J is for Jargon

6 11 2011

A student on my MA TESOL course posed the following question last week:

“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?

References:

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.


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39 responses

6 11 2011
Albert Neustadt

The problem is that people think that new jargon means new ideas, whereas much of ELT jargon is simply putting old wine into new bottles.

6 11 2011
Luan

I think there is a difference between being a jargon user and having a rich vocabulary and precise diction. Jargon at its core is elitist, pretentious and dishonest. It is a disease of academia that perpetuates the cliquishness this industry suffers from. And from a stylistic point, I see no reason why the study of language learning should be framed and discussed in terms that make it as dull and opaque as accounting or molecular biology.

A great philosopher once said; anything that can be said can be said clearly. So as language educators aren’t we supposed to be in the business of communication and empowerment, not the antithesis of it?

6 11 2011
Alex

Morning,

For me using terminology is an attempt to gain some precision, accuracy and common understanding in describing, analysing, explaining etc. The use of a precise term is packed with meaning – a whole set of ideas, theories, and perspectives can be contained within the use of a word or expression. It is what enables us to communicate with each other and share some common ground. It is an attempt at clarity. ‘Jargon’ is often the terminology of another community of practice. To be part of a community of practice using the terminology is key. I don’t entirely agree with Albert, it isn’t always old wine in new bottles (although he might well be right sometimes) as that would suggest that everything that can possibly be said and thought has already been done. Maybe old ideas do get a new lick of paint by using a new term, but not always. Jargon isn’t just a disease of academia and I think it is a little unfair to suggest that. Many academics spend a great deal of time attempting to clarify, define and use terms appropriately. It becomes jargon when the meaning becomes more and more nebulous, and terms are put to use for which it was never intended.

Having said all that, what does happen often, in my opinion, is that words become fetishised for example, ‘critical’, ’empowerment’, ‘agency’, ‘transformation’. Almost by dint of being overused we become immune to their meaning, dulling the impact, rendering the meaning banal. Some concepts are incredibly difficult to pin down – such as agency – that their overuse masks the differences in opinions behind what this means. The same with criticality. Words, concepts and ideas go in and out of fashion in ELT, largely but not uniquely I think, because of the parasitical relationship of ELT on concepts and ideas in the humanities and social sciences. Ideas are often borrowed and adapted. Often we hear of ‘paradigm shifts’, taken from Kuhn, and often I am surprised at how little its use bears any relationship to how it was used in the original context.

Using terminology knowingly and in an informed manner (which includes awareness of the impact of using a well-worn word or expression) is an important feature of being a professional community of practice.

6 11 2011
Luan

To me it’s a democratic issue. Why should you have to be part of a small elite community? For backslapping, or sychophantic purposes? Why can’t the best ideas made accesible to all teachers regardless of their seniority or location?

The point is that jargon by definition is not precise nor well understood. It is exclusive and it is the practice of using a lot of words (or long words) to say very little, or something that could be said with shorter, commonly understood words.

6 11 2011
Luan

I don’t mean to be antagonistic Alex. I can see you logic but it really gets my goat this. I’ve met and worked with people who use too much jargon and I find they use it as a substitute to true understanding. I can feel a quote from Cargo Cult Science or Politics and the English Language coming on…

Try and do some teacher training in any school in the developing world and drop phrases like ‘zone of proximal development’ into your session and see how far it gets you. The best way to communicate, especially with people who use English as a second language, is the simple and direct way. Just as it’s not best practice to bamboozle learners with abstract grammatical terminology, nor is it the way to teach to people generally. The meaning of a communication is the response that you get.

I can’t defend jargon – it is an unfair style of communication and an antithesis to education.

6 11 2011
Alex

Hi Luan,
Don’t worry I don’t take these things personally at all and questioning the idea rather than the person is the best way. I, too, appreciate what you say. Although I am based in the UK, in a ‘good’ university, many of my students either on site or distance work in contexts much less favourable to theoretical abstraction. Part of the process of the teacher education I am involved in is very much helping teachers to understand their contexts better and also for me to appreciate better the circumstances and constraints in which they work. Much of what we do at Nottingham is to help teachers articulate their concerns and to provide a context for them (and us) to explore the pedagogical, theoretical and practical options available to them.
Much of the programme is spent exploring concepts and their applications in various contexts.

We try to achieve clarity as well as a critical understanding and because many theories and ideas are complex and have a history this entails a great deal of thought and, alas, words!

Over complicating issues, or jargonising is very unhelpful but, then again, so is oversimplifying difficult ideas – a simplistic explanation and understanding might just lead to inappropriate application.

I agree that one should be as clear, precise and jargon free as possible. Over complicating, or embellishing ideas with pretentious obscure rhetoric is very unappealing and unhelpful.

6 11 2011
David Venezia

Language learners are many times not only becoming parts of a new discourse community, but they are transforming their communicative repertoire on a more basic, and often more uncomfortable level, than teachers learning some new terminology. The uncomfortableness felt by any person when their default paradigms (of communication, of understanding) are challenged speaks to a more radical aspect of the educational experience than ‘learning new words and how and when to use them.’

Language teachers in particular need to understand this. Experiencing it at least to some degree seems a very reliable way of approaching an understanding.

6 11 2011
Luan

You seem to conveniently forget that most of the world’s English teachers are non-native speakers / ESL learners themselves. The jargon doesn’t help. Concepts explained clearly and simply, do. That’s why much of the literature on second language acquisition and teaching practice is inaccessible to most teachers.

6 11 2011
Angela B

For me using terminology is an attempt to gain some precision, accuracy and common understanding in describing, analysing, explaining etc….

I would completely agree with Alex’s assessment above. I am embarking on an online e-moderation training course at the moment, and there is new (to me) terminology flying all over the place. I need to be able to access it in order to develop in this field: it’s a professional shorthand, and an understanding of it then helps me to access the ideas of others who are already experts in that area. This isn’t a barrier, it’s just part of my professional development. So getting the terminology right acts as a bridge to further my education, not a barrier.

6 11 2011
Rob

Hello everyone. Thank you, Scott, for another blog entry to get the blood flowing.🙂 I’ve just searched the ELT Dogme discussion forum to find threads on ‘academic discourse’ and ‘jargon’ that reflect views expressed on this blog thus far.

Language can be wielded to subvert and dominate, just as language can uplift and liberate. It’s up to us how to use it, so it should be no surprise that we all, at times, use words as weapon, emollient, and so on. Most language is metaphor, and we will always struggle to get at the ideas and concepts flowing through our minds with our agreed upon meanings for the squiggles and lines your looking at now, along with the sounds we make and gestures we use. So when a new set of semaphores, if you will, is presented, it’s natural to wrinkle our brow, maybe even grow hostile or obstinate, especially depending on our relationship to the one ‘giving the signals’.

I like terminology, because it’s new language (and I like language), but I don’t like being hot over the head with it or having my nose rubbed in it – who does?

Today’s jargon is often tomorrow’s buzzword, and meanings do change within a living language – although one member of the Dogme forum confessed to learning ‘academic speak’ because it’s fun the way learning a ‘dead’ language like Latin can be fun. Here in the U.S., where a strong anti-intellectual strain runs through the popular culture, academia is often seen as a form of social rigor mortis, and jargon viewed with skepticism. Still, we all use it, and that’s not likely to change.

Does anyone else the the words precede thoughts or concepts are mapped onto words dichotomy is another chicken and egg argument? What’s the academic term for chicken-and-egg argument?🙂

Rob

6 11 2011
Rob

Have I created a new idiom with ‘hot [hit] over the head’? And, sorry about this: Does anyone else the [think] the words…

Shouldn’t type before 8am?
Rob

6 11 2011
Jessica Mackay

Good afternoon from rainy Spain!

Rob uses the term ‘map onto’ in the above comment. This is just one example of new items I had to come to terms with (excuse the pun) when I started doing (and reading about) SLA research. If I’m honest, I still feel uncomfortable with this and other choice nuggets like ‘confounding variable’, ‘control for’ and my personal favourite ‘operationalize’, which my spell checker obstinately refuses to recognise.

However, I’m expected to use this jargon / terminology in writing and presentations now and people seem to follow me when I do, so it is clearly useful in that domain. In my other life as a working teacher, I don’t need or use this type of language, but it doesn’t mean I’m not curious. I liked Scott’s use of the the word ‘problematize’ a couple of posts back and now I seem to be seeing and hearing it everywhere; an example of another SLA construct ‘lexical priming’ perhaps?

I agree with Luan that when this language is used to signal difference or superiority it can be frustrating, but no more so than the sense of exclusion (or wounded ego?) I might feel if a friend, colleague or, dare I say it, conference speaker, introduces a talk with references to poets I’ve never read or classical music I’ve never listened to. At the end of the day, it would be daft of me to miss out on potentially useful content for the want of one or two references.

6 11 2011
Rob

Speaking of jargon, here’s a handy list for the layperson: http://specgram.com/CLXIII.2/05.lsa.spaghetti.html

Rob

7 11 2011
phil

Another brain engaging post Scott.

An old colleague who is pretty famous in his field said that he’s not a fan of jargon and labels as they are too limiting. His argument is that language doesn’t always fit into these nice categories as it is messy, as anyone who’s tried labelling speech acts may have found out. Yet in his many conference talks he does ‘talk the talk’ as he’s expected to as it shows he knows all the essential terms.

This could also link back to Ownership like when a uni professor terms or ‘borrows’ a new term and writes a book on it. He/She then makes all their students use and research it in the hope it will catch on.

One last example was when I sneaked into (don’t tell anyone) class 1 of a linguistics course which just consisted of students being given a list of jargon and being tested on it. Yes, they needed to know them but couldn’t they focus on the ideas and get students to develop their own private labels.If we just use all the current jargon aren’t we in danger of not discovering or missing new things?

7 11 2011
Rob

Phil, your post reminds me of a line from Bob Dylan, who, as we know, ‘assumed ownership’ of a line or two, be it the line of a drawing or from a song: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

Rob

7 11 2011
phil

Hi Rob,

Cheers. Musicians are a good example of jargon limiting creativity I think? The great guitarists like Clapton, Hendrix et al all ‘picked it up’ and were quite creative from the beginning while later on people started learning all these terms for how they played and music in general but when then their brains were so limited by boundaries and categories that writing something new was troublesome. Musicians who defy labels break new ground. There are many EFL bloggers out there doing that now.

If we dissect everything we lose some of the magic but language always fights back like when we have to say “well, it’s sort of…” or “I can’t really explain it”.

My favourite classes have been high level CPE+ ones full of Scandinavians and bilingual students some of who didn’t know what an adjective was. Thus, jargon and linguistic terms went out the window and good riddance.

7 11 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for all your comments.

Rather than reply to each one individually, let me make a general comment: It seems that there is a marked division between those who accept the need for specialist vocabulary (and even welcome it, as in Angela’s case and, perhaps, to a lesser extent, Jessica!) and those for whom it is simply jargon, with all the negative associations that this term has gathered.

Perhaps this is symptomatic of a larger issue, what one writer (Clarke, 1994) called the ‘dysfunctional discourse’ between practitioners and theorists. This is an effect of the fact that “individuals involved in theory building and research very seldom are language teachers themselves” (p. 12), a situation whereby “the voices of teachers are subordinated to the voices of others who are less centrally involved in language teaching”(p. 13).

Resisting the use of ‘jargon’ then, may be one way in which teachers both subvert the dominant discourse, and make a claim for a voice of their own.

On the other hand, to argue for a ban on specialist vocabulary (In the spirit, perhaps, of the ‘plan language movement’, which aims to stamp out officialese) would mean that teachers would need to think twice about using terms like pair work, gapfill, jigsaw reading, dictogloss, pre-teaching, multiple choice etc, terms which to a non-teacher might be considerd ‘jargon’. Clearly this would be daft.

Maybe we need to accept the need for a specialist discourse, but without it becoming so specialised that it further widens the gap between theorists and practitioners.

Ref:
Clarke, N. 1994. The dysfunctions of the theory/practice discourse. TESOL Quarterly, 28/1.

7 11 2011
Anthony Gaughan

Thanks, Scott – been thinking about this issue recently.

I think terms should proceed from, not precede, concepts – this is why I enjoyed reading so many of your books, Scott, as you fairly rigorously work from concept to term. A label only has value insofar as the concept it covers is understood a) by the user and b) by the hearer.

I see little practical use in using technical terminology before the idea which it is supposed to describe has actually been grasped, and I don’t really see much evidence for the argument that people (for example, trainee teachers) acquire conceptual competence through the use of technical terms (which you are perhaps suggesting when you say “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.”).

It seems to me rather the opposite may be true – that pre-occupation with technical terminology can (at worst) impede healthy professional development as it acts as a form of intellectual misdirection.

It can certainly cloud communication (i.e. a trainee uses a technical term, and we talk at cross purposes because we do not share the same understanding of the term, where a less technical conversation would have brought this more easily to light) and it can cloud thinking, as terms, being shorthand, are only thinking aids when the whole conceptual “back-end” is squared away – if not, they simply lull the user into a false sense of security (so perhaps technical terminology could also fall under the rubric “Security Theatre”, along with paper based plans, which I was banging on about recently…).

This is not to say that teachers, even beginning teachers, should eschew technical terms totally, only that they are basically the last thing that we should be worried about when considering professional talk (I thought after all that I should avoid the term discourse but I reckon you know what I mean😉 )

And as an aside, I’ve had conversations with highly experienced and competent teachers where we have realised that we did not in fact have a shared understanding of a concept as “everyday” as pre-teaching – so would it really be that daft to do away with it until we were really singing from the same hymn-sheet?

8 11 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for your (characteristically) well argued comment, Anthony. But I’m not sure that concepts are necessarily acquired in advance of the words we name them by – as logical as that might seem. After all, when we learn vocabulary – any vocabulary – whether in a first or an additional language – we typically only have a very fuzzy idea of what a word means or how to apply it appropriately and with precision. (Children famously go through a period of calling any four-legged animal a ‘dog’ or any colour that is not red blue, and so on). We only discover what words mean by using them, and I think, to a large degree, this is true of terminology. To borrow Widdowson’s term, learning is a process of ‘gradual approximation’ and learning terminology (or converting jargon into terminology) is a case in point.

Not only that, knowing that a term exists, and is being used comfortably by our peers, but not knowing exactly how to apply it ourselves, is surely an incentive to pay it some attention, to try it out for size, to find a need for it. (As Alex well knows) I’m experiencing exactly this process with the term ‘epistemology’ at the moment. I’ve heard it and read it in contexts that, more and more, I’m keen to engage with (i.e. research), but, until recently, I’ve only had a hazy idea of what it meant or how to use it. Finally, I’m daring to use it in a talk next week (but not before checking with Alex first!) because I think it is exactly the right term for what I’m trying to say, and for the audience I’ll be speaking to (i.e researchers). But it wasn’t that I had the concept first and then needed to find the word to express it. No. In the beginning was the word.

8 11 2011
Scott Thornbury

A footnote to the above:

“The relation of thought to word is not a thing but a process, a continual movement back and forth from thought to word and from word to thought. In that process the relation of thought to word undegoes changes which themselves may be regarded as development in the functional sense. Thought is not merely expressed in words; it comes into existence through them…”

Vygotsky, L. 1986. Thought and Language, p. 218.

And later on:

“The relation between thought and word is a living process: thought is born through words. A word devoid of thought is a dead thing, and a thought unembodied in words remains a shadow. The connection between them, however, is not a pre-formed and constant one. It emerges in the course of development, and itself evolves.”

ibid., p. 255

8 11 2011
Anthony Gaughan

Thanks Scott – your reply has its own persuasive logic – that of Orwell’s NewSpeak, whose purpose was to eliminate unwelcome concepts (and therefore the conceiving and consideration of them) through elimination fron the lexicon of words. Orwell makes a strong case too, bu…

I think you are still talking more about language acquisition than concept acquisition. After all, it would be perfectly possible, wouldn’t it, to acquire a clear grasp of epistemology the concept without recourse to the labeling term, wouldn’t it?

The problem only arises when you feel a pressure (call it a motivation, if you prefer) to use a particular form of words for communication – and in your example, the motivating force is at least as much social as it is cognitive, wouldn’t you say? Thus supporting the view that terminology IS in fact a gatekeeper to speech communities whose function (if mot purpose) is to exclude those who don’t “talk the talk”.

Now I agree that children overgeneralise, but consider the risks of a professional doing the same – even you, Scott, have shied away from the potential social/professional embarrassment of overgeneralising <epistemology – and you already have a rock solid reputation in your professional speech community.

Consider now the fledgling teacher, and the risk socially and professionally implicit in the illegitimate use of a professional term. They could fail to secure a job at interview for this: again, a gate keeping function. This, too, perhaps days after completing a training course and only months (or even weeks) since “entering the profession”.

Becoming fluent in the discourse of a speech community is clearly essential but as with children, this takes time – and lots of it. Beginning teachers have lots to learn; I am still uncertain how helpful acquiring terms is in this, or how much of a priority it should be for the gatekeepers of the profession (DoSes and managers -not to mention teacher trainers😉 )

Ps: sorry for banging on a bit – a term I honestly acquired from you, by the way!

8 11 2011
Scott Thornbury

Bang on, Anthony, please do!

I think we’re in basic agreement with your point that “Becoming fluent in the discourse of a speech community is clearly essential but as with children, this takes time – and lots of it.”

And I am aware of the risks of precocious or pretentious use of terminology (perhaps another definition of ‘jargon’?) but I’m also aware that you have to start somewhere, and a certain amount of bravado (aka bluffing) may not be a bad thing.

In her paper on the development of EFL discourse on a pre-service course (cited in my original post) Heather Murray makes this point:

Some trainees… seem to operate with EFL constructs before they begin to use associated professional discourse terms. Others try to use the terms before they appear to have fully acquired the associated concepts. There is nothing wrong with this… However, in a number of cultures we tend to discount bluffers, and using a term before one is completely clear as to what it means is often interpreted as bluffing. As teacher trainers, we should perhaps consider whether it is a sign that a particular trainee is on the way to understanding something new instead” (p.5).

8 11 2011
Anthony Gaughan

Thanks for that most recent Murray quote: that’s the salient point. This process takes time and is inherently complex (in the sense of complexity theory). The Profession needs to be mindful that beginning teachers need to go through a period of unconfident wielding of terms before they can do it with a flourish!

8 11 2011
Rob

Scott, Anthony – an interesting exchange of ideas! I suppose we could say a term like epistemology is a container and it’s meaning the contents of this container. I can carry the empty vessel around for display purposes (ie, look at the ‘big word’ I’m using). There’s a Zen saying about two cans rolling down a hill and the empty one making the most noise although I agree, Scott, that sometimes we need to get our mouths around a term in order to get our heads around it. That’s a very consumerist analogy. It might be appropriate to see concepts as distant objects which sometimes appear closer than they are depending on the conditions in which we find ourselves. This seems in line with Widdowson’s ‘gradual approximation’. With the aid of a magnifying lens (book, conversation, ‘expert’ other, etc.) I can make the distant concept out better than with my own eyes. Only by moving closer, which means I’ll need a means of transportation (education? experience?) and access (gatekeepers’ permission? knowledge of how to use tools like Google scholar?) can I experience the concept more intimately. A term is perhaps like a key, which opens a large fortress of meaning, which I then explore.

Sorry, I’m throwing out analogies and metaphor here rather haphazardly. Hope it makes some sense.

Rob

8 11 2011
Mark Kulek

Very nice post, Scott. This post reminds me of the introduction to the national JALT conference this year http://jalt.org/conference

The story is about a young monk who tends his garden with great care keeping it pristine. Then comes an old monk. I know what your garden needs, he says. The old monk shakes a tree that litters the garden with fallen leaves. Now that’s better says the old monk (in so many words).

Like the young monk’s garden, as teachers, we need to learn the discourse of our profession so that we can then proceed to shake the tree.

Mark in Gifu

8 11 2011
Lorna

Hi Scott,

Interesting stuff as always! Just a thought, though; why didn’t you write about ‘T is for Terminology’? The word ‘jargon’ is almost always used as a pejorative term.

8 11 2011
Scott Thornbury

Good question. Two reasons: 1. that’s the term that my student used when he addressed the question to me (and he used it several times in the course of a longer correspondance than the one I have printed here), and 2. until now, I have had an entry for every letter of the alphabet except J, U and Y! Now there’s only U and Y to do.

9 11 2011
Cristina Ciuleanu

Hi,
I have just discovered your blog and I am happy to find so many interesting topics, so many posts new teachers can learn from.
I was reading the last comment and I was just wondering: Why don’t you have an entry like U for Unicity (in terms of teaching style, approach, “feeling” for ways and means of teaching). I was searching the dictionary and it got me thinking on how to explain the difference between Unity and Unicity related to methodology, on how much should we be part of a “teaching stream” and where should we draw the line of our own teaching-print?

10 11 2011
Rob

Hi Cristina, as another -icity would have it (synchronicity, in this case), only moments ago, Chuck Sandy posted something directly pertinent to your query:

“My teacher, the poet Cid Corman, once told me that great teachers and true artists don’t honor lines created to keep order or others in their place or create lines that others are not permitted to cross. Instead, great teachers and true artists honestly and sincerely live the line and constantly work to move it forward or in whatever direction works best while making sure that others are permitted and even encouraged to come along, too. He said, concisely ‘don’t draw a line, be the line’ and to this he added ‘a great teacher is not one person in the classroom and a different person outside the classroom’ and ‘true artists like great teachers are not in it for money or fame. It’s not some job they do. They are who they are all the time. There are no boundaries for them’ and then he repeated it: ‘No, don’t draw a line. Be the line’ and this has always stuck with me and is how, honestly, I try to be.”

That sounds line a “teaching stream” to me – like unicity.

Rob

11 11 2011
Cristina Ciuleanu

Yes, it is a wonderful answer to my question.
Thanks a lot Rob!

11 11 2011
Alastair Douglas

A very interesting posting which touches on a lot of issues that have been concerning me recently as teacher trainer. I have been worried that excessive use of jargon/terminology might be standing in the way of trainees grasping the underlying concepts.

I conducted some research on CELTA trainees at the end of their courses to gauge their views on the use of jargon. Interestingly, most saw the value in it as a way of describing ideas and even as a way of helping them grapple with the concepts themselves. All viewed the learning of the terms as a part and parcel of joining the wider ELT community. What was an issue, though, apart from the sheer quantity, was the variation of use of terms, for example progressive vs continuous. This was found to be really unhelpful as often trainees were finding that they thought the terms referred to different concepts. The other issue that was found to be particularly unhelpful was the tendency to use intialisms to describe concepts eg. CCQ, TTT, TBL etc. This is a tendency that many people who have been in the profession for a number of years seem to have. It is almost as if they are saying ‘look at me, I’m so much a part of the ELT world, I don’t even need to use the full words’. For trainee teachers, though, this is yet another added layer they need to get through – understand the concept, learn the term, then remember the intialism.

The result of this research has convinced me that when training, using jargon is fine, but it is best to limit it to the key terms, to make trainees aware of alternatives that are used, and most importantly, to avoid initialisms and acronyms. I would also put out a plea to the wider ELT community – Can we please try to be a little more consistent in our use of jargon; and to authors – Please don’t invent new terms for exisiting ideas!

13 11 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Alistair, for this insightful comment – and your really useful advice. Coincidentally (but nothing is coincidental!) I read the following only yesterday in an article (on the uses of narrative as a learning tool in teacher education):

When narrative functions as verbalization, it becomes a powerful mediational tool that enables teachers to begin to not only name the theoretical constructs they are exposed to in their SLTE [second language teacher education] programs, but, through the activity of narrating, to begin to use those concepts to make sense of their teaching experiences and to regulate both their thinking and teaching practices.

Johnson, K., & Glombek, P. 2011. The transformative power of narrative in second languge teachr education. TESOL Quarterly, 45/3, p. 493.

12 11 2011
Philip Kerr

The following is an extract from a short article called ‘The use of jargon in teacher education’ (ELTJ 59/2 April 2005, pp.151-153):

‘Research by J. Calderhead (1987) indicates that novice teachers typically go through a number of clearly identifiable stages in the process of their training. In the first of these stages, they want to feel that they belong to the community of teachers to which they aspire, and that a significant part of that belonging comes from a growth in confidence in their own use of the language (or jargon) of the dominant discourse community. At the other end of the spectrum, R. Lakoff (1990) observed that, in academia, there is a continuum of usage of academese in the progression from undergraduate status to senior tenured faculty. The use of jargon drops off, she suggests, as students become well-established, and can be dispensed with entirely when they achieve the status of senior academics.’

I’d add that when we rail against the use of jargon (e.g. Luan), it’s not jargon per se that we dislike. We all use it. The back cover of Luan’s book, for example, includes ‘classroom management’, ‘second language acquisition’ and ‘Neuro Linguistic Programming’. We only criticise the jargon that we think is unnecessary to our own particular world. As the article mentioned above concludes, it is clear that there is ‘a communication gap between teachers, and [many of] those who write and speak for them in a professional context’. The most successful methodology writers and lecturers (e.g. you, Scott) manage to bridge that gap by sticking (mostly) to the jargon that teachers feel (1) is already familiar to them, and (2) is relevant to them.

12 11 2011
Luan

I’m fluent in jargon, Philip, but that’s a bit like being fluent in pidgin English. It doesn’t mean I like using it. Engels was a capitalist industrialist but he still fought the system he was a part of.

13 11 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for that comment – and reference, Philip!

(Philip modestly omits the fact that HE wrote that article – which, to my shame, I overlooked in writing my post. Here is the full abstract:

This is a summary of some of the issues raised in a recent on-line discussion within the IATEFL Teacher Trainers and Educators Special Interest Group.

The IATEFL Teacher Trainers and Educators Special Interest Group periodically organizes on-line fielded discussions on pre-determined topics that are chosen and moderated by volunteers. From time to time, however, vigorous discussions develop in a more informal and less planned way, when a topic strikes a chord with members of the list. Few topics have provoked more response from members of the group than the question of the use of jargon in teacher education.

ELT Journal Volume 59/2 April 2005 © Oxford University Press)

18 11 2011
Saeed Mubarak

Hi Scott,
I appreciate your post .However for us teachers of English as a foreign language.We are challenegd by using the method of simplicity .Because of this,our goal is to simplify rather tahn to complicate the essence of communication is understanding therefore we use simple words for the benefit of our novice student .But when we speak to Academic we use jargons that are appropriate for their level .In Arabic proverb “Speak to the people according to their mentality “.
Thanks
Saeed Mubarak

6 05 2013
Angela María Ramírez S

Using jargon is certainly an issue when we are not familiar with the context and it can be excluding if the person who is at the spot can not understand what is happening there. It would be like talking about algebra to a three year-old boy…but at the same time it is enriching when you are able to communicate with people who are in the same context, the point is to remember who we are referring to and how much we want that person to be involved so there are not feelings of frustration or “isolation”. That is the beauty and richness of language, one never stops learning a language…not even your own!

6 05 2013
Diana Perez Blanco

The use of TERMINOLOGY should not be excluding because it happens within a group of professionals that share or are at least willing to share the same code. However, the breach between academics (those who analyze and formulate theories on ELT) and teachers (those who put in practice what academics propose) grows day after day. Hence, terminology becomes jargon. Teachers need to worry about the discourse of their practice just as doctors must manage the specialized terminology of their activity. We must make ELT terminology our own. However, I am worried about the use of specialized terminology in the classroom. Is it advisable to use Terminology in a teacher-student interaction or is it exclusively for a teacher-teacher interaction?

11 05 2013
Guillermo Parra

Language is a non-stop growing process. Language evolves in our conscious mind the same way our body changes. Undoubtedly, we become new language-users as we go deeper into a specific field. However, the use of that terminology tends to be restricted to a specific milieu. That might imply that our discourse should change depending on the context. As an English teacher, it is important to make ELT terminology part of our daily basis, but we should avoid its use as classroom language.

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