An Interview with John Field

I was lucky enough to catch up with John Field the other week following his plenary talk at the IH Barcelona Conference. He kindly agreed to spare a few minutes to talk about skills development, and listening in particular.

We discussed subskills vs processes, strategies, the CEFR, skills syllabi and the future of listening.

I’ve popped it up on Youtube for ease of access. Time allowing, I may be able to get some follow up on some of the points discussed – in the meantime, feel free to add your own comments or queries here or on the youtube site – I’ll do my best to keep an eye on them.

I hope the sound quality’s alright – the neighbours started turning all the taps on once the filming started. I originally tried to EQ it out, but then I thought life’s too short and just uploaded it!

3 thoughts on “An Interview with John Field

  1. Nice interview, Shaun! There were a few stand-out points of me:

    1. B1+ as a threshold for abandoning strategies (expect what he refers to as life-long “support processes”). I get the idea that strategies are compensatory, but I didn’t think of learners as really dropping them entirely at a certain level because I suppose we still need compensatory strategies in adverse listening conditions (e.g. lots of background noise).
    2. The fact that at CAE there’s “very little focus on the kinds of higher level skills people need to make sense of a well-argued text or a set of different points of view”.
    3. I loved Field’s dig at scripted texts as texts written to trap people… full of distractors. Not what real world listening is about. I do a lot of exam prep and it’s rare to find authentic listening that can provide either the distractors or, for example, the lack of lexical repetition you find in exam tasks.
    Finally, that project in France sounds great — if only it were finished, free and freely available!

    Thanks again Shaun!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Kyle,
    Thanks for stopping by – glad you found it interesting. After saying that I’d keep an eye on comments, I appear to have left this unattended for ages! Sorry!
    In response to your points:
    1. Yes – B1 is an interesting level – didn’t it used to be called ‘threshold’ in an older scheme of classification – was it ALTE? Waystage, threshold, vantage – all that stuff? Anyway, I suspect that the same actual activity could be classed as either a strategy or a process depending on who was doing it and how. For me, the more conscious and more compensatory the activity, the more I would class it as a strategy. Likewise, the more unconscious and automatic, the more it would be a process.
    2. You teach more exams classes than me, I think – do you agree?
    3. Yes, scripted texts are unhelpful on many levels – I get the feeling they’ll be one of those things we look back on and chuckle heartily at – like those odd grammar translation sentences about philosophers pulling lower jaws of hens.
    4. The France project – I followed up on this. It seems cash may have run out – a great shame but let’s keep our ears open and fingers crossed!


    1. Hey Shaun,

      I’ve been rereading Listening in the Language Classroom and since I posted the comment I’ve read his essay on cognitive validity in the Cambridge Studies in Language Testing volume on Examining Listening (35) and Field goes into a lot more detail about exactly what may be wrong with scripted listening. It’s helped me realize too the constraints on testing listening in big international exam settings, and the fact that there are always tradeoffs, and I’m not quite as sure as you that one day we’ll have listening tasks full of the natural hesitation features, repetition, etc. that are in spoken texts. But hopefully we’ll have that chuckle!

      And no worries about the delay!


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