When an academic field is dominated by an esteemed institution like Cambridge University it’s easy to have total faith in the theory transmitted through their courses. However, one doesn’t have to stray far to find examples of esteemed, very clever institutions being not very clever. The recent financial crisis, for example, showed that the prevailing paradigm of economics (that markets can regulate themselves) was erroneous, and showed how a paradigm can permeate a generation of academics; if you were an economist who believed that free markets were inherently flawed it was difficult to gain acceptance in the world’s major universities. Another pertinent example was the belief – widely held by leading psychiatrists until the nineteen fifties – that homosexuals could be cured by electric shock therapy. Very very clever men making very very big mistakes. Such examples are vital to understand contemporary language teaching because there will always be an inclination to believe that Cambridge couldn’t possibly have it wrong; after all – it’s Cambridge.
Unfortunately, though, that’s what’s happened.
Cambridge have got it terribly wrong, and that wrongness is the source of a contagion that spreads from CELTA and DELTA into every corner of the ESL world today. And unfortunately, this contagion combines with social trends such as dumbing down to transform the simple task of learning a second language into a circus. This circus is full of bright lights, ‘fun’ and multi-media stimulation, but ultimately it is a merry go round and students just go round in circles. If you refuse to believe this then ask a teacher to speak candidly about their experience: they’ll talk about students who consistently fail to master their target language and students who are failing even though they have access to immersion, intensives, English on the internet, English on TV, English on their mobiles, and interactive English.
And this is the great irony: the more methods we invent and the more products we create, the more chaotic and difficult, learning a language has become. And I repeat ‘become’ because we must place this in a historical context. Until the second half of the twentieth century there is no mention of any particular method for learning languages, no technology to provide ‘listenings’ or multimedia, and most of all… there were no academies! Yet bi- and tri-lingualism was common for the educated classes. Another case in point are the universities. Have you ever noticed that there’s no Harvard method for learning languages or a Yale system? No, because if you need to study French or Sanskrit as part of your degree they will prescribe the sort of timeless method for learning languages which this book deals with. What they will not do is throw you into a language circus of endless courses and products.
TEFL Insurgent – Release Date – February 21