Eltabber of the month: Annette Stemmerich

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your ELT professional life?

Probably having to move from general ELT to ESP and then to EAP. It meant spending a lot of time understanding the needs in each particular form of ELT, reading literature, developing new material and familiarizing myself with the needs of different kinds of students. In addition to that, accepting the fact that as a non-native speaker I will always have to deal with the odd student/employer who thinks that I am only second best.

What drew you to EAP?

I did an MA in ELT and Applied Linguistics at King’s College, London, and there had to learn academic writing in English myself. This experience made me realize that there is a lot more to mastering academic language in a foreign language than studying the language. The process of writing, for examples, is very complex and I find the challenge of teaching it interesting and challenging.

You’ve been a long-standing member of Eltabb. Do you have a favourite moment or speaker?

My favourite speaker is probably Scott Thornbury. I think, I have not heard any other speaker as often as him, and he is, of course, very entertaining and at the same time knows about all the latest trends in ELT. So, there is always something interesting in what he presents, even for someone who has been in ELT as long as I have.

I know you are interested in ELF research. How do you think it is influencing what is happening in the classroom?

Well, I that’s a difficult one. I can only really speak for myself as it often seems to me that this is an area that is not taken very seriously at universities in general. The one thing I’ve noticed is that there is more leniency to certain types of errors. And in pronunciation, it seems to me that approximations to certain sounds have become more accepted. Students also seem to change their perception of pronunciation and do not necessarily aim for a native speaker accent but for intelligibility.

Many teachers think that traditional language testing does not really take ELF research into account. Do you see this changing at all, and if so, how?

I would say that there have been a few changes in the speaking part of exams. Intelligibility in pronunciation does play an important role today and accent is not seen as negative as long as it does not impact intelligibility. However, the native speaker still appears as a point of reference in other categories, and the use of idiomatic language is also still a feature of high proficiency. As to written language, most exams still rely on Standard versions of English and communicative competence is not a separate category in many exams, unless one considers task fulfilment as a form of communicative competence.

Do you think there ever could be a course book to teach ELF?

If we consider ELF to be emerging language, this course book would probably have to focus more on communication strategies than on language items. This will probably happen firstly in areas where ELF is considered most important such as in business. Textbooks in an academia context in Germany are rare and I do not think a text book for this will ever be created as the market is simply too small. The most likely scenario is in my opinion that elements of ELF such as accommodation in pronunciation, communication strategies and NNS (non-native speaker) accents in listening exercises and NNS dialogues will find their way into ELT books. A research paper I read recently suggested that some of these features seem to appear in general ELT books in Italy.

What sparked your interest in the English language or teaching so much? Did you always intend to work at a university?

When I was a teenager, I started listening to the British Forces Broadcasting Service in the area where I grew up. I fell in love with a DJ, Alan Banks, and we listened to his late night show “night flight” for years. After a while, I also started to listen to other programs and then fell in love with the English language. My brother took me to Northern Ireland when I was 16 and after that short two-week stay my English teacher suggested I took English as Leistungskurs. I did have a great teacher who had learned English in Egypt and knew Josef Beuys. I guess all of that together motivated me to want to speak the language really well and made me realize how important good language teaching is.

As to working at university, I had no real plan when I started teaching at the end of my first MA and by chance ended up teaching German at a British University. I guess I saw the advantages of this and then applied for a university job when I was back in Germany. After a short period of time in my first job teaching English (ca.6 years), I decided I liked it, and stayed. So, I sort of fell into it and stayed for want of a better alternative.

What changes do you think there are going to be in international higher education in the next five years?

This is a tough one. I do hope that internationalisation at universities will translate into more open and more diverse teaching, testing and learning. For me internationalisation means an international staff and student body; it does not necessarily mean that the language of instruction is English. Which leads us to the next question.

English as a means of instruction (EMI): good or bad?

I do not believe in EMI at undergraduate level. Students are at university to study a subject. I strongly believe that studying at a highly abstract level is best done in one’s first language as language plays a very important role in learning/understanding and is an important part of our identity. This will also give all students a fair chance of succeeding in their chosen subject irrespective of their proficiency in a foreign language that they have not chosen themselves. At postgraduate level the language of instruction should depend on the mix of students in a class and the need to read in English or to publish in English.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started your career?

I wished I had known what a challenge classroom management can be and had learned more about it. And I wish I had done my MA a little earlier as I did profit a lot from being made aware of research in ELT, which made my job more interesting, gave me more credibility as a teacher, and made me appreciate my job more.

Who would you like to nominate as Eltabber of the month?

Kathy Jähnig is an ideal candidate for Eltabber of the month. She has had a long and varied career in ELT with experience in many different areas of ELT. Kathy sees career changes as challenges, is open to new teaching ideas and keeps up with new developments in ELT at conferences and as a core member of Evan’s wonderful PD group.

Thanks a lot!

Edited by Mandy Welfare