Thursday, 11 February 2016

How we wrote The Language Teacher Toolkit

The Language Teacher Toolkit available from Amazon.

I have been blogging about second language learning since 2010 and about a year ago I came across Gianfranco Conti's blog about what research can tell us about language acquisition and classroom practice. I was struck by how informative and interesting Gianfranco's posts are. You very rarely come across teacher blogs which refer to research so explicitly. We made contact via Twitter. Gianfranco mentioned that he had been following my blog for some time and was happy to get to know me. Then, if I recall correctly, someone on Twitter (@mflguru, I think) asked why we didn't write a book together for language teachers.

We both thought this was a good idea, got together on Skype and Twitter and quickly pieced together the general structure and content of a handbook. We were keen to try to maker a strong link between research and classroom practice, but to try to keep the focus mainly on practical advice and classroom techniques. We were particularly keen to make the book as clear, interesting and readable as possible.

Over the next few months I wrote drafts based on material I had previously written, lots of material from Gianfranco's blogs and newly researched material from a range of online articles and language teaching textbooks I acquired. During this process I became more interested in and knowledgeable about skill acquisition theory and 'meta-cognitive strategies', which are a special area of interest for Gianfranco and formed part of the work for his doctorate. As for myself, my interest had previously been in direct method (oral situational) teaching and the comprehensible input hypotheses of Stephen Krashen, which I had focused on for my MA thirty years ago. It's fair to say that we have both been fascinated by second language acquisition theory and research over the years. I hope the book reflects various strands of thought fairly: we refer to TPRS, AIMLANG, comprehensible input, skill acquisition, direct methods, communicative language teaching and learning strategies.

Gianfranco read drafts and suggested changes and additions, whilst, at a later stage, my friend Steve Glover (of offered to do an initial detailed edit of the chapters. That was tremendously useful, particularly as Steve was able to add his own suggestions from many years of experience. My former teaching colleague - and the best teacher I have ever known, Anne Swainston, read a few chapters and gave us some feedback, as did Carmel O'Hagan, a teacher trainer in London. In addition, Sarah-Elizabeth Cottrell ( gave us some useful feedback on selected chapters from the point of view of an American teacher. (Writing for a diverse readership is a challenge.) We are grateful to all these wise people.

Finally, as the book took shape and grew longer and longer, we had to take some decisions on what to cut - we dropped a specific chapter on learning strategies and could have done more on phonology and teaching pronunciation. My wife Elspeth Jones, an experienced book editor, did a painstaking and critical final edit and format before we sent the book off to Createspace (Amazon). The Kindle version of the book will be available very shortly.

Incidentally, Gianfranco and I discussed whether to try to go with an established publisher or to do our own thing by self-publishing. We chose the latter for a few reasons: it would be much quicker, we knew we had a good editor, the royalties are considerably higher when you self-publish and we have enough contacts, we hope, to market the book for ourselves. For anyone interested in self-publishing we can strongly recommend Createspace.

Gianfranco and I hope that the book achieves its objectives: to show that there is no one best way to teach languages; to reveal what the latest research and theory suggests and what classroom strategies that would imply (read Gianfranco's blogs for good examples of this); to establish some clear principles for effective practice based on research and our own experience; to encourage teachers to reflect on what they do and critically question what they are told; to explain some interesting aspects of language learning; to offer lots and lots of practical classroom tips on language teaching, behaviour and motivation; and finally, to offer example lesson plans for French, German and Spanish.

Gianfranco has also written about this from his point of view. Needless to say, we are quite excited about the whole project!