds of appropriations the students go in for. And—and one of—and one source um of um influence uh on errors and therefore one thing that the learners draw upon is of course their own experience, their own experience of their own language. So uh errors are very often, they’re not entirely reflective of the learners own language, but they do obviously relate in many ways to the learners own language because the learner is using um his or her own language in order to find a way in doing this and make it less foreign and appropriate it to themselves, which is exactly what we want to do. So what I think error analysis could indicate to the teacher is what kinds of behavior uh learners tend to go in for as they were. What kind of deviations they come up with, why they should do that and not to correct the error but to exploit it. To recognize that in some sense can be seen as a creative appropriation of the language. But, of course, the teacher’s job is to direct them to—towards a norm, which is going to be acceptable whether this is a norm which is a native speaker defined one or a norm, which is a lingual franco, defined one. A norm at any rate uh in reference to which the students are going to be actually assessed because the bottom line is that at the end of the day, the students are going to have to pass an examination and uh, it would be a dereliction of duty if the teachers did not bear that in mind. So the teachers I think have to guide the learners towards what is taken as being the norm. All right? But they can do—best do that by understanding the nature of the learner behavior which—which um they are engaged in—in the process of learning.
There is uh a considerable debate going on at the moment um about the virtues of contrived or invented language and authentic language. And there is um sometimes an assumption that authentic language, real language—the real language of the native speaker so to speak um is really the only language, which is worth teaching. Um, my view would be that it is of the very nature um of teaching that you actually contrive a language. You invent to some extent—totally invent a new language, of course. But you—you modify language, you structure it, you organize it, you select it, in ways which it will be effective for learning bearing in mind that the language you’re teaching is a foreign language. And so I don’t think that you can simply import reality from outside. What you do I think as a teacher is that you contrive language which is going to be real for the learners. Um, and I think it has to meet two conditions. One is that it has to be language, which the learners really do feel engages their reality, no matter how remote it may be for a reality outside. Uh, that this is—this is language that for them has a point. All right? But also you have to I think contrive language; organize it in some way that it actually promotes the process of learning. So there’s no use uh the language—engaging the reality of the learner if it doesn’t have this—met the second condition, which is that the learners have got to learn from it. So I think you need to manipulate language as a teacher so that learners can learn from it. But the manipulation of the language doesn’t mean that you make it unreal for the learners. It may be unreal in respect to—you—you can say, “Well, you know, native speakers don’t do this—they don’t use language in this way.” And my answer would be, “Well, I don’t care whether they do or not.” Um, the crucial think is that learners themselves should feel that yeah, there’s a point in this. But at the same time, of course, the language you present has to be such as to make clear for the learner um what it is to be learned. It has to follow an investment principle in the sense that it’s got to provide for their learning as well uh—so I think you’ve got to contrive language so it appeals to the learner and is effective for learning. As long learn from if you’d like.
Um, yes I think if you consider for example another uh current um debate about the effectiveness of task-based learning, um which is—which is has—has very strong advocacy over recent years. What you do with the task, and at some times a distinction is made between a task and an exercise. A language exercise um exercises the language. It—it provides an opportunity for uh students to use their skills in manifesting formal structure sentences and so on in speech or in writing. A task is something, which engages the learner in some activity, which has a point, all right, other than simply displaying or exercising the language. Um, but in order for the task to um to—to be meaningful to the learner and to have a point and respect the learning process, it has to be—it can’t simply be imported from outside. I mean, there’s no way in which um you can simply replicate a situation outside because that will not give you the problematic uh character of the task that you need to draw the learners attention to the specific things they have to learn. And so although the notion of authentic language has an appealing to ring to it, I mean who wants to be told they’re not teaching real English, (mumbles) but in a sense learners—uh teachers are not teaching real English who’s reality is a native—is a native speaker’s reality. It’s real because it’s real for the community of language learners themselves. And I think actually that—that if you do try to replicate authentic language in your classroom, it can actually have exactly the opposite effect. It can alienate the students because they can’t engage with it. They—how can they engage with a reality they have not yet learned the language to engage with. (talking in the background) This is—this is the sort of issue I mean.
It really has to do with um the notion of uh English as an international language. That everyone says, “English is an international language therefore it’s—this is why people are learning because it’s an international language.” But there is a certain um, um curiosity about this because um we say English is an international language, at the same time we claim owner—ownership of it.
Yes. But the more it is used on the Internet for international communication, global business or whatever; the less it uh is a property of particular native users. (interruption) And if one thinks through the implications of the international status of English, it is international because it is used by a whole range of people internationally in certain domains of activity um as a lingual franco. (interruption) Now if you think of that then it seems obvious that we’ve got to think again about how you define what it is with—you teach uh under the name English.
Well this—this uh—the question of realization of communicative acts as a—as a pragmatic question relates to the um—to the issue of what we learn from pragmatic descriptions of language use. Um, and we—we learn um a—a good deal about um how people manage their affairs and manage each other and by uh—by means of language. Um, the—one thing I think that—that um one needs to bear in mind, however, is that um the specific descriptions of communicative activities in a particular domain um are not necessarily relevant in the language classroom. That what we—the more we understand how communication works, the better able we are to identify the salient features there of which we can then so to speak um reformulate and recontextualize within the classroom. So it’s not a matter of saying, “Ah, we now know how communication takes place between specific people in a native speaking environment,” we therefore know what to teach. It’s much more a matter of saying, we now know by our analysis of communication what the basic processes are, what the salient features of the communication are, how they relate maybe to the communication in the learners own language, and we’re—we are then able to—to re-express or to use this analysis to uh produce language which is going to be effective—appropriate and effective for the language learning process. If you see that is—that it’s not a matter of simply uh importing the language, but of using the analysis of it to suggest ways in which we can invest by our teaching in a knowledge of the language as a communicative resource. And ultimately the learners might then find themselves in the situation from which you originally got your data. But engaging with that situation as a matter of the fine-tuning of learning which you cannot teach them. (interruption) Yes. (interruption) That’s right. (interruption) Exactly. I think one of the key issues of—of—of language pedagogy is um how you interpret and make relevant to your own local situation the language descriptions and the psycholinguistic descriptions of language learning that are available. Uh, because there’s so much work in language description and particularly of English and so much work in psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics, uh a massive literature in linguistics and applied linguistics, one temptation that the practicing teacher is to say, “Well there’s to much. I have a practical job to do. Leave me alone. Let me get on with it.” That’s—then I think that um to say that is to actually uh deny that you are in a profession and I think you cut yourself off from acquiring the kind of authority you need as a teacher and who has the responsibility and the right in a sense um to direct the—as far as you can, the learning process. But on the other hand, it is a complex world and so it is absolutely crucial in language teacher education in my view, to develop in learn—in teachers um a sensitivity to what is going on out there in the world of research and language description. But to develop in them um, um, um, uh, uh, um, a critical sense. A sense—an ability to identify what is relevant to their concerns and what is not.
Um, um, well, um I—um, I think in a way there are um—there’s a global side and a local side and it’s relating the two that um—that um is the crucial thing. If you think of teacher let’s just say physics. All right? Um, um, you’d expect a physics teacher to know something about the subject physics. Um, and you’d also expect the physics teacher to know how to make the content of physics accessib—interesting, accessibly to learners in ways which would engage their interest and engage their learning. And you say this is good physics teacher if that teacher can do that. And it is exactly the same I think with a—an English teacher. We then have to ask, “What is it mean to know English as an English teacher—the subject English?” Just as you ask, “What is it mean to know physics as a physics teacher.” You don’t know physics as a discipline; you know physics as a subject. Right? And the physics teacher has the same—is the same uh—in the same position in a sense. I mean he can’t import Einstein’s special theory of relativity into his relatively early years of physics teaching. He’s got to construct the subject from the discipline. And in the same way, the teacher has to construct a subject, English, from the discipline of linguistics, psycholinguistics and so on of a whole literature of—about the nature of the language and the nature of language learning. And the construction of this subject, all right, has therefore to depend upon the learners being—the teachers being aware of, just as the physics teacher can’t teach a subject which is dissociated from the discipline. Right? You can’t say well, “My physics has nothing to do with Newton.” All right? So in the same way, clearly there—the subject has to be a fashioning of information, a fashioning of insights or whatever from the informing disciplines. All right? So that’s one thing lang—the English language teacher has to know something about language and something about English. The what. But also the language teacher has to know—that’s the global side if you like, the global side is that, but equally, the language teacher has to know something about eh learners in their charge um who they are. More specifically, what kind of community do they come from the—as it were the primary community of the—the primary culture and what kind of community they can create in the classroom? That’s a local matter. So there has to be a relationship between what is known and what the teacher is informed by in terms of knowledge of the wide uh, disciplinary field and how that leads to a definition of the subject which is sensitive to the particular groups of learners that they’re concerned with. And this brings up another interesting issue, which I don’t know whether uh we want to discuss at this point, but if one thinks of the subject as crucially to do and language teaching is crucially to do with relating the what with the who, relating the English with the speakers of other languages. That is the crucial link. That if you emphasize the English part, disregarding the speakers of other languages, and if you say, a competent teacher is someone who knows the language, then of course, the person who’s likely to be your best candidate as a good teacher is a native speaker who knows the language. All right? And that can say, “You know, I know the language” and with reference brings out with the corpus descriptions, “I can tell you in great detail just how the British or the Americans or the Australians use the language.” Right. If on the other hand, you shift your emphas—your emphasis to the speakers of other languages and recognize therefore that the subject is English as a foreign language, those who actually have the advantage now are not the native speakers, who have never been—never had any experience of English as a foreign language. Of course, the advantage now shifts to those teachers and they’re the majority in the world, all right, who actually know English as a foreign language and are likely to know who their students are. So you—this is why I think the—the—the crucial issues, the localization issue and the task I think has always been in—in language pedagogy, how you relate the global to the local. How you—you can’t do—you can’t focus on one without the other. If you’re going to uh define English as an effective subject. I don’t know whether that…
Well in the case of—I mean, I—I—I uh believe that um if one—if one thinks of the teacher as uh being—as pedagogy general as being concerned with a what? A—a—a—a sort of a subject which relates to some kind of content which derives from a discipline, but also crucially linked to a particular communicative learners, a physics teacher in a particular school will have as it were the second kind of knowledge, but not the first. So I—my view would be that if for example you would ask they physics teacher to take charge of the English class, all right, um that that physics teacher would already have in place a good deal of pedagogy expertise um based on uh a knowledge of um how in that particular social cultural environment, the learners—what makes them tick. And that would already uh be an enormous advantage. And I’m not so sure that learning the English part of it would not be relatively straightforward. I think it would be easier, in other words, for a local physics teacher to take an English class then an English speaker to take an English class.
Well, um most—most—in fact all of my professional life, I’ve been engage in an activity called applied linguistics. And—and um this claims to be uh an attempt to make uh theoretical areas um in particularly linguistics, relevant um to the practical domains, particularly in the present situation to the teaching of English as a foreign or second language. Um, and I—what I would like to see is um—and—and what I try to do not always a very great success is to develop um a critical sense um—a critical curiosity on the part of teachers. Now I know—language teachers. Now I know it’s difficult because teachers are very often—very often have low prestige and low salaries and generally speaking um not the most privileged people in the world. That is extremely difficult where—in many parts of the world almost impossible uh, uh and we forget that. We tend to forget that. I mean, most of—most of the ideas we have, the debates we have are actually among the very privileged few and they don’t touch on maybe I don’t know 80, 90 percent of the world’s teachers. And what my concern is um—I’m not so this is a soapbox uh so much, but I’m—I’m concerned with how one can actually help teachers to make local sense of their own circumstances, how they can um draw upon whatever sort of global um—um global research or ideas that are available and to um develop um a—um an expertise of their own. And it’s very difficult to do because um ideas—ideas that those in positions of power and privilege tend to express and—and—and—and not always easy to localize. And somehow there is—there is a—definitely a gap between the kinds of debates we have on what we should do in language teaching. The people, for example, most of them who come to the TESOL convention and talk about uh recent developments and so on, but for the vast majority of teachers out there um, this does—uh they are as it were, left out in the cold. And I—there should be some way in which uh we can um make them locally more effective. Um, the term—the popular term is empowerment, if you like. Um, but um I suppose it’s this notion of uh localization. The localization of learning which uh I think we need to pay more heed to then we have in the past. I think we’ve been too busy in many ways sort of uh polishing up our own global ideas and they sound good. Um, and we impress our peers sometimes and we have a nice comfortable feeling of achievement, but we still um—we are left with this problem, I think of establishing these ideas as locally relevant. And I suppose that is something I would like to see more of.
Well, in a way um what I—um one can say of the learner that um, um he or she can—can—has to be responsible for their own fate, so to speak, for their own progress. You can’t—actually you can induce, you can provoke, you can create conditions for learning, but you cannot actually uh cause—directly cause learning to take place. I mean, the learning happens because of a set of conditions. So teaching and learning is no equation. Um, (cough) and I think the same maybe is true of teachers. Um, um the—teachers have to learn to teach for themselves. And this is one of the things I mean by locali—be—of—of—of establishing local relevance for their own activities. You can’t actually um rehearse or force teachers to teach in a certain way. All you can do is create the optimal conditions whereby they themselves find, appropriate if you like, teaching to themselves. (cough) But having said that, I think that the—there is—there is a whole range of possible insights that they can draw upon and it would seem not very sensible not to seek to draw upon them. Um, it—I don’t see much sense in saying, “Well, I will reflect upon my own practices but I will pay no attention to what other people have said and I will disregard theory.” And I think the crucial thing is to—is to interpret theory—other people’s theory um, um and see in what respects this is maybe to yourself. It’s really a kind of—it’s like a cross-cultural issue in a way. I mean, we—we—we recognize this with various um—in various cultural context, for example. The cultures develop by contact with other cultures. The—the way in which people practice moods of behavior is informed in all kinds of ways by influences from outside. Now you need to filter the influences. Some influences uh from outside are consistent with yours, some our not consistent with yours. Some will affect radical alteration in your way of thinking and some will have no affect whatever. Some will be benign and some will be quite the opposite. So I think that the—the crucial thing for me is that the teachers, yes, have to by the nature of their craft act locally and—and learn themselves how to teach effectively in the community they create in their own classrooms. And you can’t tell them to do—how to do that, but I think you can, as it were, let them know, inform them of a whole range of different things, a whole range of different ideas and guide them as far as one can into a critical appraisal of these ideas in order to—to see what relevance they might have for their own practice. So that’s what I mean by informed practice and I accept the notion of uh the reflective practitioner. My point I think would be, fine, but they need something to reflect about and what they can reflect about is very often something from outside their own domain, just as it is, I think with any cross-cultural uh influence.