Current Issues in English Language Teaching and Learning

No one would deny nowadays that the general field of language teaching as a scientific and academic discipline and, more particularly, English language teaching (ELT) as part of it stand out for their strong dynamism and continuous evolution and development. The growing number of publications, organisations, institutions, materials, tests and conferences on ELT clearly indicate that this field has not remained static and invariable, just the opposite. Since the 1970’s with the advent of the communicative methods and the strong reaction against the structuralist approaches (Littlewood and Swan 1981), ELT has gone through multiple changes resulting from a combination of factors and variables of different nature: sociological, economic and pedagogical among others.

All these changes have brought about in their turn important innovations and adjustments in the areas of teacher training and development, curriculum design and materials production. It should be borne in mind that any decision made regarding the methodology to be used in the classroom or an innovation introduced in the curriculum trigger ongoing alterations in the general context of the language teaching and learning process (White 1988; Johnson 1989).

The contributions of second language acquisition research from the 1970’s onwards can also be regarded as a turning-point in the general development of ELT. The insights obtained from the multiple research programmes and experiments in this domain could not be just simply disregarded, they had to be fully or partly incorporated into the teaching field because they provided very useful information on the actual learning of the language (Krashen 1981; Ellis 1985).

As a result, different theories on the nature of language learning such as the monitor model, the theory of interlanguage, the acculturation/pidginization model, cognitive proposals, etc. (McLaughin 1987)-were proposed with the ambitious aim of accounting for a complex phenomenon in which a wide variety of factors of different kind intervene.

The knowledge obtained from the role played by variables such as motivation, age, gender, personality, cognitive style, learning strategies, intelligence and so on was crucial for a more effective management of language teaching (Skehan 1989). As a consequence, learner-centered curricula attained real protagonism (Nunan 1988). A quick switch in the pendulum from the teacher to the learner took place, with the learner becoming the pivotal element in the learning process and the teacher adopting new roles apart from the traditional ones as animator, collaborator, dynamiser, mentor, assessor and facilitator (Wright 1987).

This also had its reflection on the management of the teaching/learning process with a strong focus on learning how to learn and on learner autonomy (Wenden 1991). More recently, the sudden and quick emergence of the new communication and information technologies (ICTs) has also had and is still having a great impact on the development of the ELT field.

The question was not simply whether audiovisual aids had a positive effect on learning, that was already taken for granted, or how the traditional language lab could achieve all its potential, the question now was how to make the most of the Internet and of all the resources connected with it: podcasts, wikis, blogs, teaching and learning platforms, and other powerful web tools (Townshend 1997; Warschauer and Kern 2000).

The ICTs have become a crucial element in ELT both within the classroom and, more importantly, outside the classroom, where they provide the necessary tools and give full sense to the idea of learner autonomy. The ICTs provide the learner not only with an unlimited number of learning materials that suit every learning style and specific need, but also with the instruments to organize and plan their learning, as we will see in this volume.

Another important event for the ELT field that occurred recently was the publication by the Council of Europe in 2001 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). This initiative has been of great relevance for the general organisation of the foreign languages curriculum, at least in Europe. Since its publication, the guidelines provided by this document, which actually complemented those initiated by the same institution in the 1970’s (Van Ek 1975; Richterich and Chancerel 1978/80; Slagter 1979), serve as reference points for all the teachers and professionals involved in language teaching. Positive as this may be for the future of foreign language teaching in the continent, the implementation of the CEFR is still under way and the subject of much debate among administrators, specialists and educators. For the field of ELT in particular, this is also a time of great momentum, now that English seems to be closer than ever to achieving the status of lingua franca that many had foreseen, wished or dreaded.

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