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70 years of ELT Journal: continuity and change

Business meeting

Graham Hall is editor of ELT Journal and works at Northumbria University in the UK, where he teaches on Northumbria’s MA in Applied Linguistics for TESOL and MA TESOL programmes.

There are few things in ELT which are quite as long-standing as ELT Journal. This year marks its 70th anniversary, and, over those 70 years, the Journal has published well over 2,000 articles, over 1,000 books reviews, and countless other feature items (in 1967, for example, we find the announcement of a new venture, the Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language, now known as IATEFL: issue XXI: 3).

So what continuities can we see between the first issue and ELT Journal in 2016, and what has changed over time to stay relevant to teachers today? One constant is the overall aim of the Journal. In the language of the times, the opening editorial in 1946 stated that ‘our new periodical, it is hoped … will enable the teacher in the classroom to know what has been done and is being done to help him in his task and to exchange with fellow workers his own experiences and findings’ (issue 1/1). And today, the Journal ‘aims to provide a medium for informed discussion of the principles and practice which determine the ways in which English is taught and learnt around the world’ (ELT Journal’s aims are outlined in more detail on its website). That first issue also created the template for all subsequent editions – an editorial (although now, in the interests of space and readers’ patience, not in every issue!); a range of articles; book reviews; and a feature item.

Of course, there are also differences between ‘then and now’. As well as providing the editorial, the then editor A.S. Hornby also wrote two of the articles; this reflected the relatively small number of people involved or interested in ELT at that time, in comparison to today’s global profession. And the papers and reviews themselves – with their focus on Britain and British culture (by British authors), on the work of de Saussure, and on ‘Books you should know’ – strike a different tone to those in today’s ELT Journal; they aimed to chart a course and establish a field, perhaps, whereas today we hope to share knowledge and draw on common understandings, albeit as we engage in our professional discussions, debates and disputes.

From 1946, let us fast-forward 35 years, to 1981. A key event in ELT Journal’s development was its reconfiguration that year, to reflect the growth of our field and the increasing range of insights from relatively new academic disciplines such as applied linguistics, sociology and psychology. In his editorial (issue 36/1), incoming editor Richard Rossner, reflected upon the increasing diversity of the profession and the range of contexts in which English was taught, and emphasised that it is not ‘good for the profession if individuals see themselves as mainly concerned with ‘theory’ or only involved in ‘practice’ ’. The Journal aimed, overtly, to bridge the ‘theory-practice’ gap; similarly, today, ELT Journal ‘links the everyday concerns of practitioners with insights gained from relevant academic disciplines’.

And what of the content of ELT Journal 35 years ago, half way through its 70 year span? In issue 36/1, both the topics and titles of articles and of books reviewed are perhaps more familiar – debates surrounding the role of teaching materials, student autonomy and authenticity appear; language skills as well as language structures or systems are discussed; different learner age groups are recognised. And authorship throughout the publication is more international and no longer solely the preserve of men. We can see these trends maintained and developed further in the Journal today.

So in fact, this year marks two notable points in ELT Journal’s development – its founding 70 years ago, and its re-launch 35 years ago in 1981, when it became even more recognisably the journal we see today. To celebrate this, both the first issue of English Language Teaching (1/1; 1946) and the first re-launched ELT Journal (36/1; 1981) are freely available on ELT Journal’s website throughout 2016, and, if you have the opportunity to read them, you can track the developments I have briefly summarised here. You can also compare these past issues of the Journal with papers from the present day, through the online ‘Editor’s Choice’ feature, in which an article from each recent issue of the Journal is made freely available online, in many cases alongside short videos in which their authors discuss their paper and the ideas behind it.

Join us at IATEFL, Birmingham for the annual ELTJ Debate, taking place Thursday 14th April. The motion of this year’s debate is: This house believes that teacher training is a waste of time. Proposing: Peter Grundy / Apposing: Penny Ur.


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A very brief history of ELT Journal

The importance of content rich texts to learners and teachersRichard Smith is a Reader in ELT and Applied Linguistics at the University of Warwick, where he founded and has continued to develop the Warwick ELT Archive, a unique collection of materials connected with the history of English Language Teaching. He also edits the ‘Key concepts’ feature in ELT Journal, whose seventy-year history he writes about here.

ELT Journal celebrates its 70th birthday in 2016. It has been published since 1961 by Oxford University Press, but the first issue was produced in October 1946 by the British Council and distributed worldwide from its offices in Hanover Street, London. The journal was the brainchild of A.S. Hornby (1898-1978), and the idea for it came from his pre-war experience editing the Bulletin of the Institute for Research in English Teaching in Japan (see Smith 2007 and/or listen to this  interview with A.S. Hornby for more on the journal’s origins). Hornby edited the new journal for four years until he left the Council to devote himself full-time to dictionary- and materials-writing. His best-known work is undoubtedly the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English (which has sold more copies than any other OUP publication apart from the Bible) but his single-handed creation of ELT Journal was an equally influential achievement. The journal rapidly became a focal point for the nascent ELT profession and industry. Indeed, it is a little-known fact that ‘ELT’ is itself an abbreviation of the original title of the journal, English Language Teaching. A look at this sequence of covers will show how the title has evolved over the years, with ‘Journal’ being added in 1973 to prevent confusion of ELT, the journal, with ELT, the wider profession.

For a long period of twenty-three years, 1958 to 1981, which saw the transformation of ELT – the profession and industry – from a relatively small-scale operation into something more akin to the level of activity we see today, the journal was edited by W.R. (‘Bill’) Lee (1911–1996). Lee’s other major claim to fame was that in 1967 he founded ATEFL, now known as IATEFL – the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. The journal continues to enjoy a particularly close relationship with IATEFL, as with the British Council, and both of these organizations are represented on the journal’s Advisory Board, while the ELTJ editor is also on IATEFL’s Advisory Council.

In 1981, exactly 35 years after the journal’s foundation, its format was modernized, and a new editor, Richard Rossner, was appointed. The journal also became more open to applied linguistic insights and to an influx of ‘communicative’ ideas (see Hunter and Smith 2012). Since then, a succession of editors – all of them also well-known in the ELT profession for other achievements – have ensured that ‘ELTJ’, as the journal now tends to be known, remains at the forefront of developments in English language teaching theory and practice. 1981 also saw the introduction of an Editorial (Advisory) Panel, on which almost all of the ‘names’ in ELT have at one time or another served. This has been responsible for reviewing submissions and ensuring that the journal maintains its leading reputation. Special mention needs to be made, too, of Cristina Whitecross, who, from the 1980s until her retirement as Chair of the journal’s Board of Management  in 2009, was its mainstay and consistent ‘champion’ on the OUP side.

After Lee, the editor with the longest period in office was Keith Morrow, who edited the journal for 17 years, from 1995 to 2012. Philip Prowse took over from Morrow as Reviews editor and remained in this role for the same long period. This was a time when many previous certainties were overturned, with a large number of articles being accepted for publication which were critical of over-privileging native speaker teachers’ linguistic, cultural and methodological norms. Under Morrow and Prowse an increasingly wide variety of voices began to be heard, both in the journal itself and within the Editorial Panel, which became more international and diverse.

Bringing this very brief account up to date, innovative features under the present editor, Graham Hall, have included making one article per issue open access (as an ‘editor’s choice’ article), associating this with a short  video presentation by the authors, and encouraging themed issues. Alessia Cogo, the Reviews editor, has introduced new ‘Review Forum’ and ‘Authors respond’ features.

The past 70 years – and especially the last three decades — have witnessed an explosion of interest in ELT around the world.  Throughout, ELT Journal has remained a major focal point for interested professionals and practitioners, maintaining and nurturing a continuous tradition of principled exploration, in which theorization relating to practical experience, much more than top-down application of background research or theory, has been at the centre of concern. Over the years, alongside the British Council and IATEFL, ELTJ has contributed immensely to the professional image of teaching English as a second or foreign language, providing a space for the serious reflection and, above all, the maintenance of quality on which any profession depends.

 

References

Hunter, D and Smith, R. 2012. ‘Unpackaging the past: “CLT” through ELTJ keywords’. ELT Journal 66/4: 430-439.  Online: http://eltj.oxfordjournals.org/content/66/4/430.full

Smith, R.C. 2007. ‘The origins of ELT Journal’. Online (Oxford University Press website): http://www.oxfordjournals.org/eltj/about.html

 


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Teacher training: a waste of time?

Group of teachers working togetherGraham Hall is editor of ELT Journal and works at Northumbria University in the UK, where he teaches on Northumbria’s MA in Applied Linguistics for TESOL and MA TESOL programmes.

It is fair to say that teacher training is one of the central pillars of ELT. Anyone who attends an ELT conference is likely to hear about teacher training in one way or another – maybe in a talk or presentation, or maybe through marketing information and advertising. If we browse through an ELT book catalogue, we will find texts which discuss teacher training. The International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) has a Special Interest Group focused on Teacher Training and Education. ELT Journal publishes articles about it. And, of course, the majority of teachers have experienced some teacher training at some point, maybe on a pre-service course before taking up a job, or maybe on an in-service programme in the course of their working lives. Alongside, for example, materials writing, testing and assessment, and, of course, teaching itself, teacher training is one of *the* core activities of the ELT profession.

At this point, we should distinguish between the kind of teacher training being talked about here, the more formal kind which tends to involve participating in a course and contrasts with teacher development, which can be characterised as informal, collegiate, probably independent of any formal qualification or programme of study (although it may be coordinated by workplaces or teacher associations) and so on. And obviously, training courses for teachers vary enormously. Pre-service programmes might range from degree-level programmes lasting a number of years to short taster courses lasting a few hours or days; in-service courses can vary from a day’s training on a specific aspect of pedagogic or professional practice to a month or even year-long course involving observations, reflective discussions, further study and written assignments.

Yet what teacher training seeks to do is to equip teachers with the skills and abilities they need to help them, or help them develop, in their work. If we are talking about beginner teachers, these skills and abilities could perhaps be labelled ‘professional competencies’, perhaps the ability to analyse and explain language, or key techniques and approaches for managing classrooms (we should note, however, that the label ‘professional competency’ arguably has a discourse of its own, conveying an impression of teaching as a body of knowledge and activities that can be learned – see below!). More experienced teachers might develop reflective skills as well as ‘higher level’ insights into classroom practice.

And yet… although many people assume that a training course is an important – even essential – preparation for and part of professional English language teaching, does training really help or is it just a waste of time and money? Don’t we learn much more through experience, and by reflecting on what we do in the classroom? How can a training course, which inevitably will be one-step-removed from our teaching, capture the diversity and complexity of classrooms which we might eventually or currently teach in? Is teaching ‘just’ a body of knowledge and competencies that can be passed on in a course? Aren’t teacher training course, by their very nature, going to be somewhat prescriptive, pointing us towards certain ways of teaching and of thinking about teaching, rather than truly encouraging us to think through for ourselves the full range of possibilities for our classrooms?

These are some of the key concerns which surround teacher training, and many readers and bloggers will have valid responses and retorts to these questions.

But the issues will be discussed and debated again and in more detail in the ELT Journal debate, held at the IATEFL Conference in Birmingham (UK) on Thursday 14th April, 2016. There, Peter Grundy will propose the motion ‘This house believes that teacher training is a waste of time’; Penny Ur will oppose the motion. For more information about the conference, go to http://www.iatefl.org/.


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Let’s celebrate 70 years of ELT Journal

Birmingham LogoThis year Oxford University Press is excited to join IATEFL in the effort to bring more teachers to the 50th annual IATEFL conference in Birmingham through the Scholarship scheme. Sponsoring a scholarship seemed to be the most natural way to celebrate our own anniversary – the 70 years of ELT Journal, a quarterly publication for all those involved in English Language Teaching (ELT), whether as a second, additional, or foreign language, or as an international Lingua Franca. The ELT Journal has long had strong links with IATEFL, and the ELT J Debate has become an eagerly anticipated fixture in the IATEFL conference programme.

We hope that through this scholarship practising teachers will get a chance to take advantage of the IATEFL conference as a professional development opportunity – both in terms of ideas and theory shared at the talks and workshops, but also as a great time to network with fellow teachers from around the world.

The IATEFL annual meeting gives a truly global overview of contexts, experiences and practices, and to many delegates that is most valuable aspect of the conference.

It is not necessary to be a member of IATEFL to apply, and the applications must be submitted to IATEFL by 23 July 2015. Detailed criteria for the scholarship are available on the list of current scholarships.

APPLY FOR THE SCHOLARSHIP:

http://www.iatefl.org/scholarships/scholarships-how-to-apply

The award consists of:

  • Registration for the Pre-Conference event of the winner’s choice
  • Registration for the IATEFL Annual Conference
  • A year’s IATEFL membership
  • GBP 1500 towards conference related costs, including travel, accommodation, and visa costs
  • An annual individual subscription to ELT Journal online
  • An Oxford Teachers’ Academy online course of the winner’s choice

To qualify you must:

  • Be a practising teacher in primary, secondary, tertiary or adult education, state or private
  • Be interested in continuous professional development
  • Agree to submit a blog post about your conference experience by June 2016, to be published on the OUP blog: oupeltglobalblog.com
  • Agree to be interviewed (on video) by OUP about your conference experience, to be published on the OUP ELT global YouTube channel

To be considered for this scholarship you must submit a statement between 400 and 500 words in which you:

  • Outline your teaching context, including a brief description of your teaching community and the part you play in it.
  • Outline the professional development opportunities available to you in your context.
  • Identify key professional challenges NOT addressed by the professional development opportunities available to you in your context.
  • Outline an action plan for how you intend to take the learning gained during the conference to your teaching community.

APPLY FOR THE SCHOLARSHIP:

http://www.iatefl.org/scholarships/scholarships-how-to-apply


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Janet Enever reflects on the #ELTJ Debate at #IATEFL 2014

Janet Enever at the ELTJ Debate at IATEFL 2014At this year’s ELTJ Debate, Janet Enever (Umea University, Sweden) argued against the motion that ‘This house believes that Primary ELT does more harm than good‘. Janet shares her thoughts on some of the points that came out of the debate. You can watch the full recording of the debate on the IATEFL Online website, or catch up on the highlights in our Storify story of the event.

Firstly, I’d like to say how pleased I was to hear so many interesting and relevant points raised at the ELTJ Debate. Together, they provided fruit for a really valuable round table event – perhaps this would be a more productive format for developing shared understandings and creating networks than the adversarial stance of a debate.

Here, I’d like to pick up on a few points raised that I felt were particularly important – just to start the ball rolling for additional perspectives to be aired.

There’s proof in the pudding

Firstly then, the exciting new evidence from Eva Wilden in Germany! A study of over 6,500 children at the end of the German primary school phase (aged 10/11 yrs). She reported clear evidence of greater progress in receptive skills by approximately 50% of the sample who began English earlier. This large scale study is very significant evidence. In addition, the study linked higher achievement with stronger reading skills in German (national language – which may or may not be the children’s first language). Can we extrapolate from this that higher level literacy in the language of schooling/L1 works hand-in-hand with higher achievements in English?

I’d like to add a note here on the broader question of literacy and politely take issue with Fiona [Copland]. There is now strong evidence on the potential of early language learning to contribute positively to literacy in L1. The references are now too numerous to list here, but perhaps I can include one quote and suggest that for anyone interested, it would be worth following up on this particular source. So: Fernandez (2008:8) summarises evidence, that:

far from detracting from the development of literacy, learning a second language actually enhances and enriches children’s language experience and offers unique insights and opportunities for the development of cognitive skills, which are unavailable to the monolingual learner.”

It seems possible that Eva from Germany has evidence of just this happening – I’m glad to say that she has now agreed to present at our conference in Umea this June – so join us if you can to hear more! Of course, OUP are one of our proud sponsors!

Political buy-in

Secondly, I’d like to mention the contribution of a colleague from Bangladesh. I haven’t had the chance to spend time there so cannot pretend to be knowledgeable on the challenges, though I’ve heard this account many times and seen many of these challenges elsewhere in the world. The current problem for Bangladesh seems to be that there are very few positive aspects to this policy decision! Here I will take up just one.

From the ELLiE study we learnt that primary English teachers need a fluency level of at least B2 if they are to be able to respond to the unplanned, informal everyday requirements of English in the primary classroom. In many contexts this continues to be a distant goal, but this does not diminish its importance. At a language planning stage we need to ‘help’ politicians to fully understand this and strategically plan to achieve this target. Years ago when I worked in Poland (soon after the political changes), I witnessed thousands of teachers of Russian losing their jobs. Some, astonishingly, managed to speedily turn their hands to rapidly learning English and became excellent English teachers instead. The shift in language choice that has occurred there over the past 24 years is certainly remarkable, with a national policy now established for introducing the first foreign language (mainly, but not only, English) from the start of schooling. However, in a country of 40 million, this has taken a generation to implement – and they are still working on it. Evidently, Bangladesh has much greater challenges – probably not only in the teaching of primary English, with large classes and a struggle for adequate resources.

How much is too much?

The final point that I’d like to discuss relates to the question of ‘how many languages are possible at primary level?’ This is indeed a difficult question to answer – probably impossible! A delegate from Switzerland outlined their current debate. Last year I attended a national discussion forum on this in Bern where I learnt that English was creeping up the agenda in a number of cantons, and concerns were rising particularly about the decline of their fourth language – Romansch. From informal coffee break conversations I gained the impression that the German speakers in particular no longer saw French as so important/valuable as English.

This topic links also to the question raised by a British Council representative from Senegal in Francophone West Africa. Similarly, there, current discussions consider whether children will suffer from overload if they have to cope with learning two languages in addition to their home language/mother tongue/language of schooling (various terms may apply in different contexts). In response to the question of: ‘How many languages are too many?’ we can cite countries such as India where it is often the norm for young children to shift between 3-4 languages in their daily lives – but these are generally languages that are widely used in the community. We can also cite smaller-scale examples where three languages are taught in schools from an early age – e.g. Luxembourg, Belgium, some regions of Spain such as Catalonia and the Basque region. However, again, at least two of these languages are widely used in the community, whilst the third (English) is seen as a high status international language.

From this and other evidence then, we know children can cope, but we have to ask whether the contextual conditions are sufficient to provide enough support for them to make progress. With good teachers, good resources and a supportive wider community (both in and out of school) I’m sure it can be done. However, achieving this on a wider scale takes substantial national/political commitment. Of course, it also takes a significant amount of class time so it’s important to consider the priorities and take care not to create a primary curriculum that suffers from overload. In Africa, I know it’s a real dilemma, with some former colonies having opted for non-local language as the medium of instruction from the start of schooling and then later recognising this might result in only limited progress in basic education. The theme of Medium of Instruction deserves a separate discussion I feel – and was not the focus of the Debate. Here, we are discussing the introduction of a foreign language, together with the teaching of a former colonial language (English or French mainly).

My expectation is that the outcome is unlikely to be balanced bilingualism. Nonetheless, the experience of learning two languages early, in addition to the first language, will certainly provide a valuable foundation for later further development – assuming the conditions are sufficient to ensure good provision. Of course, Harry Kuchah’s contribution from Cameroon serves as a salutory reminder on how difficult it can be to achieve satisfactory conditions for learning.

There are so many more points I would like to discuss, but I hope the above provides some food for thought and provokes further discussion. As you can see, there are so many perspectives to consider.

If Janet’s points on the ELTJ Debate have interested you, or you’d like to challenge them, feel free to leave a comment below. And don’t forget to watch the recording of the Debate or read our Storify highlights.

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