This unique dynamic enterprise

15th June 2001 at 01:00
Both language teaching and learning are inherently creative processes, says Steven Fawkes

The introduction to the current Green Paper on Culture and Creativity begins with the words "Everyone is creative". Some people, associating "creative" with arty types and aestheticism, might be intimidated by this. Yet creativity is often most visible and most necessary in everyday situations such as solving problems or dealing with people. In this respect, creativity is at the heart of learning a foreign language. Beginners in language learning use all their resources to assemble the small amount of learning they have into utterances they may very well never have thought of before, in order to satisfy a range of audiences.

In a real encounter, learners need to use their language immediately to interact with people, to inform and amuse them, to reassure, surprise or discuss, as well as to transact the necessities of life. Nobody can predict exactly what these learners will want to say and teach them just that bit of language; they will be making do (and making language) with what they have to hand. So for all these challenges they will be in a state of creative ferment, searching for words and trying them out in a unique dynamic enterprise, always on stage.

The same goes for the work of language teachers themselves; they are not merely a collective national mouthpiece for some pre-ordained and approved vocabulary and grammar list. They are people, dealing with other people, other cultures and another language: introducing it, manipulating it and adding value to it Language is not only their stock in trade but often their personal passion.

A teacher's creativity is in evidence every day in developing the approaches learners need, in finding ideas for motivating pupils and in exploiting diverse resources to support problem-solving, progression and performance.

But finding time for such professional creativity is constrained by other imperatives, and the pressure simply to get through a syllabus can take much of the available time away from opportunities for following up on inspiration.

The current obsession with measuring and reporting pupil achievement tends to generate more tasks to be accomplished, more regularly, requiring even more time. This does little to encourage learner or teacher in creative working or experimentation.

If the future of our nation does depend on the creativity of its young people, as the Green Paper suggests, language classrooms are already making their contribution.

A renewed focus on creativity should be to the advantage of the languages community, allowing teachers and learners to pursue enthusiasms and interesting ideas into a wider world; the possibilities for exploring important cultural issues alone are very exciting. But if our learners are to develop their full potential surely our teachers need fewer tasks and more time to be creative too.

Steven Fawkes is president of the Association for Language Learning, 150 Railway Terrace, Rugby, Warwickshire CV2 3HN. Tel: 01788 546443. E-mail: Web:

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