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Re-assessing own language use in English language teaching

Research carried out by Graham Hall, a senior lecturer at Northumbria University, and Professor Guy Cook of Kings College London, is challenging widespread perspectives on teaching English as a second or additional language. During the twentieth century it was widely accepted in the professional literature that excluding the learner’s own language from the classroom was the best way to teach English to foreign speakers.

Hall and Cook were commissioned by the British Council to investigate the use of own language practices internationally. A survey of nearly 3,000 English language teachers working in 110 countries revealed that there is a substantial gap between the mainstream literature and teacher training programmes and teachers’ practice on the ground. The data shows that there is, in fact, widespread use of own-language in classrooms around the world and that this varies across different learning environments and between teachers with different professional experience.

Based on these findings Hall and Cook are now raising the profile of own-language use as a legitimate element of classroom practice. They have disseminated their findings to the British Council and to TESOL international in the US, which have resulted in review of curriculum design and class room practice at both organisations.

The research is already having an impact on individual ELT practitioners. A post-research sample of 200 teacher participants from 65 countries confirmed, that for the majority, the research has allowed them to reflect and to learn more about using learners’ own language in their day-to-day teaching. Feedback from Individual teachers is that they have made significant changes in their thinking and now feel “validated” and “more confident” about using learners’ own language in their classrooms.

Hall and Cook’s research has provided a valuable, and sometimes controversial, contribution to a topic that remains the subject of lively debate among English language pedagogic scholars and teachers.

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