Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

Report on Academic Specialist Visit to Turkey: November 1-25, 1998

By Harold A. Smith, Shenandoah University

About the Specialist

Dr. Harold A. Smith is Professor of English as a Second Language (ESL) and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), and Chair of the Department of TESOL at Shenandoah University, Winchester, Virginia, USA. He has been a teacher and teacher educator for many years in many countries. He is an internationally recognized authority on language program design and evaluation; communicative language teaching, especially using the Focal Skills Approach; and language teacher education.

A native of Louisiana, but raised in Tennessee, Dr. Smith earned degrees from Delta State University (B.M.E. in Music Education), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div. in History and Theology), Arizona State University (M.Ed. in Higher and Adult Education-TESL) and Mississippi State University, (Ed.D. in Higher Educational Leadership). His earlier academic positions have been at a wide variety of institutions in the USA and abroad, including Arizona State University, Mississippi State University, Georgetown University, George Washington University, The American University and Notre Dame College in Japan. He has also taught in elementary, secondary and adult programs in a number of states as well as Panama, Israel, and China. And he established a refugee resettlement agency that served persons from Cambodia (Kampuchia), Laos and Vietnam from 1979-83.


Areas of Specialization

Dr. Smith has published and lectured extensively around the world on various issues related to language program design and evaluation, communicative language teaching, and language teacher education.

Trip Report

Dr. Harold Smith visited Turkey from November 1-25, 1998 to present a series of lectures, observations, seminars and workshops at Cukurova University (Adana) and Bilkent University (Ankara), to teacher educators and students preparing to become English language teachers in Turkish schools and universities.

The purpose of Dr. Smith's visit was to expose Turkish English language teachers and teacher educators to the theory and practice of communicative language teaching, particularly the Focal Skills approach. Focal Skills has been used in several institutions in the United States and other countries to develop functional communicative skills with superior efficiency, from beginning to advanced competency levels. It does so by focusing incrementally and progressively on listening, reading, writing and speaking in activities designed to emphasize comprehensible, and increasingly fluent, communication on content materials rather than discussions or drills of language structure or form.

Conference presentations included a plenary speech ("Communicative language teaching, program design and evaluation") and a workshop ("The Focal Skills approach to teaching foreign or second languages") for combined audiences of about 400, consisting of ELT students and faculty, and public and private school teachers from the area. Other speakers came from Turkey, Jordan and United Kingdom. Several participants wished more such conferences were available. But, many public school teachers lamented problems they had getting professional development time off from their schools.

Most teachers, at all levels observed, followed commercially prepared texts and exercises rather strictly, but students and staff responded enthusiastically to the demonstrations and discussions of communicative language teaching, and especially to Focal Skills approach.

Discussions of possible applications of Focal Skills to primary and secondary education in Turkey occurred during most class discussions and some private discussions with ELT faculty and administrators. Visits were possible to two k-12 schools, one private and one public. Although no formal discussions took place to plan trials of Focal Skills, several faculty and ELT students pointed out potential benefits to Turkish students and schools--such as using more effective communicative methodologies--that Focal Skills offers. Actual implementation will need more thought and discussion.


If measured by quantity and quality of interactions, and by consciousness-raising that occurred for the Turkish educators and for myself, this program was successful. I became more familiar with Turkish educational institutions, students and teachers, and the conditions within which they live and work. They became more familiar with options for communicative language teaching, particularly the Focal Skills approach. They also became aware that USIA staff and American educators are interested in them, professionally and personally.

Several things can be done to build on this foundation. Relatively low-cost options include sponsoring additional English Language Specialist grants, in-country workshops and conferences, working with the ministry of education and public school administrators to facilitate teacher access to professional development opportunities, and providing travel grants for Turkish teachers to attend programs in the region and in the USA. Communication and visits between Turkish and American educators can be encouraged, especially involving primary and secondary school educators.

A start has been made. I hope we will build on it so measurable, permanent benefits will result for Turkish education and Turkish-U.S. relations.


Recommended Links

Shenandoah University TESOL Program

International Center for Focal Skills, Shenandoah University

Washington Area Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (WATESOL)

Smith, Harold. New ways of studying fluency in English. Internet TESL Journal, vol.V, No. 2, February 1999.


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