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Justifying not starting with the alphabet

 
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Kharabish



Joined: 03 Aug 2009
Posts: 5
Location: KSA

PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2009 6:46 pm    Post subject: Justifying not starting with the alphabet Reply with quote

My employer has asked me to write him a short explanation justifying why starter editions of books like Headway and Cutting Edge don't begin with teaching the alphabet but start on functional language like introductions and "this is ...", "What's that?", etc.

I've never actually read the reasoning behind books like these only introducing the alphabet as brief exercise when you get to unit 3 or so, but I assume the argument is something like a child acquires and learns to use a range of language before they start upon things like letter recognition.

I'm finding it difficult to write something for him because I'm not sure that I entirely buy into this approach anyway. Whilst the child's language aquisition argument may be strong when you teach with these books the students are still asked to fill in missing words, write phrases and read simple word patterns before they're told that this shape here is called the letter 'a'.

Plus whenever I've taught an absolute beginners class I've normally paired the course work with a flashcard led alphabet as phonics program.

So, are there any articles that anyone could link me to that have discussed the logic behind the approach of these famous efl books to teaching starters language before the alphabet?

Or does anyone have any points/ideas/thoughts that they could post that might help me get my mind thinking in the right direction, please?

Thanks in advance.
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 26 Oct 2004
Posts: 3008
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Wed Aug 05, 2009 12:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

If your employer is trying to justify not teaching the alphabet, phonics etc to customers (Saudi?) who are asking for help with those things, then he is obviously missing a business opportunity, and should invest in appropriate supplementary materials and training ASAP.

The reason for ELT-EFL materials shying away from explicitly teaching literacy skills is surely mostly* to do with the industry's ancillary and still mainly private status, in reasonably developed** countries - it has usually been able to depend upon state school systems wherever to teach the rudiments of English orthography, spelling and grammar. So it has (at least up to now) probably been more down to fortuitous fortune than any (need for) well-thought-out logic to defend such a state of affairs...

That is not to say however that every country does a particularly good job of its foreign-language education, and any problems can be exacerbated by the apparent "distance" between the languages and their writing systems (and in your KSA context, Ann Ryan's paper in Schmitt & McCarthy's Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedgagogy could be of interest: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Epvtt9_zab4C&lpg=PP1&pg=PA184#v=onepage&q=&f=false , as well as Schmitt's more general Vocabulary in Language Teaching, too). So one can only presume that the students are expecting more (and if so, why try to deny them by justifying things remain the same as before?). And obviously it needn't be anyone's task to explain the historical development of EFL textbooks and their design if any necessary materials exist or can readily be made to supplement or replace potentially questionable books (that the customer is perhaps no longer keen on).

Incidentally, ranges such as Headway and Cutting Edge strike me as being more for young adults (teenagers and up) and adults than children/pre-adolscents, so they could be forgiven for assuming that literacy skills would be pre-exisitng and hopefully somewhat transferable from the L1's type of writing system (where one exists!). But then, I've never claimed to be up on classroom/student textbooks (I often find alternative texts and activities to those that they contain and suggest).

A thread that might be of general interest:
http://forums.eslcafe.com/teacher/viewtopic.php?t=9170

Hope some of this helps!

*Understanding the meaning of the sounds one is hearing and saying before being expected to decode and/or recognize them in writing is of course an argument that should always be borne in mind, but that still leaves the nettle ungrasped - what exactly to do when learners are conversing after a fashion and eager to learn how to read and write those sounds; so ultimately, in any well-planned, adaptable and worthwhile course, the four skills shouldn't march too out of step for long, especially if it's with adult learners (which I assume yours are, what with this being the AE forum!), and "providers" who seem wont to argue otherwise might not be aspiring to be the best actual providers, I fear. Your employer may be right (certainly, it is pretty much the accepted orthodoxy in ELT generally) to insist on listening and speaking before reading, but the "reading" - at least seeing the script of the spoken words - will have to occur at some point, and it is probably best that it comes in reasonably swift succession, and simply builds on a reasonable grounding in the phonemes and pronunciation of English generally at the start of or during the early stages of the spoken course. I just know that it was frustrating for me and others to be denied scripts during FLL taster lessons as a CELTA trainee - short-term auditory memory is only so infallible!

**You might find more (or rather, at least some) discussion of literacy "versus" (or indeed alongside) speech in (foreign) language learning in those guides written more for teachers in less "privileged" settings e.g. literature from organizations such as VSO, or the Peace Corps, or books such as David Cross's A Practical Handbook of Language Teaching, and how about appreciably older (more traditional) guides to teaching that are probably now considered "out of date" by supposedly more informed if not skilled modern teachers.
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Kharabish



Joined: 03 Aug 2009
Posts: 5
Location: KSA

PostPosted: Wed Aug 05, 2009 2:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

fluffyhamster wrote:
If your employer is trying to justify not teaching the alphabet, phonics etc to customers (Saudi?) who are asking for help with those things, then he is obviously missing a business opportunity, and should invest in appropriate supplementary materials and training ASAP.


I think it was more an assumption on his part that as these books were American, they therefore must be correct. I was therefore given the task of finding out why they were correct.

Quote:
The reason for ELT-EFL materials shying away from explicitly teaching literacy skills is surely mostly* to do with the industry's ancillary and still mainly private status, in reasonably developed** countries - it has usually been able to depend upon state school systems wherever to teach the rudiments of English orthography, spelling and grammar.


I actually emailed the publishers and they quite kindly pointed out the books were originally developed for a European and South American audience and hence there was an assumption that, whilst they may differ in pronunciation in places, students were already familiar with the roman script that we use in the alphabet.

So yes, your assertion above is quite correct. Smile

They're apparently aware of this discrepancy and in the middle of producing a version of the Headway series that is more appropriate for the Middle East and will incorporate more basic literacy.

[Quote}(and in your KSA context, Ann Ryan's paper in Schmitt & McCarthy's Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedgagogy could be of interest: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Epvtt9_zab4C&lpg=PP1&pg=PA184#v=onepage&q=&f=false , as well as Schmitt's more general Vocabulary in Language Teaching, too).

...

A thread that might be of general interest:
http://forums.eslcafe.com/teacher/viewtopic.php?t=9170[/quote]

Thanks for the links, I'm still reading them.

Quote:
Hope some of this helps!


It certainly did, thanks again!
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 26 Oct 2004
Posts: 3008
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Wed Aug 05, 2009 5:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi again K! Interesting to hear that there's a ME version of Headway on the way. Anyway, keep us informed about how things are going, and if you have any further questions, just ask. Wink
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