Enlightening, but where is the Tefl?

Routledge Encyclopaedia of Language Teaching and Learning
June 8, 2001

Tim Connell on a good handbook that falls short of being encyclopedic.

A guidebook to language in the global village, The Routledge Encyclopaedia of Language Teaching and Learning provides useful overviews of key subjects in the field, such as curriculum and syllabus, or evaluation and research, and offers some practical information concerning teaching methods and the types of materials to be found in classroom use. It covers a handy range of concepts, which include classics such as Sapir-Whorf as well as rather more recent additions such as global education, human rights and cross-cultural psychology. An interesting variety of languages are drawn upon, including a useful section on sign language. Comparative practices appear from half a dozen countries and regions, with additional insights into initiatives across the European Union, including the European Language Portfolio, which is being launched this year.

Certain difficulties arise from the nature of an encyclopedia, as reader expectation is for the contents to be, well, encyclopedic. The back cover refers to the work more aptly perhaps as an authoritative handbook. Authoritative, certainly: the range is very broad, but not fully comprehensive, despite an eminent editorial team and an impressive line-up of contributors, representing an ample variety of countries and languages. Wide-ranging undoubtedly, and the suggestions for further reading are extensive and valuable. A lot of thought and care has evidently gone into the construction of the book, and the choice of items within each heading, which makes it all undoubtedly encyclopedic.

Inevitably, perhaps, the reader's choice does not always coincide with that of the editorial board. It would be hard to argue with the list of influential figures provided (and it is welcome to see Alexander von Humboldt in a work on language rather than botany or zoology), but a significant number of other people could usefully have been included, however briefly: if living figures such as Noam Chomsky appear, then Umberto Eco should have been listed, or eminent contributors to the field like David Crystal, Eugene Nida and Randolph Quirk, not to mention unique figures like Eric Partridge or Ernest Gowers.

There are some interesting sections on methodology and practice that will be of interest to long-standing tutors and novices alike, as well as to those with a nodding acquaintance with techniques such as Suggestopedia, Silent Way and the use of Cusenaire Rods in language teaching. But it is perhaps unnecessary to devote more than two columns to the humble overhead projector, including a 20-line definition of what one actually is. Something on the implications of DVD, Worms and other items at the cutting edge of technology would surely have been more valuable, though there are some interesting diagrams showing how the multimedia centre concept has developed.

The book is more than fair in not concentrating excessively on English, even though English is acknowledged that English is the one language that appears in the school curriculum in most parts of the world, "because it is assumed to have a global relevance that other languages do not have". It is a pity therefore that concepts such as Francophonie, Hispanidad or Lusofonia have not been covered. There are entries for the respective cultural organisations, although the Cames and the Pushkin institutes are not fully cross-referred like the others. Competence examinations (such as the French Dalf and Delf) do appear, but in a rather incidental fashion, whereas it would be useful to have entries for chamber of commerce examinations (that are widely available abroad) as well as national ones like the Staatsexamen .

The major English-language examinations are not covered in as much detail as they might: the American Toefl (Testing of English as a Foreign Language) appears under assessment testing, but not the British Council IELTS (International English Language Testing Service). English-language teaching and testing do not, in fact, get the coverage which they ought, given the sheer number of people involved worldwide. Tefl (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is not even listed. EAP (English for Academic Purposes) is touched on under ESP (English for Specific Purposes) but not the pre-sessional courses that herald the start of the academic year in most United Kingdom universities.

The main index is organised thematically, with sub-headings under key entries, allowing for different types of use. An index of acronyms (with cross-references to the more important and less ephemeral ones in the body of the text) would have been a bonus. It is also frustrating to check in the index for what might be considered key items only to find that they are not in or to find particular items under different headings that could usefully have been cross-referenced or even have had an entry of their own. These can range from incidental items (the Erasmus student mobility scheme is listed, but not its successor Socrates) to key organisations like Baselt (British Association of State English Language Teaching) or Arels (Association of Recognised English Language Services) that are referred to obliquely under quality management.

The encyclopedia is the latest in a series involving languages, linguistics and translation. The price suggests that this will be a library acquisition (in which case it is likely to be well thumbed) and it would be a valuable addition to departmental or staffroom collections if the budget permits. The dust cover claims that this single volume will provide enlightenment to professionals at all stages of their careers and in all parts of the education system. It will certainly prove useful, though users in the private market (and the numbers could be considerable in language schools) may feel that there is too much emphasis upon public educational provision in the countries listed. Freelance linguists are another constituency that could have been supported more - it is surprising that neither the Institute of Linguists nor the Institute of Translating and Interpreting figure here.

However, overall the encyclopedia is a valuable addition to the range of reference works available to people working in the languages field. It is broad in scope, readable while remaining erudite and achieves the aim expressed aim of contributing to the foundation of knowledge in this area.

Tim Connell is professor of languages, City University.

Routledge Encyclopaedia of Language Teaching and Learning

Editor - Michael Byram
ISBN - 0 415 12085 3
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £99.00
Pages - 720

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