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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2005

Авторы: Бэлласт Д., Нурбаева Ж.

A Principled Approach

The Foreign Language teaching at Kazak American Free University is based on three sets of principles: Cognitive Principles, Affective Principles and Linguistic Principles. The cognitive principles relate to the mental and intellectual functions. The second set of principles deals with the emotional involvement of a learner in the process of a language acquisition. Finally, the last group of principles focuses on the language per se and the acquisition of linguistic forms. These principles are examined in detail in D. Brown’s book Teaching By Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy (Brown, 2001).

COGNITIVE PRINCIPLES

Meaningful Learning:

Meaningful learning leads toward better long-term retention than rote learning.

This principle ensures that the language material corresponds to the students’ interests, academic and career goals, and existing knowledge so that deeper and closer ties are established between the old and the new. This means that the University curriculum allows for a variety of language courses that address a range of language functions including language for specific purposes.

Intrinsic Motivation:

The most powerful rewards are intrinsically motivated within the learner.

This principle derives from the one mentioned above: as students set specific and meaningful learning goals and achieve them, they become intrinsically motivated. It is our goal to train students who will be motivated not by grades alone, but will become independent learners who are capable of directing their own education and taking language learning outside the classroom.

Strategic Investment:

Successful mastery of a foreign language calls for a variety of learning strategies.

This principle stresses the importance of learning styles, multiple intelligences and strategies based on these preferences. The implications for the classroom will be raising the teachers’ ability to recognize different learning preferences represented in their classroom, to adapt their teaching styles to various types of learners, and finally, to enable the students to utilize various strategies in the process of language learning.

AFFECTIVE PRINCIPLES

Language Ego:

Learning to use a foreign language, people develop a new mode of thinking, feeling and acting – a second identity.

The new “language ego”, intertwined with the foreign language, can create a sense of fragility, defensiveness, and inhibitions (Brown, 2001). It is the teachers’ responsibility to create an optimal environment in the classroom, which promotes learning, especially in a university setting when adult learners may develop a set of inhibitions. Capable adults may sound and seem “slow” and “stupid”; however, in this case unintelligible does not mean not intelligent. Thus, the students’ attempts to produce language should always be recognized and supported. The assignments should be carefully balanced between being not challenging enough and being too overwhelming. The principle of the language ego drives such teaching activities as lesson planning, error correction, presentation of material, group work, who to call on, etc.

Risk-taking:

Successful language learners will “play” and take risks to produce and interpret language that is beyond their current ability and certainty.

When the learner is supported (see the above language ego principle), then he or she is able to overcome their fear and try out new forms. This in its turn leads to a better understanding of a language as these attempts are adjusted and corrected, again in a supportive way.

Language-Culture Connection:

Whenever a language is taught, a complex system of cultural norms, traditions, values, ways of thinking and behaviors should also be addressed.

At our University a great emphasis is placed on teaching culture, and cross-cultural communication is soon to become a required course for all majors due to the international nature of the school. The issues of raising our students’ sociolinguistic competence are addressed in the article “Are our students sociolinguistically competent or challenged?” in this very volume.

LINGUISTIC PRINCIPLES

The native language effect: The native language exerts a strong influence (both facilitating and interfering) on the acquisition of the target language.

Familiarizing the students with the native language phenomenon that caused the error in the target language is a good way to repair such errors. This will raise the students’ awareness of their own language, culture, and the language acquisition process as a whole.

Communicative Competence: Instruction should be pointed toward all CC components – formal linguistic, sociolinguistic, discourse, and strategic competence.

The English instruction at KAFU is steering away from teaching a grammar-based curriculum when contrived, artificial language forms and functions are not relevant to the student’s world outside the classroom. However, in the attempt to focus on fluency, accuracy should not become obsolete. There is room for both form-focused and fluency-focused instruction and discernment is needed in developing courses to find the right balance (formal linguistic and strategic competencies). Students are to be exposed to a variety of situations where particular language is used (discourse competence) and particular cultural values are displayed (sociolinguistic competence)

A Practical Approach

REQUIREMENTS

Based on these principles, the following requirements are made for our English programs and their curricula, resources and assignments:

- Authenticity

- Fluency

- Accuracy

- Interactive environment

- Intensity

The authenticity requirement can be stated as the hypothesis lay down by Omaggio Handley, “Opportunities must be provided for students to practice using language in a range of contexts likely to be encountered in the target culture.” (Omaggio Handley, 2001, emphasis added) 

Authenticity is achieved through the use of authentic teaching materials. For instance, texts such as the Interchange series, the English File series, Active Listening and the Hotline series are widely used by several of our programs. The university library offers newspaper and magazine subscriptions such as Newsweek, News for You, and National Geographic; samples of English and American literary works, video and audio materials. Authentic assignments may include writing a business letter to the KAFU Vice-President, developing a city tour for a visiting faculty member, group project work, Internet and library research, and other activities where students have freedom of incorporating their own interests and developing the sense of ownership in the learning process. Authenticity is also a requirement for assessment tools, especially those used for performance-based tasks. Among the tools used at our University are rubrics for oral and written proficiency, portfolios, project presentations, peer evaluation, etc.

Last, but not least, authenticity is achieved through the involvement of our foreign faculty, both resident and visiting, who introduce our students to present-day English.

There are at least two challenges in meeting the authenticity requirement: first, the availability of authentic resources; second, even if such materials are available, “there is no assurance that the language use is always normative or that the materials are fully comprehensible to language learners.” (Omaggio Handley, 2001) Authentic materials are usually intended for native speakers, and the foreign language teachers are challenged to examine, evaluate and adapt such materials to make them appropriate to the level of their students. This in its turn calls for developing highly proficient, qualified and creative faculty, skilled in critical thinking and who are life-long language learners at heart.

The focus on fluency, our next requirement, can never be overstated. Omaggio Handley defines fluency as the “ability to produce a large number of ideas relatively quickly.” (Omaggio Handley, 2001) An example activity used at our school to fit this definition is “brainstorming” sessions. As a class anticipates a visit by a new foreign faculty member, they generate a long list of questions for the interview. Another way to enhance fluency is giving assignments that involve critical thinking, for instance, placing words/objects/events in categories and then substantiating the choices. The Webster dictionary, however, gives a more traditional definition of fluency as “ability to write or speak smoothly, easily and expressively.” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1986) This smooth “flow” of language is to be established already at the novice level even at short segments. (Brown, 2001). At the beginner’s level, only errors made in the practiced elements are corrected. Fluency is developed in our classrooms through activities such as free writing, spontaneous conversations with guest native speakers, debates, group discussions, and other correction-free exercises.

Fluency thrives in a friendly environment where any ideas are welcome and only errors that cause the communication breakdowns are addressed. The challenge we face when cultivating fluency is that it might be, although not necessarily, in conflict with accuracy. The tendency may be to “overlook” the errors to sustain fluency to the point that these errors become fossilized and almost impossible to eradicate.

The mentioned above “normative” use of language falls within the scope of our next requirement, accuracy. Accuracy refers to the “acceptability, quality and precision of the message conveyed.” (Swender, 1999) Although grammar is losing its “grip” on our approaches and curricula, form-focused instruction still has its place. However, grammar is not the only aspect to be considered here. Among other features are vocabulary, pronunciation (both individual sounds and intonation patterns), and sociolinguistic competence. In other words, accuracy concerns itself with “appropriateness” of the language. We strive to produce graduates able to orient themselves in various cross-cultural contexts and still find the most appropriate way of communicating in the target language.

The greatest challenge in this area would be a tendency to constantly correct errors; this might lower fluency, cause student inhibitions and develop a fear of speech.

The requirement of interactive instruction is met through cooperation with our visiting faculty who introduce more modern, student-focused teaching directed to develop students’ critical thinking and independent learning. Our students learn to take initiative and responsibility for their learning through individual and team project work, whereas the role of the teacher is being reduced to that of a facilitator rather than information giver (during class) and receiver (during exam).

However, only some English-speaking teachers are exposed to this interactive model of teaching through their association with Western faculty. Even then, there is no guarantee that they adjust their teaching to this new model after observing it. There is a need to establish a teacher development program at KAFU that will help its English faculty to reflect on their teaching, learn new skills and apply them in their classrooms. One way to do this is to require all KAFU teachers to study at the MA TESOL program, but there has to be an option of taking some classes for professional development without having to enroll for the entire graduate program.

The last but not the least requirement is intensity of study. For an English program to be intensive, according to the international standards, it has to offer at least 18 hours of English instruction per week for the period no less than eight months long. Primarily, this requirement is set for our intensive English preparatory classes for students wishing to enroll as well as for current students in the American Diploma Program. Unfortunately, the Foreign Languages curricula are not as intensive due to some restrictions from the Ministry of Education. This could be resolved by adding classes and seminars taught by Western professors such as Leadership, Globalization, Philosophy, Western Thought and Cross-cultural Communication to the course load.

FACULTY

At present there are both national and visiting faculty members teaching English at KAFU. Most of them are just at the beginning of their teaching careers, but their mobility, enthusiasm and flexibility are more of an advantage than disadvantage, especially in the light of radical changes this University is attempting to implement, including international certification of our English programs. There have been consistent English methodology and other professional development seminars offered at KAFU by visiting and local faculty; there is an MA TESOL program, and endless opportunities to share experiences with visiting Western professors – all these factors help shape our distinct English department. Last year KAFU had a privilege to host an English Language Fellow who organized numerous workshops and trainings at our University for both our department and teachers from the area. The three major trainings that have taken place at KAFU are English Methodology, Teaching English to Young Learners and the Village Project Training. The village project trains city teachers who then will travel to the remote areas and offer workshops to the village teachers to enhance their English skills and methodology. One of our KAFU teachers has been actively involved in this project.

To meet the requirements of authenticity and fluency, we hope to offer our entire English faculty an opportunity to travel overseas for internship. So far only two of our teachers have had such an experience. This summer we plan to send one more teacher to our partner University in the United States, Seattle Pacific University, for an internship at the American Cultural Exchange, an intensive English language program for international students. The intern will observe classes offered at various levels of proficiency, volunteer as a classroom aid, fulfill the assignments and write a reflective journal. Upon arrival, the intern will present the materials and give a report on teaching and learning at ACE and how it will affect their own classroom at KAFU.

KAFU ENGLISH PROGRAMS

As was mentioned above, our intensive English programs include the community classes and the first year of intensive English instruction for the students in the American Diploma Program. The evening community classes are offered three times a week for a total of seven academic hours for eight months. Groups are formed based on the placement test and there are four proficiency levels: beginners, low-intermediate, intermediate and high-intermediate. These classes are for anyone in the community who is interested in learning conversational American English. Both national and international faculty is involved in teaching these classes. All of the five requirements are met in this program: authenticity, fluency, accuracy, intensity and interactive learning. In the future, we hope to expand the program and offer specific courses to attract various audiences like preparation for TOEFL and IELTS, Business English, English for Tourism, etc.

The first of the American Diploma Program is part of the intensive English program – two groups are formed, intermediate and high-intermediate. For some exceptional students who have graduated from our evening classes there is an option to be enrolled directly into the second year, omitting the first year. However, the majority is enrolled in the first year where there are up to 26 hours of English instruction per week. The students take classes in Phonology, Grammar, Reading Comprehension, English Conversation, Academic Writing, Cross-cultural Communication, Introduction to Business English, Listening Comprehension, etc.

During their second year, American program students take 90 hours of Business Communication and seminars in Business Presentations and Business Writing. Third year students are now divided by their majors – Management, Information Systems, and Law – and take two semesters of Professional English. Thus, we offer Business English, Law English and English for IT.

As far as English teaching, the Kazakstan Program is presented by three major programs. The first two are offered to the English majors, specializing either in English teaching or Translation. The third program is developed to help raise the proficiency level of our non-English majors. This last program offers additional hours to the course load and involves teachers skilled in interactive approaches. Right now teachers and staff are developing new curricula and starting from fall 2005 we will be using all authentic materials. Among the series to be used are the English File, the Natural English, the Cutting Edge, the Hotline and the Streamline.

Among the extracurricular activities the Translators’ Club attracts current and prospective KAFU students, who gather together for fellowship, discussion of issues related to translation and cross-cultural communication, and to listen to a range of interesting speakers from a variety of backgrounds.

Every spring semester, KAFU hosts a series of Olympiads for high school students, KAFU college students and University students. It is significant that the level of participants is getting higher each year, and the contests are becoming increasingly competitive. This year it was a special joy to see non-English majors actively involved in writing proficiency tests, project presentations, and other events during the Olympiad week. In the future we hope to host intercollegiate Olympiads open for students from other universities.

Among the KAFU graduate programs, there are two where English instruction is essential: MBA and MA TESOL. The MBA classes are offered both in Russian and English; however, it is expected that the graduate students are all highly proficient in English to be able to participate in our international programs – visiting Western lecturers and Summer Business Internship in the US.

All of the MA TESOL classes are in English with both national and visiting faculty members. The focus of this program is to develop English teachers for colleges and universities, who are trained in modern methodology and research, who will be involved in continuous education and who will potentially become teacher trainers themselves. There is an option of the US internship for these graduate students at the American Cultural Exchange program at the campus of Seattle Pacific University, one of our partners.

The KAFU College also offers a Translation major to high school graduates who wish to later enroll in our University program. In the future we hope to design a new curriculum for the major in hotel and tourism industry coupled with an intensive English Program. There is an English Club for anyone wishing to improve their English conversation with native speakers, and weekly classes are offered to high school students with our KAFU faculty.

This article outlines the foundational principles for the English instruction at the Kazak American Free University and discusses strengths and opportunities for growth of its existing English programs.

REFERENCES

1.Brown, D. Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. 4th edition. Addison Wesley Longman, Inc. 2000.

2.Brown, D. Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy. Addison Wesley Longman, Inc. 2001.

3.Omaggio Hadley, A. Teaching Language in Context. Heinle and Heinle. 2001.

4.Swender, E. ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview Tester Manual. Yonkers, New York. 1999.

5.Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American English, 2nd College edition. Simon and Schuster. 1986.



К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2005


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