Humanizing the Language Classroom

One of today’s major principles in ELT is the focus on learning and the learner. Books, articles, researchers and teachers all preach about the importance of humanizing pedagogical decisions, directing their attention to actually developing people – the language learners. Learning strategies, multiple intelligences, learning channels, scaffolding strategies, adequate assessment tools, and varied multi-modal resources are a few of the many elements considered to be important when designing an EFL class. However, the real classroom shows us that EFL instruction has actually been – to a certain extent – dehumanized.

In most EFL settings, instruction has been directed by the imposition of abstract standards, the requirement for particular teaching methods and evaluation tied to external standardized tests. EFL teachers, whatever their desires and orientations, are bound to these managerial directives through contractual agreements, the requirement to use specific textbooks, and evaluation and promotion based on test results. Language learning within these settings is defined overwhelmingly in linguistic, structural and cognitive terms. Thus, the language learner at the center of this system becomes nothing more than an intellectual entity involved in an assessable cognitive process.

However, as Kramsch stated (2009), “learning a language has multiple and unpredictable ramifications in how language learners perceive and conceptualize their subjectivities as a result of entering the world of bilingualism”. Put simply, learning a language is a significant, potentially life-changing, event. Furthermore, it is an event that involves the whole human being, beyond just intellectual abilities. However, the experiences, emotions and symbolic transformations inherent in the process of learning a language are erased and superseded within ELT by the overriding emphasis placed on the communicative and cognitive aims of language usage, to such an extent that it seems natural to avoid any discussion of the human in the classroom and to emphasize the learning and testing of language rules.

Learning another language is about living, thinking, experiencing and feeling other people and the world around us. Our challenge as EFL teachers is to find a way to make language learning personally contextualized, socially engaged, and culturally embedded. Our ultimate goal is to humanize a structural learning system drawn from the world of business administration. In other words, to make language learning about what really matters – the people.

References

Kramsch, C. (2009). The multilingual subject. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Anderson Maia

Anderson Maia is currently the dean of a campus at Universidade Federal do Pará and a PhD in TESOL candidate at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais. He was the academic manager at Centro Cultural Brasil Estados Unidos for 6 years, an adjunct TESOL professor at private colleges for several years, and has been an English language educator for 15 years in both Brazil and North Carolina, USA. He holds a degree in English and an MA in TESOL from Greensboro College, USA.

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