Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Post-Communicative Pedagogies: Revisiting the Translation Method of Teaching English in East Asia

Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Post-Communicative Pedagogies: Revisiting the Translation Method of Teaching English in East Asia

Article excerpt


Along with postcolonialism, postmodernism, poststructuralism and a host of other 'posts', in the area of foreign language pedagogy we have also reached the post-method, post-communicative era, a new phase in its history. In the early development of EFL instruction, the traditional grammar-translation method had reigned. It originated in the teaching of Greek and Latin, in which the word-for-word translation of classical texts was combined with the memorisation of grammatical rules, and it was characterised by the modest attempts at teaching English by the missionaries who ventured into newly colonised places with a civilising mission. The story of how the use of translation (as well as grammar) in EFL teaching became ostracised in subsequent times falls into several stages, though it reached a peak at the turn of the twentieth century (see Cook, 2010, pp. 3-19) as a consequence of the enormous success of the Reform Movement in the 1880s, which started in Northern Europe, heralded by William Vietor, Paul Passy, Otto Jespersen, among others. (1) Especially after such teaching became incorporated into applied linguistics as an object of study, a plethora of EFL pedagogies evolved and other approaches were enunciated as alternatives. The most remarkable of these, which emerged sometime in the late 1960s, is the communicative approach.

Joann Crandall's definition of communicative language teaching should perhaps be quoted here: in it,

   [...] discourse (particularly oral discourse) replaces the sentence
   as the major focus of instruction and the structural syllabus is
   either replaced or subsumed in a syllabus which specifies language
   functions (e.g., requesting, apologizing, describing), notions
   (e.g., quantity, quality, space, time), or contexts of language use
   (e.g., social, academic, professional). (1997, p. 77).

While these communicative goals can be arrived at through a variety of strategies, central to the approach is the belief that the learner should be released completely from the old habits of language use associated with the mother tongue through full immersion in an English environment--mostly the classroom. The underlying rationale, put simply, is that L1 will stand in the way of L2 acquisition. One justification given is that even long-time learners of English, while comprehending the language (especially when it is read), often cannot even communicate orally with the native speaker in real-life situations; the language they have acquired is far from authentic. Of course, as the communicative approach spread and prospered, other approaches were also introduced, including the task-based and audiolingual methods, though one feature shared by all is that the use of L1 in class is forbidden. This shows, in effect, how communicative pedagogies have risen to prominence and dominated the scene. (2) Much recent work on EFL instruction actually constitutes little more than elaborations of this mainstream method, as is the case, for example, for Hadzantonis' transition model for East Asian countries (2013). Many are no more than efforts to tease out its implications or refashion it to suit the needs of particular locales or communities. Is there nothing beyond 'communication' for EFL teaching? How can East Asian scholars, relatively reticent in comparison to their Western counterparts, contribute to the theoretical discussion?

World Englishes, Global English, and 'Communication'

A brief summary of the ideological background to EFL pedagogies, the major phases of which have been the subject of book-length studies, is in order. The project of promoting EFL overseas carried with it a political agenda, as early agents of Western colonisers had put it rather blandly. Besides the famed Thomas B. Macaulay, with his belief in the superiority of Western culture, John Naysmith also said that English language teaching is "part of the process whereby one part of the world has become politically, economically and culturally dominated by another" (1987, p. …

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