Friederike Klippel

Friederike Klippel worked as a teacher of English in Germany before continuing her studies at Victoria University in Wellington/ New Zealand. She then completed her PhD and her postdoc degree at Dortmund University. Since 1994 she has held the Chair of English Language Education (ELT/TESOL) at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich. In 2008 she received an Honorary Doctorate.

She has published numerous books, edited volumes and articles on a wide range of aspects concerning English language teaching, among others Englischmethodik (1987), Keep Talking (1984; 27th printing 2011), Englischlernen im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert (1994), Englisch in der Grundschule (2000), Englischdidaktik (2007, with S. Doff), Schulsprachenpolitik und fremdsprachliche Unterrichtspraxis (2013, with E. Kolb and F. Sharp); she was editor of the journal Englisch (up to 2006), the online journal ForumSprache from 2008 to 2012 and remains editor of the monograph series Muenchener Arbeiten zur Fremdsprachenforschung MAFF (28 volumes from 2000 to 2013).

So far she has supervised 22 completed PhDs, two post-doc qualifications (Habilitation); twelve current doctoral students. Her research areas include language teaching methodology, the history of language teaching,classroom research, intercultural education, teacher education and professional development, and materials development. She has been a board member and vice chair of the German Association of Foreign Language Research (DGFF) for many years and acted as a reviewer and consultant in academic and political spheres. | March Interviewer: Isabela Villas Boas

1)      Thank you for accepting our invitation! We would like to start by asking you to briefly explain what led you to become an educator.

That’s not so easy to say. When I was still at school I earned a little pocket money by tutoring younger students in all kinds of subjects, and, I guess, my interest in teaching grew from that experience, so I went to university to become a teacher of English, History and Art. When I was a school teacher in the early 1970s I really liked teaching and was quite keen to try out new methods and materials. I was struck by the fact that some things worked brilliantly and others fell flat so I thought it would be really interesting to look into these questions more thoroughly. This I did by doing a MA degree at Victoria University in Wellington (New Zealand) in 1974/75 and by starting on my PhD research as soon as I was back in Germany.

2)      One of your first publications is the renowned book Keep Talking. The 1984 book contains a rich collection of communication activities for all levels. What inspired you to write this well-acclaimed book, used all around the world?

Well, in fact, “Keep Talking” was my fourth book. But since the ones before were in German, nobody outside Germany took any notice. “Keep Talking” was an offshoot of my PhD thesis on the use of games in language teaching. Having looked at games for language learning from historical, anthropological, psychological and empirical perspectives in my thesis I felt the need to explore them in a more practical way. I was teaching at a university by then and I tried out dozens of games in various different formats with my students and with younger students at school, observing and analyzing which qualities each activity has for language learning and practice as well as for further pedagogical aims like team-building, problem-solving or training thinking skills. Looking at what was available then in terms of useful books for teachers, I felt that a new way of presenting suggestions for teaching was required. Above all, the presentation should be clear and comprehensive so that teachers would know immediately if a game or an activity suited their class, their language goals or their time frame. That’s why I devised the particular format of describing each activity, a format which was quickly taken on board by lots of other resource book authors. I also wanted to provide worksheets which were allowed to be photocopied, so that preparation would be easy for those teachers who did not want to spend a lot of time designing their own materials or who felt unable to do so. But my main goal was to present a wide range of prototypical activities which could easily be adapted to local contexts, to particular topics and various levels of language proficiency.

3)      Your book was published in the dawn of the communicative era, at a time when there was still a great focus on accuracy rather than fluency, and the teaching of grammatical forms rather than functions. How do you think your book and others with a similar focus have contributed to a paradigm shift in English-language teaching?

As a scholar who has done a lot of historical research in the area of language learning and teaching, I am aware of the fact that the goal of fluency was by no means an invention of the 1970s. There is a lot more variety in terms of goals, methods and materials in the long history of language teaching than most people today can imagine. Of course, theoretical publications as well as materials (and their authors) play a certain role in fostering particular innovations, but whether new ideas are embraced in a big way and are sustained for some time does depend on a number of factors. It would lead too far to outline them here. The transition to a communicative approach coincided with a growth spurt for modern linguistics, with new developments in transnational communication and technologies, with the onset of globalization and widespread travel – all of which may have contributed to a change in goals, methods and practice. A few books may have supported this general trend; I very much doubt that they caused a paradigm shift in the true sense of the word.

4)      You are a well-established researcher and materials developer, holding a prominent position in your university. Has the fact that you are a non-native English teacher ever been a barrier in your career?

The answer is: No. Most of my colleagues working in language teacher education and research at universities or language teaching schools here in Germany are non-native speakers. The vast majority of my students at Munich University, whom I am educating as future teachers of English in German state schools, are non-native speakers with German as their L1.

5)      When I was researching your work on Google, I came across the Munich English Teachers’ Association (MELTA) members’ profiles . One aspect that caught my attention was that, in their profiles, native teachers make it a point to state that they are native speakers of British English, American English, Australian English, etc. Could you comment on the status of native teachers versus non-native ones in Germany and how you see this as a teacher educator?

Language teachers at German state schools usually are non-native speakers who trained in Germany; the majority of language teachers at private language schools, in big corporations, in adult education institutions and in university language centres are native speakers of the language they are teaching. Therefore the spheres of these two groups do not intersect much. The reason why school teachers are very rarely native speakers lies in the fact that teachers in Germany have to teach at least two subjects, which means that they have to be very good speakers of German in order to teach the second subject.

We teacher educators are well aware that in order to be a good language teacher one needs a range of skills and qualities. Of course, a very high degree of language competence in the language to be taught is essential. This is the area where native speakers obviously score highest. The second set of qualities includes teaching skills, knowledge of language structure and classroom management; here both native and non-native speaker teachers can be excellent. Thirdly language teachers should know the first language(s) of their learners in order to understand learning difficulties, interference errors and positive transfer. Finally, good language teachers need to know from their own experience what it means to learn another language, so they can provide good scaffolding and appropriate encouragement. The last two qualities are those which some native speaker teachers struggle with. The best teachers are those who remain learners themselves, always willing to improve their pedagogical content knowledge, their language and their classroom skills.

6)      In 1990 you wrote the article From Nursery Rhymes to TV Documentaries (Klippel, 1990) in which you illustrate how basic information on the everyday life of young people in the target cultures should be emphasized in the EFL classroom. In your article, you place special emphasis on British and American cultures as the target cultures and underscore the need to increase awareness of different cultures as a means for students to understand their own culture better. Since then, scholarship on English as a Lingua Franca (EFL) and English as an International Language (EIL) has expanded and the question “whose culture?” permeates all discussions on teaching language and culture. If you were to write the same article today, would its focus be different? If so, how? If not, why not?

That’s quite a tough question. Of course, I am aware of the discussions regarding ELF and EIL. And I also know that in some countries suitable cultural content for ELT is seen in global content rather than that connected to one of the English-language speaking cultures. Finally there is the argument that we should be fostering transcultural aspects rather than intercultural ones. So, in contrast to general opinion in the 1980s we take a different stance today on what are possible target cultures and cultural topics for ELT. And there is another point which has become more prominent in recent years, i.e. that we take regional conditions and goals for language learning into account. We no longer believe in methodological or syllabus solutions for language teaching which are the same for everywhere and everyone.

So, just for these regional reasons, I feel, that for ELT in Germany there is still a case to be made for retaining some focus on the European English-speaking countries as well as on those parts of American culture which are part of young people’s lives these days, for motivational reasons. But I do believe that international issues and instances of ELF-usage and ELF-contexts should also be included, since intercultural sensitivity and awareness can be fostered in interactions with non-native speakers as well. As a further argument for keeping some English-speaking countries as target cultures in ELT I would like to point out that teachers’ experiences in those countries can be a valuable asset for teaching. Learners hear about intercultural encounters first hand and not just through the textbook. A number of my students chose to study English at university because a teacher inspired them and gave them a love for the language, English-speaking cultures and literature.

7)      Your article English Language Teacher Education (Klippel, 2012) discusses the competences that should be developed in teacher education programs. You argue that knowledge of English-teaching methodology, i.e., the ability to create appropriate and effective language learning situations, is only implicitly present in the documents analyzed and that this might be due to the secondary role attributed to elaborate planning in communicative language teaching nowadays. Do you think this lack of emphasis on methodology might contribute to the native speaker fallacy, in that at the end of the day what matters most is knowledge of the language, an advantage for native speakers, and not so much deep knowledge about English-teaching methodology? (Please see the June, 2009 interview with my colleague Davi Reis for an example of how more qualified non-native teachers are rejected and less qualified native ones are preferred).

As I said before, the situation in Germany is different, because non-native speaker teachers are the norm, at least as far as the school system is concerned. From my point of view the lack of emphasis on methodology is caused by other factors. The first one lies in the fact that ELT at German schools has been dominated by the textbook for at least five years. Since the textbook seemingly provides teachers with enough tasks and activities and a great number of teaching ideas in the teacher’s manual accompanying the textbook, there does not seem to be a need for many teachers to break away from this cozy state of affairs and try out something different. The second reason is connected to the curriculum of teacher education at universities, where linguistics and literature are given far more weight than English Language Education and Applied Linguistics. A third reason, at least in my view, can be seen in the fact that once a teacher has achieved a tenured position and has become competent in a number of topics and classroom activities, the need to question one’s teaching methods, the desire to reflect on daily routines and acquire new ideas wanes. So, the number of those teachers who would like to continue growing in experience and knowledge and who are keen to develop professionally constitutes only a fraction of those in active service. Consequently, an overwhelming interest in ELT methodology, both in pre-service and in-service training, is not a given.

8)      In the article, you mention a study with European teachers of English that concluded that most chose the profession due to their interest in the English language and the English-speaking world (Özkul, 2011, as cited in Klippel, ibid). You then state that “motivation to study English springing from a more instrumental perspective, i.e., to learn and to teach it as a lingua franca, might give us very different teachers of English” (op. cit., pg. 8). In what way might these teachers be different? Do you see this as positive or negative?

If your overriding goal is to teach for intelligibility in ELF contexts, then obviously correctness in grammar, choice of lexis and pronunciation as well as adherence to a native-speaker standard will be far less important. This will make English language classes more attractive for those for whom the use of English as a means to an end is paramount. ELF teachers will spend less time on corrective feedback and extensive practice, e.g. in pronunciation, the use of tenses or the understanding of idiomatic speech; they will not have to worry about cultural norms in the UK and the US, but rather foster a more general cultural sensitivity. Non-native speaker teachers themselves may feel happier that their own accents and small language deficiencies are no longer stigmatised. It should be noted, though, that assessment in ELT becomes a lot more complicated when native speaker standards no longer act as guidelines for tests and corrections. Where should one draw the line between accepting an utterance as barely intelligible and marking it as wrong? And could those lines be drawn consistently by different teachers?

However, teachers who do not feel a close bond to one variety of English and those English-speaking countries may also be less inspiring, less keen on finding and keeping up contacts in English-speaking countries and taking a strong interest in these cultures by visiting them, reading, watching TV and thus establishing an affective and personal bridge. When teachers model their own language on an accepted standard and continue to improve their English, they provide a good example for those learners who would not be content just to be intelligible in interactions, but who would like to become fluent and near-native speakers. Trying to blend in linguistically and culturally, being driven by this kind of integrative motivation may be pedagogically more powerful than stopping short at what works for ELF. In particular those learners who will need English within academia or the higher management levels of the business world would profit a lot from being challenged beyond intelligibility by teachers keen on using English as flexibly and correctly as possible.

I would like to end with the observation that the proponents of ELF themselves, even those who are not native speakers of English, do not use non-native varieties in publishing or speaking about ELF. They adhere to native speaker standards like everyone else in Applied Linguistics. Isn’t it a bit strange then that they propose others should be happy with less?

9)      You also underscore Ziegler’s (2011, as cited in Klippel, ibid) identification of areas that are still seen as problematic in language teacher education by European experts, one of them being the professional and language identity of language teachers. How can a greater focus on identify help prospective teachers in general and non-native ones, in particular?

Teachers, who feel they are respected professionals in their field, may develop a strong professional identity, which can be underscored by their meeting certain (national or international) standards in qualifications, competences and professional development on the job. Becoming an English language teacher should involve a course of study at a higher education institution leading to MA level. There should be a provision of programmes for future language teachers to spend time abroad, ample opportunities for in-service training in language, literature, culture, language pedagogy or classroom management, adequate pay for teachers and strong professional associations (like IATEFL or TESOL). If even more non-native speaker teachers were to leave a mark on ELT either by writing blogs, books or articles for journals, by providing guidance for student teachers, by getting involved in professional associations in their countries and elsewhere, then these may act as models who young English language teachers may want to emulate. Your series of interviews is a great step in that direction.


Klippel, F. (1984). Keep Talking. Communicative fluency activities for language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Klippel, F. (1990). “From Nursery Rhymes to TV Documentaries – Approaches to the Teaching of ‘Landeskunde’ at Elementary and Intermediate Level”, in: Language Learning Journal, 1.Jg. 1990, 58-62.

Klippel, F. (2012). “English Language Teacher Education”, in: Anglistik. International Journal of English Studies, Vol. 23, No 1, 2012, 153-163.

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About isabelavb

I'm a teacher, teacher developer and Academic Superintendent at Casa Thomas Jefferson, Brasilia, Brazil. I am engaged in lifelong learning and am eager to interact with other like-minded professionals around the world. I'm particularly interested in second language writing, methodology, assessment, NNEST issues, and 21st Century learning and leadership.

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