More to ELT: Two Books on Language Education and Communication

Balkrishna Sharma*

In our last conversation, Praveen asked me to offer some recommendations for some recent “good” books on ELT for our English teachers in Nepal. I, promptly, but hesitatingly said ‘yes’. I was hesitant mainly for two reasons: reflecting on what I read last year, it was hard for me to remember the names of the books I read; I found that my teaching and research is largely shaped by journals articles in applied linguistics these days. Second, on topics of ELT- and this was mainly due to the reason that English education has been historically equated with ELT, which again is largely confined to teaching methodologies, four-skills, and evaluation.

However, my interest in recent years again has to do with larger social and political forces that shape language education and language teaching, e.g. politics, culture, society, policy and so on. Developing knowledge and awareness on these broader issues is as important as, and sometimes, more important than, the practical skills that teachers need in teaching English. Language teaching is more than ‘language’ teaching; it encompasses larger socio-political-cultural issues that impact teachers’ and students’ lives.

From my hard-to-remember book list, here are two texts that are tremendously useful for our English teachers in Nepal. If you tell the whole narrative of what you think is a good movie to your friend, chances are that your friend may not want to watch the movie anymore because s/he knows the plot and the characters already. Applying the same logic, if I give you a run-down of everything in the books, I may kill your interest to read the books. Therefore, I am giving only a few words on what aspects of the texts have impressed me.

1. Engaged Language Policy and Practice

Year of publication: 2017

Authors: Kathryn Davis and Prem Phyak

Year of publication: 2017

This book situates language policy and practice as a form of social activism and transformation. Rather than conceptualizing language policy as a form of government document or a constitutional manifesto, the authors conceptualize it as enacted by various social members in different levels. English language teachers and learners, for examples, are agentive individuals who have the power and awareness to resist dominant ideologies and practices, and bring about social changes through multilingual practices. The authors argue that an engaged approach to policy and practice pays attention to raising individuals’ “awareness of the conditions of their own oppression” (p. 30). By reading the books, language teachers have a chance to learn and critically think about some broader issues of multilingualism, language ideology, neoliberalism/capitalism, critical language awareness, and critical pedagogy. And these are the issues that impact language teachers’ lives, directly or indirectly.

2. Exploring Intercultural Communication: Language in Action

Author: Zhu Hua

Year of Publication: 2014

This book addresses concerns of contemporary globalization, diversity, and the intercultural nature of communication today. With the rapid flows of peoples, cultures and media across national borders, many social settings have become linguistically and culturally diverse. As people from such diverse backgrounds meet face-to-face or in online contexts, their meeting becomes a site for an intercultural encounter where they negotiate meanings, social identities, and power relations. The field of language education in particular is impacted by this diversity in a number of ways. For example, second language teacher education courses inevitably must deal with new notions of culture as well as which cultures to teach and how to teach them. Language professionals in particular should seriously reconsider how the issues of culture are represented in teaching materials and addressed in classroom practices. Keeping this in mind, the book approaches the notion of intercultural communication primarily as a communicative practice. The chapters present theoretical concepts and empirical cases of intercultural communication from a wide range of social contexts such as family, workplace, business, and education. This then naturally leads English teachers to ask questions about the role of culture in language teaching. Questions such as these are of paramount importance: how to teach culture in second language classrooms, how cultures of the self and others are represented in teaching materials such as textbooks, and how they are addressed in classroom practices, and how intercultural learning is assessed by second language teachers.