Language teaching materials
and the (very) big picture.
1.1 The purpose of this article is to retrace the
development of materials for language
teaching and how the development of
materials has to some extent similarly been
a reflex action to social developments which
occur far, far beyond the classroom.
1.1.1 "Materials are cultural artefacts", Littlejohn (2013)
1.1.2 "Materials are propositions for action in the classroom (workplans)",
2 ELT materials: From the 1950s to the 1980s
2.1 The 1950s/60s and the Cold War
2.1.1 The languages teaching was originated from the "Cold War" because the struggle to
maintain scientific and technological power between the United States and the Soviet
Union, forced United States to solve the major failing that was identified in the ability of
American scientists to keep up with technological developments in other parts of the
world, and so foreign language teaching came to take on the particular priority.
188.8.131.52 Then, the 1958 National Defense (Foreign Language) act was swiftly ushered in, providing massive
funds for the development of language programmes that consisted of the scientific approach of
mim-mem exercises, language laboratories, pattern-practice drills and atomised samples of
language and often repeated to exhaustion, an efficient methodology required by the zeitgeist.
2.2 The late 1960s to the late 1970s
2.2.1 For many Western governments, the late 1960s was marked by a seismic shift in relations with their
populations, evidenced by turbulence and rebellion, with major demon-strations and occupations
taking place in France, Italy, the UK, the USA and elsewhere. Culturally, the era was marked by a shift
towards alternative ways of doing things and also was characterised by the emergence of numerous
‘fringe,’ humanistic methodologies which became teaching languages in a humanistic approach.
184.108.40.206 But it was not only in respect of humanistic approaches that the urge towards an alternative was
found. The notion of ‘doing your own thing’ and DIY quickly found echoes in another major
development in language pedagogy in this time – self-access work, featuring self-study materials
and teacherless language learning, often carried out in ex-language laboratories now stripped of
their hutch-like partitions, so that pairs of learners could work on the same material.
2.3 The 1970s to the mid 1980s
2.3.1 In this period the development of exhaustive tools for the
specification of an individual’s particular needs through models such
as those proposed by Munby (1981) and the continued development
of ‘Special Purposes’ as a distinct branch of syllabus design.
220.127.116.11 Also in this period arises the recognition that learners have their own unique
ways of approaching language study, that is, their own styles and strategies and
the recognition of cultures, gave birth to an entire rethink of what English language
teaching should be about: the Communicative Language Teaching movement.
3 New imperatives on materials design: the mid 1980s onwards
3.1 Why are ELT materials the way they are?
18.104.22.168 Clearly the process of McDonaldization in the standardization of
teacher training that easily can be seen reflected in the Cambridge
CELTA courses and UK PGCE course where, for example, teacher
reflection has apparently reduced to routine exercises lacking face
validity and certainly there is considerable evidence that we are
moving toward the creation of increasingly standardized materials.
22.214.171.124 The concept of neo-liberalism relates to a much broader analysis of the social context in
which language teaching takes place, that of the nature of society as a whole. For example,
‘celebrity’ now permeates much UK published materials (a marked change, he notes, from
materials produced in the 1970s and earlier), as an indication of how neo-liberalist ideologies
can underpin the selection of content. It is not difficult to see how these forces are now
clearly present in language teaching, and thus directly impact language teaching materials.
4.1 The influence of the wider social context on the
design of English language teaching materials has
generally been one of inspiration, that is, the zeitgeist
provided the intellectual backdrop which generated
new images in language teaching, most notably seen
in the experimental ideas of the late 1960s and 1970s.
4.1.1 The design of materials for teaching
English though highly influenced by the
society that tries to convey through
this, the culture of a particular country,
it is necessary and it is important for a
person who is in the process of
learning a second language.