What 'Saving' Languages Might Tell Us about 'Teaching' Them

By Bianco, Joseph Lo | Babel, May 2011 | Go to article overview

What 'Saving' Languages Might Tell Us about 'Teaching' Them


Bianco, Joseph Lo, Babel


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Keith Horwood Memorial Lecture, AFMLTA 2009

This paper makes a link between two activities in which I am engaged, i.e. between work on 'saving' languages and work on 'teaching' languages. Since it is an invited address, the Keith Horwood Memorial Lecture, I will begin by making further, and chronologically prior, to Keith Horwood.

During the late 1960s to mid 1970s Horwood along with Wilga Rivers and, especially, Terry Quinn (the three originators of applied linguistics in Australia, see McNamara & Lo Bianco, 2001) worked to give applied language studies a secure place in the academy. They succeeded in doing much more, eventually laying the basis for the take-up of applied language studies throughout public administration and policy. The way these scholars approached language study helped to change what today we regard as applied linguistics and gives Australian applied linguistics its distinctive origins and character, distinguishing it from its counterparts in the USA and the UK.

In the UK--the most likely source for shaping how the discipline might have evolved in Australia--the key instrumental figure was Pit Corder. He helped forge a British applied linguistics by addressing the practicalities of classroom teaching in various overseas English language teaching projects for the British Council. The main focus of his work was syllabus design and materials preparation, ail informed by his unique view of errors, especially their role in an individual's unique pathway to language acquisition and learning, and the teaching implications of this 'creative' rather than negative view of errors. US applied linguistics owes a great debt to the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, DC and its focus on African American English and the English learning needs of immigrant students.

By contrast, Australian applied linguistics started from the teaching of modern languages in universities and was a mid 1970s outgrowth of Language Laboratory Workshops pioneered by Keith Horwood and, after Horwood's untimely death, by Terry Quinn. During the 1960s, Keith Horwood had been a lecturer in Science German but was also involved in helping students meet the compulsory foreign language reading requirements (French, German, or Russian) for science students. He then proceeded to direct the field of science languages more broadly. The practical needs of such students directed Horwood's interest towards 'efficient language teaching' to meet the expectations and needs of students primarily pursuing science degrees but who needed to access literature in selected foreign languages. Hence, the initial focus of Australian applied linguistics was on effective acquisition of foreign language reading skills in decontextualised settings and the approach to these skills was informed by a structural view of linguistics and supported by extensive use of language labs. Through his experimentation and persistent effort Horwood became an inspiration to those wanting to update language teaching methods largely because he was, by all reports, very open to learning from elsewhere--something that was far less common then than it is today--and, also, open to innovation in general, again, a rarer feature of academic life than it is now. However, the reason that I think he warrants naming as the spirit of the Modern Language Teacher Associations today is because his energy was always devoted to the needs and circumstances of learners. This learner-centredness appears as sharply different from the obsessive focus of language education today which is more focused on the needs and circumstances of the nation, the economy, or powerful elite interests than on learners and their individual language acquisition needs. Such a comparison reveals how unusual the apparently simple idea of placing the learner's needs at the centre of our attention has become in contemporary discussion of language education (Liddicoat & Scarino, 2010; Lo Bianco & Slaughter, 2009; Lo Bianco, 2010a). …

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