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September 1997 - Issue No. #28 (p.16)
Ecology, peace, racism, AIDS: we can do in the foreign language classroom what we do in many other classes; only we do it in the foreign language. Yet, is this my job?
All texts are "about" something. Topics enhance learner motivation and offer pedagogical opportunities. We have to provide language materials to empower our students to communicate about the topics and values that are important to them. Yet, this "referential syllabus" is not the target knowledge and skill.
Learning a foreign language is learning to communicate, to interact with, to negotiate what is foreign in our world. Learning English as a foreign language is learning to interact with whatever is English in our own and in other people's lives. Intercultural competence tries to educate learners to cope with the fact that being "foreign" to each other is the normal state of affairs. This is a challenge, risky but rich in reward.
LA explores and makes explicit how language functions in society, what role language plays. It acknowledges the roles of the language user and of the language learner, his strategies of learning, of coping with a new and frustratingly imperfect medium of communication. It further focuses on language learning strategies as ways towards a growing autonomy.
English is worldwide. It is an element of our everyday life, personal and political. English was the language of the British Empire and is the language of the western, US-dominated political power block. It is the language of international negotiation. It has become a, or the, language of multinational trade, industry and finance. It is the language of western political, economic and financial power. We share guilt and responsibility for change. We remember the influence of the US Army courses. We know about the spending of military money for FLT research Teaching EFL to developing countries ties them to western influence.
We can focus on the language used in situations where power, or non-power and peace are at stake. We can train the students to recognize doublespeak, hidden messages. We empower people to prevent them from being manipulated with language.
The activities we do, how we organise them, check results, sit in the classrooms, conveys a message about values and priorities. The classroom procedures may have a more important implicit long-term influence than the explicit content of what is said. Key concepts are: authenticity, learner initiative, self-access, learner autonomy: "the communicative class".
Negotiation is a central concept. It is exchanging views, checking understanding, comparing differences of opinion, respect, partnership and cooperation. It is not passive, but active, conscious consideration.
This is an approach to self-assessment. It formalizes a reflective approach to learning, accountability in education, responsibility for and "ownership" of one's own learning. It documents learning to other stakeholders (teachers, parents, institutions, employers). It shows someone's value through the best products as selected by their producer rather than by external judges.
A peaceful teacher cannot just follow teacher's guide instructions. He will be definition challenge his teaching continuously, follow processes and trace back the results to possible causes.
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