“Before becoming a teacher OF teachers, how much did you find yourself grappling with jargon specific to the discipline when teaching your students? … I guess my main issue is that I have an internal conflict with theory and jargon … and when I find it difficult to apply a concept in a concrete manner, it tends not to stick with me very well.”
In response, I paraphrased this extract from the introduction to An A-Z of ELT:
Training and development involves not just the acquisition of new skills and techniques but also a specialized language to talk about them and to make sense of how other professionals talk about them. Specialized language – called jargon by outsiders, but terminology by those who use it – is the discourse of any particular group of professionals. It facilitates communication within the group, and it identifies individuals as belonging to the group. Professional training and development, therefore, means becoming a member of a discourse community, and becoming comfortable with its language (p. vi).
Becoming a member of a social or professional group, then, means learning to ‘talk the talk’. Inevitably, as seen through the lens of an outsider, this ‘new language’ can at first seem obscure, even perverse. In an illuminating study of the development of professional discourse, Heather Murray (1998, p. 3) comments that “it is a common phenomenon on English teacher training courses that trainees regularly complain about the EFL jargon used by trainers at the beginning of the course, but rarely do so at the end”. The initial resistance not only gives way to acceptance, but the jargon becomes part of the trainee’s active vocabulary. Jargon becomes terminology.
Murray tracked this transition on a pre-service course over a seven-month period. In describing classroom events, initially the trainees would use non-specialist wordings, such as a foreigner or mistakes in the verbs. By the end of the course, however, they were substituting these for more specialist terms such as non-native speaker and poor control of tense.
Murray makes the important point that the use of the terminology may constitute the first step towards an understanding of the concepts that these terms encode: “Not only is the acquisition of professional discourse a sign of concept development, but seems in fact to drive concept development” (p. 6, emphasis added). That is, you need to be able to talk the talk before you can walk the walk.
This (Vygotskian) notion of speech preceding, and determining, thought is nicely captured in the following extract (that I came across by chance when researching ‘ownership’ for the previous blog post) in which Courtney Cazden (1992, p. 191) quotes from one of her graduate students’ journals:
As I began work on this assignment, I thought of the name of the course [Classroom Discourse] and thought I had to use the word ‘discourse.’ The word felt like an intruder in my mind displacing my word ‘talk.’ I could not organise my thoughts around it. It was like a pebble thrown into a still pond disturbing the smooth water. It makes all the other words in my mind out of sync. When I realised I was using too much time agonising over how to write the paper, I sat down and tried to analyse my problem. I realised that in time I will own the word and feel comfortable using it, but until that time my own words were legitimate. Contrary to some views that exposure to the dominant culture gives one an advantage in learning, in my opinion it is the ownership of words that gives one confidence. I must want the word, enjoy the word and use the word to own it. When a new word becomes synonymous in my head as well as externally, then I can think with it. I laugh now at my discovery but realise that without it, I would still be inhibited about my writing.
This is the processs that, with reference to other, sometimes less benign, contexts, Fairclough (2003) calls ‘inculcation’: “Inculcation is a matter of, in the current jargon, people coming to ‘own’ discourses, to position themselves inside them” (p. 208). And he adds that “people may learn new discourses and use them for certain purposes while at the same time self-consciously keeping a distance from them” (ibid.). This seems to me to be where my student is at, at the moment.
In an attempt to facilitate this process of inculcation, last summer on a methodology course that I was teaching, I gave each of the 15 trainee teachers a card with a key word on it, such as authentic, communicative, performance, fluency, inductive, etc. Their task was to individually research their word, paying particular attention to its specialist meanings, and, at strategic moments on the course, I would call on the ‘owner’ of one of the words to briefly gloss it. In so doing, they became the ‘expert’ with regard to that particular concept. This seemed to work well, and I plan to repeat the procedure next time round, but with the additional instruction that they should be prepared to compare and contrast the non-specialist and specialist meanings of their selected word. (This also raises the question as to how the same activity could be engineered during the online version of the course).
In short, what I’m arguing is that teacher development and professionalization is the process whereby jargon becomes terminology. But is there a danger that the terminology functions to exclude, as much as to include? Do teachers and academics really speak the same language?
Cazden, C. 1992. Whole Language Plus: Essays on literacy in the United States & New Zealand. New York: Teachers College Press.
Fairclough, N. 2003. Analysing Discourse: Textual analysis for social research. London: Routledge.
Murray, H. 1998. The developement of professional discourse and language awareness in EFL teacher training. IATEFL TT SIG Newsletter, Issue 21, pp. 3-7.
Illustrations from Kucera, E. 1947. Método Kucera Inglés: Curso elemental. Barcelona: Enrique Kucera.