Sunday, 20 September 2015

You say tomato, I say tomato.

By following many teachers on Twitter from around the world, I find myself interested in the different perspectives on language teaching and, in particular, the use of different language to describe similar issues. The difference between the jargon of North American and British language teachers is notable.

In the USA much use is made of the word proficiency whereas, my feeling is, we tend to talk more about fluency or attainment on this side of the Atlantic. In the States the word foreign still has a a tighter grip than over here. Many of the state subject associations in the USA (no doubt owing to tradition) still carry the word foreign in their title, e.g. The Foreign Language Association of Georgia, the Maryland Foreign Language Association and the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association, to name but three of many. The more "enlightened" have moved over to talking about World Languages, a term barely used at all in the UK where we agonise over whether to say Modern Languages, Modern Foreign Languages or just Languages (MFL still holds sway despite being frowned upon by UCML). I'm sure WL must be cooler in the USA than FL. At least we all talk about TL.

In parts of down under they sometimes talk of LOTE (Languages Other Than English) which is very politically correct if cumbersome. It sounds like a girl's name to me.

In the USA fans of the TPRS method (a somewhat fanatical interpretation of "comprehensible input" methodology) like to talk of circling, when we make do with good old question and answer. I fancy that circling makes it sound like something more revolutionary and desirable than it actually is - it goes back to the 1960s at least. TPRS fans also like to talk (seriously) of silent periods whilst in the UK we are just happy if the kids stay don't talk too much.

In America they have grade books, whilst we have mark books. They have rubrics, we have mark schemes. They have formative assessments, so do we, except we more often call assessment for learning. Happily, they worry, as we do, about weighing pigs rather than feeding them. Even so, I still have the feeling, as I did back at university when I studied linguistics, that Americans are keener on the latest fad than we British who prefer to stand at the sidelines, feeling superior and taking pot shots.

Seriously, though, perhaps American teachers are keener on revolutionary methods because they were lumbered too long with dated methodology based on grammar-translation and pure audio-lingualism. Stephen Krashen found a ready audience for his views on learning and acquisition.  If Krashen had been British I doubt he would have attained the same loyal following and quasi cult status.In Europe we failed to swallow those things whole and engaged in frequent Krashen bashin', although some would say we succumbed a little too readily to the functions and notions of the strong communicative movement. We got over that.

Now the corny bit: isn't it great, though, that because of Twitter we can open up our minds to these different perspectives? Previously it was only academics with access to big libraries and overseas conferences who had that luxury.

Is it okay to say overseas?

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