Six language teaching trends of the 00s

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This past month I’ve found myself reading loads of lists to do with the past decade. Michael Jackson, the ipod, the war on terror and other events and trends that marked the beginning of the new millennium and influenced the past ten years. So I thought we should have something similar for English language teaching. Without further ado, here are six trends that characterized the noughties in language teaching. I have written these in a flashy headline style.

1. Corpus linguistics goes mainstream! Corpus study has been around for at least twenty years, but it was in the noughties that it finally made its mainstream appearance. Coursebooks now proudly proclaim that their English is based on corpus research, or that their books contain a “real English” guarantee, backed up by the corpus. We have seen more talks about practical application of corpus data, some of which is now freely available online. And this decade was the decade that words like “collocation” and “pattern” ceased to be the domain of linguists and became common currency among teachers.

2. Teaching with technology becomes the new imperative amid moral panic! More than anything else, this decade could be seen as the decade in which technology muscled its way onto the teaching scene amid a mixture of delight and anguish (perhaps more anguish than delight in many teaching contexts). As laptop computers, interactive whiteboards and broadband internet became cheaper and more available schools around the world began to introduce them into classrooms, often and sadly without appropriate training. This was the decade that we learned of digital immigrants and digital natives, which created an extra gulf between teachers and students who were often considered in separate camps. A big symbol of these developments was the interactive whiteboard, which would have seemed almost unbelievable in 1999. We also had to learn a bunch of new acronyms (IWB, ICT, URL etc), as if we didn’t have enough already.

3. Teachers harness web 2.0 – is this the end of national associations? In 1999 there were very few language teachers, authors or methodologists with a strong web presence. The last years of the 00s saw a slow but steady growth of ELT professionals moving into the online arena. More and more blogs sprung up, and many language teachers joined twitter and Facebook. This decade saw the wider development of the online PLN (personal learning network) for teachers. As ties via online networks strengthen and develop further could we be seeing a decline in traditional national associations?

4. The Common European Framework sweeps aside all in its path! This decade saw the rise and rise of the CEF (another acronym!) with its system of levels and can-do statements. Originally published as a book in 2001, the CEF has spread beyond European borders to other regions around the world. Has it changed language teaching methodology? It may still be too early to say.

5. Blockbuster coursebooks kept alive through “new” versions! Was Headway the first coursebook to get a “new” version? I am not sure, but I suspect it was one of the first. Other big courses were quick to follow anyway, and this decade saw books like Inside Out, Cutting Edge and English File all get overhauled and repackaged with the “new” label. This fashion got frankly ridiculous when Headway brought out its New New Headway, which they seem to have dropped now in favour of Headway, the 3rd edition. Do I sound a bit snide about new versions? Yes, until of course I get a new version of one of my books. When that happens expect me to change my tune completely ๐Ÿ˜‰

6. English as a lingua franca rocks the ELT boat! English as a Lingua Franca had been around since before 2000, but it has really become more and more important as a new area for teachers over the past ten years. The VOICE corpus of English as spoken by speakers of other languages is steadily growing. Books like David Graddol’s English Next saw a more mainstream recognition of the fact that “non-native” speakers of English already outnumber “native speakers” and that these terms have become a bit obsolete in today’s globalized world. But this was not without its share of controversy (you can find out a bit more about this here), as sectors of the ELF movement have challenged some established norms of English teaching.

If you have been teaching English over the past ten years, would you agree? Are there other trends that I have missed? Post a comment.

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Published in: on January 8, 2010 at 9:30 am  Comments (29)  
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  1. The first coursebook I remember to get a “new” version was that old standby (pre-headway) The Cambridge English Course, which begat The New Cambridge English Course.

    Read the other day that Google have hooked up with COBUILD which implies that corpus linguistics is about to go even more mainstream.

  2. Yes, you DO sound ‘a bit snide’ to complain about new editions of existing successful course material.

    The fact is that with more and more ‘now’ information in the books, information, especially in reading texts, dates almost as quickly as yesterday’s newspapers.

    This ‘now’ information is not restricted to celebrity information (I’m aware that Global eschews all mention of the famous). Can you imagine still using a coursebook where no one uses a cell phone, for example?

    You only have to look at a 5-year-old coursebook to realise how changes in life in general, and technology in particular, mean that texts look out-of-date very quickly.

    The other advantage of a second edition, by the way, is the chance to freshen up some of the ‘timeless’ material that remains.

    I suppose I’m very aware of this as I’m in the middle of writing a second edition now. I’ve no doubt that Global will go global and three years from now, you will be asked to write a second edition.

    I hope this blog post comes back to bite you when that happens! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hi Ken, and nice to see you here! You are absolutely right on all counts, and I realised I was being snide when I wrote that (hence the disclaimer). Incidentally, I don’t think new versions of coursebooks are necessarily a bad thing. In fact you could say a second edition brings out the best in a book as it has been more widely tested out in the field (second editions often involve lots of research as you know).
      And Andy is right about the New Cambridge Course. Was that the first though? Maybe this wasn’t a trend of the 00s!

      • Actually Ken, if I am successful enough one day to warrant a second edition this blog post will be the least of my worries! But everyone is free to throw it back in my face and I will recant. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Nice list, Lindsay (and welcome back!) But I can’t let your claim that “corpora have been around for at least 20 years” go unchallenged. Even if we ignore pre-digital corpora (Charles Fries wrote a grammar in 1952 based on a corpus of telephone conversations, for example), the first computer-based corpus (The Brown University Corpus of American English, consisting of a million words) was compiled in the 1960s. The COBUILD corpus was created in the 1980s under the the direction of John Sinclair, who had been working with – and writing about – computer corpora since the 60s and 70s, and the first edition of the COBUILD dictionary was published in 1987. The first corpus-based course book (The Collins COBUILD English Course) followed shortly after, in 1988 (although admittedly this was not what you might call ‘mainstream’). I was involved in a coursebook project in the early 1990s (the Choice series, published by Longman) that used British National Corpus data, and was one of the first to reproduce concordance lines in its Students’ Book. Corpora (and corpus-based materials) have been around longer than you might think!

    • Thanks Scott for commenting. I stand duly corrected, as I was thinking mainly of the COBUILD corpus. As for “mainstream” I still believe it has only really become more popular in the last ten years partly due to the spread of the internet (perhaps before 2000 it was not easy for anyone to access a bit of corpora?).

      • Incidentally, I have a copy of Beginner’s Choice in front of me. The Student’s book does indeed make the claim for Real English and authentic texts but no overt mention of the corpus. Face2face on the other hand (published 13 years later) has a little box with a real English guarantee and information specifically mentioning corpus work.

  4. For a very odd reason in my school we still use ‘Shine’ and a couple of weeks ago there was a picture of a walkman in one of the units and none of my 5th graders knew what it was ๐Ÿ™‚ I didn’t even try to explain, I just said it was like iPod but older ๐Ÿ™‚ So, clearly coursebooks need to be updated, my big problem is that most often they happen due to financial( =lets make more money) reasons… I happen to be very critical towards coursebooks, and I rarely find one I like. During the past few years I think Face2Face was the only coursebook (for secondary school students) I didn’t find any fault in. Maybe I’m ‘oldschool’ but I like books&workbooks with loads of grammar practice exercises. I think more advanced grammar can’t be just acquired during in-class communicative activities. I had this problem with ‘reported speech’ and The New English File Upper Intermediate. The supposedly ‘pre-teaching text’ started with reported questions right ahead. The rules provided were way too complicated and incoherent and there were 2 relatively easy tasks in the book and 2 more in the workbook and that was it. I think sometimes a wee bit more grammar doesn’t hurt ๐Ÿ™‚ Or maybe it’s just me who is a little bothered by sentences like “I can be able to…”

  5. there was a picture of a walkman in one of the units and none of my 5th graders knew what it was ๐Ÿ™‚

    My step-daughter came home from kindergarten one day and said that they played music there on very big black CDs with holes in the middle.

    And not so long ago a 20-something friend asked me how I was going to make popcorn (as promised) since I didn’t have a microwave.

    Sometimes I feel very very old.

  6. The evidence about the non-linear and unpredictable nature of language learning seems to grow and grow. Nevertheless, the last decade has seen the irresistible rise of a ‘can do/competences’ model of education which chooses to ignore all that evidence and is predicated on the idea that nothing is beyond the control of the teacher.
    Hence, armed with ‘can do’ syllabuses which bear no relation to the way in which our students actually learn (unpredictably, non-linearly), we teachers find ourselves participating in one big enormous lie … and don’t know what the hell to do about it.

    • Totally agree Glennie. This has particularly been borne out in the ESOL context in the UK, where any attempts to actually do any learning or teaching are often severely hampered by a constant pressure to quantify, exemplify and justify what has been learnt, what’s being learnt, and what’s going to be learnt, through meticulous lesson plans for teachers, and individual learning plans for learners. Certainly a trend of the last decade I’d say. Any signs of change on the horizon?

      Nick

      • With the market crying out for a guaranteed ‘product’ and those that hold the reins in education more than willing to give those guarantees, it’s hard to see how things are going to get better for a while, Nick.

        I’d encourage anyone who is just entering TEFL/TESOL to try to freelance as far as possible. That’s where they will find the freedom to respond to students needs as they emerge and be able to enjoy education as an adventure for both student and teacher.

        The rest of us will just have to take our pleasures where and when we (and our students, hopefully) can.

  7. Thanks Nick and Glennie for your thoughtful comments. Is what you see going on with can-do and competencies also happening with tests and testing? Nick mentions “a constant pressure to quantify, exemplify and justify what has been learnt, whatโ€™s being learnt, and whatโ€™s going to be learnt, through meticulous lesson plans for teachers, and individual learning plans for learners”. I ask because I’ve been reading some interesting stuff on the rise of standardised tests in the US. You can see more on that here: http://educationactiontoronto.com/discussions/testing-an-essential-tool-in-the-capitalist-organization-of-schooling-in-the-united-states

    • Tests are at the very core of the process. They are there so that students can demonstrate that they can do what the syllabus says they should be able to or have mastered the competencies the syllabus says they should have.

      Tests are the point of reference for the teacher, who has to teach to the test irrespective of what is happening in the classroom.

      Students, largely reduced to the role of non-initiating recipients who, at the appropriate time, must perform the tricks they have been trained to do, soon get the message: the reason for being in an English class is to be able to pass tests of English. The key question for them becomes: ‘Will this be on the exam?’

      • Thanks again. I think I sense a future blog post on this topic brewing. Six things about tests and the neo-liberal agenda… six major problems with tests… six reasons not to test the way we do… Will mull this over!

  8. […] our man Lindsay Clandfield made a similar list: not nearly as expansive, mainly because of his self-imposed six item limit.ย  He like Alex put no […]

  9. A nice and thorough list Lindsay. Glad to see that Michael Jackson made it on there as well. Wouldn’t want to leave him out of anything…
    I think if your list were seven things, the one more thing would be CLIL. If you said that acronym to anyone circa 2000 they might have given you a cream to treat it.
    Having just attended a conference with one full plenary and a whole afternoon breakout devoted to the topic, it seems to have entrenched itself into the world of language teaching. And I suppose CLIL was around for a few decades before the noughties in one form or another. Lightbown and Spada’s book, with it’s research on bilingual education, was first published in the early 90’s, wasn’t it?

    Can anyone remember when CLIL first burst on the scene? I can’t remember it before 2004.

    • I know that Lightbown and Spada wrote about CLIL without calling it that, drawing on the Canadian experience of school children learning French or English via other subjects. But I think you could be right that the rise and rise of CLIL is a 00s thing. It was also mentioned by Graddol as a new trend so… anyone else able to shed light on this?
      Thanks for coming by Jeff!

  10. I got the impression that Bilingual Ed (and attendant theories) has been around for ages, and CLiL was just the ELT community’s belated leap onto the bandwagon.

  11. Hello Experts. I am not an expert but I’m a very effective teacher of both English and French. I give tests only for fun, I make my students write up their own tests for their fellow students, we decide on our own corpus, we always ask, “why do i need this?” and answer it together, and tho they may not know paul mccartney, they’ve taught me how to wiki a blog. in short, it’s all good. p.s. my students are corporate execs and scientists of all ages and cultures at a french cosmetic company in new jersey. FUN!!!

    • Sounds good to me Suzanne – some good students you have there!

      • Sounds like heaven, Suzanne.

  12. Excellent list and engaging comments.

    May I also suggest that the growing acceptance of Global Englishes and growth of more learner centered technology will lead to a generation of genuine autotelic (self-directed) students? After all, as the leading authorities conclude that that there are many ways to speak English, English language learners will feel more empowered to follow their own interests – and instincts – in and out of the classrooms. English language instruction should be, ironically, entering a golden age of authentic communication.

  13. I couldn’t disagree more about Jennifer Jenkins’ ELF movement – it’s heading for the rocks, and the sooner the better. It patronises learners by assuming that some things are ‘too difficult’ and ‘unnecessary’ (prescriptive!) for them, and seems to think that just because non-native speakers are in the majority, they should rewrite the rules. Never heard of elites, Jenny? Or is that all too un-PC for the likes of you? Anyway, it’s all complete tosh in my view.

    Oh, but maybe we’ll see an ELF coursebook soon, full of bad English for those poor foreign dearies who can’t master the 3rd person ‘-s’. And perhaps we’ll get to drop the use of articles to suit them too, eh? I’m sure JJ would love to write one – ‘Hedwey Internashnl’, eh…

    As for Eric’s remark above: “English language instruction should be, ironically, entering a golden age of authentic communication.” … please, don’t make me cringe! But it is a good candidate for Private Eye’s ‘Pseuds’ Corner’.

  14. I’m not an expert on the subject of ELF, but I can identify with the idea that you may be wasting students time if you insist on native speaker pronunciation, for example. Effective communication between, say, an Indian and a Russian, does not depend on the ability to pronounce the schwa. Intelligibility surely has to be what we are looking for.

    I’m also becoming far easier about my students not using contracted forms for auxiliaries: there is nothing ambiguous whatsoever about the meaning of ‘I have finished writing the report’, if ‘have’ is not pronounced with extra stress.

    I’m not especially interested in being politically correct or entering into debates about
    ‘Whose English?’, but I don’t want to demand of my students that they be competent in areas which will have little or no effect on their ability to use English as they wish or need to.

    • I’m in complete agreement with you. There are too many important aspects to focus on in teaching pronunciation to get stuck on perfection. I teach English as a Second Language in Ontario so I do tell students that I have a Southern Ontario accent but since we live in an increasingly multicultural world I don’t think that nailing regional pronunciation is the goal over intelligibility as you have pointed out. Thanks to the availability of a vast number of listening resources available via the internet I make an effort to include English from different first and second language resources. CBC radio in Canada has always been a wonderful resource for me. It is a good source of second language speakers communicating well in English with a variety of accents and without perfect pronunciation. I hadn’t really thought about the stubborn inclusion of auxillary verbs instead of the more natural sounding contractions until I read your comment but I believe you make a very valid point and I will definitely relax my expectation in the future. Thanks

  15. Maybe Multiple Intelligences could be added to your list too. We seem to have heard a lot about them in the past 10 years. Merely a title to confirm the importance of varied activities, a blanket term for more inclusive education, or ??

  16. Balance and context, as ever, remain critical.

    Starting with student needs and desires for English in concrete circumstances, rather than abstract ideals of how English should be spoken, seems reasonable. A new immigrant to an English-speaking country (Canada, the United States, Australia) driving a taxi has different language needs than a cook in Hanoi, Vietnam or a maid in Baja, Mexico. Can English language learners communicate what their thoughts in English enough to be understood?

    Of course, graduate students studying abroad in English speaking countries need to master subject-verb agreement, article usage, and countable and uncountable nouns. But the vast majority of English language learners today do not need to reach grammatical perfection. They just need to clearly communicate in English. Fluency and functional competence, not absolute accuracy, matters most for the vast majority of EFL students and international workers.

  17. […] Clandfield makes six predictions for our field in his post, Six Language Teaching Trends of the 00s. These predictions include English as a Lingua Franca will rock the boat and technology will become […]


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