Skip to main content

Review: Key Issues in Language Teaching

Key Issues in Language Teaching is an impressive 800 page volume by veteran ELT writer Jack C. Richards and published by Cambridge University Press in 2015. Although Richards is from the ELT field, this book would be of great interest to modern language teachers.

The book is divided into four major sections:

1. English language teaching today
2. Facilitating student learning
3. Language and the four skills
4. The teacher's environment

The 21 chapter titles include:

Second language learning
Approaches and methods
The language lesson
Age-appropriate methodology
Grammar
Vocabulary
Listening
Reading
Speaking Textbooks
Technology
Testing and assessment

Chapters usually include an overview of the main theory and research in the area, practical ways of applying theory in the classroom, teacher testimonies, lesson plans and other resources.

For example, his chapter on listening discusses approaches to teaching listening, one-way and two-way listening, features of listening which cause difficulty, top-down and bottom-up processing and strategies, the listening lesson and assessing listening. He gives just the right amount of detail before rounding off, as with other chapters, with a handy summary of key points.

Richards has a very clear written style which is well suited to his target readership of teachers. Although he makes frequent reference to research, quoting the leading scholars in each area, e.g. Paul Nation for vocabulary and John Field for listening, the reader never feels overloaded with detailed references. The style is always easy and, no doubt, the result of some excellent editing.

His coverage of different approaches is balanced, allowing equal weight to audiolingualism, natural, communicative and oral-situational approaches, task-based teaching and project based learning. Trainee teachers would find this an excellent overview (even obviating the need to buy Richards' other excellent book on approaches and methods).

One way in which the book manages to avoid being dry is the inclusion of teacher testimonies - boxes where individual teachers talk about their own experience. there is a brief bio of each of these contributors at the back of the book. In addition, the lesson plans, while relating to ELT, could often be adapted for MFL teaching.

One chapter which may be less relevant to classroom MFL teachers is the final one on professional development, which specifically targets EFL teachers.

Overall I can thoroughly recommend this manual. It's a book you can dip in and out of and one which provides a firm theoretical and practical foundation for both novice and more experienced teachers who wish to deepen their understanding. At around £40 on Amazon it is not cheap, but the price is justified by the length of the book and the huge amount of work which went into it. Jack C. Richards is one of my favourite writers about second language learning and this might be his magnum opus.

Here is Jack talking about the book.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A zero preparation fluency game

I am grateful to Kayleigh Meyrick, a teacher in Sheffield, for this game which she described in the Languages Today magazine (January, 2018). She called it “Swap It/Add It” and it’s dead simple! I’ve added my own little twist as well as a justification for the activity.

You could use this at almost any level, even advanced level where the language could get a good deal more sophisticated.

Put students into small groups or pairs. If in groups you can have them stand in circles to add a sense of occasion. One student utters a sentence, e.g. “J’aime jouer au foot avec mes copains parce que c’est amusant.” (You could provide the starter sentence or let groups make up their own.) The next student (or partner) has to change one element in the sentence, and so on, until you restart with a different sentence. You could give a time limit of, say, 2 minutes. The sentence could easily relate to the topic you are working on. At advanced level a suitable sentence starter might be:

“Selon un article q…

Google Translate beaters

Google Translate is a really useful tool, but some teachers say that they have stopped setting written work to be done at home because students are cheating by using it. On a number of occasions I have seen teachers asking what tasks can be set which make the use of Google Translate hard or impossible. Having given this some thought I have come up with one possible Google Translate-beating task type. It's a two way gapped translation exercise where students have to complete gaps in two parallel texts, one in French, one in English. There are no complete sentences which can be copied and pasted into Google.

This is what one looks like. Remember to hand out both texts at the same time.


English 

_____. My name is David. _ __ 15 years old and I live in Ripon, a _____ ____ in the north of _______, near York. I have two _______ and one brother. My brother __ ______ David and my _______ are called Erika and Claire. We live in a _____ house in the centre of ____. In ___ house _____ …

Preparing for GCSE speaking: building a repertoire

As your Y11 classes start their final year of GCSE, one potential danger of moving from Controlled Assessment to terminal assessment of speaking is to believe that in this new regime there will be little place for the rote learning or memorisation of language. While it is true that the amount of learning by heart is likely to go down and that greater use of unrehearsed (spontaneous) should be encouraged, there are undoubtedly some good techniques to help your pupils perform well on the day.

I clearly recall, when I marked speaking tests for AQA 15-20 years ago, that schools whose candidates performed the best were often those who had prepared their students with ready-made short paragraphs of language. Candidates who didn't sound particularly like "natural linguists" (e.g. displaying poor accents) nevertheless got high marks. As far as an examiner is concerned is doesn't matter if every single candidate says that last weekend they went to the cinema, saw a James Bond…

Worried about the new GCSEs?

Twitter and MFL Facebook groups are replete with posts expressing concerns about the new GCSEs and, in particular, the difficulty of the exam, grades and tiers. I can only comment from a distance since I am no longer in the classroom, but I have been through a number of sea changes in assessment over the years so may have something useful to say.

Firstly, as far as general difficulty of papers is concerned, I think it’s fair to say that the new assessment is harder (not necessarily in terms of grades though). This is particularly evident in the writing tasks and speaking test. Although it will still be possible to work in some memorised material in these parts of the exam, there is no doubt that weaker candidates will have more problems coping with the greater requirement for unrehearsed language. Past experience working with average to very able students tells me some, even those with reasonable attainment, will flounder on the written questions in the heat of the moment. Others will…

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…