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Beyond Methods: Components of Second Language Teacher Education

Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig and Beverly Hartford
McGraw Hill, 1997
pp. xvi + 224
ISBN: 0521-26909-1


Reviewed by :

Robert J. Dickey
Kyongju University, Korea

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What We've Been Missing
For all the books on teaching methods -- and I too have fallen in love with them -- there are few books that actually tie in the underlying theories to the realities of teaching. While the various methods and approaches to teaching base their work on theory, we generally don't find theory books that show how and why theory ties in with the learner-based classroom. Beyond Methods: Components of Second Language Teacher Education is that missing book.

Bardovi-Harlig and Hartford have selected 10 theoretical disciplines as chapter topics, to provide "core areas of knowledge" which should or could be independent courses in Master of ELT-type degree programs. Beyond Methods is designed as a textbook for an overview course, or as a supplement to a methods course, but also for practicing teachers engaged in formal programs or self-study. In fact, the underlying theme of most chapters is how the discipline relates to a second language learning classroom.

The Components
The chapter topics are Psycholinguistics, Second Language Acquisition Theory, Syntactic Theory, Phonology, Sociolinguistics, Pragmatics, 'World' Languages, Non-native Reading Research, The Writing Course, and Assessment. These are presented as free-standing scholarly essays, so important themes in ELT come up again and again through the perspectives of the various disciplines. The contributors teach courses on their chapter topics, which results in the chapters being more accessible than a journal article, but still requiring careful attention: readers would greatly benefit from a discussion group (face to face or email) after reading a section.

At the end of each chapter are an outline of "Key Terms, Concepts, & Issues", a very short annotated bibliography for "Exploring the Topics Further", and references. Within the chapters are numerous "Pause to consider..." boxes, some of which are quite helpful. At the end of the book there is an index, but no glossary.

A Slow Start
The first chapter, "The Case for Psycholinguistics", is a tough beginning, and the book's lack of a glossary is noticeable. I had to consult a dictionary (the index pointed me to the very pages I was reading, and to subSsequent chapters). Bill VanPatten uses a discussion of grammar to display the need for a teacher's awareness of the developmental stages of language acquisition, going beyond the prototypical evolution of irregular past tense in children (very nicely presented here!) to an examination of a process approach to teaching grammar. He offers some of his principles on acquisition, the presentation can be very briefly summarized as:

Learners process input for meaning before they process for form (grammar), so learners prefer to find grammar in lexical items rather than morphological markings.

For learners to process form, they must be able to process the communicative/informational content at little cost to their attention.

Though a bit challenging, this chapter offers a nice bird's-eye view of how elements of psycholinguistics ties in with second language acquisition.

Could Be Better
Chapter Three begins with a brief comment that syntax is one of the courses, beyond methodology, that must be included in a masters program. Hmm, all of us are quite familiar with professors of language who press grammar matters onto students with no apparent regard for student fluency, so I read this section with particular interest. Why should we teachers know more than a general level of grammar, such as is presented in standard grammar references? Why should we care about generative syntax? Marie-Luise Beck uses Chomsky's observational, descriptive, and explanatory "levels of adequacy" as her framework to present her case. It starts off fairly well, but her use of German grammar as a model doesn't help -- at least not for those of us who have no background in German! The comment "Of course..." was irritating, since it implies that everyone knows German grammar. Even with all the grammar "trees" (figures), she fails to show that generative grammar is critical to teaching or understanding second language acquisition, and her work seems directed more towards supporting Chomsky's concept of a universal grammar than explaining why teachers need to know this.

The Best
In contrast, Martha Pennington's chapter on phonology gets it all right. She offers descriptions and definitions of the discipline near the beginning, explains how it fits in, both in historic and context senses, and presents in a very meaningful and reader-friendly fashion. One of these introductory points is from Esling, "collection, not correction", referring to the benefit of hearing many different speakers (eg: audiotapes) rather than audiolingual-type pronunciation drills. There is also discussion of various psycho-socio issues of pronunciation and accents: this was the most enjoyable essay on phonological issues I have ever read.

The Last
It seems to be fairly standard in multi-topic texts to treat testing last, if at all, and in the shortest of all chapters. Beyond Methods does the same, and though the chapter is well done, as far as it goes, we could wish for more. Most teachers, and every student, will assure us that testing is of critical importance. The critiques of various testing formats, such as dictation and cloze testing, is useful, but not as theoretically oriented as the rest of the book.

Summing it up
As with any collection of essays, some are better than others, and each reader will make up their own mind which is which. Whichever you select, you'll still find that this book offers a solid overview of the numerous topics one might expect to encounter in any master's of ELT course.

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