It all started when my social circle started expanding after becoming a mum, and I started having friends who were not involved in the ELT world. Prior to this, most of the people I socialized with, chatted with on Facebook, met up for drinks with were mostly English language teachers/trainers. Seems kind of sad, but that was my reality. And I’m sure this is a reality many English teachers around the world can relate to.
As a result, I never bothered to really think about what others thought of my profession. The closest I would come to a non-ELT person expressing an opinion about my profession was when I met new trainees on a CELTA course that I was running. And my job was of course to indoctrinate them into the TEFL way.
That is perhaps why I have never needed to think about the opinions of non-TEFL-ers in this way before. And if you take some time to consider the opinions that others have of our industry, you might, like me, start to feel passionate about the importance of informing the people around us about the things we do.
In my previous blogpost, I started to analyse the results of the survey that I had conducted using twelve statements about what we do. I employed a five-point Likert scale to see how much respondents agreed or disagreed with the statements. I also asked the question, “Have you ever taught English to speakers of other languages?” and offered the three options “Yes, in the past”, “Yes, I do it now” and “No” so that I could compare the views of these three groups of respondents.
In this blogpost, I continue to look at the last five of the twelve statements, and the comments that my respondents have left. If you haven’t read my previous blogpost, please read the following disclaimer. And if you have read my previous blogpost, then please skip the next three paragraphs.
As this is not a proper piece of academic research and the questions I chose were mainly to satisfy my own curiosity (and that of my colleagues and my readers), so I must apologise for the lack of academic rigour in my research (both the questionnaire and the analysis).
The questionnaire attracted more than 100 respondents but unfortunately, Survey Monkey only allowed access to the first 100 responses unless I upgraded my plan (which I was not prepared to do for this one survey). So here are the results based on 100 respondents attracted mainly through the use of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
55 respondents are currently involved in ELT (let’s call this Group T) while 14 used to teach English (let’s call this Group U), and 31 are completely not involved in ELT (and Group N). The sample size isn’t quite large enough and their answers might not be representative but the results are interesting nonetheless.
8. TEFL teachers should teach British and/or American colloquialisms, slang, and idioms so that their students can sounds more ‘local’.
While those currently teaching (Group T) were equally spread across the disagree-neutral-agree spectrum (26.8% disagree, 26.8% agree, 29.3% agree), those who used to teach (Group U) tended to agree (44.4%) or strongly agree (11.1%). Similarly, 56% of the non-ELT folk agreed and 8% strongly agreed.
The idea that those learning a language should aim to speak like a ‘native speaker’ is quickly losing popularity as English becomes the language of global communication. Colloquialisms, slangs, and idioms evolve from very specific communities of practice and are often very localised. Therefore, the use of such localised expressions could lead to a breakdown in communication when one is speaking to people from a different speech community or people who speak a different variety of English. The result is what Barbara Seidlhofer (2004) calls ‘unilateral idiomaticity’. Unless the idioms are widely used and thus easily understood, it is probably best not to spend precious classroom time learning what could be archaic or contrived expressions.
For further reading, here is a previous blogpost on this topic.
9. TEFL teachers should teach British and/or American culture alongside the language.
An overwhelming 72% of Group N agreed or strongly agreed with the above statement, followed by 66.7% of Group U who agreed or strongly agreed.
A lesser but still significant 58.5% of Group T agreed or strongly agreed while 34.2% of Group T remained neutral.
Clearly, most people believe that one cannot learn a language without learning about the target culture of the native speakers of that language. This could be due to our experiences of learning modern languages like French at school whilst being exposed to French cuisine, French festivals, and French popular culture. It could be based on the assumption that people learn English to assimilate into an English-speaking culture. But the responses to this survey question is testament to the prevalence of the popular notion that language cannot exist without its culture.
Is the learning of English/American culture necessarily important if one is learning English to communicate with other non-native speakers?
For further reading, here is a previous blogpost on this topic.
10. It’s more important for TEFL teachers to help students be communicatively successful than be grammatically accurate.
Although nearly all the answers ranged from neutral to agree and strongly agree, it was interesting to see that 19.5% of Group T and 11.1% of Group U chose to remain neutral (neither agree nor disagree), while 100% of the non-ELT respondents agreed or disagreed with the statement.
It seems that in the mind of the non-TEFL-er, there was no doubt as to the priority that communicative success should take over grammatical accuracy. But for those involved in English language teaching, especially those currently teaching, there was more hesitance to dismiss the importance of grammatical accuracy.
Perhaps they felt that it was difficult to detach one from the other and the grammatical competence lead to communicative competence.
Or perhaps when one has invested a lot of time on teaching grammar, it is more difficult to then come out and admit that some of that classroom time could have been better spent?
11. Teachers should use as much fun and games as possible to help motivate students to learn.
There was also a lot of agreement to this statement, with 58.5% of Group T, 78% of Group U, and 80% of Group N agreeing or strongly agreeing.
While no one in Group U and only 4% in Group N disagreed, 12% of Group T disagreed or strongly disagreed.
I can only postulate that this 12% of ELT folk who responded to this question felt that there should be time for serious classroom work that does not always involve fun and games, and that the use of fun activities might not necessarily suit all learning styles and learning contexts.
Also, some might argue that the intrinsic motivation that the student brings to the classroom is what really affects learning, and that the teacher and the activities in class can do little to affect intrinsic motivation. Thus, according to this belief, one should make use of classroom time to deliver what the student was intrinsically motivated to come to class for, and not be messing around.
Some teacher trainers might also feel that depending on one’s interpretation of ‘fun and games’, it can sometimes descend into a solo performance by a teacher who uses his/her personality to win the students over.
12. Most of the students in TEFL classrooms are immigrants looking to assimilate into English-speaking countries.
While 73% of those currently teaching English (Group T) disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement, only 44.4% of Group U disagreed or strongly disagreed. There was even more ambivalence on the part of the non-ELT respondents (Group N). Only 28% disagreed or strongly disagreed, and 64% sat on the fence, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.
To end the survey, I asked the following question:
What do you think TEFL teachers do?
The answers from the current English teachers (Group T) were significantly different from those not involved in English language teaching.
Comments from Group T
“Help learners to gain communication skills.”
“Help learners achieve a good level of communicative competence and confidence when using English professionally and socially.”
“TEFL teachers help their students achieve communicative competency by assessing where they students are, what they need, and what they want to know and be able to do.”
“I think we try to understand what out students need and helping get them closer to their goals. In my context (Singapore) it's a lot about prepping for exams but also study/social skills. I also think many TEFL teachers work hard to contribute to the profession (like you do) through things like social networks and blogs."
"Do lots of speaking activities and teach grammar and vocabulary.”
“Teach students to speak, read, and write English.”
“They work really hard to inspire their students to love English.”
“They guide, they marshall, they model, they give feedback, they facilitate, they empower, they coach, they mentor, they motivate and they see the brighter side of life. Still trying to learn the craft after 33 years! As they say you are never done learning!”
“Make money for unaccountable language institutions.”
“It is mostly difficult to teach English in an environment where learners are exposed to the language only in the classroom. I've been teaching English in Turkey where English is taught as a foreign language for 12 years, and the most difficult part of being a TEFL teacher is to help learners be autonomous to expose themselves to English outside the classroom.”
“Encourage / facilitate learning.”
While most of the teachers were a lot more specific and were keen to paint a thorough picture of what we do, some of the non-ELT folk were clearly perplexed at such a question. Obviously, English teachers teach English!
Comments from Group N
“Is this a trick question? I think they teach foreigners to speak English. Yes I think I could probably do it if I put my mind to it.”
“They teach English.”
“They teach ;-)”
“Teach English to students.”
“Teach English to those aspiring to speak the language better.”
“They teach English as a second language.”
“TEFL teachers teach English to non-native English speakers.”
“Teach non-native speakers to communicate in English.”
“Teach how to communicate in English.”
“Teach English through activities, exercises, classroom, etc.”
“I think TEFL teachers teach English by immersing their students in the English language.”
“I think they try to build up an understanding of English as a whole as well as teaching the technical side.”
“Teach students to speak English as fluently as possible for effective communication.”
“Train the trainers - teach people how to teach effectively – methods.”
“My view is that TEFL teachers aim to improve students’ level of English. To me, that doesn't mean correcting mistakes or teaching complicated grammar rules (although this no doubt will come into it at some point) but focusing on communication and the ability to communicate proficiently.”
“Most of TEFL textbook have teacher's guide book, and there are a lot of opportunist's to learn the method or theories. So most of their teaching styles are very similar. In these days they are teaching communicative ways and very hard to find teaching badly.”
I also asked the question:
Do you think you would be able to be a TEFL teacher?
12 out of 19 responses said no. Some of the reasons were as follows:
“I don't feel that I would be able to be a TEFL teacher as I think I would lack patience and my English is not good enough!”
“I think it probably requires a great deal of patience and imagination to explain concepts to people who don't have English as their first language so I don't think I could do it.”
“I don't think I can be a TEFL teacher cause I'm very 'pure' Korean.”
“I were able to speak English as good as a native does I would love to do it.”
“No, my skills aren't in that area.”
“No, I have no interest in teaching.”
Some of the others said the following:
“Could possibly be a teacher but would need to improve my own grammar first!”
“Yes, I would be able to be a TEFL teacher, would want to do a course first though. Could still teach people to speak English without doing a course.”
One comment however stood out in the comment section, and I believe it is a comment that sheds light on why it is important for us to consider the views of those outside our industry. How we are seen could directly impact on our reputation, how much our clients/students are willing to pay for our services, and the government laws that are passed - and that could affect our very livelihood.
“Forgive me for not answering your question - I'd rather make a point that isn't addressed in your survey. Many British people I know outside the ELT profession don't take it seriously, don't value EFL teachers' expertise, and don't recognise the importance of ELT in the global context. Some have actually been dismissive and even rude about what I do, despite the fact that I've spent 45 years working as a teacher/trainer and am a very successful materials writer. I think the ELT profession in the UK is misunderstood and its reputation is tarnished by fly-by-night schools/visa frauds/teachers who are untrained, and I'm exasperated that this general view persists. One person I count as a friend said of me to another: 'She's so intelligent, I don't understand why she wastes her time writing these stupid coursebooks.' BIELT was inaugurated to try to improve the profile of ELT in the UK, but it fell by the wayside ...”
Great food for thought.
Seidlhofer, B. (2004) ‘Research Perspectives on Teaching English as a Lingua Franca’. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 24, pp:209-239.
Chia Suan Chong is a General English and Business English teacher and teacher trainer, with a degree in Communication Studies (Broadcast and Electronic Media) and an MA in Applied Linguistics and English Language Teaching from King’s College London.
Fascinated by the interplay between culture, language and thought, Chia is also an intercultural skills trainer and materials developer, and is now based in York.
She is also the voice of @ETprofessional on Twitter. You can find out more about her on her blogsite www.chiasuanchong.com