Exchange for the better

26th September 1997 at 01:00
Face to face. Edited by Michael Byram. CILT Pounds 9.95

Working with your foreign language assistant. By Robin Page. Mary Glasgow PublicationsAssociation for Language Learning Pounds 7.99

Reflections on the target language. By Peter S Neil. CILT Pounds 15

Aiming High: approaches to teaching A-level. Edited by Glenis Shaw. CILT Pounds 7.95

John Trafford looks at how to make the best of foreign language visits and the assistant in your own school

Are foreign language visits and exchanges always "a good thing"? We often have no more than a hazy view of why this should be so and why, in some cases, the experience is far from positive.

Face to Face, subtitled "Learning language and culture through visits and exchanges", offers a framework of knowledge and skills against which the objectives and results of visits and exchanges can be measured.

This theoretical background is applied by authors examining various types of visits and exchanges ranging from the short group visit by pupils to the years abroad experienced by undergraduate linguists and post-to-post exchange for teachers. The nature of "culture learning" is examined in various contexts.

Michael Byram has done much to inform thinking on the nature of cultural knowledge in the context of foreign language learning. This book should be essential reading for any colleague about to undertake, or organise for pupils, a study visit abroad. Apart from the intellectual value, there is much here that is of sound practical use in helping learners to understand their experience.

Working With Your Foreign Language Assistant, the latest in the MGPALL Concepts series, by Robin Page, looks at the experience through the other end of the telescope and offers much sound practical advice to schools receiving their foreign language assistant and hoping to derive maximum benefit from the appointment.

The book offers many ideas for classroom activities and places a welcome emphasis on the need to consider the professional development of the assistant as an aid to enhance the experience for pupils.

The problematic issue of exactly how the assistant can best be, in practical terms, the messenger of a foreign culture, is rather sidestepped and deserves more emphasis.

Despite its excessively high price, however, the book is a welcome addition to departmental stock. Do I hear, though, hollow laughter from those schools whose foreign language assistants are now colleagues of distant memory?

Peter Neil's contribution to the topical target language debate is the fourth in CILT's Reflections on Practice series. It is firmly rooted in observed classroom practice and in data gathered from the 10 teachers and their pupils who took part with the author in his "German in the classroom" project. It is easily accessible to teachers of languages other than German, with translations into English of all the quoted passages of classroom talk, and contains, in the "Features of the Target Language" chapter, examples of how teachers approached, among other things, the teaching of specific points of grammar through the medium of the target language.

Since the setting for the research was in Northern Ireland grammar school classes, the findings may be seen as very context specific, but this is not a drawback - no grandiose claims are made, and the book is refreshingly free from dogma. It is useful reading for any teachers interested in analysing and improving their own target language practice.

Finally, Aiming High, edited by Glenis Shaw, on approaches to teaching A-level, brings together a series of articles by 10 contributors to a CILT conference. The collection has a practical emphasis, with chapters proposing various approaches to the teaching of language, culture and literature, in which all A-level teachers should find new and appealing ideas. A specific focus on techniques for the sustained development of students' speaking skills might have been a welcome addition. The seam of ideas is nevertheless rich, and all the better for being written by practitioners with a depth and breadth of experience of A-level teaching.

John Trafford is a senior lecturer in education at the University of Sheffield

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