March 12-12, 2004 KATESOL Spring Conference!

November 2003

Achievement Profile: Sandra Savignon

Achievement Profile: Gavin McCardle

Report from TESOL Peace Forum in DC

Inside Report on New York City's ELL Program

/ Index /
/ Letters /
/ Search /

for free!

ESL MiniConference Online!

Achievement Profile: Sandra J. Savignon
Celebrating the Struggles and Joys of Learning Languages

Dr. Sandra Savignon is perhaps best known for her research on issues related to second language acquisition, language testing and communicative language teaching curriculum design. She is a past president of the American Association for Applied Linguistics and currently serves as convenor of the Scientific Commission for Language Teaching Methodology and Teacher Education for the International Association of Applied Linguistics (AILA). She travels widely, consulting and giving seminars on communicative language teaching around the world. Dr. Savignon's books include Communicative Competence: Theory and Classroom Practice, winner of the Modern Language Association of America Mildenberger Medal for an outstanding research publication in the field of second/foreign language teaching. The book is now it its second edition (McGraw Hill 1997). More recently, Yale University Press has published a text she edited, Interpreting Communicative Language Teaching: Contexts and Concerns in Teacher Education, 2002, which looks at CLT and teacher education from an international perspective. The contributors include distinguished researchers from the US, Asia, and Europe. The ESL MiniConference Online is honored to share comments from Dr. Savignon's Achievement Profile interview with our readers this month.

Some Sandra Savignon links:

American Association for Applied Linguistics (
Sandra Savignon's Home Page (
The Pennsylvania State University (
Interpreting Communicative Language Teaching (2002, Yale University Press)
Communicative Language Learning (1987, Theory Into Practice)
A Letter to My Spanish Teacher (1981, Canadian Modern Language Review)
Films for French: A Teacher's Guide (1973)
Teaching for Communicative Competence: A Research Report (1972, Audio-Visual Language Journal)
Other Peoples' Languages: A Game Everyone Can Play (1973, Indiana Foreign Language Teachers' Association)

An ESL MiniConference Online interview
with Sandra J. Savignon:

Sandra Savignon

What is your main ESL activity now? What are your principal projects, and what is on the back burner?

I came to Penn State six years ago to help develop what is now a doctoral program in Linguistics and Applied Language Studies(LALS) in a new department with the same name.. I work with graduate students from many different parts of the world. My current research and writing activities include communicative language teaching practice and problems and norms and varieties for English. Language and gender is a new interest of mine.

How did you start your ESL career? Who influenced your decision? What were some important formative experiences in the early stages of your development?

I began my career as a teacher of French and did research on classroom learning of French as a foreign or second language. Then when I found that many teachers of English were also interested in my work, I broadened my base to include education and English as an international language. From the beginning, my interest has been in teachers who are not necessarily 'native speakers' of the language they teach and who often must struggle along with their students to gain practice in using the language as communication. My own struggles (and immense joy) as I developed my communicative abilities in French beginning at the age of 16 were surely a powerfful motivation in my career decisions.

What are the four or five language/culture backgrounds with which you are most familiar as a teacher? Which ones are you familiar with from the perspective of a language learner yourself? What insights have you gained in how to meet the needs of English learners from these cultures and language backgrounds?

I have worked with English language teachers from many different parts of the world and have found their needs and interests to be not much different from those of teachers of other languages - for example French, Mandarin, Spanish, and Arabic - here in the U.S., those often referred to as 'foreign' language teachers. The world over, it has been a struggle to help learners develop their communicative abilities in their new language, sometimes despite long years of study and rigorous exams. With the current widespread interest in using English, the demand for competent users is great. I like to work with not only teachers but curriculum designers, ministries of education, and textbook developers to help meet this demand. My recent travels have taken me often to Asia, and I will be in Europe again this coming year (France and Russia). In the Americas, I have experience with ELT in Brazil, Costa Rica and Columbia, in particular. I have also worked with teachers from Egypt, Palestine, and Iran.

If you had to give three pieces of advice to a new ESL teacher, what would they be?

Don't expect to be prepared. Allow yourself to make mistakes. You will learn as you teach. In fact, one of the great satisfactions of teaching is that you continue to learn from your students even after many years in the classroom. (Unless of course you begin thinking you know it all and don't care what your students are thinking and feeling!) This is because each generation of students is different. Times change, learners change, and YOU also change. This eagerness to learn is what has kept me in the classroom for over forty years.

What do you see as the most important issue facing the ESL/EFL teaching profession today?

Along with a cadre of well-qualified teachers, ministries of education must provide those teachers with the support and resources they need to teach English as communication. Meeting the need for communicative skills in English, whether in eletronic correpondence, speaking, reading or writing technical manuals, requires cooperative efforts.. Increasingly, I think we will see greater involvement of those most familiar with a particular context, as opposed to outside 'experts'.. Language teaching is not a matter of 'one size fits all'. Programs must be designed to fit the needs of those learners and teachers directly involved.

Interviewed by Robb Scott

2003 ESL MiniConference Online