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A Critical Analysis of English Language Courses in Thailand Richard Watson Todd King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi Conference goals

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A critical analysis of english language courses in thailand l.jpg

A Critical Analysis of English Language Courses in Thailand

Richard Watson Todd

King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi

©2009 Richard Watson Todd

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Conference goals

  • Aiming to narrow the gap between theory and practice, the conference brings together SLA theorists with classroom teachers to engage in a productive sharing of research findings and an exchange of ideas.

  • The conference presents a valuable opportunity for researchers with theoretical interests to share their research processes and techniques with classroom practitioners.

©2009 Richard Watson Todd

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Implications of conference goals

  • SLA research has implications for the classroom teaching of English

  • ELT practitioners can inform the agenda of SLA research

  • Are these implications valid?

©2009 Richard Watson Todd

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The relationship between SLA and ELT

  • Hoey (2003): some research into linguistics (e.g. text types, corpus linguistics) has been stimulated by ELT problems

  • ELT (especially textbooks) is not informed by linguistics research

©2009 Richard Watson Todd

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The relationship between SLA and ELT

  • Long (2007): SLA has provided findings of use to ELT (e.g. L1 transfer, ways of giving negative feedback)

  • Focus on the learning of specific language points

  • Criticises arguments from ELT that SLA has not been useful

©2009 Richard Watson Todd

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The relationship between SLA and ELT

  • Previous work has been theoretical

  • This paper:

    • SLA research: extracted from 6 recent books

    • ELT practice: analysed from English language course descriptions at Thai universities

©2009 Richard Watson Todd

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SLA books

  • Foley and Thompson (2003) Language Learning

  • Lightbown and Spada (1999) How Languages are Learnt

  • Long (2007) Problems in SLA

  • Mitchell and Myles (2004) Second Language Learning Theories

  • Saville-Troike (2006) Introducing Second Language Acquisition

  • Scovel (2001) Learning New Languages

©2009 Richard Watson Todd

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SLA focuses

  • Language is phonology + syntax + morphology + semantics + lexis + pragmatics + discourse

    • Most work concerns the learning of specific language features (esp. grammar points)

  • Only one of the 6 SLA books includes lengthy sections on skills

    • “Unfortunately, skill development is seriously understudied in SLA” (VanPatten, 2004)

©2009 Richard Watson Todd

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SLA focuses

  • Learning theories most frequently mentioned: social interactionist, focus on form (in a task-based approach)

    • Most work on how to learn concerns specific instances, e.g. the effects of different ways of giving corrections (e.g. recasts)

  • Research focuses include issues of little relevance to Thai tertiary ELT (e.g. age)

©2009 Richard Watson Todd

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English language course descriptions

  • 22 foundation English courses from 9 public universities

  • Descriptions range from 24 words to 178 words with a total of 1,146 words

  • Analysis: word frequency, thematic categorisation, collocations

©2009 Richard Watson Todd

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Course descriptions findings

  • What is to be learnt?

    • Four skills (21) > Learning strategies (6) > Language knowledge (3)

    • Reading (22) > Writing (19) > Listening (14) > Speaking (9) > Grammar (6) > Vocabulary (2) > Discourse (0)

    • Settings: social and academic language use

  • Clear focus on the learning of skills, with reading the most important

©2009 Richard Watson Todd

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Course descriptions findings

  • Progress through courses:

    • writing short paragraphs > writing various types of paragraphs

    • reading various printed materials > reading more complex passages

  • Goals set by university in 7 cases; students identify some goals in 2 cases

©2009 Richard Watson Todd

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Course descriptions findings

  • How to learn?

    • For skills, build on existing abilities (develop, improve, strengthen)

    • For language knowledge, give (provide, equip)

    • Wide range of methods and activities

      • practice, task-based learning, small-group learning, strategy training, self-access learning, process writing, grammar exercises, mini-projects

©2009 Richard Watson Todd

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Course descriptions findings

  • Non-linguistic objectives

    • lifelong learning

    • attitudes

    • cultural understanding

    • critical thinking

    • Very few mentions (contrast with National Education Act)

©2009 Richard Watson Todd

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Course descriptions

Emphasis on learning skills

Skills learnt through building on existing abilities

Reading is most frequent

Language knowledge (a minor focus) learnt through transmission

Wide range of learning activities

SLA literature

Emphasis on language features, not skills

Language learnt through interaction/tasks

Focus on a very specific level: specific language points and specific aspects of learning

Summary of findings

©2009 Richard Watson Todd

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Dissonance between Thai ELT and SLA

  • Focus on skills or focus on linguistic features

  • Importance of interaction in how people learn languages

  • Overview of how to learn or the effects on learning of specific behaviours

  • Pre-specified objectives or objectives emerging from tasks

©2009 Richard Watson Todd

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What Thai ELT can learn from SLA

  • Need for more flexibility in the objectives of learning

  • Need for a greater focus on linguistic features, and on a greater variety of linguistic features?

  • Need for a greater emphasis on how structured interaction (e.g. scaffolding) can help promote learning

  • Most SLA findings are relevant at the level of specific teacher behaviours, not curriculum objectives

©2009 Richard Watson Todd

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What SLA can learn from Thai ELT

  • Need for more research into skills learning

    • Inclusion of current skills learning research into SLA

    • Stronger models of how skills are learnt

  • Need for more activity-based research into how languages are learnt

  • Should SLA research directions be set by their usefulness for ELT?

©2009 Richard Watson Todd