This essay will look at several aspects of Marcus Fabius Quintilian’s pedagogy presented in Institutes of Oratory and will compare these methods to those currently considered most effective for teaching K-12 ESOL (English as a Second or Other Language). This discussion aims to determine whether Quintilian, a rhetorician famous for his writings on pedagogy, is correct in claiming “learning does take away something, as the file takes something from rough metal […] but it takes away what is faulty; and that which learning has polished is less only because it is better” (382). This passage reflects the beliefs that perpetuate subtractive bilingualism, a monolingual state when one forsakes a first language to master another. A minority language as one’s primary form of communication is one possible antecedent “something” could refer to; but “something” could also refer to pride or ignorance, which knowledge of another culture could remove. Quintilian’s Institutes of Oratory contains evidence that he believed new knowledge did not have to subtract parts of a person, especially that person’s language. While American educational institutes search for the best means of managing the inflow of immigrant children, Quintilian’s instructions offer an ancient perspective that proves surprisingly relevant for the current dilemma in education, namely how to go about ESOL education.
The Current Controversy
The National Center for Education reported 4.4 million English language learners (ELL) in 2011-12, a rise from the 4.1 million in 2002-3 (“English Language Learners”). This rise was evident in the schools of forty states (“English Language Learners”). While the number of ELLs has increased, training for ELL educators has not matched this increase. A study done by the U.S. Department of Education showed that in 1999-2000, 72.9 percent of middle grade ESL/bilingual education teachers did not have a major or certification for these subject areas (Seastrom et al.). The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) reported in 2008 that less than 13 percent of teachers are trained to teach ELL (“Research-Based Recommendations for Effective ELL Instruction” 6). Schools still offer a limited number of bilingual classes, forcing language learners and unspecialized teachers to co-operate under frustrating circumstances, which can prove impossible for teachers and unhelpful for students (Miller and Endo 786). Researchers are still combating misconceptions regarding teaching English as a Second or Other Language (ESOL). Keith Folse reveals this in his work Vocabulary Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teaching, which shows discrepancies between educational theories and actual case study results. Some of these misconceptions result from the previous idea that complete English immersion is necessary to gain English fluency. Although schools encouraged native English speakers to learn a second language, they frequently discouraged non-native speakers from developing their native languages. Contrary to this previous theory, research now suggests it is both possible and favorable for ESOL classes to support both English proficiency and first language (L1) maintenance. In light of these new findings, the current challenge for educators is to now determine the best methods for teaching ESOL.
Biography of Quintilian and Historical Context of Institutes
Marcus Fabius Quintilian was born in 35 C.E. in Calagurris, Spain but later immigrated to Rome where he first studied and then taught rhetoric. Amidst a shifting government that changed hands four times, Quintilian managed a safe and successful career as a rhetorician. However, as a consequence of his safe teachings, historians now credit Quintilian with few novel additions to the area of rhetoric. Even Quintilian’s famous assertion about a good man speaking well is similar to earlier teachings by Plato, Isocrates, and Cicero. Since Quintilian held high regards for Cicero, it is possible that this earlier rhetorician influenced Quintilian’s ideas. In the end, it is Quintilian’s dedication to pedagogical study that gives him his place among immortalized scholars (Bizzell and Herzberg 360). What makes Quintilian specifically relevant to this discussion are statements by Quintilian suggesting he might have been an advocate for multilingualism, a belief that would have been bold for the time and place he was teaching in.
First century Rome witnessed an educational reform during the Roman Republic reign, which enforced the strict use of Latin. Rome discouraged the use of Greek, Spanish, and other Romance Languages and even rebuked Cicero for using Greek in an address to the senate at Syracuse. In “A Progymnasmata for Our Time: Adapting Classical Exercises to Teach Translingual Style,” Brian Ray writes that Quintilian “had little choice but to embrace the superiority of Latin over other languages” (196). Martin L. Clarke, author of Rhetoric at Rome, also recognizes Latin’s supremacy during Rome’s days of conquest. He writes, “Where Roman arms penetrated, so the language and culture of Rome followed” (143-144). So it seems Quintilian wrote for educational reform under conditions similar to the ones teachers now face with present-day American educational reform. Just as Latin was the dominant language in Rome, English is the dominant language in the United States. Although Quintilian was a Spanish immigrant to Rome and acknowledged the importance of blending with a new culture (Ray 197), he writes what might be implicit support of other languages. Quintilian eases into the discussion of rhetoric by first addressing the meaning of rhetoric. Quintilian explains that the term, originally Greek, has no direct Latin translation because “all Greek words do not obey our will, in attempting to render them from the Greek, as all our words, in like manner, do not obey that of the Greeks, when they try to express something of ours in their own tongue” (384). Here, Quintilian recognizes the limitations of translations, limitations that affect even the term describing his area of study. Rhetorice is itself an example of the deficit that can result when only one language is used to communicate. By acknowledging this deficit, Quintilian implies the validity of languages other than the dominant Latin. Quintilian further expresses his discouragement over Rome’s strict use of Latin when he wrote that Romans are “unreasonable critics of ourselves, and consequently suffer from poverty of language” (qtd. in Ray 198). In this statement, Quintilian could be referring to Rome’s mono-lingual state. If he did in fact consider mono-lingualism a “poverty of language,” it is likely he would have incorporated non-Latin languages in his instruction, and it is possible that hidden in his texts on teaching are methods for American ESOL classes.
Overview and Literature Review of Institutes
Institutes of Oratory, written around 90 C.E., is Quintilian’s only remaining work and consists of twelve books. It provides detailed instructions on the education of young Roman boys, beginning with how to choose a child’s first teacher and ending with the retirement of the student. Quintilian, who had twenty years of teaching experience and was named “The Empire’s greatest professor of rhetoric” (qtd. in Murphy 45), describes in Institutes the Roman education system. However, Quintilian also draws on methods that incorporate other styles of instruction. Institutes, therefore, includes the knowledge of an experienced educator and also descriptions of multiple teaching styles (Murphy 45). Quintilian addresses both scholarly aspects of Roman education and moral obligations that, according to Quintilian, teachers should impress upon students.
Although a few authors have applied Quintilian education to modern education, these studies apply details to the overarching composition education. This essay, however, attempts to take parts of Quintilian education and apply them to the specific field of ESOL education. Donald Stewart, author of “The Legacy of Quintilian,” traces Quintilian’s influence on general composition instruction, one Stewart considers ultimately a hindrance to educational advancement. According to Stewart, Hugh Blair’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belle Lettres promoted Quintilian’s pedagogy, giving Quintilian his influence in the field of rhetoric and, because rhetoric influences composition, influence in education. Stewart does not completely discredit Institutes’ beneficial contributions to education, but does ultimately condemn the ancient teachers because those who have perpetuated these teachings have not embraced the flexibility that was meant to accompany the methods (14). Very little has been published on Quintilian education in relation to ESOL. At most, authors like Ronald Gray, who wrote “Mnemonics in the ESL/EFL Classroom,” mention the scholar’s name simply as a significant contributor to ancient pedagogy, but they go no deeper than this.
Quintilian Education and ESOL Instruction
We will now look at a few of Quintilian’s methods and how they can relate to the contemporary ESOL classroom.
Pull-out Method for ESOL Students
In the first chapter of Institutes, Quintilian expresses his frustration over parents sending Roman boys first to grammarians and then, when the boys were more mature, to rhetoricians. Quintilian writes that it is “eminently ridiculous, [that] a youth seems unfit to be sent to a teacher of declamation until he already knows how to declaim” (365). A similar situation exists for ELLs. Instead of a grammarian, however, students are sent to special ESOL classes to learn the basics of English, and instead of a rhetorician, students are later sent to traditional classes taught in English. In their essay “Learning about Language: Scaffolding in ESL Classroom,” Brian Dare and John Polias teach the need for metalinguistic instruction in ESOL classrooms. Language learners must possess a basic understanding of language, which is only obtained from explicit instruction, before they can think and learn in the English language and participate in mainstream classes (Dare and Polias 104-5). The translation of Quintilian’s writing uses expert in relation to the idea here. According to Nichole Berg, a middle school ESOL teacher, it can take up to ten years for a non-native speaker to become an expert in English. Similar to Quintilian’s criticism, it is impractical for schools to make mastery of English a prerequisite for joining standard classes. Although ESOL classes are needed to give students a linguistic foundation, immersion into traditional classes might benefit ELLs even while they are still moderately proficient. In fact, Quintilian might have been supporting this sort of compromise when he wrote, “the question [of] when a boy ought to be sent to the teacher of rhetoric, is best decided by the answer, when he shall be qualified” (365). So ELLs may be integrated not when they are experts but when they are ready (i.e. possess sufficient linguistic knowledge).
Quintilian taught that “two things are especially to be avoided; one, to attempt what cannot be accomplished; and the other, to divert a pupil from what he does well to something else for which he is less qualified” (378). In addition to early instruction from a rhetorician, Quintilian teaches that students should begin instruction under “an eminent teacher at first, not under an inferior one” (367). In 1998, California passed Proposition 227, which restricted bilingual education (Carter). Laws such as this consider any instruction that incorporates a student’s first language to be inferior, and, by extension, any teacher implementing such methods to be inferior.
If ethnic languages were inferior, then according to Quintilian teaching, all classroom instruction should be exclusively English. As discussed earlier, however, Quintilian did not necessarily hold this view, and case studies now show that loss of a first language might have serious disadvantages for children of immigrant families. In “Loss of Family Languages: Should Educators be Concerned?,” Lily Wong Fillmore describes the overwhelming trials ELLs encounter when forced into sole English use. The most obvious disadvantage is that an all-English environment will exclude many of these students from social interactions, classroom activities, and general knowledge. While students’ English proficiency is limited, they will likely feel so self conscious that they will not reap the full benefits of classroom opportunities, even if they do by some miracle understand the instructions. Gloria Anzaldúa, a revolutionary Chicana writer and rhetorician of the postmodern age, wrote of this binding shame in Borderlands/La Frontera:
So, if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity—I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself. Until I can accept as legitimate Chicano Texas Spanish, Tex-Mex and all the other languages I speak, I cannot accept the legitimacy of myself. Until I am free to write bilingual and to switch codes without having always to translate, while I still have to speak English or Spanish when I would rather speak Spanglish, and as long as I have to accommodate the English speakers rather than having them accommodate me, my tongue will be illegitimate. (1588)
As a Chicana, Anzaldúa wrote as a member of a mixed culture, and she did not feel accepted among full English or full Mexican people. Her writings show the inner turmoil of living between strict cultural lines, turmoil other ELLs cannot express.
An additional problem with English support alone is that first language loss can separate students from family members who still speak their native language. This separation can mean a lack of parental supervision and family support, which in turn can lead to depression or delinquency in students (Fillmore 203-209). The suicide note of an isolated African American teen represents the most extreme result of language rejection: “I do not know Africa anymore and I can’t talk to Black kids. I can’t talk to White kids. I can’t talk to my teachers. They can’t stand me because I have a strong accent and a difficult name. Each time the teacher calls me, my classmates laugh. I am sick and tired. My parents are worst. They do not understand me. I hate the whole thing” (qtd. in Miller and Endo 791).
In contrast to these painful accounts, success stories exist where students advance in their English proficiency through native language support. For example, research shows that vocabulary is learned more quickly when teachers allow L1 translations during initial introduction to new words. A study involving students learning French showed that those given an L1 translation during vocabulary instruction later demonstrated knowledge of 41 percent more new words than those lacking L1 translations (Folse 66-67). Additionally, educators are re-evaluating the common thinking that considers monolingual dictionaries superior over bilingual ones. In reality, there is no evidence that monolingual dictionaries hold any advantage over another style of dictionary (120). Minimal L1 encourages more frequent English exposure, but because maintaining the students’ first language is also crucial to their success, students might benefit from more frequent incorporation of their first languages.
The Power of Peer Influence
Quintilian acknowledges that advanced instruction under a superior teacher might be overly challenging for some students, but he concludes that such a student will be influenced by his peers (who, under a quality teacher’s instruction, will be quality influences), and will still fare better than if placed among less-advanced students. Case studies have shown that the “buddy system” can benefit ESOL students. In this system, a student with low English proficiency is paired with a student with low proficiency in their partner’s first language. Stephen Cary, an English language learner specialist, describes two students, Gustavo and Marty, who demonstrated the advantage of such a relationship. Because the two boys enjoyed each other’s company but could only communicate by expanding their respective language proficiency, Gustavo practiced his English and Marty picked up some Spanish (55-56). While teachers and parents could have forbidden Gustavo from using his first language, it is likely that the friendship formed between him and Marty would have been less beneficial without this equal information exchange.
Encouragement and Correction
While discussing students’ need for encouragement, Quintilian writes, “Let that age be daring, invent much, and delight in what it invents, though it be often not sufficiently severe and correct” (370). In this quotation, Quintilian articulates a belief that is also held by many ESOL teachers today. ESOL teaching guides now dictate that when writing and speaking, students need a little criticism wedged between much encouragement.
As was the case for the students Quintilian wrote about, English learners should be encouraged to take chances. One of the greatest challenges a language teacher will encounter is the barrier of getting students to speak. All speech, even that which is disrupted by errors, should therefore be welcomed with enthusiasm. Cary shares his experience with this dilemma, explaining the limited benefits of what she calls “compliance talk.” This talk is found in the teacher-led discussions that require simple memory recall responses and allow little creativity. Cary laments about such discussions, saying, “Students dutifully comply and fulfill each teacher request to speak, but do so with the fewest words possible, rarely volunteer information or pose questions, and are glassy-eyed and detached much of the time” (58). Cary describes one teacher who persuaded quiet students to speak frequently by introducing unconventional activities such as role-playing. In the observations Cary shares about this class, the teacher is never quoted explicitly correcting the students’ speech errors. This teacher instead encourages the excited chatter and revels in the fact that shy students are producing speech. This ESOL instructor was aware of what Cary calls the “editing crow.” This crow sits on the shoulders of teachers and students and screams at every speech error. Quintilian seemed aware of this crow when he wrote, “the powers of boys sometimes sink under too great severity in correction […] and, what is most prejudicial, while they fear every thing, they cease to attempt any thing” (370). Cary’s warning to ESOL teachers mirrors Quintilian’s almost identically: “kids…who overedit, whose crow shrieks at the drop of a final consonant or a blown phoneme, are so focused on language form, so worried about making errors that they often speak as little as possible” (52-61). Just as Quintilian observed with his Roman students, ESOL students require selective criticism.
In his study of teaching independence, George Kennedy acknowledges an important topic shift that Institutes undergoes. In the first half, Quintilian speaks to parents and teachers about how to educate young boys, but as Quintilian continues, these boys grow into young men and he turns to address the students directly (Kennedy 116). In the first chapter of Book II, Quintilian refers to the students as “pupil,” “youth,” and “boys,” and frequently, whichever term is employed, it serves the pragmatic role of direct object. Even when the young students fill the syntactic subject slot, passive voice renders them inactive in decisions and they only act when allowed by another. The first sentence of Book II in Institutes reads, “It has been a prevalent custom […] for pupils to be sent […]” (Quintilian 364) and in chapter IV Quintilian writes, “Let that age be daring, invent much, and delight in what it invents…” (370). By Book XII, however, Quintilian refers to the student as “orator” and drops him in the active subject position: “The orator […] will think of bringing his labors to an end […]” (425). Although Quintilian continues using the authoritative expression “let him” in these later chapters, the focus switches from the beginning, where it is on the educators, to the end, where it is on the matured students. This change demonstrates the similar switch that should occur in classrooms, where teachers manage students’ education in the beginning, but then assign more responsibility to the students as they become more capable. As Quintilian challenged, “For what object have we in teaching them, but that they may not always require to be taught?” (375). Both boys and men required instruction but not equal support. If a boy was to become a good man who spoke well, he had to eventually take responsibility for his own conduct and culture.
The same principle applies to ESOL teaching. Instruction is only as good as its usefulness outside the classroom. Each lesson should contribute to the ultimate goal of student independence; otherwise learning will cease when students leave school, and applicable knowledge will be minimal. One area where this truth is reflected is in vocabulary learning. Previous theories insisted that lexicon expansion is determined by the type of exercises a student uses. However, language acquisition researcher Razika Sanaoui has found that success depends not on the type of practice a student uses, but on the consistency of the student’s practice outside of class (qtd. in Folse 90-91).
Some Quintilian pedagogy applies to ESOL, but inevitable subtraction of knowledge is not one such teaching. Education in speaking well does not need to subtract any previous linguistic knowledge. Quintilian wrote, “rhetoric would be a very easy and small matter, if it could be included in one short body of rules, but rules must generally be altered to suit the nature of each individual case, the time, the occasion, and necessity itself…” (383). Instead of isolating English as the opponent of all other languages, educators must learn how to support the mastery of any and all language knowledge that a student brings, so that no student will lay waste any tool of persuasion. Bilingualism is an advantage in this “shrinking” world, and mastery of English is obtainable without losing one’s first language, as long as educators adapt classes to support this goal.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. “From Borderlands/La frontera.” The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. 2nd ed. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. 1585-1604. Print.
Bizzell, Patricia, and Bruce Herzberg. “Quintilian.” The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from
Classical Times to the Present. 2nd ed. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. Print.
Carter, Phillip M. “Why This Bilingual Education Ban Should Have Repealed Long Ago.” CNN. 4 March 2014. Web. 26 Sept. 2014.
Cary, Stephen. Working with English Language Learners: Answers to Teachers’ Top Ten Questions. 2nd ed. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2007. Print.
Clarke, Martin L. and D.H. Berry. Rhetoric at Rome: A Historical Survey. London and New York: Routledge, 1996. Print.
Dare, Brian and John Polias. “Learning about Language: Scaffolding in ESL Classrooms.” Scaffolding: Teaching and Learning in Language and Literacy Education. Ed. Jennifer Hammond. Newtown: PETA, 2001. 1-127. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.
“English Language Learners.” Fast Facts. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.
Fillmore, Lily Wong. “Loss of Family Languages: Should Educators be Concerned?” Theory Into Practice 39.4 (Autumn 2000): 203-209. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.
Folse, Keith S. Vocabulary Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teaching. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2004. Print.
Gray, Ronald. “Mnemonics in the ESL/EFL Classroom.” The Language Teacher. Taejon University, 17 April 1997. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.
Kennedy, George A. Classical Rhetoric & its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to
Modern Times. 2nd ed. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1999. Print.
Miller, Paul C. and Hidehiro Endo. “Understanding and Meeting the Needs of ESL Students.” Phi Delta Kappan, June 2004. 786-791. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.
Murphy, James J., ed. A Short History of Writing Instruction: From Ancient Greece to Modern America. 2nd ed. Mahwah: Hermagoras Press, 2001. Print.
Quintilian, Marcus F. “From Institutes of Oratory.” The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. 2nd ed. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. 364-428. Print.
Ray, Brian. “A Progymnasmata for Our Time: Adapting Classical Exercises to Teach Translingual Style.” Rhetoric Review 32.2 (2013): 191-206. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
“Research-Based Recommendations for Effective ELL Instruction.” English Language Learners. Policy Research Brief. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 2008. Web. 9 Nov.
Seastrom, Marilyn McMillen, Kerry J. Gruber, Robin Henke, Daniel J. McGrath, and Benjamin Cohen. “Qualifications of the Public School Teacher Workforce: Prevalence of Out-of-Field Teaching 1987-88 to 1999-2000.” National Center for Education Statistics. U.S. Department of Education, May 2002; Revised August 2004. Web.
Stewart, Donald C. “The Legacy of Quintilian.” English Education. 11.2 (Dec. 1979): 103-117.JSTOR. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.
Berg, Nichole. “Busting ELL Myths.” Teaching Tolerance: A Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. 18 Nov. 2013. Web. 23 Sept. 2014.
Ferris, Dana R. Treatment of Error in Second Language Student Writing. 2nd ed. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2011. Print.
Cheyenne Rose Franklin is currently pursuing her M.A. in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Louisville. She wrote this essay as a senior at the University of North Georgia when her instructor challenged her class to consider Quintilian’s quotation about knowledge filing away part of a person. Having recently completed several courses in TESOL (Teaching English as a Second or Other Language), Cheyenne recalled stories of English language students who feel pressured to forsake their first language. From this interpretation of that single quotation, Cheyenne wondered if Quintilian’s teachings could enter the current discussion on TESOL. To her surprise, no one had attempted this approach, so she set out to fill this vacancy and offer readers a new pedagogical perspective. She is eternally grateful to Dr. Michael Rifenburg for the challenge and to her patient parents who have always supported her academic exploration.