June 09: Problematizing English Language Teaching Methods

Introduction: NeltaChoutari June 2009 Issue

The global spread of English has given rise to a new form of global power to the English speaking countries through worldwide ELT industry “serving the interest of English speaking-countries as well as native speakers and native-speaking professionals” (Kumaravadivelu, 2006:13). These countries have a firm grip over textbook production (Gray, 2002), teacher education and training (Goverdhan, Nayar and Sheorey, 1999), and research on classroom pedagogy. Holliday (1994) adds another point when he says “almost all the internationally established literature on English language education is published in these countries which at present seem to have a virtual monopoly on received methodology (p. 12). Kumaravadivelu (2006) further argues that the English language and its teaching carries its colonial form from four perspectives– scholastic, linguistic, cultural and economic. According to him, the scholastic dimension refers to the dissemination of Western knowledge which makes the local knowledge less valuable, the linguistic dimension refers to the global spread of English and its effects on local languages and knowledge, the cultural dimension is concerned with how the teaching of English carries with it the culture of the English speaking countries and makes the local culture less valuable, and finally the economic aspect refers to the financial gain for the English speaking countries and their ELT professionals by the commodification of the teaching of English.

The countries and the people in the periphery, on the other hand, regard English as a gatekeeper and a major key to upward social and economic mobility. The fallacies that native speakers make the best teachers, textbooks written by the White English speaking people are the authentic ones, and knowledge that these English native speakers produce and distribute is the legitimate one are still prevalent among the English teaching professionals in those countries. All these fallacies have given rise to a perceived importance and role of English native speakers– which Holliday (1994) calls native speakerism. Holliday (1994) further argues that the teachers in the periphery countries regard native speakers as the source of pedagogical knowledge, and regard their own practice, experience and knowledge as inferior compared to the people from native English speaking countries. In this way, the role of English as a major international language in most countries in the world has seemingly served the purpose of both types of countries: the English speaking countries are serving their interest by ‘exporting’ the knowledge in the form of textbooks, teaching methods, teaching professionals, teacher trainers, and several English language teaching projects and programs, and the countries in the receiving end where English is used as an additional language are happy to consume that ‘imported’ knowledge and see it as a form of empowerment, democratization and globalization.

In this changing global context, the English language teaching profession has undergone a sea change over the last four decades. The variables of change can be observed almost in all aspects of English pedagogy: who teaches English, who learns English and why, the socio-political context in which English is taught and learnt, and the variety of English that is the target of teaching and learning. As a consequence, teacher education has become more challenging but remained limited to almost the same goals, i.e. to make the teachers able to do the profession (Johnson, 2006). The notion that there exist universal principles and theories of English language teaching that are applicable to all the settings in the world has been questioned and criticized by a number of scholars in applied linguistics and TESOL (Canagarajah, 2005; Kumaravadivelu, 2006; Holliday, 1994; Pennycook, 1989). Theories and methods of English language teaching in the past have largely failed to address the realities that actually take place in the classroom (Johnson, 2006). There are also concerns that the theorized body of knowledge in second language teacher education in the West (e.g. in North America and United Kingdom) have little bearing on actual classroom teaching environments in the countries of the periphery (Kumarvedevalu, 2006; Canagarajah, 2005). Rajagopalan (2005), for example, argues that expert knowledge that is produced by a bulk of research studies fails to take account of the “specificities as well as the diversities of local environments” (p. 100) of language teaching. The English language teaching methods, for example audiolingualism and communicative language teaching, are the concepts first produced and practiced in the West. English teachers, therefore, have had a challenge to implement them in the Asian countries like Japan, Korea and Nepal because these methodologies were invented without necessarily knowing the diverse classroom situations in different contexts (Holliday, 1994). Pennycook (1989) eloquently argues that knowledge is always political in nature and it attempts to protect and represent the interest of a certain social group. In other words, knowledge construction and distribution “represents the particular view of the world and it is articulated in the interests of unequal power relations” (pp. 589—590).

Though there has been recently an awareness among the professionals in TESOL recognizing the importance and role of local knowledge (e.g. Canagarajah, 2005; Edge, 2003) and lived experiences of language teachers (Johnson, 2006), this has been far from practical reality. Realizing that theories and methods of teaching English from the West cannot address the problems and particularities of local teaching contexts, Kumaravadivelu (2006) has laid down a number of principles that characterize the post-method pedagogy arguing for an urgent need to localize the teaching of English. He further specifies his perspectives by using three parameters of pedagogy: parameter of particularity, practicality and possibility. According to him, the parameter of particularity “seeks to facilitate the advancement of a context-sensitive, location-specific pedagogy that is based on a true understanding of local linguistic, sociocultural and political particularities” (p. 21). The parameter of practicality focuses on the relation between theory and practice- “encouraging teachers to theorize from their practice and practice what they theorize” (p. 21) and the parameter of possibility “seeks to tap the sociopolitical consciousness that students bring with them to the classroom so that it can function as a catalyst for a continual quest for identity formation and social transformation” (p. 21).

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that in second/foreign language teaching, acquisition of pedagogical skills and knowledge plays an important role to meet the goals of language teaching programs. It is also not contested that one way to acquire the pedagogical knowledge by the teachers is to learn from the people who know more about the field, have more years of research and teaching experience and can articulate their theoretical and practical knowledge in research publications. Reviewing the literature, however, history of English language teaching profession shows that English language teaching principles, methods and techniques were researched and theorized in the Western countries, and they were exported to other countries where English is taught as a second or a foreign language, and those who applied these theories took very little attention to the socio-cultural realities and constraints of the contexts where the language was actually being taught. This is also true in the case of teacher training and teacher development programs where the teachers in the periphery context perceive native speakers as the ‘source’ of best pedagogical practices. And looking at the other side of the coin, native English speaking countries and their ELT professionals also think that they make the best teacher trainers because English is ‘their’ language. This fallacy exists among English teaching professionals in both English speaking and non-English speaking countries. It is obvious that any universal English language teaching methods cannot address the pedagogical issues and challenges that the English teachers are facing in diverse contexts around the world,; there are no readily available universal pedagogical theories and practices that can be easily picked up and implemented in all kinds of settings. The overarching argument in this issue of our web magazine calls for an urgency of theorizing local pedagogical practices that make use of local knowledge and resources, and one way to do so is to develop professional networking among the teachers in the local level and incorporate their lived teaching experiences in English teaching theories and methods.

This issue includes the folloing columns:
1. Three scholarly articles
2. Teacher’s anecdote
3. Classroom humor
4. An audio clip (Multilingualism in Nepal)


Canagarajah, S. (2005). Reconstructing local knowledge, reconfiguring language studies. In S. Canagarajah (ed.) Reclaiming the local in language policy and practice (pp. 3-24). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Canagarajah, A. S. (1999). Resisting linguistic imperialism in English teaching. Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

Edge, J. (ed.). (2006). (Re)locating TESOL in an age of empire. London: Palgrave.

Edge, J. (2003). Imperial troopers and servants of the lord: A vision of TESOL for the 21st century. TESOL Quarterly, 37, 701—709.

Govardhan, A. K., Nayar, B., and Sheorey, R. (1999). Do US MATESOL programs prepare students to teach abroad? TESOL Quarterly, 33, 114—125.

Gray, J. (2002). The global coursebook in English language teaching. In D. Block & D. Cameron (Eds.), Globalization and language teaching (pp. 151—167). London: Routledge.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2006). Dangerous liaison: Globalization, empire and TESOL. In J.    Edge (ed.) (Re)locating TESOL in an age of empire (pp. 158-170). New York: Palgrave.

Johnson, K. E. (2006). The sociocultural turn and its challenges for second language teacher education. TESOL Quarterly, 40, 235—257.

Holliday, A. (1994). Appropriate methodology and social context. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Pennycook, A. (1989). The concept of method, interested knowledge, and the politics of language. TESOL Quarterly 23, 589-618.

Rajagobalan, K. (2005). The language issue on Brazil: When local knowledge clashes        with expert knowledge. In S. Canagarajah (ed.) Reclaiming the local in language policy and practice (pp. 99—122). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *