The Future of English Language Teaching and Learning?

We are now used to a web experience in which we can integrate images, user-generated and personalised content, as well as the freedom to browse and search for precisely what we want. It is easy to see that this pattern of activity has not yet become part of our approach to language learning, especially if we think about the traditional school setting. Although many schools are now moving towards incorporating contemporary learning styles into their architecture, it is often not so evident in the syllabus which can remain prescriptive. 

There is a challenge to create an environment in which learners can determine what, how, and when they learn. 
From our involvement with the world-wide web we have developed critical thinking skills and we are now more used to the ideas of lifelong and independent learning. The near future should allow learners to create their own learning paths, as well as interacting easily across existing boundaries of space and time. Learning will therefore become mor…

Against the Non-native Argument

I read a lot on the native v non-native argument. If you are not familiar with it, it is the argument that non-native English teachers are discriminated against in favour of native speaker teachers. I personally am against this discrimination inasmuch as I think that a native-speaker teacher is not a better teacher than a non-native speaker teacher simply by means of being a ‘native’ speaker.

Although I am in principle against this discrimination, I am also against much of what I read on the argument in defense and promotion of non-native speakers. There are several reasons why I think we need a change in strategy in this argument, irrespective of our individual view on it.
Native and non-native don’t exist. To lose this distinction we need to stop using these terms, not use them more. Once we try to define what a ‘native’ speaker is and what a ‘non-native’ speaker is we can’t reach a firm idea which encompasses all the messy realities of our lives today. They are helpful terms, somet…

The Death of An English

This week the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, declared that “Slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe”.

Despite Brexit, the statistics tell us that more and more people in Europe and worldwide are studying English. Regardless of your standpoint on the UK's exit from the European Union, Brexit is not going to affect the trajectory of English-language learning. 

In a couple of years people who travel to and from the UK and Europe, or do any sort of business between the two may or may not be speaking in English to each other. Regardless of this English will still be the dominant worldwide language because it is the language of business, science, all aviation and the de facto language of the Internet, which I hear is getting quite popular nowadays. 

This is not, however, a defense of English as a lingua franca. But it does remind me that English does not belong to the people of English-speaking countries but to anyone who uses it. Most English s…

Is It Time to Stand Up for the 'Non-Natives'?

I just read a blog post about how 'native' speakers are better teachers than 'non-native' teachers. It seems to be a hot topic at the moment, and understandably divisive. Jobs and opportunities depend on the distinction. But, as a supposed 'native' myself, I'd like to do away with these ridiculous terms.

Firstly, and plainly, these terms are useless when applied to English language teaching:

A native English speaker, by definition, could have been born in any country on Earth. It is dependent simply of the speaker's first language, which in itself is dependent (usually) on the speaker's parents.According to Wikipedia in 2015 there were 54 official states in which English is the official language. 'Native speaker' is often used as shorthand for 'person from an Anglosphere country' (Australia, UK, US, Ireland, New Zealand, and Canada). In reality, millions of 'native' speakers from countries outside these regions are excluded fr…

Language-Teaching and Technology

Technology; cold, relentless, and idolised by much of humanity, is here and doesn't look like it will lose its momentum any time soon. English-language teachers, on the other hand, are often light, whimsical, caring entities, prone to having a fondness for people over machines, and a tendency towards the 'real' over the 'virtual'.

With this hyperbolic introduction, I wanted to set up a dichotomy, which in reality perhaps doesn't exist. Many teachers nowadays do indeed use technology to educate, many in fact rely upon it completely as they teach through Skype to learners the world over. Others though, we must have seen, are well, not too keen to move with the times and much prefer a handout to an attachment. Let's think briefly (technology has apparently rotted my ability to think about anything more than briefly) on the implications of technology in education in general, and then its affect on English-language teaching. 

The Omnipresence of Technology


'Language ability cannot be taught; it can only be learned'

There are lots of blog posts, academic articles, and ongoing heated discussions in the actual and virtual ELT staff rooms all over the world about whether we should teach grammar at all.

Those who argue for the teaching of grammar say that we need to know the rules of a language to be able to use it properly. They say grammar gives us the skeleton from which to hang the flesh. Those against it argue that English in particular is not a grammar-based language and in fact, all a language-learner needs is access to level-appropriate, authentic 'input' and a thirst for learning.

Having listened to both sides of this argument, and having applied both of them to my own teaching, I can make a couple of tentative observations:

1. Sometimes students want grammar like children want candy. But just because they want it, should we give it to them? Well, if the child is paying your wages, then yes, maybe you should. But is it good for them? It is not a meal in itself but will do no harm and …

Teacher or Friend?

I've seen many different teaching styles, some more effective than others. I have my own opinions about what the habits and practices of good English teachers: what they do, what they don't do; what they say, what they don't say. What they wear, what they eat... OK, the last two we can leave up to the employers.. but all-in-all, I felt sure I knew what was 'good', when I saw it.

Recently someone who works for once of the main English test conductors told me that one of the questions she asked the candidates was 'What makes a good teacher'? The answers, she said, were often surprising.

Does a student know what's best for them? Does it matter of the student doesn't like the teacher?

I always thought of a teacher as being like a doctor. Someone who knew best for the 'patient'. The expert, with specialised knowledge that could be called upon to 'treat' the subject, and make him or her better. I usually felt that it didn't really matt…