ELF 5 Part 5 – Kurt Kohn on Pedagogy and SLA

I listened to Kurt Kohn on ‘A Pedagogic Space for ELF in the English Classroom’ this afternoon and was extremely inspired by his social constructivist stance on the issue of teachers’ attitudes and beliefs towards ELF.

Here is his talk.

EFL and ELF: Diverging perspectives

The orientation in EFL is towards standard NS English, Educational regulations for ELT institutions (in Europe) continue to be based on an exonormative SE role model.

Empirical evidence from ELF research shows that successful ELF communication despite deviations from standard, communication strategies are used for communicative success (accommodation, meaning negotiation, and ‘let it pass’), and deviant phrases and structures can be shown to emerge through endonormative processes of ELF development.

The ELF communication argument i.e. reference to the rich diversity of successful ELF communication seems to be the obvious line argumentation. But for many teachers, however, this argument doesn’t seem to work. There is low acceptance among teachers and teacher trainees, and there are frequent misunderstandings (‘Do you want me to teach incorrect English?’)

Kurt asks, Why do we have these misunderstandings?

Why is the ELF communication argument often only poorly accepted by teachers?

Convincing accounts of diversity, plurality and success of ELF communication.

But the perceived subtext by teachers is: Your SE orientation is not in sync with reality (=your SE orientation is bad!)

You end up in a deadlock: For teachers with an SE orientation, the SE part of the ELF communication argument sticks out and makes them reject the whole argument.

Teachers who better understand how languages are acquired (SLA) will better understand the implications of ELF. And teacher trainings does not cover SLA enough.

So, how do we acquire English?

  • I acquire English by developing/constructing/creating my own version of it my mind, my hear and my behaviour.
  • In communicative, social interaction with others.
  • Influenced by my target language model, my native language, my attitudes & motivation, my goals & requirements, my learning approach, the effort I invest and last but not least the people I talk to.
  • It is in this social constructivist sense that the English I develop is my own.
    And it is inevitably different from any target language model toward which it is oriented.
  • The ‘My English condition’ is not an option, but part of the human condition.

In a strong version of SE orientation (which is what is most often done in EFL classrooms), learners are required to comply with standard English (teaching) norms and the closer they get, the better. But this is a procedure only compatible with behaviourist copying process that still lurks in the background.

In a weak version of SE orientation, learners take standard English as a model for orientation and they create their own version of it.

It is thus important to understand language learning as a cognitive and emotional process.

Imagine that the Mid-Atlantic SE (MASE) is my learning target. What kind of MASE would that be?

Linguistic descriptions of MASE on the basis of solid empirical research.

My version of what MASE is may not be another’s.

The weak version of a SE orientation is fully compatible with an endonormative conceptualization of ELF development.
Challenges for ELF research and pedagogy:

Extension of the endonormative view to include a ‘weak’ SE orientation

A promising turn in ELF research: teaching ELF is about the process of developing the kind of English users/learners are able to make authentic for themselves – including SE

Challenges for ELT

Because of the strong exonormative version of a SE orientation, learners tend to stay alienated from their creativity, resulting in frustration, anxiety and even fear.

Urgent need for an endonormative conceptualization of language learning and teaching (MY English) and acceptance of constructivist ‘weak’ SE orientation.

ELF in the foreign language classroom

Focus on raising awareness for LF manifestation of English

– to increase tolerance for others and for oneself

Focus on developing ELF-specific comprehension skills

– to get accustomed to NNS accents and ‘messy’ performance.

Focus on developing ELF-specific production skills

– to improve pragmatic fluency and strategic skills for accommodation and collaborative negotiation of meaning in intercultural ELF situations

Focus on developing the learners’ sense of ownership (‘agency’)

– to ensure speaker satisfaction and self-confidence

Liberation through communicative participation

How can ‘liberating’ conditions be successfully implemented in the English classroom?

  • CLIL – Practice Enterprise – Creative Writing
  • ‘Pushed output processing’/ ‘languaging’ (Swain 2006) – with increased self-satisfaction as a target (instead of better compliance with an external norm)
  • Authentic and autonomous web-based communication and collaboration
  • All with the aim to explore and extend one’s own creativity ( Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development)

The overall principle is to acknowledge that NNS/learners of English are speakers of English and not merely people learning English.

All in all, this was a talk that was so inspiring that I thought it deserved a blogpost all on its own. Kurt Kohn not only spoke sense but also showed us in very practical ways how we can shift attitudes of ELF towards useful and empowering standpoints that can help both the teacher (NS and NNS) and learners to better understand the process of language acquisition and how to provide conditions for a more helpful mindset to developing language competence.

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Author: chiasuanchong

I am a freelance communications trainer and a teacher trainer based in York, UK. With 13 years of experience training students from all over the world to communicate better in English (and in particular, Business English), I am also a professional blogger, materials writer and intercultural trainer.

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