‘Elementary French’ non! Lessons from 1955

Georges Gougenheim (1900-1972) and Paul Rivenc (1925-2019) were pioneers in French language education, developing a teaching method from their own empirical research based on the collection of one of the first oral corpora in France in the middle of the last century (Rivenc 2006). But their textbook Le Français élémentaire (later Français fondamental) was not without its opponents.


Gougenheim, professor of the history of French at the Sorbonne, was inspired by Finno-Ugric specialist Aurélien Sauvageot (1897-1988) to investigate contemporary spoken French with a view to writing a dictionary and grammar for L2 speakers which became known as Elementary, later Fundamental French (Gougenheim, Michea, Sauvageot & Rivenc 1955).

Rivenc (2006) recounts an amusing anecdote which perfectly illustrates the difficulty of these pioneering linguists in accepting the imperfect, implicit, interactive nature of ordinary speech unveiled to them through the use of new American tape recorders. Used to studying written texts, the researchers were frustrated by the contrast they found with spontaneous speech, and were convinced their own speech represented a more grammatically and lexically appropriate norm. Sauvageot’s son secretly recorded his father’s dinner-table conversation with a number of eminent linguists and on listening, all were obliged to reconsider their views on ‘standard’ spoken French. These linguists analysed their transcriptions of recordings of some 300 speakers from different professional, social and cultural milieux to identify the most frequently used core vocabulary and grammar for Elementary French.

In spite of the empirical basis of their results, the academic commission charged with oversight rejected a number of instances where oral language diverges from written French (e.g., the omission of the first part of the negative pair ne … pas, replacement of the second person pronoun nous with the impersonal on); the Ministry also censored other newer items and usages. Once published, Elementary French had to run the gauntlet of other linguists and finally language teachers. Gougenheim reacted to these difficulties by destroying all recordings upon publication, fearing their poor technical quality might provide additional fuel to opponents.

Indeed Chevalier (2006) recounts the highly critical reception of this work by Cohen’s linguistic circle, who collectively published a pamphlet Français élémentaire ? Non, including an unsigned contribution by Culioli. This opposition appears to be as much politically and ideologically motivated as linguistically informed (Chevalier, 2006). While Elementary French was a 67-page manual, Cohen et al.’s reponse ran to 113 pages and claimed that by neglecting written French, Elementary French “made reasoning impossible” for pupils, “surrendering French values” to Anglosaxon imperialism and promoting an “infirm and unformed” version of the language (Cohen et al. 1955, quoted in Chevalier 2006).

Gougenheim and Rivenc’s work nevertheless provided a springboard to their subsequent work in the French-language institute the CREDIF, and was supported by other contemporary actors in the new field of applied linguistics in France.


Chevalier, J. C. (2006). Le pamphlet: Français élémentaire? Non. 1955. L’affrontement Georges Gougenheim–Marcel Cohen. Documents pour l’histoire du français langue étrangère ou seconde, (36), 51-60.

Cohen, M. et al. (1955). Français élémentaire, non. Paris: Éditions sociales.

Gougenheim, G., Michea, R., & Rivenc, P. Sauvageot, A. (1955). L’elaboration du français élémentaire (étude sur l’établissement d’un vocabulaire et d’une grammaire de base). Paris: Didier.

Rivenc, P. (2006). Les auteurs du Français fondamental face à un objet nouveau et insolite: l’interaction orale. Documents pour l’histoire du français langue étrangère ou seconde, (36), 35-49

Enseigner les langues vivantes à l’école primaire avec le numérique

Groupe Départemental Langues Vivantes (GDLV84) 

Cette intervention est destinée aux enseignants, conseillers, formateurs et décideurs dans le domaine de l’enseignement-apprentissage des langues vivantes à l’école primaire. A partir d’exemples concrets de pratiques de classe pour jeunes apprenants, nous aborderons les principes d’acquisition-apprentissage des langues secondes ou étrangères qui sous-tendent les méthodes d’enseignement, les activités pédagogiques qui permettent de répondre aux besoins des élèves, ainsi que les bases de l’accompagnement d’enseignants de langue novices ou expérimentés. L’intervention prendra appui sur des exemples de productions d’élèves, d’activités pédagogiques, d’actions de formation et de ressources pédagogiques issues de projets européens tels que ITILT, TeachMe et ViLTE (voir ci-après).

Shona Whyte est professeur d’anglais au département des Cultures et Langues Etrangères à l’Université Côte d’Azur à Nice. Formée en acquisition et didactique des langues secondes ou étrangères (Indiana University Bloomington) elle est enseignant-chercheur à Nice depuis plus de vingt ans. Ses recherches portent sur le numérique en classe de langue et la formation des enseignants, ainsi que sur la didactique de l’anglais de spécialité. Elle a une expérience de formation des enseignants des premier et second degrés en didactique des langues et tient un blogue professionnel à shonawhyte.wordpress.com.

Bibliographie et ressources


On teaching languages with technology https://shonawhyte.wordpress.com/



Interactive teaching in languages with technology http://www.itilt2.eu/Pages/default.aspx

Digital resources. ITILT mini-guide. http://bit.ly/2h7gOoj 2017

Digital tools. ITILT mini-guide http://bit.ly/2h6ENUi 2017

Digital networks. ITILT mini-guide http://bit.ly/2yMzwe0 2017


Using mobile technology in foreign languages: a telecollaborative task for primary classes. In Zubikova, O., Braicov, A., Pojar, D. (Eds). E-teaching: studii de caz. Chisinau: Tehnica-Info. https://teachme.ust.md/handbooks/e-teaching-studii-de-caz/ 2018


Video in Language Teaching Education project, Warwick University

Peer filming in task-based language teacher education. Background. https://shonawhyte.files.wordpress.com/2018/04/1_background1.pdf

Peer filming in task-based language teacher education. How it works https://shonawhyte.files.wordpress.com/2018/04/2_peerfilm1.pdf

Peer filming in task-based language teacher education. Design brief https://shonawhyte.files.wordpress.com/2018/04/3_designbriefs_criticalincidents1.pdf

Acquistion L2 et âge

Starting age overshadowed

Some research on young and very young learners

A sharply defined critical period


Whyte, S., & Cutrim Schmid, E. (2018). Classroom technology for young learners. In Garton, S., & Copland, F. (Eds.) Routledge Handbook of Teaching English to Young Learners. Routledge.

Whyte, S. (2014). Digital pencil sharpening: technology integration and language learning autonomy. EL.LE, 3(1): 31-53. Università Ca’ Foscari, Venezia. [PDF]

Acquisition et enseignement des langues étrangères en milieu guidé : entre second language studies et didactique des langues


L’enseignement-apprentissage des langues est un enjeu majeur dans notre monde en transformation, et la classe de langue constitue pour beaucoup le premier contact formel avec une langue étrangère ou seconde.
Cette conférence commence avec un tour d’horizon des notions clés du domaine, notamment les termes acquisition / apprentissage et enseignement / didactique, qui sont utilisés de manières différentes par les linguistes, acquisitionnistes et didacticiens en français et en anglais (la lingua franca de la recherche). Après un bref aperçu historique des méthodologies de l’enseignement-apprentissage et de l’évolution institutionnelle de la didactique des langues,
je présente mes récherches récentes en lien avec le numérique en classe.
En conclusion je propose certaines recommandations pour la classe de langue en lien avec les résultats de ces recherches.


Chomsky, N. (1959). Chomsky, N. 1959. A review of BF Skinner’s Verbal behavior. Language, 35 (1), 26–58.

Corder, S. P. (1967). The significance of learner’s errors. IRAL-International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 5(1-4), 161-170.

Dewaele, J. M. (2018). Why the dichotomy ‘L1 versus LX user’is better than ‘native versus non-native speaker’. Applied Linguistics, 39(2), 236-240.

Doughty, C. J., & Long, M. H. (2003). Optimal psycholinguistic environments for distance foreign language learning. Language learning & technology, 7(3), 50-80.
Ellis, N. C. (2002). Frequency effects in language processing: A review with implications for theories of implicit and explicit language acquisition. Studies in second language acquisition, 24(2), 143-188.
Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language learning and teaching. Oxford University Press.
Erlam, R. (2016). ‘I’m still not sure what a task is’: Teachers designing language tasks. Language Teaching Research, 20(3), 279-299.
Galisson, R. & Coste, D. (Eds) (1976). Dictionnaire de didactique des langues. Paris: Hachette.

Gougenheim, G., Michéa, R., Rivenc, P., & Sauvageot (1956). L’élaboration du français élémentaire; étude sur l’établissement d’un vocabulaire et d’une grammaire de base. Paris: Didier.

Krashen, S. (1977). The monitor model for adult second language performance. Viewpoints on English as a second language, 152-161.
Krashen, S. D. (1981). Second language acquisition and second language learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lado, R., & Fries, C. C. (1958). English pronunciation: exercises in sound segments, intonation, and rhythm Ann Arbor, MI.
Lightbown, P. M. (1985). Great expectations: Second-language acquisition research and classroom teaching. Applied linguistics, 6(2), 173-189.
Lightbown, P. M. (2000). Anniversary article. Classroom SLA research and second language teaching. Applied linguistics, 21(4), 431-462.
Long, M. (1985). A role for instruction in second language acquisition: task-based language teaching. In K Hyltenstam and M Pienemann (Eds). Modeling and assessing second language acquisition (pp. 77-99). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Long, M. H. (2009). 21 Methodological Principles for Language Teaching. The handbook of language teaching, 373.
Long, M. (2014). Second language acquisition and task-based language teaching. John Wiley & Sons.
Robinson, P. (2011). Task-based language learning (Vol. 5). John Wiley & Sons.
Savignon, S. (1976). Communicative competence: theory and classroom practice. Paper presented at the Central States Conferences on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Detroit, MI.
Selinker, L. (1972). Interlanguage. IRAL-International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 10(1-4), 209-232.
Skehan, P. (1998). Task-based instruction. Annual review of applied linguistics, 18, 268-286.

Les enseignants du supérieur en transition : SHOUT4HE

Des liens vers les projets évoqués lors d’une communication plénière avec Cédric Sarré sur les Technologies dans l’enseignement et pour la formation : les enseignants du supérieur en transition dans les projets CATAPULT et SHOUT4HE au colloque du Pôle d’Elaboration de Ressources Linguistiques de l’Université Sorbonne Paris Cité le 13 décembre 2019.

Sondage : SHOUT4HE cadre de référence

Si vous êtes enseignant-e dans le supérieur vous pouvez nous renseigner sur vos pratiques pédagogiques avec le numérique en répondant aux 12 questions suivantes :


CATAPULT : Computer Assisted Training and Platforms to Upskill LSP Teachers

Project website

SHOUT4HE : SHaring Open practices Using Technology for Higher Education

Project website

Pedagogical practice videos (beta)

ITILT : Interactive Teaching in Languages with Technology

Handbook (PDF)

Guides : ressources, outils, réseaux (PDFs)

Pedagogical practice videos (beta)

SoNetTE : Social Networks in Teacher Education

Le projet (2014-17)

TeachME : Moldovan e-network for continuing professional education

Video in Language Teacher Education

Ressources vidéo et documents complémentaires

Research report British Council (Mann et al, 2019)

Peer filming (S. Whyte)

References: finding, reading, citing research in applied linguistics

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Why are references important?

One element which distinguishes university research – academic or scholarly or scientific work – from other kinds of research and writing is the citation of sources. In applied linguistics, for instance, we rely on research in education, psychology, and linguistics to inform our own research and we summarise, synthesise, and quote articles and books in these fields to support our arguments. We use definitions of key terms which have been agreed on by previous researchers, we make claims about what we know which are supported by earlier research, and we aim to build on these earlier studies in our own work.

As academics and university students and perhaps future teachers, we aim to ensure the quality of our research by careful reading and reporting of good work by good researchers published in good journals. Often this means peer-reviewed articles and books written by university faculty with established publishing houses.

How does peer review work?

In order to publish an article in a reputable academic journal, researchers submit their work to the journal’s editors, who are usually university faculty. If it is suitable, the paper is sent out for review by two or three other academics, who submit written reports recommending revisions or indeed rejection. Revised papers are then edited for publication. This process is called peer-review, and is usually anonymous and unpaid work. Authors, reviewers, and editors often draw salaries from schools and universities for teaching and research but do not receive payment for writing articles which are published in journals, or reviewing or editing these articles. Nevertheless, the peer-review process is considered essential to control the quality of published research.

This kind of peer-review is conducted by all major journals: see for example an overview of journals publishing research on teaching and learning second or foreign languages, an important area of applied linguistics.

What’s not to like?

Unfortunately our current academic publishing model has two drawbacks. First, this quality-controlled content is usually NOT free or open access. Articles are paywalled, meaning that readers or institutions like university libraries have to pay publishers to access research. This means these articles are simply not available to the academic community of university lecturers and students. Many consider the academic publishing model to be irretrievably broken, since it relies on the unpaid labour of academic editors and reviewers, while providing revenue for large publishing houses such as Elsevier and Springer.

A second problem concerns a parallel publishing system which has emerged in the form of predatory journals. These journals have names similar to the major established journals, but do not control quality through peer-review. Instead authors simply pay a publication fee to have their work accepted. These articles are easy to find and free to read online but generally do not meet academic standards for good scholarship. Some critics see these journals as a response to the ‘publish or perish’ injunction, that is, increased pressure on academics, perhaps especially in developing countries, to produce evidence of research to justify recruitment, promotion, or funded projects.

Photo by Gaetano Cessati on Unsplash

Difficulties in reading academic journal articles

Due to the current situation in academic publishing, there are two problems for students, teachers, and researchers in applied linguistics:

1. to distinguish good research published in established journals which use rigorous peer review from lower quality work which has not been reviewed and revised in this way
2. to gain access to research which has been published behind paywalls and thus require readers or institutions to pay fees to publishers for access to full articles.

In the following pages I offer some guidance for identifying appropriate articles, gaining access to full versions of papers, and then using these references correctly in your own work. I work from the position that neither students nor academics should consider spending their own money to fulfil academic obligations.

Finding good articles

A good place to start looking for articles is the reference list of an article you already have. Read the literature review section of the paper to identify relevant articles and authors, then look them up on Google Scholar (scholar.google.com). This specialised search engine can help identify research articles and books and has a number of useful functions.

1. Search by keyword

If I want to see research into how learners can memorise L2 vocabulary deliberately (as opposed to picking it up incidentally) I can type “deliberate vocabulary learning” into Google Scholar.

This search shows articles in this area with the name of the journal and the date, so I can immediately see if it is a reputable journal and whether the article is recent. We are often interested in more recent research, and there’s a filter on the left where you can set a date limit or range.

This search also gives names of authors under the titles. If a name is underlined I can click and check the author’s profile (academic affiliation, other publications). Otherwise I can still use the name in Google Scholar to look for other work by this author. I might be interested in Irina Elgort, the second hit in my initial search, since she has a recent paper (2011) in a good journal (Language Learning).

2. Search by author

Here you can see a list of publications by Irina Elgort, which you can filter by date (left menu). On the right are direct links to PDF versions of the papers where these exist, though you need to click to find out whether you can access the paper freely or whether there is a paywall.

ResearchGate is a social network for academics where researchers share their work, so it is worth a click on these links to see whether a paper is available there. Sometimes these papers are pre-publication versions which are not formatted for journal publication and which may not include revisions undertaken during the peer-review process. This means you can trust the information but should not quote directly in your own work because you’re not using the ‘version of record.’

3. Search for related articles

Use the links under each article entry on Google Scholar to see which other articles have referenced your article (Cited by) and articles on the same topic (Related articles).

You can also visit journal homepages and search their content for your keywords. There’s a Wikipedia list of applied linguistics journals here and I have a blog post on instructed second language acquisition (ISLA) journals.

You should be cautious about predatory journals which are not on these lists and generally avoid articles from these journals since they do not use rigorous peer review.

Adopting good habits

I recommend separating the hunt for articles, which can be quite fun, from actual reading, which is also rewarding but requires a different kind of concentration. You will need several cycles of reading, looking for new sources, and reading again before you can be sure to have found enough key work.

I also recommend saving articles methodically in folders and making a Word file with the APA citation for each. Use a citation manager such as Zotero by all means, though if you have never used one it may not be worth the investment of time and energy.

Your reference list will include all and only work that you actually mention in your paper (either with an actual quotation or simply discussion of the work). However it’s hard to tell which papers you will end up using, so it’s best to save each PDF and the APA reference. You can always remove a reference later.

Use Google scholar (scholar.google.com) for a copy of the reference: click on the quote marks under the title and copy the APA style option.

Accessing full papers

Once you have identified an article you wish to read, there are a number of ways to access the paper. Sometimes you will be lucky and the article you want is published in a good open-access journal. Remember we do not recommend open access journals which do not use peer review (predatory journals) since there is no guarantee that this research has been rigorously conducted and carefully written up. However some journals do have good peer review and are also open access, meaning that all their papers can be freely accessed without paying, as soon as they appear, and for an unlimited period.

From this you can infer that other journals offer articles which can be accessed a) if you or your institution pays, b) after a specified period of time (called an embargo, often a year), or c) for only a short time, after which they are paywalled.

1. Open access

Language Learning and Technology is an excellent online journal for computer-assisted language learning (CALL) and all its papers can be freely accessed a) without paying b) as soon as they appear and c) for good.

Another possibility is that your paper is in a paywalled journal but freely available. This can happen sometimes when a new paper appears, in which case the paper will only be accessible for a short time, or when the authors’ institution has paid extra to make the article free for good.

If this is the case for the paper you want, just ‘take the money and run’: download the PDF and save it. If not, the next best option is institutional access via your university.

2. University access

If you are working on a computer on campus or logged into your university account from elsewhere, you will have access to all articles and journals for which the university has a subscription. (University subscriptions are somewhat complicated and tend to change, so I recommend a ‘suck-it-and-see’ approach rather than trying to work out which journals the university is subscribed to.)

A click on the title of the Elgort (2011) paper will take you to its page on the journal website. The screenshot below shows I am identified as a reader at Bibliotheque de l’Universite de Nice-Sophia Antipolis and that I have ‘full access.’

This means I can click on the PDF and download the paper, and I recommend always doing this in case you lose access on a return visit.

You can also start from the university library at https://bu.univ-cotedazur.fr
In the search box type the name of the journal: here I want Language Learning

Click through to online access if available and search the journal by author name or volume/issue.

3. Last resort

As noted, your options for accessing full journal articles which are not open access are as follows

a) Access via the university library, typing in the journal name and checking from this starting point

b) Look on Google, Google Scholar, and ResearchGate or Academia.edu to see whether authors have posted copies

Failing this it is perfectly possible and quite acceptable to contact the author as follows …

c) E-mail the corresponding author, whose name and e-mail usually figure on the page of the journal’s website with the title, authors, and abstracts. Authors are generally very happy to oblige since everyone likes their work to be read and possibly cited.

Dear Professor X

I am a student in English at the University of Nice working on [topic] and I came across your article [title] published in [journal] in [year]. Our institution does not have access to this journal and I wonder if you would be willing to share an electronic copy with me.

Sincerely Y

Citing references

Academics, scholars, and scientists have different conventions regarding how they refer to articles and books published in their disciplines. The rules are given in style guides, and different journals use different styles.

Two aspects are important:

1. how to refer to someone’s work in the body of your own writing, often called in-text or inline citation,

2. how to list your references at the end of your paper.

Some styles involve giving the full names of authors and the titles of their work in your own text, and others use footnotes for references. Reference lists are always ordered alphabetically by author last name, but conventions regarding the use of quotation marks, capitalisation, italics, and parenthesis are highly codified and differ across styles.

In applied linguistics we frequently use APA style. In-text citations require only author last name and date (e.g., Elgort 2011), while the reference entry has last name, first initial, date, title, journal. You can find information about APA style online or you can simply copy from any recent APA article. You can also click on the quote marks below an article listed on Google Scholar and copy-paste the APA format, though you should also check for accuracy and completeness.

Happy hunting!

Photo by James Toose on Unsplash

Applied Linguistics showcase: open access to curated collection

The journal Applied Linguistics is making available a number of recent papers on the teaching and learning of languages. The papers have been selected by Zhu Hua, Anna Mauranen, and Christina Higgins, and organised into 10 rubrics, each including between 1 and 9 articles originally published in the journal since 2016.

Photo by Hannah Wright on Unsplash

The editor’s contribution appears to be limited to the selection and classification of the 37 articles; 5 are also marked “highlighted article” and the introduction reads as follows:

Language teaching and learning remains central to Applied Linguistics as an academic journal and as a field of enquiry. On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the journal, we have put together an extensive reading list of the latest articles in language teaching and learning published in Applied Linguistics since 2016 to showcase new research in this core area. These articles cover conceptual debates, various learning contexts, learning theories, the role of culture, language ideologies, learning of specific domains of language, testing, motivation, individual differences, and teachers’ perspectives. We hope these articles can give readers a bigger picture of the latest research for an area that has long and well-established research histories.

The papers include a number of well-known researchers (e.g., Dewaele, Biber, McNamara, Kramsch) and cover a wide range of topics. They might usefully form the basis of an applied linguistics course focusing on language teaching and learning, though some may be too technical for the general reader. Perhaps OASIS https://oasis-database.org/ has some in accessible summary format to help disseminate findings among teachers.

Enlightened amateurism: grassroots approaches to language teaching in the past

A brief report on a recent conference organised by Sabine Doff, Tim Giesler and Richard Smith under the aegis of HoLLT, the History of Language Learning and Teaching group, which is a well-established AILA research network shepherded by Richard (@RichardSmithELT, @HoLLTnet)

The conference was called Valorizing Practice: Grounded Histories of Language Learning and Teaching and held at the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg near Bremen (an excellent site for this purpose, being a small, well-resourced research centre). Here are the programme and the abstracts.

It was a three-day event with a single strand of around 30 papers. The plenary was given by Henry Widdowson on New starts and different kinds of failure, and thereafter papers were programmed in sessions organised more or less chronologically.

I live-tweeted at the event and collected my tweets at this link: https://wke.lt/w/s/mv8gU1. I tried to run a quick search on speakers and their projects or publications so they might be useful to readers interested in this topic.

The conference concluded, as we often do, that the theme was a rich, interesting, and relevant one to our own language learning and teaching concerns. Organiser Sabine Doff underlined the particular advantages of looking at history “from below” by focusing on teaching and learning from the perspective of practice (rather than theory).

Widdowson noted how cultural differences often condition how people have conceived of language learning and teaching, and that a contemporary geographical snapshot of language teaching practices might yield similarly striking similarities and differences as the historical panorama attendees could derive from this conference.

Friedericke Klippel cautioned researchers to remain humble about their capacity to escape from their own twenty-first century mindset, but also to remember the power of storytelling as an important way of bringing history to life.

Nicola McClelland welcomed this opportunity to include contexts outside western Europe: there were papers from and about Japan, Korea, the country of Georgia to name only these.

Tim Giesler regretted that the important findings from the history of language education are not included in teacher preparation programmes.

Richard Smith saw HoLLT studies as an opportunity to revive ideas of how people learned from one another and acknowledge that there are other ways of thinking and other ways of conceiving of language teaching beyond our local, contemporary hegemonies.

Upcoming events for the HoLLT group include the AILA conference in Groenigen this summer

SHOUT4HE: project update

Just back from a meeting in Limerick with the SHOUT4HE project team.

Photo by Luke Curley. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

The project focuses on pedagogical innovation with technology in higher education and is creating an open platform for teachers and lecturers in a range of academic disciplines to share video examples their pedagogical practice. It is led by Gary Beauchamp with support from Sammy Chapman and Nick Young at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

The Limerick team includes Angélica Risquez and Sinead Spain of the Centre for Teaching and Learning, Liam Murray (French and Language Technologies), and Fiona Farr (Centre for Applied Language Studies). Our Irish colleagues have been responsible for leading the development of the first SHOUT4HE project outcome, a recognition framework for higher education teachers.

SHOUT4HE Recognition Framework for higher education teachers and lecturers

The 3D2 framework builds on previous work on ways to support teachers rather than evaluate (and implicitly criticise) them, and draws on the Irish All Aboard project which focuses on digital skills in higher education.

Our framework has two dimensions

  1. pedagogical concerns
  2. technology integration

It also imagines a three-step progression whereby educators move from a Discovery phase involving awareness of pedagogical and technological challenges and opportunities, through a Deployment stage where they design and implement new teaching practices involving new digital tools or new applications, to a Dissemination position, in which they become involved in testing the effectiveness of pedagogical innovations, working collaboratively and perhaps mentoring less experienced colleagues, and communicating beyond their own immediate teaching contexts.

Thanks to Angélica and Sinead (and perhaps the extensive vocabulary of the English language), the SHOUT4HE framework includes 6 verbs beginning with ‘d’ – hence the 3D2 acronym. Our teams in France at Nice (myself and Natalia Timus) and Bordeaux (Sue Becaas, Laura Hoskins, and Melanie White) are now enjoying the challenge of translating it into French, which luckily has just about enough d-verbs to meet our needs. More details of the English version are in our third newsletter.

At the Limerick meeting we looked at the SHOUT4HE project platform, a website developed by our Belgian partner (Hogeschool PXL) led by Wouter Hustinx with Steven Palmaers aided by Evelyn Cloosen on the technical side. The main focus of the website is a showcase of Pedagogical Practice Videos where higher education teachers in each of the SHOUT4HE partner institutions demonstrate innovations they have introduced into their practice.

We are aiming to collect thirty to forty short videos (each lasting around 8 minutes) from teachers in a range of disciplines and at different educational levels. So far we have one from Limerick, an example of blogging to support reading in an undergraduate French literature course. Bordeaux demonstrated the use of Paperslide in a Medical English course. PXL showed one on 360-degree filming used to support teacher education.


All things considered the project seems to be developing very well with outputs appearing ahead of schedule and collaboration working very smoothly. Now that the Recognition Framework is settled and the design of the e-platform agreed, we are ready to gather our video examples. This part of the project will involve the collection of videos from colleagues at our home institutions and may include classroom filming, student focus groups, and teacher interviews. We aim to be well advanced on this work by our next project meeting in Bordeaux in May 2020.

Widdowson plenary: New starts and different kinds of failure

In his opening plenary to the conference Valorizing practice: grounded histories of language learning and teaching (Bremen 13-15 November 2019 see programme and abstracts), Widdowson starts with the observation that the problem is not that old men forget, but that they remember at tedious length, and so he intends to be concise on his talk on “New starts and different kinds of failure.” As a veteran of both British Council and Council of Europe language education campaigns, Widdowson aims to analyse what he consider two misconceived ventures.

He offers this TS Eliot quote which he sees as applicable to pedagogy as well as language and literature:

Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure.

Among language teaching methods catalogued by Richards and Rodgers, on one hand, and Tony Howatt on the other, Widdowson focuses on two prominent new starts in language education which attracted institional recognition and promotion, and were established as orthodoxies difficult to resist. He cites
1. the communicative approach (CLT)
2. the authenticity doctrine

The Communicative approach: new start #1

He reminds us of Hymes’ (1972) 4-fold concept of communicative competence, which involves making a judgment about a sample of language and deciding how far it is
1. possible (conforms to encoding rules),
2. feasible
3. appropriate
4. performed.

CLT was presented as a radical break from structuralist language teaching. The structural approach focused on the possible (the first of Hymes’ strictures), while in CL the focus shifts to the appropriate, that is, focusing on meaning rather than form: “Enough of form, enough of the possible. Up with the appropriate, and focus on meaning.” For Widdowson, however, this is not really new at all. Structuralism was already focused on meaning, as the basic activity of “situational demonstration” shows: “This is a book, this book versus that book.” This is not normal use of language, since the emphasis is on formal, or encoded semantic meaning, not contextual meaning. But for CLT proponents: if you didn’t focus on pragmatic meaning you were not focusing on meaning.

For Widdowson, what is possible in the code is related to what is appropriate in context, but in CLT the dependency is reversed. In the structural approach, texts were created in order to be appropriate to the code (semantic meaning) whereas in CLT, the dependency was reversed, and the code had to be appropriate to the context (pragmatic meaning). In CLT we start with context and find code to fit the context, thus focusing on a particular kind of meaning, contextual meaning. This means that this new start corresponds to a shift to the reverse dependency (not context invented to service code, but rather code used as appropriate to context)

If we consider the application of CLT by the Council of Europe via the Threshold level programme (van Ek 1975), we find very detailed specifications of which form is to be used as appropriate to which communicative function. For these context-code mappings, first communicative function is determined, then linguistic form (e.g., forms for inviting, advising others). This approach remains focus on form, but in a different relation to context. What are these specifications based on? Widdowson asks. It is undoubtedly a pragmatic approach to language use, but it is not based on actual observations of speakers, rather but idealised expressions based on individual intuition, and so reminiscent of Chomsky’s ideal speaker-hearers

The Authenticity doctrine: new start #2

The authenticity doctrine represents a move from the ideal to the real. Widdowson cites the role of Sinclair in the emergence of corpus linguistics leading to radical change in ways of describing language

  • The categories and methods we use to describe English are not appropriate to the new material. We shall need to overhaul our descriptive systems (Sinclair 1985)
  • We are teaching English in ignorance of a vast amount of basic fact. This is not our fault, but it should not inhibit the absorption of new material (Sinclair 1985)

Here we have a shift in Hymes’ framework: Sinclair assumes that what is appropriate to teach IS what is actually performed. His first precept says “present real examples only” Widdowson notes that an extract from the corpus carries the imprimatur of authenticity. He cites another corpus linguist, Ute Römer, who asks rhetorically: Should we teach our pupils authentic English? What can we do to improve EFL teaching materials? The expected answer, according to Widdowson, is “make them real.”

To summarise the story so far, the first new pedagogical start (communicative approach) shifts the focus from the possible to the appropriate; the second focuses on the actually performed. But in one crucial respect there has been no shift at all. What is understood by “real” is “contextually appropriate in native-speaking communities.” Teachers try to get learners to conform to these norms and fail, even in the most favourable and privileged circumstances, let alone in those parts of the world where these new starts are also promoted, thereby undermining teachers without providing something they can actually use.

Where do the new starts come from and why do they occur? Widdowson cites a paper by Tony Howatt (1982) Language teaching must start afresh!, echoing Viëtor (1882) Der Sprachunterricht muss unkehren! But Widdowson contests Howatt’s translation: umkehren means to turn back, retrace one’s steps, and perhaps find out where you went wrong. In the German expression, there is continuity, turning back to “the road not taken” to follow a new direction, or as the French have it “reculer pour mieux sauter.” In contrast, the new starts already discussed are not historically grounded but rather abrupt discontinuities. There is no examination of where methods in the past might have gone astray – to find out whether and why they failed – and there is no attempt even to evaluate any failure (was it universal, cataclysmic failure?)

These starts came from shifts in fashion in linguistic description and the assumption that these shifts should influence pedagogy. Sinclair was “a genius of linguistic description” but also assumed that pedagogical practice overhaul also required. His justification was the following:

the precepts centre on data and arise from observations about the nature of language. They are not concerned with psychological or pedagogical approaches to language teaching (Sinclair 1997)

Widdowson interprets the Authenticity doctrine as a shift towards not just the possible but also the appropriate and the performed in conformity with NS norms. He argues, however, that reality (authenticity) is a property of NS usage. The assumption that is should be directly transferrable to the FL classroom was unexamined. As with CLT, the precepts are presented as universally applicable and context-free and carry with them the persuasive imprimatur of authority (of linguistics and native speakers, who are viewed as custodians of right and proper language). For both the British Council and the Council of Europe, this pedagogical approach is seen as globally transferrable – any “local stubborness and backwardness” should be “resisted and removed.”

However, Widdowson argues, it is local contexts which set conditions on the validity of an approach. This is where we fail when we complain “If these “wretched teachers didn’t do what they were supposed to do, it was because they were clinging to old-fashioned methods.” But teaching needs to engage with local contexts. The crucial context is not the context of the NS language user, it’s the context of the language learner in the classroom. This is the reality that pedagogy needs to engage with: What of the context of the classroom? What kind of language is appropriate here? The structuralists were right: it has to be language that activates the learning process, whether it conforms to language appropriateness or not.

This brings us to feasibility, which has been neglected. This is the key feature of pedagogy: the language presented to learners has to be such that they can access and process it. A corpus can provide samples, but these are only useful to learners if they can process and authenticate them for themselves. Learners need language that is appropriate because it is feasible. The neglect of feasibility comes about because the new starts focus on language teaching (objectives) rather than learners and learning process (subordinated to that goal). Learning is taken to be the reflex of teaching – learning is the progressive achievement of prescribed teaching objectives. Other learning is seen as an impediment to progress. But learner initative can be seen as an attempt to make input more feasible.

A monolingual approach means other languages should be regarded with suspicion, but FL learning is always bilingual or multilingual: learners’ own L1 is always present and is always naturally involved in the process of L2 learning. Where the learners are busy multilingually learning, the teacher is busy monolingually teaching. Learners relate learning to what they know, assimilating the new into the familiar. Learning errors are evidence of deforeignising FL learning. If we give primacy to the learning process over teaching, then teaching is relegated to an ancillary activity, subordinate to learning (and not other way round). Here we have radical implications.

FL learning involves being taught language, stable and defined language, a distinct foreign entity. This is not teaching how language is used to communicate, but what form communication is supposed to take in the NS community. But if learning is always a development from previous experience, an association of the second to the first language, then it is simply the extension of what learners already know about language by applying it to new linguistic data. Learners are in effect learning different realisations of language, rather than learning A different language. To use a modern term, learning is languaging. This suggests the possibility of yet another new start.

New start 3?

Focus attention not on teaching learners to conform to possible, appropriate, performed in NS community, but rather give primacy to what is feasible in language learning process
Not acquisition of L2 competence assumed to be objective of teaching
Instead, develop more general lingual capability

  • learning process vs teaching objective
  • learn language, not teach a language
  • extend learner experience, not discontinuity
  • developing capability not competence conformity

Teaching is a matter not of denying but exploiting the learners’ experience and the process should continue after end of teaching – create momentum for further learning after teaching and beyond test. Certain objectives can’t be globally prescribed because how learners engage with a language depends on how they conceive of its foreignness. It is presupposed that all non L1 languages can be categorised as “foreign” depends on other factors like historical role (what symbolic or economic capital is associated with language). Russian is not foreign to Ukranian or Polish learners as it is to English speaker. Also how and why they are learned are likely to be different according to which languages are involved.

The popular textbook How languages are learned (Lightbown & Spada) makes the implicit claim that all languages are learned in the same way, and so taught in the same way. It is institutionally convenient and commercially profitable to make this assumption. But local contextualisation is more important according to Widdowson in spite of the vested interests of the ELT industry. Institutional resistance is to be expected, so this approach may be doomed to another kind of failure

New start #3

  • local vs global perspective
  • different perceptions of foreigness

Referring to the conference theme of valorizing practice in the form of grounded histories, Widdowson checks the definition of valorise (“to ascribe value or validity to an activity”) and asks whether the conference title refers to the activity of teaching or of learning? Since learning is mentioned first, perhaps it takes precedence? Little is known about the history of language learning, though this is the primary practice to be valorized. In the past, competence was measured by to what extent learners were good “teachees.” Learning has been undervalued and we should give priority to learning, and the development of lingual capability (not L2 competence). Widdowson judges this suggestion unlikely to be adopted but perhaps useful as a means of promoting critical thinking.