Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Sociolinguistics in relation to TEFL

Master’s Program- Applied Linguistics
Academic Year: 2012- 2013
Course Title: Sociolinguistics
Instructor: Dr. Mohamed Jabeur
Student: Nada Mrabet

How can sociolinguistics be useful in the teaching of English as a foreign language (TEFL)?

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          Many researches have been conducted in the field of learning strategies and teaching methodologies for the aim of finding the most suitable outfit for the classroom of foreign learners of the English language. Ever since the Grammar- Translation Method, pedagogical approaches to language teaching have been expanding and evolving. This escalating evolvement gave birth to up- to- date methods and approaches like the Task- based Approach, the Lexical Approach, and the Neuro-linguistic Programming and Multintelligencia.  However, the most notable approach, that created a sort of revolutionary reform to Second Language Acquisition (SLA), is the Communicative Language Teaching Approach (CLT). The latter introduced communicative competence as a crucial component of the ultimate aim of learning a language which is language proficiency. The main contribution to this reform was thanks to some major works in Sociolinguistics of some of the pioneers of linguistics like John Gumperz, Dell Hymes and William Labov. The purpose of this paper is to examine (1) how is sociolinguistics incorporated into the teaching methods of English, and (2) at what levels?

         Linguistically, sociolinguistics came into existence due to a plain dissatisfaction with structural linguistics from a communicative point of view. As a matter of fact, Chomsky’s theory of competence was refuted by Hymes (1972) who held that Chomsky’s theory is ‘sterile’ as it mainly focuses on the mere knowledge of the grammar rules of a language with no much consideration to the actual knowledge of the usage of a language. He stated that “Communicative competence encompasses the knowledge of how to use the language in the real world, without which the rules of grammar would be useless” ( 1971). Historically, sociolinguistics contributed largely in the birth of the CLT Approach as a response to the Audio- lingual Method. The latter applied the principles of structural linguistics along with the fundamentals of behaviorism to language teaching, and turned a blind eye to sociolinguistic competence. There are, indeed, other methods that paid a more or less attention to sociolinguistic demands in the course of teaching such as Eclecticism and the Task- based approach. Yet, the lion’s share remains with the CLT approach.
         The most important aspects of the communicative classroom are the roles of the teachers as well as of the learners. Breen and Candlin redefined the teacher roles within the CLT approach using the following words:
The teacher has two main roles: the first role is to facilitate the communication process between all participants and the various activities and texts. The second role is to act as an independent participant within the learning- teaching group. (1980)
Teachers must guide the learners throughout the lesson and leave the learning to the learners. They must give the learners enough time and space to communicate, exchange ideas, make an effort and make mistakes, learn from each other and from their own mistakes, etc. Teachers must be mistake- tolerant and never interfere when it’s the learners’ time to talk, unless the learners make errors that cannot be overlooked. Teachers must teach the learners how to communicate properly and how to use their language correctly in order to improve their performance. This would apply a wider and more active role to the teachers than the passive one given to them through former methods and approaches as they need to interact more with the learners. On this matter, Lier (1996) states that “teachers should be ‘a guide on the side’ rather than ‘a sage on the stage’”.
          In terms of classroom management, the teacher talking time (TTT) must be controlled. That is to say that teachers need to know when to talk and when to leave the talking to the learners, the amount and way of talking, and how useful or helpful would the intervention be to the learners. Teachers are allowed to ask questions; but, they must be carefull what types of questions could be asked as some of the latter may lead learners to frustration. Thus, they become no longer interested in the lesson. They also need to know how much time must be given to the learners between “asking a question and demanding a response”. This is something that can be acquired by experience. In terms of classroom settings, Wright (1987) illustrated a diagram that depicts the different ways in which desks might be arranged within the communicative classroom so that all learners would be active parts of the learning process. There are so many ways to establish that; but, the most noticeable one is grouping the learners in rounded tables.
         Another aspect should be borne in mind is the possibility of having EFLs with different characteristics gathered in a single classroom. Here, we mostly refer to multilingual and multicultural classrooms. However, Willing conducts many other variables that should be put into consideration by teachers when teaching and most importantly when designing the lessons plans, some of which are: ethnic groups, age group, level of previous education, speaking proficiency level, type of learning programme, and so on. All of these variables can introduce a large change on the curriculum design. According to the Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics, a curriculum is defined as the following:
an overall plan for a course or programme… Such a programme usually states; (a) the educational purpose of the programme, in terms of aims or goals and (b) the content of the programme and the sequence in which it will be taught (syllabus), (c) the teaching procedures and learning activities that will be employed (methodology), (d) the means used to assess student learning (assessment and testing), (e) the means used to assess whether the programme has achieved its goals (evaluation). »
Therefore, a curriculum is not only the course plan, as some might define it, but rather a sequence of steps that should be followed by the teacher to insure a successfully delivered lesson. It should encounter not only all the grammar rules, but also all the possible situations that all learners might come across in the real life (business trips, shopping, requesting information, etc). These latter can be enhanced through practice and exercises. The number and types of exercises and activities that can be done in the communicative classroom can be infinite especially those that involve discussion and negotiation, and allow all learners to participate and interact with each other.
         Lier (1996) recognizes three fundamental principles of a curriculum which are Awareness, Autonomy and Authenticity (AAA).  Not only did he make different principles of a curriculum, but also regarded them in terms of epistemology (i.e. “theory of knowledge with regard to methods, validity and scope”), and in terms of ethics and axiology (i.e. “the study of values and value judgments”). From an epistemic point of view, awareness is about focus, attention, and the role of perception; autonomy is about self- regulation, motivation, and depth of processing; authenticity is about real life language use, relevance, and communication. From an axiological point of view, awareness is about conscious engagement and reflection; autonomy is about responsibility, accountability, free choice, and democratic education; authenticity is about commitment to learning, integrity, and respect. Indeed, teachers need to be ‘democratic’ and share control as well as decisions with the learners. How? It is by taking into account the needs of the learners and designing a curriculum based on those needs. Consequently, the broad goal of the CLT approach is “needs analysis”. This is also one of the most noticeable reforms introduced to TEFL thanks to the recognition of the sociolinguistic competence as a major component of language learning.
         One crucial concept should be borne in mind when designing the curriculum is the stylistic variation and dialectal variation. As communication is used as the framework of the learning of English as a second language, the question that should always be put in mind is “Who says what, to whom, when, where and how?” The type of speech one delivers matters a lot. According to the former methods, learners must be taught the standard form of the target language especially the formal form,  with no consideration of the variations (i.e. different dialects) of that language once in for all. This makes these learners unable to socially interact and communicate using the target language, and going as far as to being unable of understanding native speakers. In this way, teachers fail to prepare the learners to what they could come across in real life situations as they are only able of producing sentences in the standard language and formally. Here, sociolinguistics interfered through the CLT approach to emphasize the importance of authenticity of the materials used by the teachers, so that learners would become aware of the fact that a language is beyond its standard and formal forms. The sociolinguistic reform of the language teaching methods is the reason why most students of today are capable of understanding a variety of styles and dialects of the English language due to the huge attention they pay to authentic sources (movies, radio, TV shows) when compared to the generation of the methods of a structural nature. Now, students can know when to use the vernacular forms of a language (for informal social interaction) and when to use the hyper- literate forms (for formal and academic uses).
         The evolving of the roles of the teachers will immediately cause the evolving of the roles of the learners from mere passive learners to actual active learners. Breen and Candlin redefine the learner’s role within the CLT approach in the following words:
The role of the learner as negotiator- between the self, the learning process, and the object of learning- emerges from and interacts with the role of joint negotiator within the group and within the classroom procedures and activities which the group undertakes.
Hence, the approach to foreign language teaching became learner- centered as the teachers must give special attention to the needs of the learners not only when interacting within the classroom, but also when selecting the content of the curriculum. Also, teachers must prepare the learners to apply the four language skills to communicate language use outside the classrooms, i.e. in authentic situations: listening (radio, television, media in general), reading (news papers, fiction), writing (in one’s journal or diary), and speaking (pronunciation and talking to native speakers during social events). In fact, learners must find ways to converse with native English speakers, find opportunities to practice their English outside the classrooms, and keep themselves motivated by listening to songs and watching movies in the English language every once in a while. All of these tricks and tips would help the learners to become competent speakers not only in the classrooms, but also in the real world.

          The incorporation of the sociolinguistic norms in English learning classes is not restricted to the CLT approach. On the contrary, ever since these norms have been introduced to the field of learning strategies and teaching methodologies, the sociolinguistic competence have been put into account in all the after-coming methods and approaches. Now it can no longer be ignored seeing the huge impact it had left behind at all different levels: teacher role, classroom management, curriculum design, accountability for stylistic variations, and the importance of the four language skills. Indeed, language is not merely structural (i.e. about grammar rules), but it also has a social dimension which is recognized as the sociolinguistic component. The latter has participated largely into the development of  better procedures, skills and strategies of teaching and learning of the post- communicative methods. 

McLaren, N. y Madrid, D. 2004. The Foreign Language Curriculum. Madrid: Editorial Universidad de Granada, pp. 144-176.
Nunan, D. 1989. Designing Tasks For the Communicative Classroom. Cambridge University Press.
Nunan, D. 1991. Language Teaching Methodology. London: Prentice Hall International.
Richards, J. and Rodgers, T. 1986. Approaches and Methods in language Teaching. CUP Cambridge.
Richards, J and Schmidt, R. 2002. Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics. Malysia: Longman.
Van Lier, L. 1996. Interaction in the Language Curriculum. London: Longman.
Van Lier, L. 1988. The Classroom and the language Learner. London: Longman.

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