Tag Archives: teaching

26th Biennial DGFF Conference 2015

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus-Liebig-University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

The 26th Biennial Conference of the German Association of Foreign Language Research (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Fremdsprachenforschung, DGFF) will be held at Ludwigsburg University of Education, Germany, September 30 – October 3, 2015. The conference theme is “Teaching Languages“.

2015 DGFF Poster

Research into the practice and development of teaching and teaching procedures is a fundamental concern of second and foreign language education studies. Quality has always been a precondition for successful teaching, and remains so. What actually constitutes good teaching, however, is a question that is under constant review. Teachers are called upon to perform in the most diverse contexts, both within school domains and outside them, whether in the instruction of foreign languages or of second languages. Teaching staff are obliged – especially in the light of general political and educational demands for new learning cultures – to deal with an increasing number of responsibilities and challenges. Their qualifications, competence, and professional involvement are decisive factors in the successful implementation of educational reform. The 26th DGFF Conference will place teaching in the focus of its attention, enquiring into its practical procedures and parameters as well as its theoretical and scientific principles.

  • How can various theoretical perspectives in FL research contribute to the issues of the teacher?
  • What, in the light of large-scale studies on general features of classroom interaction, are the particular characteristics of teaching and learning a foreign language?
  • How can the professionalization of teaching staff be successfully accomplished?
  • What experience and insights have we gained from the history of foreign language teaching?
  • How does the teaching task present itself in various contexts and with regard to heterogeneous groups of participants?
  • What advances have been made in conveying particular content aspects of foreign language education?
  • What are the potentialities and limitations of teaching? What innovative instructional strategies and materials do we have at our disposal today? What goals can be realized through the use of these? How is their practical efficacy and reliability to be judged?

These are among the many questions to be addressed in 12 sections, as well as in numerous discussion fora and plenary sessions. For further information, please click here.


A Paradigm Shift in Language Teaching – at long last!

by Wolfgang Butzkamm, Aachen University (RWTH), Germany

Goodbye Berlitz, goodbye Helen Doron, goodbye Rosetta Stone…
The fact that small children grow into their native language without the help of another one, has inspired countless reformers. Charles Berlitz proclaimed himself the inventor of the direct method (which he wasn’t), and in his schools any use of the learners’ native language was taboo. In our times Helen Doron schools similarly claim to be using „the only internationally acclaimed early English learning method that allows children to absorb English in exactly the same way they learn their mother tongue”, i.e. without translation of any kind. The central idea, the exclusion of the children’s own language, has also been adopted by many public school systems and official guidelines for teachers, although in a less strict and dogmatic manner. A methodological monolingualism became the mainstream philosophy, as evidenced in many textbooks. The use of the mother tongue was invariably cautioned against, generally downplayed and rarely recommended. English-only became almost a badge of honour.

However, commercial self-instructional courses today are curiously divided. There are computer courses which make “no translation” their central selling proposition (e.g. Rosetta Stone: “It essentially means that you learn German in German, without translations – like you picked up your mother tongue”), and there are others which make regular and systematic use of their learners’ native language in various ways (Assimil; Birkenbihl; Michel Thomas…), making the very opposite their central selling proposition.

For more than a century this most vexing issue has been discussed and has often generated more heat than light, and it has certainly generated an immense literature by now.  Although in many countries monolingual teaching with some modifications carried the day, a number of researchers continued to radically question the monolingual assumption. Interestingly, some of them started out as „monolingual“ practitioners (the students’ native language being only a last resort), but changed their minds over time. This is also my own case. As early as 1976 I pressed for a „paradigm shift“, building on C.J. Dodson’s Bilingual Method, a book which opened my eyes when I was a young teacher of modern languages. On reading Dodson I could put the new bilingual techniques immediately into practice, and thus came to understand them by experimenting and observing their effects in the classroom (for more on this, please click here).

In many ways what is now happening fits Thomas Kuhn’s description of a paradigm shift (in The structure of scientific revolutions), a significant change away from the monolingual doctrine in favour of a modern bilingual approach. Over the years, more and more researchers have challenged the settled view of their predecessors, and it seems that a paradigm shift is just around the corner:

„Die Zeit ist reif für eine neue Synthese … die bilinguale Revolution findet statt.“ [„The time is ripe for a new synthesis…the bilingual revolution is taking place“] (W. Butzkamm, Lust zum Lehren, Lust zum Lernen, 12004, p. 2)

“Making the mother tongue the corner stone in the architecture of FLT is a true paradigm shift.” (W. Butzkamm & J. A. W. Caldwell, The bilingual reform. A paradigm shift in foreign language teaching, p. 15)

“We live in interesting times: having lived through one paradigm shift, I now have the feeling this book marks the start of another.” A. Maley, Review of Translation in Language Teaching: an argument for reassessment by G. Cook. ELT Journal 65.2, 192–193.

„If their proposals are implemented, it will be a true paradigm shift.“  P. Scheffler, Review of The bilingual reform. A paradigm shift in foreign language teaching by W. Butzkamm  &  J. A. W. Caldwell.  ELT Journal 66/1, 2012, p. 119).

In the influential journal  Language Teaching  – (listed both in  the Arts & Humanities Citation Index and in the Social Sciences Citation Index) authors G. Hall & G. Cook come to the conclusion: „The way is open for a major paradigm shift in language teaching and learning“ (state-of- the-art article „Own language use in language teaching and learning“ , in Language Teaching, 45/2012, pp 271-308). With this authoritative review one can safely say that a century old tenet has been overturned. A dogma has been toppled.

According to Butzkamm & Caldwell the learners’ native language is ‘the greatest pedagogical resource’ that they bring to foreign language learning, as it ‘lays the foundations for all other languages we might want to learn’. While language teaching in many countries had to be officially monolingual with small concessions, it is now accepted that language learning is, and has always been, a fundamentally bilingual endeavour, as modern brain research has shown. Thus it is not just a more flexible and less rigid attitude towards own-language use which is advocated today, but the well-targeted, systematic exploitation of the diagnostic potential of learners’ own language(s), however with the foreign language still being the working language of the classroom. What is now needed is the knowledge and dissemination of those highly effective techniques in which the L1 is essential – techniques which are yet to filter into mainstream pedagogy.

Caution: A sophisticated bilingual approach does not give licence for the lax, unthinking or indifferent use of L1.  It is a highly purposeful, focused tool to promote L2 learning and communicative use in the classroom. We must at long last resolve the apparent paradox that with systematic mother tongue support an authentic foreign language classroom atmosphere can be created much more easily than in classes with a mother tongue taboo.

A Snapshot Taken at Bayswater Underground Station, London

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

On my way back to Germany last Sunday I took this photo of a poster I saw at Bayswater Underground Station in London:

I apologize for the poor quality of the snapshot. My train was coming and I didn’t want to miss it.

Issued by the TDA (“The Training and Development Agency for Schools is the national agency and recognised sector body responsible for the training and development of the school workforce”), the poster is part of an ongoing UK initiative to recruit teachers (not only foreign language teachers). – I haven’t seen anything like this in Germany, that’s why I put it online.

Following the link provided on the poster, I found this piece of information especially interesting and captivating:

“First class career with second class perceptions — Public rates teaching one of the worst professions for career progression, yet eight out of ten teachers see opportunities as some of the best in the UK.

Despite a sharp increase in the numbers of people entering the profession, teaching is still under-rated by the general public and final year students. New research by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) […] shows that both groups under-estimate the salaries that teachers actually earn and the opportunities they have for career progression. The research is being published to launch a major recruitment drive in the run-up to three national Train to Teach recruitment events across the country. […] When the general public was asked to rank professions by opportunities for career progression, teaching came towards the bottom (beating only journalism and careers in human resources). Two-thirds (66 per cent) of graduates interviewed thought teaching offered slow career progression and limited chances of promotion. Nothing could be further from the truth. [click here to read more].”

Money makes the world go round, but on the poster I also read that teaching is more than just a profession (i.e. a way to earn money). I couldn’t agree more, what do you think of all this?

Children’s Literature in Language Education

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Karlsruhe

An international conference on “Children’s Literature in Language Education – from Picture Books to Young Adult Fiction” will be held at Hildesheim University, Germany from February 25-27, 2010.

Plenary speakers:
Stephen Krashen, Eva Burwitz-Melzer, Alan Maley & Andrew Wright

Strand 1: EFL extensive reading – reading for pleasure; teacher training with
non-canonical literature;
Strand 2: Pre-teens and teens: young adult novels, graded readers, non-fiction,
poems and graphic novels;
Strand 3: Young learners: picture books, poems and nursery rhymes; language acquisition with literary texts;
Strand 4: Storytelling and workshops

For further information, see the conference website (click here).

TEFLSPEAK-G and the Idea of Encouraging Improvised Speech in the EFL Classroom (5)

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

Improvisation is a vague concept that is not defined clearly. With regard to speaking a foreign language, it refers to

  • situated target language performance, and to learning by / while doing,
  • accessing one’s target language / intercultural resources under communicative pressure, especially in informal communicative contexts which are usually less scripted and predictable,
  • employing (compensatory) communicative strategies spontaneously, and furthermore to
  • making use of whatever the totality of the communicative context has to offer,
  • being flexible and creative in a variety of linguistic and non-linguistic ways,
  • being prepared to take risks in the process of negotiating / co-constructing meaning.

How does this relate to current research and theory construction? In a recent issue of Applied Linguistics, Joann Swann & Janet Maybin (2007: 491) emphasize the importance of creativity for language learning. They point out that “creativity may be identified broadly as a property of all language users in that language users do not simply reproduce but recreate, refashion, and recontextualize linguistic and cultural resources in the act of communication.” They go on to say that “playfulness and humour is a potential characteristic of creativity” (2007: 492). It is evident that improvisation is a similar concept, which focuses on spontaneous, unprepared language use in the first place; more generally: on the predictability-unpredictability dimension of oral exchanges. 

The theory of foreign language improvisation is grounded in classroom-based empirical research spanning more than a decade (see, for instance, Kurtz 1997). Here is one more transcript illustrating what improvised speech is all about in actual classroom practice, how it affects oral production and how it contributes to target language communicative flexibility. Again, the format of interaction is Bus Stop (as described in part three of the TEFLSPEAK-G series). The improvisers are two 11-year-old German 5th grade students (after about nine months of learning English in a comprehensive school in Germany) (L = learner; T = teacher; … = pause; ? = intonation suggesting a question):

T:  All right … who is next? 
L1: Can I please? Herr Schneider .. can I?
T:  O.K. Simon … and who is your partner? … Murat? … no? what about Marc? … fine .. Simon and .. eh .. Marc .. you are at .. em .. the bus stop. … let’s count! … [whole class] … THREE, TWO, ONE, ACTION
L2: Yes … em .. hello. 
L1: Hello, my name is .. Simon. 
L2: Pleased to meet you, .. em .. I’m Marc. 
L1: Are you waiting for the bus? 
L2: Yes .. how about some sweets? 
L1: Thank you .. [cue:]  … em .. your shirt .. eh … is really beautiful .. [begin impro:] .. is it new?
L2: Yes.
L1: Look, … es [German word] … ähm … it [self correction] is dirty. Can you see .. it?
L2: No .. your shirt is dirty … look 
L1: What? .. that’s not .. er .. dirty … that’s modern  /mo’de:rn/ [end impro] [outburst of laughter in class]
L2: Oh, mmh .. here comes my bus. I have to go. Nice talking to you. Bye.
L1: Bye

Still more to come. Stay tuned.

Swann, Joanne & Maybin, Janet (2007), “Introduction: Language Creativity in Everyday Contexts.” Applied Linguistics, 28, 491-496.

Kurtz, Jürgen (1997a). Improvisation als Übung zum freien Sprechen. (Improvisation as Free Speaking Practice). Englisch, 3, 87-97. 

TEFLSPEAK-G and the Idea of Encouraging Improvised Speech in the EFL Classroom (3)

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany 

The Improvisation ‘Bus Stop’ 

Inspired by the central theme of the movie ‘Forrest Gump’, i.e. life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get, the improvisation ‘Bus Stop’ offers EFL learners a flexible communicative framework which consists of a brief introductory sequence, an incentive to talk spontaneously (improvising a dialogue based on different cues), and, in contrast to traditional role-plays, a so-called communicative emergency exit (ending the conversation without losing face).


This is the basic format or procedural infrastructure of interaction (in this case for beginning learners of English, towards the end of their first year; L = learner):

L1 : Hello.
L2 : Hello, I’m [name].
L1 : Pleased to meet you, [name]. I’m [name].
L2: Are you waiting for the bus?
L1: Yes. How about some sweets?
L2: Thank you.

L2 accepts the offer and draws a piece of paper from the chocolate box. He/she finds one of the following exemplary cues to continue with (idea: “you never know what you’re going to get” / motto: use what you know, learn what you can, make up the rest as you go along):

  • I’m on the way to school, you know. I’m in the 5th grade. …
  • I’m on the way to the supermarket, you know. I’d like to buy…
  • Hey! Look at that boy over there. What is he doing?
  • Listen! Can you hear that? It’s coming from that old bag over there. What’s in it?
  • Excuse me, is this […] yours? …
  • Excuse me, why are you smiling?
  • I’m on the way to the pet shop. This is my cat “Fluffy”. It …
  • I’m on the way to the disco. My hobby is dancing. What’s your hobby?

Communicative emergency exit:
L1/2: Oh, here comes my bus. I have to go. Nice talking to you. Bye.
L1/2: Good bye.


More to come next week.