A guest piece by winner of the TEFLtastic award for most interesting recent blog/ most recent interesting blog, 26 Letters
“First, a warning: for the sake of brevity, in this post I’m going to employ ridiculous, sweeping generalisations about adult EFL. References to English for Speakers of other Languages (ESOL) are specific to the situation in the UK, ‘officially’ described as mainly offered free of charge for people wishing to settle long-term in the UK, as opposed to EFL classes which are mainly offered on a private basis for those in the country short-term.
Now: imagine the fragmented parts of the English language teaching world as if they were your grown-up children. If EFL (with its phalanx of international publishers, multimillion-turnover corporate chains, and well-known voices in academia) is the confidently successful, richer one, then ESOL is its slightly younger and scruffier brother. No-one ever talks about ESOL publishers. No-one ever takes a gap-year to teach ESOL. ESOL classes can take place in portakabins, long-abandoned inner-city community centres, backstreet converted warehouses. The ignorant would not associate it with ‘proper’ teaching, thinking it is more aligned with charity or social work. In contrast to its bigger brother, ESOL has to rely on state handouts- it is effectively on the dole.
ESOL is assaulted from the political right: it should be about ‘Citizenship’, assimilating immigrants to “British values” and helping them into low-paid work. ESOL is assaulted from the political left: it should be about diversity, multiculturalism, sensitivity. In all this, discussion about what should be the main project – learning English – can be lost amongst a network of self-interested quangos, funding bodies and policy documents.
One more big difference: an EFL teacher can reasonably expect their students to be able to read and write, even if it is only in their first language. At the lower-levels, ESOL tutors may have to tackle enthusiastic but pre-literate learners, who all speak a different first language from each other and the teacher. How one teaches someone the ability to read without being able to instruct them in their language is not something ESOL tutors have been adequately trained on, yet nevertheless must attempt.
The similarities with EFL (and where EFL could help to improve ESOL) grow when teaching the higher levels- pre-intermediates and above. For example, the same Headways, Rewards and Cutting Edges that are found in EFL schools all around the world are routinely used by many ESOL teachers. This is in some ways ironic, as Luke Meddings has pointed out: here they are, in an English-speaking country, surrounded by English-speaking people, television and newspapers, yet students are given work from a textbook aimed at a global audience residing in countries where English is not the first language. The various downsides to coursebooks have been discussed amply elsewhere, and a big problem using them in ESOL classes are the western cultural references: many ESOL students have never heard of the Beatles, Marylyn Monroe or William Shakespeare (though I suppose they could prompt a new ‘teaching moment’). At least EFL textbooks are not as patronising as some ESOL-specific worksheets. They use a reasonably-sized font and use semi-realistic adapted texts, and come with audio CDs, something which is lacking for ESOL students (apart from some poorly produced government ones).
The line between EFL/ESOL becomes further blurred when you consider the following: yes, a lot of ESOL students are refugees (some of them with professional backgrounds in their country of origin) from countries harshly described as ‘developing’ and without extensive educational systems. Yet what about the many EFL teachers in Cambodia, Brazil and Thailand or those with the VSO in Eritrea or Burma? Are they teaching ESOL or EFL? Yes, ESOL classes are multi- rather than mono-lingual, but what about the EFL schools on Oxford Street? Are they not teaching classes made up of people from all around the world? Surely, English is English, wherever in the world one may learn it.”
Not only an interesting piece, but exactly what I asked 26 Letters for. Any other requests for him or me? Any other similarities or differences? Any other volunteers to write a guest piece? Any other?