Vol. 4. No. 1 R-9 July 1999
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ESL/EFL Teaching: Principles for Success

Yvonne S. Freeman and David E. Freeman (1998)
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann
Pp. xix + 292
ISBN 0-325-00079-4 (paper)
US $25.00


With ESL/EFL Teaching Yvonne and David Freeman provide an expanded and updated revision of their book Whole Language for Second Language Learners. As in the original edition, the authors provide an explanation of second language teaching methodology supported by numerous classroom examples. The reader gets a perspective on education, a philosophy of education, a belief system about education. In the first edition of the book, the authors saw their role as interpreters of an exciting philosophy with a set of sound principles. But since then the whole sociopolitical context has changed: "Rather than being embraced as a solution, this philosophy of whole language, or at least some classroom practices associated with it, are being rejected" (p. vii). In this context, the authors see an even greater need than before for a clear explanation of what whole language is because of the concern among whole language educators that their philosophy is in danger of being increasingly misunderstood and misapplied.

The general aim of this book is to demonstrate that whole language is good education that can help to develop literate citizens and lifelong learners. The book is directed toward teachers, teacher educators, and also school administrators, who have often felt left out because classroom teachers have been so active in developing and promoting whole language. The authors' focus has been on the principles underlying the successful practices that many whole language teachers follow. These principles are based on solid research in second language acquisition, second and foreign language teaching, and bilingual education.

The examples and explanations that teachers said were helpful have been kept from the first edition. At the same time a great number of new examples have been added and many of the references have been updated.


The basic organization of the first edition has been retained, with one chapter devoted to each principle. An exception is that the book includes two chapters on the importance of developing and valuing students' first languages and cultures because there is so much research available in the area of bilingual education. The [-1-] book's ten chapters address issues arising in the spoken and written communication of ESL and second language students. The first chapter, "Contexts and Orientations," provides an insight into the common process whereby the teaching context determines the methods a teacher uses. Whatever the context, any teacher will enter the classroom with a set of assumptions, or an orientation, about teaching and learning generally and about teaching and learning languages specifically. These different orientations (grammar-based orientation, grammar-translation method, communicative orientation, direct method, audiolingual method, notional-functional approach, Suggestopedia, The Silent Way, and Total Physical Response) are briefly considered and discussed. A conclusion is drawn to focus on content-based language teaching from a sociopsycholinguistic orientation, which is a constructivist view of learning, with particular emphasis on the learners' intellectual interactions and on their activity. Forming concepts about language--oral or written--is easier when learners are presented with whole, natural language, not unnatural language patterns.

The second chapter, "Teaching Language Through Content," presents case studies, each investigating ways of learning a foreign language via content-based instructional methods. "Because people learn language as they use it, it is logical to have them learn English as they study meaningful content, rather than to have them study the English language as a separate subject apart from meaningful content" (p. 32). Data collected for the case studies include authentic message corpora, questionnaires, classroom observations, student logs, and the like.

In the third chapter, "Learning Goes From Whole to Part," many examples show that teachers should follow principles for success in teaching reading and other subjects whole to part. Complete and demanding texts are richer in context than adapted or simplified texts. Knowing that school days are fragmented and that in some places, part-to-whole instruction is even mandated, readers are led to conclude that an important part of learning is the process of constructing meaning by determining which parts count.

Chapter 4, "Lessons Should be Learner-Centered," supplies the readers with activities that help students learn important content. Different approaches are described to overcome intimidating daily routine in classrooms that do not put the learner into the center of teaching and learning activities. When teachers center their curriculum on their learners' experiences and interests, they build students' self-esteem and expand the potential of English language learners in a natural way. [-2-]

Chapter 5 is entitled "Lessons Should Have Meaning and Purpose for Learners Now," and consequently pleads for natural learning situations in which people learn those things that are meaningful to them. Learners attend to whatever helps them solve their own problems. It is the learners who decide what to learn, contrary to what happens in traditional classes where teachers make the decisions and the selections. The examples direct our attention to future-oriented curricula and to organizational plans for thematic inquiry, such as "The Wonderfilled Way of Learning" (p. 138). Different learning activities, a wide range of subjects and topics, and a lot of examples of teaching with meaning and purpose emphasize the importance of pair work and group work where students are allowed and even asked to make choices and to set their own purposes.

"Learning Takes Place in Social Interaction" (chapter 6) develops the history of language classrooms and social interaction, referring to authorities and well-known quotations. The descriptions of activities that promote social interaction are of particular interest: pen pal letters, long-distance book exchanges, cross-age tutoring, literature studies, and cooperative learning hint at activities where the value of social interaction cannot be denied. "These classes buzz with a kind of controlled noise. Students constantly talk with their classmates and with their teacher using the language or the languages they possess. They learn as they engage in social interaction" (p. 174).

In the seventh chapter, "Lessons Should Include All Four Modes," the authors deal specifically with the development of different language skills and of oral and written proficiency. It really is important that students have opportunities to read and write from the beginning as they learn a new language in order to reach academic competence as well as communicative competence.

The next two chapters, "Lessons Should Support Students' First Languages and Cultures," argue that students acquire concepts most readily in their first language and then understand them in their second language. In other words, what we learn in one language is transferred into the new language. These sections of the book plead for providing bilingual support by showing respect for diverse cultures and by helping students take pride in themselves and realize their potential. Effective bilingual programs do offer students a number of cognitive and affective advantages. But not all bilingual programs are equally beneficial. That is why the Freemans supply the reader with a sensible discussion of the continuing debate over bilingual education in academic circles and develop models of bilingual education concentrating on features of effective programs for English language learners. Teachers should offer a chance for all students to achieve academically and to become contributing members of our complex, multilingual, multicultural society. [-3-]

Chapter 10, "Faith in the Learner Expands Student Potential," draws conclusions for practical classroom work and for developing appropriate evaluation instruments: "Standardized tests of all kinds tell educators what students cannot do but give very little indication of what they can do" (pp. 250-251). The curriculum should be organized around big questions and language should be taught through content. The importance of the faith in the learner principle for teaching all students, especially English language learners, cannot be over-estimated.

All the principles are put into practice in a brief epilogue that shows how students come to see themselves for what they are--creative and competent, ready for citizenship in a multicultural world. Literature references, professional references, and an index (proper names and subjects arranged in alphabetical order) round out the book.

Summary and Evaluation

The major features of the book include a readable discussion of orientations to language teaching and a description of traditional methods. The authors deliberately summarize common beliefs and repeat known facts in order to promote fluency and a sound command of the wide resources of the second or foreign language. Especially helpful are rich classroom scenarios taken from real classrooms, charts, checklists, and lesson ideas for teachers to use in planning and evaluation. It should be possible to develop the classroom environment and the curriculum for and with the students, to meet their needs and engage them in learning about what interests them, as well as to cover essentials from the curriculum guidelines. Learners should engage in meaningful pursuits, in fewer different tasks, but larger and more satisfying projects. Teachers should provide scaffolding for learning in many ways. Assessment is based primarily upon what the students are doing from day to day in their target language. Comprehensive portfolio assessment will include data not only on the products of the learners' efforts, but on the learning processes as well, along with progress in meeting agreed-upon goals and predetermined criteria.

The Freemans have succeeded in collecting classroom examples (50 percent new material in comparison with the original edition), most of which contribute arguments for needed changes. Useful bibliographical recommendations and background reading are provided, not only for readers who are as yet unfamiliar with whole language education, but also for those who are well acquainted with it. On the whole, the book affords a vivid insight into research recently done in the United States on the subject. [-4-]

The strengths of the Freemans' work are manifold. In describing phenomena of thematic teaching in ESL/EFL classrooms it presents the immense complexities of teaching and learning processes. The Freemans make us aware of multiple consciousness, innumerable social roles and responsibilities, and attitudes as well as stereotyped projections. Let us hope that their well-informed comments, their well-balanced statements, and their fully convincing arguments will help teachers to "leave the beaten track" and to teach skills while their students are engaged in real-life tasks. This book performs a service for the student and the university teacher, as well as for a larger public looking for information and evaluation judgments. The whole language philosophy can be applied to create educational reform at the school system level, but this process definitely requires a sustained, long-term effort by all parties involved.

Dieter Kranz
Muenster University, Germany

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