Get ready to meet the locals

Teaching and Researching - Teaching and Researching - Teaching and Researching
November 28, 2003

The titles under review come from the well-established Applied Linguistics in Action series, edited by Christopher Candlin and David Hall. Ambitious in scope, the series aims to present questions from the fairly basic through to key researchable topics. The books are accessible and designed for easy use, clearly laid out in sections with numbered paragraphs and insets for useful quotations and key concepts. They follow a fixed layout and house style, with room for local variation: up to half of each title is made up of an outline of current research in the field with ample information and resources, ranging from journals to sample tests and measuring instruments, besides a glossary of terms.

The glossary will certainly be useful for students, though the definition of savoir-apprendre in Language and Culture as the ability to use savoirs might leave a few puzzled faces, not least because savoirs are not listed in the index. This is irritating, as is the failure to include all the items in the text in the references at the back: neither Hawaii nor the Navajo appear in the index, even though there are interesting sections on both. Similarly, items recommended for further reading do not appear in the bibliography. Even so, the bibliographies are very comprehensive, perhaps a little too much so, with titles going back to the 1950s.

All three titles offer a wide variety of websites to visit, ranging from journals to open email discussion lists. Computer-assisted Language Learning , as might be expected, is particularly strong on this. But it is rather odd for a book on such a current topic to be quite so retrospective in tone. Videodisc was an interesting piece of intermediate technology on the way to DVD, and reminders of early successes such as Eliza underline the sheer originality of thought in this area.

Computer-assisted Language Learning deals with modern-day problems. The hazards of cyberspace for younger users are covered in particular, illustrating the downside of an undoubtedly valuable learning tool.

Censorship and pornography are discussed briefly, though it is a pity that there is not more comment on how the latter could have become so widespread and apparently hard to control. This may simply be a reflection of the speed of development in this field and the sheer power of the worldwide web.

A heretical, if not Luddite, thought does occur, however, arising from the fact that so many teaching and learning techniques border on entertainment: does anything here demonstrate that you can learn a language more effectively on the web than with a competent teacher armed with nothing more than years of experience and a piece of chalk? It is the method that served many of us well. But then teaching methods and learning techniques are in a constant process of modernisation and the real challenge is to keep up with it all.

Each of the books contains an interesting section on research, with a series of worked examples on how to carry out surveys (such as literacy practices in multilingual families) or conduct literature reviews. It is curious, though, that the emphasis in Computer-assisted Language Learning should be on computer language rather than foreign languages, protocols rather than parts of speech. In a book of this nature, it is unfortunate that there is not more discussion of multilingual sources or the extent to which English is slowly losing its pre-eminence as the major (if not sole) language of use on the internet.

Speaking deals with global speaking skills, even though strategies for talking to people in the pub and going to Saltwood Castle seem to take localisation a bit far. The importance of methodologies arising from teaching English as a foreign language is apparent, and English for academic purposes and English for specific purposes are covered. Foreign and second-language contexts do not figure to any great extent, though there is an interesting section on inductive and deductive modes of discourse when communicating in English with speakers of Asian languages.

There is ample material in these books for readers wanting to get into a particular subject or to gain a broad overview, and areas that should be included in a programme of study are well represented, as are sources for essays or seminars. These titles are a valuable addition to undergraduate reading lists, and will be valuable too for academics who want to refresh their knowledge, or who are looking for new curricular areas to explore.

Tim Connell is professor of languages for the professions, City University London.

Teaching and Researching: Computer-assisted Language Learning. First edition

Author - Ken Beatty
Publisher - Longman
Pages - 259
Price - £16.99
ISBN - 0 582 32900 0

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