A Comparison of Different Ways of Teaching ESOL to Polish Migrant Workers who are Residing Temporarily in London
PART 1: Introduction
PART 2: Literature Review
2.1. Communicative Approach
2.2. Grammar Translation Method
2.3. Functional Syllabus
2.4. The Callan Method
PART 3: Methodology and Research Ethics
PART 4: Results and Analysis of Interviews
PART 5: Conclusion and Evaluation
Appendix A: Transcript of Interview 1
Appendix B: Transcript of Interview 2
PART ONE: Introduction
In this section, I will introduce the background for my research, provide an outline for its structure, inform the reader about the scope and aims of my project, and explain my personal investment in the research.
Since Poland became a full member state of the European Union in 2004 there has been a large number of Polish migrants coming to London, as well as other parts of the UK, for purposes of work. Home Office Figures from 2006 suggested that in these first two years there were nearly 600,000 new workers in the UK from Poland and the seven other new EU states (BBC 2006). This includes figures of 447,000 officially registered and estimates of those working on an unofficial, self-employed basis. As the figures do not account for those in the UK illegally, it can be supposed that the real number was even higher.
The increased movement of people has sparked a debate over social issues in London and across the rest of the UK. Some argue that the increase in population puts a strain on existing jobs and resources. In February 2009 for example, ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ protests were staged outside power stations in Nottinghamshire and Kent. Demonstrators claimed that the contracting company Alstom had discriminated against British workers by employing too many of its staff from new EU countries. This has led to new ‘employer guidelines’ such as the demand for “corporate social responsibility to use British workers where possible” (Hope and Whitehead 2009). Such protests can be seen as being fuelled by negative tabloid representations of new EU migrants. An anonymous ‘online reporter’ in The Sun for example, claimed that “UK Polish workers are illegally claiming child benefit in both the UK and Poland” (Online Reporter 2007). Other articles, for example Hickley and Roberts’ in The Mail, represent migrant workers as illegal and animalistic, “they are stopping legitimate users getting into the toilet” while also using the imagery of uncontrolled surge, “this is likely to be a huge underestimate of the influx” (Hickey and Roberts 2007), which has led to much popular misconception.
On the other hand however, others have argued that the increase in skilled workers has boosted the UK economy and should be encouraged. A report published in February 2009 by the Institute for Public Policy Research, ‘The Economic Impacts of Migration on the UK Labour Market’, for example, suggests a different view from those outlined above:
The economists say there is no evidence to suggest that large-scale migration from Eastern Europe since 2004 has had any substantial negative impact on either wages or employment. Indeed they add that it is highly possible that there has been a small positive impact on both of these, or no impact at all. (Travis 2009)
The recent focus in the media has been on how these figures, and the resulting social debates, will be affected by the economic downturn. The same report suggests “some initial evidence [that] many workers who came to Britain from Poland and the other eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 will return” (Travis 2009).
Studies such as this, and Home Office figures released in February 2009 (Travis 2009) suggest that while there has been a massive boom in economic migrants traveling to the UK from new EU countries, we are now experiencing a slow-down as many return home. This provides a context where many people are in London and across the rest of the UK, residing temporarily, working to earn money and then moving back to their countries of origin.
Although many workers do not need English for their jobs, builders with a Polish supervisor for example, it can be argued that English language skills are of vital importance to these people. The Audit Commission draws on research by the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education to emphasise the importance of English learning for migrant workers:
The ability to speak English is not essential for all jobs but is a cornerstone of wider integration and cohesion. Better levels of English help migrant workers, some employers, existing residents and service providers.
(Audit Commission 2009)
The report is interesting as it points out the benefits of language learning not only from the learner’s perspective, but also how this could benefit employers, existing residents and services. Examples it gives include that “workers who speak English are less likely to be exploited, and more able to help themselves” and that “employers may be able to fill skills vacancies” (Audit Commission 2009). It also suggests a direct link between language learning and broader issues such as social cohesion and integration.
The report does propose basic methodologies of teaching in this context. It suggests a focus on ‘basic language teaching’, and proposes strategies such as using the teaching skills of those in migrant communities, and using English lessons to spread useful information. However, it does not go into this aspect of research in much detail. It is my argument here that as migrant labour becomes an increasingly large issue in the UK, especially in the context of the current economic downturn, ESOL becomes increasingly important, and it is vital to explore in depth different techniques, strategies and methodological approaches to English teaching in this context. I will do this by focusing my primary research on Polish migrants in London, and my secondary research on a range of ways of teaching. My personal interest in this is not only as a teacher, but also as someone who has come from Poland to live, study and work in the UK.
The main focus of my research will be on the use and relevance of specific language teaching techniques and how these relate to broader EFL methodologies. I will consider for example the pros and cons of communicative versus rule-centred methodologies, and how they relate to aims of accuracy, fluency, functionality or community cohesion. As Paul Knight has argued of communicative methods, “The desired outcome is that the learner can communicate successfully in the target language in real situations, rather than have a conscious understanding of the rules governing that language” (Knight 2007: 155). Scott Thornbury goes on to consider the relevance of this:
For a long time language teaching operated on the basis that accuracy should precede fluency, and that the only speaking learners were allowed was the oral manipulation of recently taught grammar structures…
..A radical re-thinking of the relative importance of accuracy and fluency fuelled the evolution of the communicative approach.
(Thornbury 2008: 115).
I will consider how important this could be in the context I have described above, through a specific focus on techniques of teaching reading, speaking or writing, such as elicitation, drilling or information gap activities. My primary research will include interviews, discussions and data gathering with Polish groups in London. My secondary research will include a close reading of contemporary debates over ESOL methodologies, as outlined by for example Harmer (2001), Carter and Nunan (2007), Mercer (2007) and Knight (2007). I hope to bring all this research together in order to precisely address my problematic of what techniques and methods are most relevant, productive and appropriate for teaching ESOL to Polish migrant workers temporarily in London.
Literature Review: Approaches to ESOL
In this section, I will introduce and outline a variety of approaches to ESOL teaching, considering for each one their theoretical underpinning, histories and methodologies and potential problems.
2.1. Communicative Approach
2.1.1. Methodologies and History
Richards and Rodgers describe how communicative methodologies have been popular in ESOL since the 1980s. They describe them as “a major paradigm shift…whose ramifications continue to be felt today” (Richards and Rodgers 2007: 151). The paradigm shift they propose is that from Situational Language Teaching, where “language was taught by practicing basic structures in meaningful situation-based activities” (152). This approach, as its name suggests, was based on language in specific situations and developed by British linguists from the 1920s to 1960s such as Palmer and Hornby. In Situational Language Teaching (SLT), new language points would be introduced and practiced situationally, with a focus on spoken language and a graded development from simple to more complex forms. As can be seen from Frisby’s definitions of SLT, “Word order. Structural words…will form the basis of our teaching” (Frisby 1957: 134), it was an approach, which developed from a form of structuralism.
The communicative approach, on the other hand, rather than taking structure as its underlying assumption, focuses on “the functional and communicative potential of language” (Richards and Rogers 2007: 153), suggesting a different approach. The aim of ‘communicative language teaching’ is defined by Paul Knight:
The desired outcome is that the learner can communicate successfully in the target language in real situations, rather than have a conscious understanding of the rules governing that language. (Knight 2007: 155)
In other words, in classroom situations, the teaching focus would not be on fabricating a situation in order to analyse a particular grammatical structure, but on the pragmatic use of language in a more realistic setting. In a role-play situation for example, a student may be asked to apply for a job over the telephone. What would be important here would not necessarily be the conscious understanding of the structures used, but the ability to successfully understand and be understood, and make the appropriate application, as the student may have to in a real-life situation. Teaching practices could reflect this emphasis not only at the level of syllabus design and tasks set but also through teacher feedback, organization and grading at classroom level.
Such an approach can then be seen as emphasizing communication over structure, or as Littlewood defines it, “it pays systematic attention to functional as well as structural aspects of language” (Littlewood 1981: 1). Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) can be traced as developing partly from Chomsky’s critiques of structural linguistic theory. In Syntactic Structures (1957) for example, he argues that the creative and uniqueness of individual sentences could not be accounted for purely structurally. By presenting examples of, say, a sentence which is grammatical yet makes no sense, “colorless green ideas sleep furiously” (Chomsky 1957: 12), Chomsky illustrated limitations with a structural grammar approach which did not account for language use in context. This then led to an increased focus on the pragmatics of language, combining the work of British functional linguists such as Firth, American sociolinguists such as Labov and philosophers of language such as J.L. Austin. Austin’s work, such as How to Do Things With Words (1962) emphasized the performativity of language, or how, pragmatically, language does things through the act of speaking, which again, can’t be accounted for by a purely structural approach.
Richards and Rodgers suggest, as well as reading the shift purely linguistically, that external historical factors also influenced developments. They argue shifts in European boundaries, the development of The Council of Europe, and the rise of the European Common Market, which demanded a more practical and functional language ability for citizens of member countries, also had an impact. This is interesting in terms of the current economic and political situation in Europe, mass migration and a shift in English needs, which is the context for my own research.
Communicative Language teaching can be defined then as:
An approach (and not a method) that aims to (a) make communicative competence the goal of language teaching and (b) develop procedures for the teaching of the four language skills that acknowledge the interdependence of language and communication.
(Richards and Rodgers 2007: 155)
As it is not a prescriptive ‘method’ then the communicative approach is open to being interpreted in differing ways. Howatt, for example, contrasts a more standard ‘weak version’ , which stresses communication as part of a wider program of teaching, with a ‘strong version’, which “advances the claim that language is acquired through communication” and so would focus entirely on communication (Howatt 1984: 279). Finnochiaro and Brumfit make a table to contrast key features of communicative teaching with previous methodologies. This includes interesting points for teaching such as allowing errors as “language is created by the individual, often through trial and error” (Finnochiaro and Brumfit 1983: 93), the role of the teacher to “help learners in any way that motivates them” rather than “control” them (92), or a focus on students interacting with each other rather than just with machines or “controlled materials” (92).
Ways of implementing communicational methodologies have also been varied. Some have argued that the syllabus should be abolished entirely to allow a focus on the needs of individual learners (Richards and Rodgers 2007: 165). Others suggest a “grammatically focused syllabus around which notions, functions, and communicational activities are grouped” (165). As the focus is on communication, classroom activities emphasise processes such as “information sharing, negotiation of meaning and interaction” (165). How this is done is left open. An example would be to have one student describing an image which another would have to guess. This would be what Littlewood classifies as a ‘functional communicational activity’ (Littlewood 1981). However, the approach also included what Littlewood defines as ‘social interaction activities’ so could incorporate, say, role-plays or debates. An ‘information gap’ activity would be appropriate, when one student has some information, which they have to share with others in order to make a decision or solve a problem. What is important is that they are more focused on the information they are communicating than on the structures they are using to communicate it. Harmer expands on this, “They should use a variety of language rather than just one language structure. The teacher will not intervene to stop the activity” (Harmer 2001: 85). Information Gap activities have also been used in contemporary teaching methodologies alongside developments in technologies. Joanna Norton for example developed an activity “that involved learners using mobile phones to send pictures and using email attachments” (NATECLA 2008b: 4).
As Raptou points out:
These types of activities are extremely effective…They give every student the opportunity to speak in the target language for an extended period of time, and students naturally produce more speech than they would otherwise. (Raptou 2001: 1)
2.1.4. Role of the Teacher
Rather than a ‘teacher-centred’ scenario where the teacher is the main speaker and leader, while students mainly listen and respond, here the teacher plays the role more of a ‘facilitator’, allowing a more student-centred model. These scenarios may be more fun for students than, say, the repetition of drills, and allow for an aware teacher to notice where problems lie and help students in appropriate ways, which may of course be different for each student. Raptou describes another advantage of this approach in that “students are forced to negotiate meaning because they must make what they are saying comprehensible to others in order to accomplish the task” (Raptou 2001: 2). This, she claims, leads to increased motivation, even participation, and an acceptable level of accuracy. Breen and Candlin have emphasized the role of “learner as negotiator” (Breen and Candlin 1980: 110), and the focus in this approach is definitely on the learner and the way they can negotiate the classroom procedures and activities to get meaningful results.
2.1.5. Problems with the Communicative Approach
There are also problems with such an approach however. Firstly, Richards and Rodgers point out that the “range of exercises is unlimited” (2007: 165), which on one hand may be good, but may also make implementation difficult, especially for teachers lacking imagination themselves. Secondly, communicational activities requires a certain level of knowledge of the language already, so would be harder to implement with students at a very basic level. Thirdly, it may be hard for the teacher, as ‘facilitator’, to have control over difficult situations which may arise . Fourthly, while a student-centred focus may be ideal for certain (positive-minded) students, it could be seen by others as offering the potential for laziness. Also, such emphasis on the learner may not be suitable for less able or less imaginative students. Fifthly, communicational activities are harder to assess than more grammatically focused exercises, and this may lead to more errors that go unnoticed or uncorrected. Accuracy may be sacrificed at the cost of communication. Bearing the advantages and disadvantages of such approaches in mind, communicative methodologies must be incorporated into the syllabus when appropriate but may not always provide an entire model of teaching. This requires an analysis of, say, what balance between communication and accuracy needs to be struck, abilities of the learners and the type of classroom situation.
Overall then, the communicative approach offers an important shift from the structure-based Situational Language Teaching. Influenced by developments in linguistics such as the work of Chomsky, it allows for the possibility of studying language as a form of pragmatic communication, rather than reducing it to merely a structured system. The approach is open enough to be interpreted broadly but I have outlined some of its main modes of implementation: student-centred teaching or social interaction and communication activities for example. It does raise problems of accuracy, assessment, motivation for poor learners and suitability for beginner students, but can definitely be drawn on in the implementation of teaching strategies in my chosen context. In contrast with the Communicative Approach, I will next look at the Grammar Translation Method. I have classified this specifically as a method rather than an approach to reflect the way it developed as a set of rigid rules rather than an open set of approaches.
2.2. Grammar Translation Method
2.2.1. Methodologies and History
The grammar translation method was established in the mid 19th century and based on the study of Latin. Its emphasis was heavily on the learning of grammar. Language was turned into a set of fixed rules, which the teacher would explain, students would copy and memorise. Titone describes the method as a way of “codify[ing] the foreign language into frozen rules of morphology and syntax” (Titone 1968: 27), emphasizing the prescriptive nature and fixity of the method, as well as its reductive approach to language, which pays no account of pragmatics or communication. According to this method, focus was on written work rather than spoken communication, and the purpose of work was mainly to drill in the application of learnt rules. Richards and Rodgers point out some of the main characteristics of this method. These include the focus on the sentence as the basic unit of teaching and language practice, an emphasis on accuracy, and teaching in the student’s native language (Richards and Rodgers 2007: 6).
2.2.2. Problems with the Grammar Translation Method
The method then can be seen in direct opposition to communication methodologies. It focuses on grammar, accuracy and writing rather than functional and communicative speech. It is teacher-centred, leaving little freedom for the student to adapt methods to their own particular needs, and it can be tedious, involving endless learning of lists and tables removed from informative contexts. As Richards and Rodgers point out, the method emerged mainly from a context where “the goal of language study is to learn a language in order to read its literature” (Richards and Rodgers 2007: 7), and it is still used today in contexts where literary study is important and there is no need for speaking knowledge of the language. Such contexts could include the study of foreign literature, or simply personal study in order to be able to read and underdtand literature (or other texts) in languages unfamiliar to the reader. Otherwise, it is uncommon and unpopular, “there is no literature that offers a rationale or justification for it” (Richards and Rodgers 2007: 7). As Scott Thornbury points out:
For a long time language teaching operated on the basis that accuracy should precede fluency, and that the only speaking learners were allowed was the oral manipulation of recently taught grammar structures.
(Thornbury 2008: 115).
However, this relation between accuracy and fluency has more recently been challenged, leading to the replacing of the grammar translation method by more communicative approaches. Overall, in the context of contemporary language teaching, increased focus on fluency or communication over accuracy, and on participation and engagement over prescriptive methods and unengaging teacher-centred practices, have led to the decline in relevance of the grammar translation method. It may still be used however, in collaboration with other approaches and strategies, at moments when accuracy is vital. I will now go on to look at the Functional Method Syllabus.
2.3. Functional Method Syllabus
2.3.1. Methodologies and History
A syllabus is made up of four main elements: aims; content; methodology and evaluation. Michael P. Breen defines the functional method syllabus as, “focusing on particular purposes of language and how these would be expressed linguistically” (Breen 2007: 152). This suggests a break with pre-1970 conventions by focusing on use of language rather than on linguistic knowledge. Their development was influenced by Halliday’s functional account of language use. Halliday argued for the importance of functionality in linguistics, as it is only when language is actually used that all of its functions and meanings come into play. (see for example Richards and Rodgers 2007: 159). Such syllabuses were common throughout the 1970s as Breen expands, “Special purpose syllabuses and teaching materials were quickly developed focusing upon language knowledge and skills needed for academic study or specific occupations, e.g. engineering or medicine” (Breen 2007:152). They could also be useful for other occupations such as catering or hotel work.
2.4.2. Problems for Functional Method Syllabuses
However, such development of syllabuses has also been criticised . Firstly, from a perspective of limitation:
The teaching of a repertoire of functions or special purpose language was considered by some as limiting the learner’s potential to certain fixed communicative situations or fixed social and occupational roles. (Breen 2007: 152)
According to this criticism, as proposed by Brumfit (1984),while more general syllabuses would allow learners to adapt knowledge to specific situations, those on functional method may be restricted to this particular situation, limiting the possibility of them adapting their language to other situations, and so leaving them trapped in a particular linguistic or social role. This criticism is relevant in the context of my research into teaching immigrant populations. On one hand, functional language use could be vital for workers to be able to undertake specific occupations. On the other hand, this could also restrict their participation in the culture to this occupation only, leading to problems if they have to change jobs, or take part in other activities outside of the occupational role. Liz Chiu, in her report on ethnic minority community centres, has pointed out the potential role of ESOL in addressing “social divisions between different sections of multi-cultural British society” (Chiu 2002: 2). Limiting migrant workers to functional relationships to language, may well lead to the problem of broader cultural and community cohesion remaining unaddressed.
Another contradiction pointed out by Chiu is that while it may be useful for workers to be trained in a functional occupational way, this may stop them being able to actually get these jobs, which sometimes have traditional grammar-focused entry tests. (Chiu 2002: 33). Her response to this is to propose the teaching of basic grammar at National Curriculum Entry Levels 1 and 2 as the foundation for all learners, including those who already have a functional fluency in the language. Such proposals show how demands of the ESOL National Curriculum such as “Writing EL2: Fill in / copy information, including personal details, accurately and legibly on forms” (Chiu 2002: 35) can be interpreted and directed towards functional use, but combined with more grammatical approaches to produce a more balanced syllabus.
Another criticism suggested that while functional method syllabuses differed in some ways from formal ones, they retained their ‘synthetic’ nature, meaning that learners had to accumulate knowledge in a decontextualised way, then ‘synthesize’ this knowledge in real-life situations (Breen 2007: 152). Further, they were seen as only ‘partial’ as “either formal or functional knowledge of linguistic structures or utterances were just two elements within broader communicative competence” (152). Breen suggests that they are restrictive as they focus too much on how linguists define language, rather than how language learning is actually done from the perspective of the learner. As my argument is situated mainly in a functional context, I must bear these criticisms in mind in relation to the context of my argument, making sure to strike a balance between linguistic theories, pragmatic language use and appropriate strategies of classroom implication.
2.4.3. Development and Implementation
Functional method syllabuses were largely replaced by ‘task-based syllabuses’, which drew on communicative methods in order to focus more on how language is learnt, on a broader context, and on language as a whole. As Breen argues, “the goal of the syllabus designer became the provision of suitable tasks to encourage interaction and, through it, negotiation for meaning” (Breen 2007: 154). Others have agreed with this, proposing that syllabus focus should be on task rather than form or function (Prabhu 1984). The notion of a task can be interpreted in a more modular and open way than a function. For example, the task of filling in a form could be used as a classroom exercise, and this could then be adapted to activities including job applications but also others such as, say opening a bank account.
Task-based learning seems a more open way then to approach teaching. Overall however, a combination of this with functional strategies, combined with an awareness of critiques and limitations, would be important in my context. Functional syllabuses are still very much in use today. Livia Faqirne Patel for example co-ordinates an ESOL for Work course which focuses on compulsory topics such as job search and interview techniques (NATECLA 2008b; 11). Such courses, and the Government ESOL syllabus, draw on histories of functional method syllabuses, which are therefore still important today. Finally in this section, I will now go on to examine The Callan Method.
2.4. The Callan Method
2.4.1. Methodologies and History
The Callan Method was established in 1959 and, according to its website, claims to teach a language “in a quarter of the time” of conventional methods (Callan 2009), and to have been established as a more effective way to learn than grammar translation methods. It does this through a rigid fixed methodology focused around speech and speed. The teacher asks questions quickly and the student must respond. It focuses on basics of language so that, “students are never distracted by rare or complicated vocabulary” (Callan 2009) and claims to develop attention and memory. Its press materials repeatedly emphasise its efficiency, and how it is ideal for learning language for practical skills rather than intellectual pleasure. In this way, it shares aims with functional syllabus methods. Students are constantly involved in the process, and repetition is used as a key component of learning.
It is a ‘direct method’ of teaching and its oral focus can be traced as developing from the audiolingual method, based on assumptions such as, “foreign language learning is basically a process of mechanical habit” (Richards and Rodgers 2007: 57) and that target language items are learnt better if presented in spoken form rather than written form first. It is also open then to criticisms of audiolingual methods in general. Chomsky for example, questions its linguistic assumptions by arguing that, “language is not a habit structure” as innovation is also important (Chomsky 1966: 153). As Richards and Rodgers summarise, such methods may teach “language-like behaviours” but not “competence” (2007: 66). Despite these criticisms of its mechanization of language however, the Callan Method is still currently popular, and, according to its website, the Callan School in London is “the largest private English school in Europe” (Callan 2009).
As I have argued, The Callan Method can be seen as developing from audiolingual approaches, and sharing some of their strategies. It uses techniques such as ‘drilling’ for example, which is the use of repetition and imitation of chunks of language, generally in a mechanical way, after stimulus from the teacher or audio material. The purpose of it is to cement learned material into a student’s mind, and for the student to practice speaking in order for grammatical structures to seem natural. Scott Thornbury points out some of the benefits of drilling. Firstly, that “it may in fact be a useful noticing technique” (Thornbury 2008: 64). If repetitions are incorrect then the teacher can notice this and correct them. Secondly, he suggests that the use of repetition has an important effect on the memory of language:
Drilling may also function to move items from working memory into long-term memory, just as we tend to memorise new PIN codes or telephone numbers by repeating them a number of times. (64)
Thirdly, he suggests that drilling “provides a means of gaining articulatory control over language” (64). In other words, through repetition, students get used to actually pronouncing and properly articulating the words and phrases, rather than just seeing them written down.
2.4.3. Problems for The Callan Method
While drilling may have benefits, it has also been criticized. Paul Knight points out for example “that it promoted mindless repetition over communication” (Knight 2007: 152). This suggests that techniques of drilling fail to teach complexities of language, and ways in which language is used in pragmatic situations. It focuses on speaking rather than writing, and on grammar and unconscious absorption of information, rather than communication. It is also very ‘teacher centred’ giving no opportunity for students to respond in any other way than the drill requires. The drill allows little imagination or creativity on behalf of the student, which may lower motivation and willingness to learn. It also allows for little imagination or creativity on behalf of the teacher. These criticisms may indeed be directed at the Callan Method as a whole. While it may be effective in certain situations, it allows no space for creativity or imagination. Also, as it has been marketed as a rigid fixed method, it allows no possibility for change, leading its language use to seem dated.
In this section, I have considered four approaches to ESOL teaching. Communicative approaches focus on the use of language as communication, suggesting a shift from approaches which emphasise structure. Benefits of this included the way it is non-restrictive in its implementation, pragmatic in its language use, student-focused and open to imagination on behalf of the teacher and student. Negative factors included potential problems of accuracy and assessment. The Grammar Translation method allowed more focus on accuracy but allows for little participation or engagement beyond restrictive roles, and has now largely been superseded by communicative approaches. Functional Method Syllabuses raised interesting issues for my research. On one hand, educating migrants in language for specific occupations could be a useful approach. On the other hand, this could be limiting and non-effective in a broader cultural context. In this section, I also considered the role of task-based learning as a variation on functional approaches. Finally, The Callan Method claims to achieve a lot of success in its promotional materials but it seems open to criticisms leveled at audiolingual approaches as a whole, offering a restrictive approach lacking in potential for imagination or creativity. In terms of the practical application of ESOL strategies, these approaches need not be kept entirely separate. There are potentials for overlap including for example lessons which mix communicative tasks with grammatical drills. Using this section as the backdrop for my research, I will now go on to collect and analyse my primary data.
- Methodology and Research Ethics
In this section, I will explain my methodology, justifying my choice of questions and selection of respondents. I will also explain the relevance of research ethics in this context.
I have chosen to adopt a qualitative approach to my primary research. This is to allow a much more complex and in-depth response from my interviewees. Rather than just ticking boxes about preferred methods, which may be limiting, a qualitative approach allows them the space to talk, and leaves open the possibility of unexpected results.
I have used a ‘semi-structured interview’ to gather primary data. A ‘structured interview’ is formal and limited by set questions. The ‘semi-structured interview’, on the other hand, is more flexible, allowing for the introduction of new questions in response to what is said by the interviewee. In this case, rather than making a list of specific questions to ask, I made an interview plan which included the themes I wanted to explore – here, the background history of my interviewees, the methods they have used to learn English, and their responses to these methods. I then adapted my questions around these themes in relation to their responses. This approach had advantages over the structured interview as it allows for more flexibility of response, a more relaxed atmosphere and the potential for unforeseen developments to arise, which are not forced by the interviewer. It also has advantages over a completely unstructured interview, in the sense that it retains some focus, making sure the topics I need to cover are appropriately covered. My interviews function as a conversation, allowing my interviewees to speak freely but also allowing myself the space to guide the conversation the right way.
I chose two respondents who I knew had contrasting English educations. This would allow me to compare The Callan Method with a more formal approach to language learning, and my choice of interviewees ensured that there would be a clear connection between my primary data and my secondary research. I then directed questions around the areas I had researched, such as focus on speaking versus focus on grammar. My analysis of their interviews includes visual material to highlight difference between the methods, and focuses on analyzing and drawing conclusions from their data in relation to my secondary research, and leading into the concluding section. The small sample size was because I could only interview people who were comfortable being recorded, so I had to interview my friends who were confident enough in their level of English to be happy being recorded. Others I asked were not happy to be recorded as they felt uncomfortable with their low level of English.
In terms of research ethics, as well as only interviewing people who felt comfortable being recorded in English, I used a release form, which my respondents signed. This ensured that they were clear about what they were doing and how their interviews would be used from the start. I wanted to avoid misrepresenting my interviewees, or using their responses in any context other than the context of this dissertation, for academic purposes. I have used pseudonyms throughout to retain their anonymity. Including the full transcripts as Appendices also addresses potential problems of misrepresentation. Any criticisms or positive descriptions of specific schools or individuals could not in this context be used for advertising or negative publicity.
- Results and Analysis of Interviews
4.1. Interview I: ‘Ewa’
My first interview was with ‘Ewa’. She is 33 years old and has lived in London for five years. She used to run her own business in Poland but was hit by the recession and moved to England because she was looking for “new direction and new opportunities”, suggesting that she had moved to improve her economic conditions, as well as for a sense of adventure. Now however, she is unemployed and supported by her partner, suggesting an indication of the difficult economic conditions, which can face migrants coming to the UK for work.
She didn’t learn English at school in Poland, learning instead Russian and German. When she had decided to come to England, she had private lessons, which she describes as “useful, but not enough to communicate on a daily basis”. She had difficulties when first arriving in London as “the language barrier was almost overwhelming”. In this context, Ewe needed to find a way to learn English quickly, to go from a very basic level to a level of being able to understand and communicate as quickly as possible, in order to avoid being ‘overwhelmed’.
She was recommended The Callan Method by a friend and discovered it to be “a completely different way of teaching”. She repeatedly emphasizes the Callan’s focus on spoken communication, “much more focus on speaking. All the time speaking, speaking and speaking”, which reflects my analysis in Part Two. For Ewa, this mode of learning seems appropriate. She goes on to say that speaking “is what language is all about”, and report that her speaking and understanding improved rapidly. On the other hand, she alludes to the lack of grammar learning by suggesting that if you want to speak “properly”, you have to work more at home by yourself. As she states in the interview, “I wasn’t that convinced about the way how they teach grammar”, showing through her use of language that she can be understood, although not necessarily grammatically correct in her language. Overall however, she was happy with the method and would recommend it to others.
My interview with Ewa then confirms some of my research about the Callan Method, that it is popular as a way of learning basic communication in a language quickly, that it emphasizes speaking and that it lacks grammar training. On the other hand, against Knight’s criticisms of audiolingual methods in Part Two (that the Callan can be traced as coming from), Ewa suggests that it has been useful for her to communicate in real-life situations. She does show in the interview however, that she has combined the Callan Method with her own reading including the text Inside Out, which is based on a communicative approach. Ewa doesn’t mention the possibility of any imagination or creativity in her learning although it could be argued that this is not necessary in her situation, and she is motivated enough to learn in order to avoid being overwhelmed, without having to be particularly engaged in the material. The language she uses in the interview confirms my research, her pronunciation is good enough to be easily understood, yet she makes some grammatical errors. The Callan Mehod may well be useful in this situation Ewa has gained in confidence and ability to communicate in a short time. Her combination of this method with personal study based on communicative approaches seemed to have proved productive. The problem may be that now she needs to find a different approach to learning in order to go beyond the level of basic communication and potentially improve her job prospects in a difficult economic climate and competitive job market.
4.2. Interview II: ‘Joanna’
My second interview was with ‘Joanna’. She is 23 years old and came to London to study. She has now been here for three years with her partner and his children. She starting learning English from an earlier age than Ewa, learning from her mother aged six, and then continuing through primary and secondary school, and then studying English Philology at university.
In contrast with Ewa then, she can be described as having had a more traditional academic language learning experience. She herself describes her learning as “standard, traditional methods”. Also, there is a focus in her learning on formal aspects of language rather than language in practice, “I prefer to study from books rather than learning in practice”. In direct contrast with the Callan Method or Communicative Approaches, Joanna’s approach is closer to the Grammar Translation Method. She reads literature in English and believes in the importance of learning grammar, “I put loads of attention to grammar as I think it’s important to acquire English skills”. Another contrast with the constant speaking of the Callan Method, or the group activities of Communicative Approaches is the way she prefers to work alone in peace and quiet. She prefers to study formally, writing and thinking, and then apply this knowledge to “exercises” rather than real-life situations. Again she emphasizes the importance of grammar in this process, “the more practice you have at studying grammar, the better your understanding and final results”.
The context of Joanna’s language use is also very different from Ewa’s. The whole process of language learning has been a lot slower, taking place gradually over 16 years, meaning she doesn’t need the rapid accumulation of words provided by the Callan Method. She could already communicate clearly when she came to the UK and her interest in the language is more academic, focusing on reading literature or specialist texts such as law books in order to acquire complex vocabulary. She states that she gains pleasure from grammatical exercises such as filling gaps or paraphrasing. This is of course relevant to her study in philology, where developing an interest in structures of linguistics and literary study for personal and academic interest, rather than merely functional communication, is important.
The background of my interviewees is summarized in this graph:
|Parents||Education||Age Group||Nationality||How long in UK||Childcare|
|‘Joanna’||Teacher||University||21-24||Polish||3 years||Stepson, 6|
Table 1: Background of Interviewees
They represent different age groups, different educational backgrounds, and have different commitments to family in the UK. Their different approaches to learning English are summarized in this graph:
Table 2: Language Learning Methods of Interviewees
Ewa favours the Callan Method and training in speaking for communication. Communication overlaps with Joanna’s approach, which is however more focused on grammar (although grammar overlaps with Ewa’s approach). Joanna’s approach favours reading literature and specialist texts with a focus on accuracy, ovrlapping slightly with Ewa.
As both are learning English in different contexts for different situations then different methods are appropriate for their circumstances. Ewa came to the UK needing to rapidly improve her communication skills, and the emphasis on speaking of The Callan Method allowed her to do this. She has however had to put in extra work in grammar, and may not have the same complex vocabulary, conscious awareness, and cultural understanding of someone who has learnt with more academic techniques. Joanna on the other hand has learnt in a very formal way, which has allowed her to develop her language interests into university study. This has only been possible however as she could already speak English from an early age – her mother was an English academic teacher. The main point then to emerge from the interviews, as well as the differences between the different approaches, is the basic fact that migrants come to the UK with different language skills and different language needs, and any attempt at suggesting approached to ESOL learning must avoid universalism in order to be aware of this multiplicity of contexts.
- Conclusion and Evaluation
I started this project by introducing the socio-economic context to my research. As stated in Part One, there has been a huge amount of Polish migrants moving to the UK looking for work. This has raised political and cultural issues, and I outlined arguments by those who claim this has a negative effect on the UK, and those who claim it has a positive impact. I also highlighted the relevance of the current economic context, which has intensified tensions, increased competition for work and led to a lot of Polish people returning to Poland. In Part One, I also stated the importance of ESOL in this context, both from the perspective of Polish people hoping to find work, and from a broader cultural perspective, the Audit Commission for example, describing English language learning as “a cornerstone of wider integration and cohesion” (Audit Commission 2009). I found this context particularly interesting form my perspective as a Polish person living and studying in London. I proposed to address the problematic of which techniques and methods would be most relevant, productive and appropriate for teaching ESOL to Polish migrant workers temporarily in London.
My first way to approach this was via a range of secondary research, presented in Part Two. I drew on a variety of writers in order to explain and analyse theories and histories of, differences between and problems for four different approaches: Communicative Approaches; Grammar Translation Method; Functional Syllabus; and The Callan Method. To summarise this again briefly, Communicative Approaches, drawing on work from linguists such as Chomsky, focused on the pragmatic use of language as communication. Grammar Translation Methods focused on accuracy and grammar. Functional Method Syllabuses were employed in specific contexts such as occupational training. The Callan Method provided a specific method for rapidly gaining basic speoaking and understanding skills.
In Part Three, I considered my own methodology, deciding that semi-structured interviews would provide flexibility and focus in the gathering of primary data. I then did these interviews and reported and analysed findings in Part Four. My findings provided an interesting development of my secondary research, suggesting conflicts and agreements between theoretical descriptions of methodologies and actual learner responses to them. I was led to conclude here, that while both The Callan Method and more formal techniques had advantages and disadvantages, they were used appropriately in different contexts.
I am now at a stage where I can re-address my initial problematic in the light of my subsequent research. Returning to my initial assumptions, it now seems that the idea of proposing the most appropriate method for teaching in this context is an over-universalising approach, as the actual situation is too complex to suggest the necessity of a single approach. Even within my small sample, needs are shown to be diverse and multiple, as different language needs are demanded by different individuals. On one hand, this suggests that different methodologies should be employed on a case-by-case basis. For example, the success of The Callan Method reported in Interview I would suggest that it is an appropriate method for quickly learning how to communicate in English, despite my criticisms in Section Two. On the other hand, a system of complete relativity with every individual adapting to a particular methodology is not very practical in the implementation of affordable group teaching strategies. I could have focused my conclusions more by amassing more primary data, including quantitative data, which could have backed up or challenged claims from my interviewees.
The problematic has also shifted away from migrants temporarily in London, as my interviewees seem set to remain here indefinitely with their families, suggesting a different set of language requirements. Joanna in Interview II pointed out that she doesn’t use English at home, but if she is to stay in the UK, she will still need to develop her language skills for a communicational context. A greater connection between conclusions and my background research in Part One, and also my secondary research in Part Two, could have been achieved with a broader range of primary data, including responses to functional syllabus design and to communicative approaches.
In the light of my actual research however, my research in Part Two suggests that communicative approaches are fundamental for developing language in real life situations, in a more mobile and less restrictive way than functional approaches, and in a more engaging and fluency-producing way than grammar translation approaches. My interviews were subjective, but my research suggested that they were not isolated cases. Although Joanna could be considered as an exception rather than the norm, as her mother was an academic English teacher and she learnt from an early age, other studies have backed up the experience described by Ewa. Ryan et al. for example made a study of Polish social networks in London and discovered that language was the key factor in issues of employment and integration:
Language was the main issue highlighted by our respondents as impeding employment opportunities and their engagement with the wider society, Migrants with little or limited English were particularly isolated. There is a strong need for more widely accessible English language classes.
(Ryan et al. 2008: 12)
This sense of ‘isolation’ backs up Ewa’s feelings expressed in my interview. While, on one hand, I criticized the Callan Method for its detachment from communication, and lack of imaginative response, on the other hand, it may, in this context, provide an important first step for those feeling isolated, a way of providing confidence and starting to help with ‘engagement with the wider society’. My interview with Ewa however also suggests the limitations of the Callan Method as she also undertook her own language study at home. This suggests that a course could include audio-lingual techniques such as The Callan in order to give students an immediate confidence in the language, but this must be backed up with a development according to communicative approaches, and a focus on grammar too. The next stage of this research project would be to focus more on the implementation of courses and specific classroom techniques on language courses in London, considering how these courses relate to Polish migrant experiences of employment opportunity and community cohesion. This could include other factors such as how language courses could be advertised, where, how and when they could take place as part of, say, community centre programming or existing migrant worker culture, an investigation into what facilities are currently existing and how they could be improved. It has been without the scope of my project to do this here, but this suggests further directions for research.
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Appendix A: Interview 1 Transcript, ‘Ewa’
Emm…My name is Aleksandra Chaber. Today I am going to interview my friend, my Polish friend ‘Ewa’ and together we will discover the way she’s learnt English.
How are you doing?
I am very well, thank you! What about you?
I am great, thank you!
Amm, so please, tell as a little bit about yourself.
Eee, so my name is Ewa, Ewa Mora. I am 33 years old. I’ve been living in London for approximately 5 years. I came to London, because I used to run my own business in Poland. It was quite, that was quite successful at that time, but after a few years Poland was hit by recession and I had to closed my business down mm during the the year so I’ve tried to look for a new idea, new directions and opportunities somewhere else, somewhere else not in Poland, but I thought maybe it’s a good idea to, to change completely direction, country and to start everything from the beginning…So that was the story why I came in here and the reason..mm… And what else?
A: Ok, so amm, amm so, Ewa what do you do for leaving?
E: Unfortunately at that time, at this moment I am looking for a job. A few months ago I was redundant due to recession. I used to work in the City as a secretary in one of the banks there. I am quit lucky person, because I am not a single, I have a partner and my partner supports me so it’s much more easy for me to look for a job and not be very stress up at the some time.
A: Mhm, where did you learn English? Did you learn it back home or when you came to England?
E: Ee, I didn’t learn English in Poland that much because like I’ve said at the beginning I am 33 years old and at that time in Poland eee foreign language was as not much common as this days. At school, at primary school I’ve learnt Russian and at Secondary School I’ve learnt Russian and German. At when I found out that probably I would like to move out from Poland and leave abroad I took fff some private lessons, I have my private tutor, so it was only me and my teacher and I think it was quite useful, but probably not enough to communicate on daily basis, but good good b beginning for sure.
A: And when you came came to England how did you learn English?
A: Was the school? Did you go to school or did you have a privet teacher as well?
E: Eee, when I came to London I I didn’t have that much money to have my private teacher so of course I remember the beginning was awful the problem, of course the language barrier almost overwhelming, so I decided to mmm apply for Eng full time English language course at one of the schools and I did that course for a few few months and that school, some of my school mates told me about some different method of learning English. It was a Callan and I thought ok, why not to try something else, something new, especially if you know people recommend you that something is good. I think I really like it so I thought “lets do it”, “lets try” and I’ve applied to that school, mm Callan School mmm in London, I also attend that course for a few months. That was very interesting. Completely, completely different way of teaching eee, much more focus on speaking. All the time speaking, speaking and speaking and I think that is what the language is all about. So I like this this school, this program. I think I’ve learnt quite a lot. My speaking of course mmm, I could see my progress quite quite quickly, I could understand better, but mm about this school, what I can say is if you want to speak is good, but if you want to speak correctly, properly you have to work slightly more on mmm at home, by yourself. You have to use different books to learn grammar, because that school, as I’ve said in the begging it’s it’s mainly focus on on speaking and also grammar there. You have also writing there, but I wasn’t that convinced about mmm the way how they teach mm grammar, but I was very happy with this school, I would really strongly recommend to anybody else and I even recommended that that school to my brother in low and he is now, he is in Poland and and he learn English in Poland, he also he attends this this program. I also, I remember that I do now at home and also at my at my school I use I use a book, it was the title, what was the title? mm “Inside Out” I really like this this book. You have the grammar is explained mmm very mmm grammar is explained very good so it’s not difficult to learn by yourself and also what else? I just… I think it was mainly one of this books I used. I remember also I mmm I used a book “Grammar for IELTS” and I think also I would strongly recommend this this book to to somebody else who who wants to learn grammar, because you are have mmm all grammar what you need is in in one book. You don’t have to look for a different book. It’s everything in one.
A: Ok .Great. Mm, thank you very much Ewa for for your time.
Appendix B: Interview 2 Transcript, ‘Joanna’
A: Hello. My name is Aleksandra Chaber. Today I am going to interview my Polish friend ‘Joanna’ and we are going to discover the way she’s learned English language.
A: Hello Joanna
J: Hello Alex
A: How are you?
J: I am very well, thank you and yourself?
A: I am great, thank you! Can you tell us something about yourself?
J: Yes, sure, ee…my name is Joanna yes, as I have introduced myself, my surname is Sudzinska. I am 23 years. I came to London 3 years ago for purpose of studying. Yyy, my partner, he has been leaving here with his son for couple of years as well. I have been a step mother at the moment for 3 years and we are together participate in bringing up Szymon who is our step, who is my step step son who is 6.
A: Have you been studying English in Poland or you’ve learnt once you came here?
J: Well, my journey with English started when I was 6, when probably my mother she is an English academic teacher. She always put attention to how we speak in English and she always cared about our progress we made. So I have been studying English in Primary school, then Secondary School and after my Graduate Diploma I finally decided to continue my study at University so I eee made up my mind and I eee went to study English Philology.
A: Joanna, could you tell us more about the way you’ve learnt English?
J: Ok. As I’ve said my mother is an Academic teacher… eee ..,so she has been using lots of standard traditional methods of teaching language, such as books,Cds,Dvds.
I have also watched lots of American films to acquire vocabulary. I think that I am more the person who prefers studying from books, rather then learning in practice. I enjoy sitting and reading; different kind of literature in English and that is how I acquired English. Also I put lots of attention to grammar as I think it’s very important to acquiring the English skills. Like eee, I think very very useful think to say is ee when I study I enjoy piece and quite. I acquire lots of knowledge when eee I am sitting and reading and then learn by heart.
Next all my knowledge has to be applied constantly to variety of exercises. I think that the more practice you have with studying grammar the better your understanding and final result. Through studying grammar I familiarise myself with a new vocabulary. I also like to add that I also enjoy reading legal books. There are thousand of new sophisticated vocabularies with amaze me. For example, plenty of interesting judgments with complex sentences. My methods of learning the gra vocabulary it is by highlighting them and learning by heart.
A: Mmm, that’s interesting.Emm, in which fields of your life you you use English? Aaa, do you use English at home or just rather at University or when while you are with your friends?
J; Em, ye aa ye, unfortunately or maybe fortunately I don’t have a chance to speak to him in English at home, because my partner is Polish, but sometimes I am trying to speak to my son, because he is already bilingual, but ee obviously I more use English outside with with friends or chat chatting with neighbours. Ye, I think this is the field where I’m using my my English.
A: Ok. Mmm… Do you go to the Polish or English church?
J: Well, the think with a church is a bit complicated as I used to go to the church quit often, however I wanted Szymon to go to Catholic Church. I used to go to English Catholic church as I found English priests friendlier, but than Polish. Now, I am trying to put forward some Catholic values to my son as I consider it as a very good method of developing his personal attitude to life. So, so that’s the thing.
A: Ok. Well, before I let you go ee e can you tell us more about books you found the most useful and enjoyable to study from?
J: All right, yes, ee.The think is that I don’t remember to many books with I have study study from, however I mm remember particularly mm an Advanced English Grammar of Martin Hewings that is I think mm Cambridge Cambridge publication.
Mmm, I also remember that like for learning a business vocabulary mm I use to mm I use to learn from Marked Leader which which is quit famous book in Europe.Mm, for vocabulary generally I used mmm Vocabulary in Use, I think it was the Oxford University Press. So as I said this are the titles which I can remember, mm,however aa When I was a child I remember it very good when my mother used with me aaa the book which is called ABC aaa and then I took part, yyy took part in my privet lessons and we enjoyed study from it with my friends. I think that at the moment my I could give advice to some teacher to use less traditional rather boring way yyy of studying.
I would prefer to to make my child to listen first much more and then sta studying and learning by heart. I think that the the the basic is when you acquire your listening skill skills and then your reading skills and after all the grammar skills. I personally enjoyed when I was doing my grammar I I enjoyed the the exercises like filling the gaps, or paraphrasing sentences. I think is very very stimulating.
A: Ok. Joanna, thank you very much for your time. It was a pleasure to talking to you.
J: Thank you very much. I hope you, I wish you good luck!