Skip to navigation menu

Skip to main content

Applied Linguistics & Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
Teachers College, Columbia University
teachers college logo columbia univertsity logo

Applied Linguistics & Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)

In the Department of Arts & Humanities

Apple Lecture > Apple Lecture 2009

Apple Lecture 2009

2009 Eli Hinkel

TESOL/AL Times Newsletter Article

Interview in TC Working Papers in Applied Linguistics, Vol 9, No 1 (2009)
TESOL/AL Times Article

In the tradition of a well-intentioned, Socratic gadfly, Professor Eli Hinkel goaded her audience with the verve of a seasoned and mirthful skeptic. Using a combination of deadpan stops and jabbing questions, Hinkel spent the duration of the 2009 Apple Lecture poking at the collective assumptions of TESOL and applied linguistics community attendees. “A great deal of teaching ESL is faith-based. Nobody knows anything. We all have our particular allegiances. Ladies and gentleman, we can argue until the cows come home,” Hinkel claimed.

More than a few earnest language researchers in the room were caught squirming in their seats when Hinkel summarily declared, “Much of the research is faith-based. If you are looking for it and you are conducting an empirical study, you will probably find it. If you are not looking for it, you will not find it.”

So, does this mean grad students should drop all the dissertations that are in the works? Of course not, and this was clearly not Hinkel’s point. Hinkel takes a practical approach to second language teaching that eschews ideology and encourages finding the instructional method most appropriate for the learning context. In a word, methodologies and research should not blind instructors to the realities of the instructional situation.

In her post-lecture discussion, Hinkel encouraged graduates of the TESOL and AL programs at Teachers College not to let their education and beliefs get in the way of their teaching.

“There is a certain element of superiority that a lot of Americans bring with them when they teach in an EFL setting…For those of you who are planning to go overseas to teach with your newly minted degrees, please be flexible,” implored Dr. Hinkel. Hinkel’s keynote lecture, titled Integrated and Separated Skills in Language Teaching: A Broad View of Current Trends, explored the various merits and disadvantages of teaching language skills in integrated and separated manners. According to Hinkel, both approaches have their merits and should be considered based on the learning goals of the target population. Although she admitted that a separated skills approach, which entails teaching the four language skills independently, has become as passé as yesterday’s bread in the U.S., she asserted that there remains a time and a place for such an approach. In large classroom settings, such as in China and Japan, local teachers of English often lack the sociolinguistic expertise and management ability to teach all the skills at once. “In most teaching contexts abroad, using integrated instruction would create a work burden that is not manageable in most situations,” explained Hinkel.

Hinkel mentioned that while a communicative and integrated approach to teaching English may suit the needs of an English Language learner studying in the natural, discourse-specific setting of an English-speaking country, this approach may not at all suit the needs of learners studying in non-English-speaking countries. For instance, in school systems that have the burden of meeting standardized performance requirements in the form of standardized testing, the thoroughness afforded by the separable skills approach can serve the most immediate needs of the students.

“In the countries where exams drive the world of language teaching, skills are only taught tothe extent that they are needed for the test,” explained Hinkel.

According to Hinkel, the separable-skills approach holds much greater sway outside the frontiers of the U.S. because the approach is easier for less proficient teachers to manage and it allows teachers to instruct particular skills with a depth of focus that is not possible with a more integrated, conversational approach.

Hinkel argued for a pragmatic approach to language instruction that keeps in view the institutional and situational constraints that generally do more to determine the focus and method of instruction than any particular research or pedagogical philosophy. As she outlined her understanding of the challenges facing researchers and educators, Hinkel exuded the perspicacity and reserve of a tweed-clad savant who has seen pedagogical trends come and go.

With a booming head of floating orange hair and a vaudevillian style that reflected the wit and understated wisdom of a tenured cross between Woody Allen and Harpo Marx, Professor Hinkel used her pitch-perfect delivery and linguistic tomfoolery to drive home her point.

“In other words,” summarized Hinkel, “your language learning objective can, will, should, could,might, possibly, probably, and perhaps will determine the way in which your language learningtakes place.”