December 2005 Foreword
Welcome to the December issue of the Asian EFL Journal. Again we feel privileged to be able to present such a broad range of papers from a variety of cultural perspectives. Our editorial aim is not to attempt to reconcile this diversity but rather to celebrate it.
In this edition we start with several papers that consider the need to re-evaluate the role of teachers. In an age in which EFL in danger of being defined as a product, the important role that teachers play in society is increasingly underestimated. Sandwiched between student surveys and administrative appraisals, teachers may increasingly feel that their unique professional knowledge is not being taken seriously. Hong Wang and Liying Cheng point out that teachers are important stakeholders in their institutions and remind us that “the significant role teachers should play in curriculum reform must not be overlooked if successful implementation and sustainability are to be achieved.” In Hu Chin’s paper also in this volume, we find an interesting echo from one of the informants who complains “The teachers are always meant to be blamed”.
Research is arguably of little use if it pulls its punches. Mohamed Al-Okda from Oman cannot be accused of doing that when he asserts that “curriculum development in almost all Arab countries follows a top-down model in which teacher involvement is confined to the implementation of pre-designed packages of teaching materials.” In this paper, it is argued that neither a top-down strategy, nor a bottom-up one will be effective in bringing about sustainable educational reform. The former can lead to teacher resistance to or misinterpretation of innovative features; and the latter can result in overly local and small-scale endeavors of educational reform.” Al-Okda provides a model for the Omani context illustrating “how task-based teacher research can be encouraged and systematized in schools to allow for teacher initiatives to feed in subsequent top-down attempts to develop curricula.” Hu Chin provides us with a fine example of an attempt by student teachers themselves to overcome intercultural difficulties: in this case, the “isolation, frustration, and exclusion” felt by non-native students in the process of learning to teach English in U.S. graduate programs. The formation of a collaborative teacher study group “effectively tore down the walls of isolation”, allowing participants to find their voice in English. As one participant so eloquently puts it, “My voice is imprisoned in my not-quite-perfect English.”
It is noteworthy that the authors of all these early papers suggest constructive solutions to the problems they raise. In a similar spirit of constructive problem solving, John Adamson investigates teacher development in EFL, specifically referring to the Thai and Japanese contexts at the tertiary level arguing that “teacher development for native speaker teachers of English would benefit from gaining local knowledge of the norms of classroom behavior and a background to the history of EFL in that country.” Adamson’s paper addresses an important consideration for long-term expatriates. In contrast, the next paper unambiguously proposes a communicative paradigm within an Asian context and reports demonstrable success.
The difference may be the type of course described and the length of stay. Wighting, Nisbet and Tindall share their successful EFL summer camp experience in China with us in their case study. I hope readers will find it stimulating to read this piece alongside Adamson’s and in relation to the first PhD published in AEJ. We provide the abstract here. It is not surprising that EFL in a country of the size and importance of China will lead to a variety of approaches in different contexts. In her PhD, Xiuping Li provides a fascinating thesis on the much maligned but much practiced use of rote learning in relation to vocabulary learning strategies. A doctoral thesis cannot be summarized in a few lines, but one reason why it is worth the effort of reading such a detailed and comprehensive manuscript (available in our thesis section online) is that Xiuping convincingly challenges some of our preconceived notions about learning and helps us to understand how cultural “tradition” and “modern” approaches can, and indeed should, be harmonized in both research and teaching and learning practice.
In the September issue, we appealed for contributions on the notion of competence in relation to English taught for international communication. In this December issue, Joanne Rajadurai from Malaysia provides a detailed re-appraisal of Kachru’s much cited Concentric Circles Model, which she suggests has led to “a reappraisal of dominant concepts, models and practices in sociolinguistics, SLA and TESOL.” Her carefully and cogently argued paper “takes on a critical re-examination of the model, and discusses some of its intrinsic and perhaps unforeseen shortcomings, typified in its centre-periphery framework and its geo-historic bases”. She further suggests “that for a model to be relevant, it must focus on individual speakers, their communicative competence and patterns of interaction.” Her paper also considers the implications for classroom pedagogy.
Evelyn Doman also provides us with food for thought, broadening the competence debate to a consideration of the direction of SLA research. She argues that “The role of social context in language learning needs to be reconsidered and re-evaluated. It is time to reopen the debate on this subject and to consider where SLA is moving in the 21st century.” Her discussion also considers another theme of the earlier papers of this issue, the importance of a practitioners’ perspective. “It is hoped that not only researchers but also practitioners in this field will undertake further empirically-based quantitative and qualitative research in their investigations of contextual vs. cognitive approaches.”
For the December issue, the Asian EFL Journal has also had responses to its appeal for articles describing good practice. Ann Dashwood proposes her approach to classroom discourse analysis underlining the fact that “turns of talk facilitate the meaning-making process as students and teachers collaboratively come to understand the discourse of knowledge they are co-constructing”. She emphasizes the practical value of discourse analysis for teachers. Her analysis reveals that “there is potential for teachers to facilitate student talk when the teacher provides alternatives to a follow-up question.” In her study, alternatives to questions led to “increased length of turns in students’ collaborative talk.” Such findings have clear implications for teacher training courses.
Reima Sado Al-Jarf from Saudi Arabia, shows us in admirable detail how solutions to practical constraints can be found by resourceful practitioners within their own teaching contexts. Her study, which we believe could be adapted and replicated in many contexts, concludes that “in learning environments where technology is unavailable to EFL students and instructors, use of an online course from home as a supplement to in-class techniques helps motivate and enhance EFL students’ learning and mastery of English grammar.”
Pedro Luchini’s piece addresses pronunciation teaching from a task-based perspective in an Asian context. Task-based Learning is our 2006 conference theme and this is one of several in this issue to address the theme. The purpose of his paper is “to critically analyze what some pronunciation teachers are currently doing in some Asian contexts and, in view of their contribution to the profession and their results obtained, propose a state-of-the-art methodology for teaching English pronunciation founded upon the combination of fluency- with accuracy-focused tasks.”
In his insightful first contribution to Asian EFL, our new advisor, Francis Mangubhai, provides us with very useful hints from the field of immersion language teaching, arguing that “EFL teachers can also use techniques used by immersion language teachers in their classrooms. In doing so, teachers will increase the amount of input in the SL provided to their students, make their classroom rich with comprehensible input and thus potentially achieve a better language outcome.”
The final piece in this issue, the editorial opinion piece by Huw Jarvis (a keynote speaker at our next conference), considers the role of computer technology. Jarvis also contributes to the competence debate by maintaining that computer technology has gone beyond the point where it is merely to be seen as a means of support for EFL teachers. In his view, the language itself has been influenced by the advance of the digital revolution, and any debate into competence will need to take this into account.
Finally I would like to point out that the order in which papers appear in this addition has nothing to do with our perception of their quality. All papers have been through the same increasingly rigorous process. We would like to thank all our authors for their patience in responding to reviewers’ comments and for contributing to the Asian EFL Journal’s continuing efforts to provide variety and quality. Several of December’s authors submitted almost a year before seeing their paper online. I would also like to say a special end of year thank you to our editorial team of volunteers who continue to cope so efficiently with the ever-increasing flow of submissions. They too have contributed, often in essential ways, to the content of these papers.
Dr. Roger Nunn
Senior Associate Editor
The first article is presented by Hong Wang and Liying Cheng. This paper describes the Rolling Project conducted in the College English Department at a major provincial university in China from 1998 to 2000. The purpose is to explore the change process, the subsequent challenges presented to the main stakeholders in the university, and the impact that this English language curriculum innovation has brought about to the then prevalent cultures of teaching.
The second article is presented by Mohamed El-Okda. This paper highlights two main assumptions about curriculum development and teacher professional growth. One is that curriculum development is an on-going process that never ceases once a curriculum framework and a package of prescribed teaching/learning materials are produced and introduced in an educational system. The other is that curriculum development and professional growth cannot be separated.
The third article is presented by Hu Chin. NNSs (non-native speakers) of English who are EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher candidates have long experienced isolation, frustration, and exclusion in the process of learning to teach English in U.S. graduate programs. Collectively, six EFL graduate students, the researcher included, formed a collaborative teacher study group allowing the group to reflect on and theorize about knowledge and strategies for approaching English teaching and learning issues.
The fourth article is presented by John Adamson. This paper investigates teacher development in EFL in the Asian context, specifically referring to the Thai and Japanese contexts at the tertiary level. It argues that teacher development for native speaker teachers of English would benefit from gaining local knowledge of the norms of classroom behavior and a background to the history of EFL in that country.
The fifth article is presented by Mervyn J. Wighting, Deanna L. Nisbet and Evie R. Tindall. This paper reports on a descriptive study of a summer English language camp held in China. Chinese youths ages 8-18 were taught conversational English through a variety of classes and activities. Instructors were visiting teachers from the USA assisted by local Chinese teachers.
The sixth article is presented by Xiuping Li. This study sets out to investigate Chinese EFL learners’ beliefs about the role of rote learning (RL) in vocabulary learning strategies. The focus of the study is Chinese EFL learners’ culturally-influenced beliefs about their preference for RL strategies as opposed to other memory strategies.
The seventh article is presented by Joanne Rajadurai. The Concentric Circles Model promoted by Kachru has had a tremendous impact on the teaching and research enterprise, as its underlying tenets have demanded a reappraisal of dominant concepts, models and practices in sociolinguistics, SLA and TESOL. However, this paper takes on a critical re-examination of the model, and discusses some of its intrinsic and perhaps unforeseen shortcomings, typified in its centre-periphery framework and its geo-historic bases.
The eighth article is presented by Evelyn Doman. This paper traces the pattern of thought about current practices in SLA and questions whether a reconceptualization of the field is necessary or not.
The ninth article is presented by Ann Dashwood. This case study of young adult English as Second Language (ESL) users in face-to-face interaction in a university preparatory study skills course indicates a limiting influence of teacher questioning on student talk in discussions. Rather than talk being generated by a teacher’s questioning, alternatives to questions lead to increased length of turns in students’ collaborative talk. Teacher plays a significant role in giving ‘voice’ to students whose role in discussion is limited by a less vocal membership category in the class.
The tenth article is presented by Reima Sado Al-Jarf. The aim of the present study was to find out whether integration of online learning in face-to-face in-class grammar instruction significantly improves EFL freshman college students’ achievement and attitudes. The study concluded that in learning environments where technology is unavailable to EFL students and instructors, use of an online course from home as a supplement to in-class techniques helps motivate and enhance EFL students’ learning and mastery of English grammar.
The eleventh article is presented by Pedro Luchini. The purpose of this paper is to critically analyze what some pronunciation teachers are currently doing in some Asian contexts and, in view of their contribution to the profession and their results obtained, propose a state-of-the-art methodology for teaching English pronunciation founded upon the combination of fluency- with accuracy-focused tasks.
The twelfth article is presented by Francis Mangubhai. Immersion language teaching has developed techniques that enable teachers to make their subject matter, through a second language, more comprehensible. It is argued in this article that EFL teachers can also use techniques used by immersion language teachers in their classrooms.
The thirteenth article is presented by Huw Jarvis. This paper examines the ways in which computers are impacting upon change in ELT and argues that Asian countries are, in a sense, at the heart of this. The paper reviews and further develops a shorter forthcoming colloquium article in The British Journal of Education Technology and begins by linking the growth of English to the growth and widespread availability of computers.