Wishful thinking in TEFL theory

The last decade or so has generally been a good time to be a left-winger with a scientific bent, because nowadays it is mainly right-wingers who ignore all evidence and get slagged off in editorials of New Scientist. However, it wasn’t so long ago that it was people of my own political persuasion who were insisting that girls brought up like boys would turn out exactly the same and stood against phonics as some kind of fascist plot. Unfortunately, it is also people who more or less on the same side of the fence as me who are responsible for most of the wishful thinking in TEFL, for example that:

       The world is full of great non-native English teachers who are going to show those CELTA backpacker types a thing or two about real teaching

       Students are any day now going to realise that they want to study English as a Lingua Franca

       It is the exam boards and publishers in the UK and USA who are ruining TEFL (presumably making Express Publishing in Greece and the Ministry of Education in Japan our saviours)

       More translation and use of L1 more generally would improve the state of English teaching (while of course battling linguistic imperialism and the nativespeakerocracy)

       Teaching students grammar and error correction are fascist plots

       Student progress can be judged purely on what they can do rather than on the language that they use to do it

       Students are suddenly going to find the motivation and dynamism that they have previously lacked and throw off the shackles of the TEFL classroom to teach themselves online

       Writing that never gets to the point can be ignored as just a cultural difference

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3 Responses to Wishful thinking in TEFL theory

  1. Bill George says:

    Most European countries make it extremely difficult for non-nationals to get anywhere – as native speakers of English tend not to be German/French/Italian/whatever citizens, English teaching, especially in the secondary sector, remains in a self-satisfied limbo (I taught for over 40 years in a German grammar school and have also experienced first-hand the arcane and archaic methods used in French and Italian schools – not that what the present UK government is aiming for is any better). Speakers of other languages have similar problems, getting a teacher qualification for the state system requiring people from other countries to jump through more than a few hoops.
    So I don’t really believe that the obsession with literature and content rather than with teaching people how to understand and use today’s language is going to end any time soon. If that’s your dream, enjoy it before you wake up.

  2. Rob says:

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at with the non-native speaker point, but I suspect it all boils down to context. In the context of public education, teachers (usually non-native) are working within one particular system, which has specific requirements in terms of curriculum and end goals. Taking Japan as an example, high school teachers are generally preparing students to pass university entrance exams, leaving little room – or need – for CLT. On the other hand, In some university departments the end goals are purely communicative, and so all the teachers, native and non-native, teach in the same way. I work with several NNST’s who are highly trained and qualified and would wipe the floor with your average CELTA teacher.

    If your point is that there are more NST’s than NNST’s in language schools, that is true and also pretty trivial, seeing as many students and schools have ideologically-informed expectations about what to expect from their teachers in terms of nationality and appearance (my sister quit teaching at a major school in Hong Kong because it had a “whites-only” hiring policy), and also considering the fact that NNST’s are required to be far more qualified before being considered for a job than your average native speaker.

    As it stands, I’d argue that non-native speakers are likely to be far MORE qualified and skilful than native speakers, because for a non-native speaker to have the same chance of getting a job, the expectation in terms of qualifications is much higher.

    So, what were you trying to say exactly? Are you saying that there are more native speaker teachers, or that native speakers are generally better teachers? Because the first claim is hardly profound, and the second claim is demonstrably false.

    Apologies if I’ve misread you, or just missed your point entirely. I have a tendancy to do that.

  3. alexcase says:

    Hi Rob – still a coiuple of days to get me a review if you can!

    My point is indeed that the average NNEST is at least as bad as the average NEST, and that is true even taking into account the NESTs with no training at all and putting the actual language level of NNESTs to one side (for now). For example, the standard of a passing Cambridge ICELT or TKT lesson is lower or even much lower than that of a passing CELTA lesson, and the majority of NNESTs in the world couldn’t pass a TKT lesson.

    There are of course many exceptions, and those exceptions should not be excluded in the ways they often are. For example, anyone who can pass a CELTA should be treated equally, native English speaker or not, but that is of course a rather small minority of the world’s NNESTs. I’m glad you have some kickass NNESTs in your uni and that they are given the chance to prove that (as is indeed often not the case), but they are obviously an elite and so it is obvious not comparing like with like when you mention the average CELTA qualified NEST.

    Anyway, as you say sheer force of numbers means that the majority of shit English lessons in the world must be given by NNESTs. So, basically, blaming the state of the industry on NESTs and their status (which as Bill says in many situations is anyway often lower) is almost as NEST-centric as thinking a NESTs can solve all of someone’s language learning problems.

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