Devil’s Advocate vs Bethany Cagnol on Volunteering for Teaching Associations

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous installments of DA here.

To celebrate our eleventh installment of DA, we have Bethany Cagnol.

Bethany Cagnol is a freelance business English and ESP trainer based in Paris, France. She is the president of TESOL France, treasurer of IATEFL BESIG and on the conference committee of IATEFL. She speaks at ELT conferences and recently published “Nursing 1” with Ros Wright (Pearson).  She owns two companies in France that provide language training, project management and consulting. She enjoys advising trainers on how they can develop their own freelance status and/or business and often blogs about it .

Chia: It’s so great to have you here on Devil’s Advocate, Beth!

Bethany: Thanks for the invitation, Chia.  I’ve been looking forward to this all week!

Chia: It’s an honour to have the president of TESOL France, treasurer of BESIG, and IATEFL conference committee member here on the hot seat!

Bethany: The seat’s lukewarm at the moment.  I’m sure that’s about to change.

Chia: Sorry I couldn’t have made the seat warmer for you. I know you’re used to being wined and dined and jetted around the world by these big TEFL organisations that you volunteer for.

When you think ‘TEFL conferences’, is this what comes to mind?
Photo by Chia Suan Chong

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Bethany: [ducks for cover] Gosh, you really start off with a good jab, don’t ya?

Being sponsored by the three above-mentioned organizations is a huge perk, yes. I’m very lucky that TESOL France, BESIG and IATEFL have contributed to my attending various events around Europe.  The world? No.

But we at TESOL France have a very strict rule about sponsoring Executive Committee members for events.  Excom members have to serve on the committee for a year before we sponsor them.

Chia: Sorry, could we define ‘Excom’ before we continue?

Bethany: Excom – Executive Committee

The M is not to be confused with N.  😉

Is the Sheriff also the Ex-Con?
Photo by @dfogarty at http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

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Chia: OOOH! Doh! I thought Excom meant ex-committee member…!

And I was wondering why you were sponsoring people who no longer work for you…Hahaha

So why do people volunteer to be on the Executive committees? It must be all the free lunches you’re getting? Or do you do it because it makes you feel all warm inside?

Bethany: To be honest, yes and no.  When I started out with TESOL France I didn’t know travelling to conferences was an option for Excom members. I joined because I wanted to work with Ros Wright.  One of my colleagues told me: “If there’s anyone in ELT you should work with, it’s Ros Wright.”  That was one of the reasons I joined the TESOL France Excom.

It was only when TESOL France started to grow that sponsoring attendees to IATEFL and other TESOLs in Europe became part of our norm.

And yes, volunteering for these organizations definitely makes me feel all warm and fuzzy but I’m sure we’ll get to that in a minute.

Chia: I had no idea that TESOL France Excom members get sponsored to go to IATEFL and other TESOL conferences in Europe. Wow, it’s even cushier than I thought! That’s on top of getting free trips to places where committee meetings are held, and of course, you get to attend the very conference that you help organise for free as well, don’t you? Is that why most people volunteer to become committee members?

Bethany: We sponsor Excom members to attend conferences because we want them to work for us. For example, TESOL France asks them to scout out good speakers for our events.

Attending conferences also gives them a taste of what a well-run international event is like. And of course it contributes to their professional growth and development. When they come back from the conferences they are so jazzed and motivated (as a teacher and as a volunteer) that they want to help us organize the same high-quality events here in France.

Teachers getting jazzed up by Fish at the closing of IATEFL Glasgow 2012
Photo by Mike Hogan, http://www.flickr.com/photos/irishmikeh

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Chia:  You mentioned growth and development. That is certainly one of the real reasons why people ‘volunteer’ to be Excom members, isn’t it? Not only do they get to attend conferences and have free trips all around Europe, but they get free business training and get to hone and develop their event organisation and team management skills, not to mention develop a useful network of contacts.

Bethany: Well, before TESOL France, right as I was finishing my MA, I thought about doing an MBA. But I couldn’t possibly pay for one. An MBA costs a fortune. But I still wanted the skills that are (usually) developed during an MBA: I wanted to learn leadership skills, basic business skills, financial skills, project management skills, marketing skills, etc.  I got all that and more from being on the committees of TESOL France, BESIG and IATEFL.

And while I developed those skills, and contributed my time, ideas, and experience to the organizations, I met some amazing, incredible teachers. I made some very dear friends like Ros Wright, Debbie West, Eric Halvorsen, Gillian Evans, Laurence Whiteside, Jane Ryder and Christina Rebuffet-Broadus who all work tirelessly towards TESOL France’s cause.

And I met you, Chia! 😉 (wink)

Chia: (takes off DA hat) Aw, thanks. I’m glad I met you too…(puts DA hat back on) But I didn’t need to join an Excom to get to meet you though.

So now, the truth has finally surfaced. People volunteer not because they are being altruistic. They volunteer because they are cheap and want to save the money they would have spent on an MBA, get free business training from being on these committees, and meet the right people. Ah hah!

Yes indeed! Not only is it cheaper than an MBA, you get to meet Rakesh Bhanot too! Now, how swell is that?

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Bethany: I joined TESOL France because I wanted to develop skills and I wanted to know what it was like to work with other teachers. Teaching in France can be very isolating, you know.  Others join for many different reasons.

Volunteering for a teachers’ organization can also help expose you to the latest trends of ELT.  One good example is offering to be on the conference proposals committee.  While you may have to read a ton of abstracts, it can give you an idea of what the latest ELT trends are.

Chia: But you can meet other teachers and learn about the latest trends in ELT from networking online and attending conferences. You don’t need to organise one for that and can save yourself many hours and still profit from the kind of networking you’re talking about…

But of course, being one of the organisers puts you in a certain limelight. You’re on show, you make contacts (very good for networking and getting work, getting into publishing, writing journals, and so on.)

…which brings us back to hidden agendas of these so-called altruistic volunteers again.

Bethany: I don’t disagree with you when you say that some may volunteer to fulfill their own professional agendas.  Volunteers should ALWAYS gain something from the experience.  I’m a firm believer in it.  They should gain experience, knowledge AND recognition. But they also have to prove they are willing to carry their own weight on the team.

Chia: Could you explain what you mean by ‘prove that they are willing to carry their own weight on the team’?

Bethany: Stellar volunteers are those, who in my opinion, *consistently* demonstrate their dedication to the association’s activities and mission. They readily take on tasks, come up with ways to improve the organization and reliably carry out their responsibilities.

And if they can’t fulfill a task they have the integrity to inform the rest of the team that they need to step down or be given a different role.

Er…girls…when I said ‘carry your own weight’, I didn’t quite mean ‘carry yourself in weight’…
Photo by @VictoriaB52, http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

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Chia: I accept the fact that some volunteers do work hard and do a good job, but ultimately, would you agree with me that volunteers do it for selfish reasons and the kudos we give to what they contribute is overrated?

Many of these ‘stellar’ volunteers are only working hard and trying to do a good job because they want to move up the ladder and rub shoulders with the TEFL elite, and doing this by volunteering in an organisation like IATEFL is a lot easier than moving up the ladder in a school, for example. All one needs is to show willing to offer their services and hard work for free.

Bethany: It is true that some volunteer for that reason alone. But luckily, they are the minority, in my opinion.  Based on what I’ve witnessed in three different teacher organizations of varying sizes, they are the minority.

And yes, volunteering makes us feel good.  And as I stated above, it should.

But contributing to the world of ELT has grown larger these past few years thanks to Web 2.0.  Blogging, Tweeting, conversing about latest issues and trends online is also a form of volunteerism.

Heck, you volunteer your time to DA, don’t you?

Chia: I’m afraid I can’t agree with that. People who blog and tweet are not volunteering. They might be spending time volunteering information and sharing it with others, but they are blogging and tweeting about what they want to blog and tweet about. They are not volunteering to do tasks for an organisation that have been decided for them. And most importantly, bloggers and tweeters don’t get the kudos for being ‘charitable’ like Excom members do. So let’s not go off tangent here…

Nice try, though!

A cheeky girl decides to go on a tangential angle
Photo by @sandymillin, http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

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Bethany: But before you rope this pony back into the pen, let’s take Shelly Terrell for example. She volunteers hundreds of hours setting up online conferences, doing free, weekly webinars, writing articles, mentoring people.  She’s a good example of how volunteers can reach out from afar.

You claim, “They are not volunteering to do tasks for an organisation that have been decided for them.” – Sorry, I don’t agree.  Many volunteers of teachers’ organizations take on tasks they want to carry out because they are confident they can.

Chia: First of all, Shelly Terrell gets paid for her webinars and the talks she gives, and yes, Shelly does quite a bit of volunteering as well. She’s investing her own time to build her brand, and she does it very well. And it’s on the strength of this brand that she gets invitations to speak all over the world.

Didn’t you mention something similar at a recent conference in Paris, Beth? About the importance of investing your time to build your brand?

Bethany: Shelly, definitely, is a good example of someone who develops her ELT brand* – and volunteering for an organization does help one promote that. Again, I don’t disagree.

But take The Reform Symposium, for instance. She volunteered her time to help organize this amazing online conference. She invested an enormous amount of time so that hundreds of teachers around the world could get together and gain hours and hours of free professional development.

*For more on developing your ELT Brand, see the article in the next issue of the BESIG Business Issues (Cagnol & Hogan 2012).

Cagnol and Hogan (2012) speaking at the BESIG Paris Summer Symposium
Photo by Chia Suan Chong

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Chia: Ah, so you’ve volunteered to do this DA with me so that you can promote your article in the next Business Issues! It all becomes clear!  Did you and Mike Hogan use your connections to BESIG (You as the Treasurer and Mike as the BESIG Online Team member) to get your article into the journal? How convenient! See, there’s no such thing as pure altruism. 😉

Bethany: Now now. In our article, we do suggest ways teachers can develop their ELT brand, but this isn’t the topic of this DA.

Anyway, we didn’t “use our connections”.  Anyone is welcome to submit an article to be published in BESIG’s Business Issues. Julia Waldner would love to hear from you!

But again, if you want to bring writing back into this debate, earlier, you conveniently tried to duck from the fact that your doing the DA is not a form of volunteerism.  I think it is.  It helps you develop skills and it gives back to the ELT community.

Chia: Nice backhand, Beth. Doing the DA simply satisfies my confrontational personality for a good ol’ verbal punchup. It might make me better at constructing arguments when I finally make it into that university debate team. So see? I’m not doing DA because I have any kind of purely altruistic bone in me either. Just like those TESOL association volunteers! We all have an agenda!

Bethany: But don’t you get enormous satisfaction in the fact that you are helping hundreds of teachers out there?  By the looks of all the comments, everyone seems to get a great deal out of your conversations with other DA “victims”. That’s gotta feel pretty darn good, doesn’t it?  It’s because of you, your readers think twice before going at an ESP course without a coursebook. It’s because of you, your readers think twice before giving just any language test to their students.  I could go on….

As this bird’s ego gets bigger…
Photo by @cgoodey, http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

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Chia: But that’s exactly it. Social psychologists and philosophers like Ayn Rand suggests that pure altruism does not exist.

We operate on a basis of ethical egoism, i.e. we do what is in our own self-interest. And so if the self-interest is to boost one’s ego and feel good about oneself, then that is certainly an agenda too…

But we’re getting off the main point, that being my blogging is not volunteering, in the traditional sense of the word. Being in the Excom is volunteering…and with a much larger (and some might say, darker) hidden agenda.

It’s no longer just about feeling good and boosting one’s ego. It’s about wanting to be in the limelight, gaining a TEFL celebrity status, building an influential network and being recognised as an experienced, well-respected teacher at the top of his/her industry, even though in actual fact, for all we know, the Excom member could be a terrible teacher.

…and they keep coming!
Photo by @sandymillin, http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

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Bethany: Ok dearie, I’ll address the jabs one by one.  😉

You said, “Social psychologists and philosophers like Ayn Rand suggests that pure altruism does not exist.”  – Ok. I see their point. But this is an old argument going back thousands of years.

No one should volunteer for an organization if they end up being miserable.  Not too long ago I met someone who was a former member of another teachers’ organization. She said, “I worked so hard for the association, but was never thanked. I was incredibly unhappy”.  So it was from that day I decided that those who dedicate their time to these organizations deserve to be thanked and recognized *publically*.

You then said, “It’s no longer just about feeling good and boosting one’s ego. It’s about wanting to be in the limelight, gaining a TEFL celebrity status… ”  – I don’t entirely agree. Granted, the Internet (Twitter & Facebook) has helped make the recognition of these volunteers a lot easier.  Teachers, who we, as an association, praise for their hard work, can and do become “TEFL celebrities”.  But as I said earlier, wanting to be in the limelight, for the majority, isn’t the goal here.  It’s the byproduct.

And finally, you said,”….for all we know, the Excom member could be a terrible teacher.”  That may well be.  But that’s the beauty of being on the Excom.  It can help you become a better teacher, learner, leader, organizer, employee, boss, etc.

And when the ladies stood under the lime tree under the street lamps, the men would stop…
Photo by @acliltoclimb, http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

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Chia: Being in the limelight isn’t a goal for the majority? (And earlier, you said that using Excom status to climb up the TEFL ladder isn’t what you witnessed to be a goal of the majority).

The key here is that those with such a goal or secret agenda are of course going to keep it secret and play their cards close to their chest. They will say all the right things about volunteering so that they can develop, give back to the community, form wonderful friendships, but in reality, their intentions are much darker. So of course, you wouldn’t be able to witness it just by talking or working with them.

Bethany: You seem to want to categorize “setting personal goals” or “having a professional agenda” as something that is terrible.  It isn’t really. I’m going to bring my mother into this because she taught me to always think through my decisions and to analyze what I could gain from every experience no matter what.

As professionals, we should always think through what we can *give* and *take* from every situation.  But my mother also taught me to trust people. I trust they are volunteering for the right reasons – to give back to the community but also to develop into a better person.

Chia: That all sounds warm and fuzzy in this context – setting personal goals, having a professional agenda.

Let me ask you, Beth, if someone in your PLN hangs out with you, acts like they are genuinely your friend and seem really interested in you as a person, but later, you find out that they are actually only doing so because you are the president of TESOL France, because you have great connections, and you can help them to fulfill their ‘personal goals’, would you forgive such a ‘professional agenda’?

Isn’t that what volunteering for TEFL organisations under the pre-text of doing something good for the community really is?

Volunteering at IATEFL conferences is warm and fuzzy
Photo of IATEFL Brighton 2011 by Mike Hogan, http://www.flickr.com/photos/irishmikeh

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Beth: Thanks for calling my mom “warm and fuzzy”. I agree 100%.   I’ll tell her you said that.

Well….as I’ve developed with the PLN, I find it’s now my responsibility to help bring others into the fold.

One good example is the TESOL France Executive Committee.  The newer members get introduced to the PLN who come to our conferences, they are invited to give talks, they are welcomed at the dinner tables, etc.  So, in a way, I choose to help introduce my fellow Excom members to the PLN and show them the benefits of not only volunteering for TESOL France, BESIG and/or IATEFL but also the benefits of making friends who can help them down the road.

Chia: But it’s all in the intentions, you see.

To use my metaphorical analogy earlier, if someone befriends you because their intentions had been genuine and they really like you as a person and want to be your friend, if you do introduce them to your network of professional contacts and help their career along the way, that’s one thing.

But if someone befriends you with the intentions of exploiting your status and network from the very start, that’s a totally different agenda.

How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not a cash cow?
Photo by @mk_elt, http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

Bethany: And again, I have to go back to what my mother taught me.  I will trust them.  That’s just who I am.

I know some may throw the “naive” card at me, but I really prefer to go through life trusting people.

My mother taught me it’s better to trust people.  But she also helped me develop a pretty good BS detector. 🙂

Chia: You are lucky to have such a great mother. Bet she didn’t teach you those things with any secret agendas… 😉

Bethany: Her agenda was wanting me to develop my own definition of success and to know how to achieve that.  Thanks to TESOL France, BESIG, and IATEFL, I do feel successful and very happy as a volunteer and as a professional.

Chia: And by nurturing your PLN and the new volunteers in return, you are developing your followers…a leader needs followers. In helping others, you are creating a following, which in itself will grow and give you (i.e. the volunteer in the higher position) even greater status and more limelight. Clever!

😉

Bethany: Now now. Nah…on Star Trek, maybe. To all my followers:  resistance is futile!

Chia: Mwahahaha! I’ve got Bethany Cagnol to finally admit her secret agenda!!!

Bethany: Yup! That’s what it’s been this whole time.  😉

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Chia: Beth, you have managed to come out of this DA looking like a kind, trusting and positive optimist that you clearly are! And the DA now just looks like a cynical old grump…

Bethany: Well…I can fix that.  We do have a position for you on the TESOL France Executive Committee if you want. 😉

Chia: One, this Devil’s Advocate doesn’t live in France. Two, the DA doesn’t want clingers trying to befriend her with secret agendas…she’ll end up trusting them and then feeling betrayed in the end. And three, I am afraid the TESOL France President’s positivity might actually cause the DA to lose her edge and actually become a better person.

Bethany: But the friendships you’ll make will last a lifetime (hint hint nudge nudge)

Chia: I’ve got you, Beth…what other friendships would I need?

Bethany: Let’s look at it this way. If I hadn’t volunteered for TESOL France, I wouldn’t have gotten up the nerve to give a small workshop for the membership.

If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have had the nerve to apply for the phenomenal conferences hosted by IATEFL Poland, TESOL Spain, and IATEFL and TESOL International.

If I hadn’t gone to those amazing events I wouldn’t have taken on the organization of the TESOL France conferences. I wouldn’t have developed a sheer hunger for professional development and volunteerism.

If I hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have made the incredible friends I’ve met along the way…

And if I hadn’t done any of this I wouldn’t have met you Chia.

Ok….I’m actually tearing up now.  (sniff).

Chia: Great 3rd conditional personalised lesson you’ve got there, Beth!

Well, I’m certainly glad that you did the conferences you did and that I fell in love with the person I fell for because both of those two things have resulted in the wonderful friendship I have with you today! (Warm and fuzzy feeling…like being wrapped in the fur of a woolly mammoth)

😛

Bethany: Cue cheesy music Chia!

🙂

Chia: Cue picture of Woolly mammoth (There, Phil, I’ve said it twice!)

Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy ‘conference-organising’ schedule to be on DA today Beth…you’ve been a star…

Bethany: Thanks Chia.  You’ve really made me think long and hard about all this and this has been an incredible experience.

Chia: I’m glad you enjoyed it. Now, how about introducing me to some of your influential Excom friends?  😉

Bethany: Oh honey….I can’t wait for you to meet them.  They will love you! Can’t wait until your Plenary in November at the TESOL France Conference!

(how do ya like my shameless plug of your plenary 😉

Chia: Sigh, secret agendas and shameless plugs…

Bethany: Sigh 😉

Epilogue (by Bethany Cagnol): Bethany’s views are her own and do not represent any organization she is associated with. Chia was only playing DA, and of course believes in the many positive reasons Bethany has given for volunteering. Bethany may have appeared to have been completely and utterly ass-whooped by Chia during this DA session, but rest assured they are still friends who are not adverse to the occasional rowdy debate over a glass of read wine (Bordeaux, preferably) or under Chia’s comfy duvet at 2am.

Devil’s Advocate vs Evan Frendo on Specificity & ESP

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

To celebrate our tenth installment of DA, we have Evan Frendo.

Evan Frendo is a freelance business English trainer, teacher trainer and author based in Berlin. A frequent speaker at conferences, he also travels regularly in Europe and Asia to run courses or to work as a consultant. Evan has published various books over the years, including “How to teach Business English” (Longman, 2005), and most recently, four books in Pearson’s new Vocational English series. To find out more visit his blog, where he discusses topics and issues relevant to anyone involved in business English and ESP.

Chia: I am extremely excited about having you on DA today, Evan!

Evan: Hi Chia – good to be here 🙂

Chia: The expert in how to teach Business English and ESP himself!

Evan: LOL that’s a nice way to start. Shall we stop now so I can quote you?

Chia: Hahaha…I quote you ALL THE TIME!

Evan: I’d prefer if you just tell people to buy my books, to be honest.

Chia: That I do too…

But I’m here in the position of DA today, and so you must forgive me if I am not so cordial for the rest of this conversation.

Evan: Ok.

Chia: So, Evan, aside from books for teacher training, you also write books for ESP, don’t you?

Evan: Yes that’s right. I started off writing ESP materials for corporate clients, and  nowadays I also write for various publishers.

Chia: But isn’t that a contradiction in terms? ESP suggests a needs-analysis-based tailormade English course…So how can you write one-size-fits-all coursebooks for ESP students?

Evan: Haha. That’s a quote from one of my talks, where I discussed this very question. Yes, you’re right, it can appear to be a contradiction, but only if you see the coursebook as setting the syllabus. If you use it as a resource coursebooks can be very useful.

Is the ESP coursebook like these pinafores?
They are specifically for children, but does the one size fit all kids?
ELTpics: Photo by @fionamau

Chia: And what are these books a resource for? Is it not just focusing on the industry-specific lexis and terminology needed?

Evan: Yes, they’re a resource for the teacher and students to use.  ESP is not only about lexis and terminology. It is also about genre and context and getting an insight into the discourse communities that the learner wants to become effective in.

Chia: But that’s just it. Aren’t the discourse community and the genres and contexts specific to that community too specific to be covered in a published-for-everyone-in-that-industry coursebook? Are you sure the book isn’t just a resource for a general industry, and not a specific discourse community?

Very often, we use labels like EAP (English for Academic Purposes) or English for Oil and Gas or English for Business, and we call it ESP. But they are merely generic labels and do not really represent the discursive variation within the specific discourse communities.

Tate sells clothes to the young & trendy and Face Shop sells cosmetics to women.
Having a target market do not make them specialised shops with niche markets.
Photo by Chia Suan Chong

Evan: Yes, absolutely. As in so much in ELT, it really depends on your teaching context. For some courses, such as pre-experience learners in tertiary education, an ESP book / general business English coursebook may be quite a useful window on the world they aim to work in.  For others such coursebooks may be quite irrelevant.

Chia: Are you admitting that such books might be over-generalised and only useful for pre-experience learners who don’t yet know about the discourse community they are about to enter and so we can pull the wool over their eyes and feed them some generic lexical chunks which they might or might not encounter in their discipline/target situation?

Evan: No, not at all. That is a cynical view of coursebooks. The thing is, teachers and learners need some way to access the target discourse. Often in ESP the reality is that the teacher is not an expert, and nor is the learner.

So the course book is simply one way of accessing that target discourse, in other words, of providing ways to work with the sorts of language and contexts that have been identified in a needs analysis as most relevant to the learners. The point is that if we don’t have some way of accessing this target discourse we could end up focussing on things which are not necessarily a priority.

Windows into different discourse communities?
Photo by Mike Hogan

Chia: That is all good on paper. But in actual facts, how does one first of all identify the kind of language and the target discourse that is most relevant to the learners? How can we ensure the reliability of the Needs Analysis instrument? And how can we then satisfactorily match a coursebook to the needed language and discourse?

Evan: Yes, that is actually the key point. People in our profession have been talking about needs analysis for years, but I think the reality is that we don’t do it very well. On one hand, the profession is still developing the tools and techniques that will help us really analyse what our learners really need. On the other hand, a lot of teachers pay lip service to needs analysis. There is a lot that can be done which isn’t being done.

Chia: So what do you think a good needs analysis for ESP purposes should contain then? What do you think is often not being done?

Evan: I think there are two main issues:

First of all, we have too many teachers who have never actually done any discourse or corpus analysis, and really don’t know very much about how communication works or how to analyse the language that the learners might need. Performance-based testing is rare. Without these, we cannot really claim to be doing a needs analysis. So we need to train teachers better.

Secondly, we need to become more persuasive at explaining to our clients exactly what can be done if we have proper access to the workplace. Too many clients (and teachers) think of language learning as something which takes place in a classroom, yet there is so much evidence to suggest that learning takes place in the workplace as well.

Learning does not necessarily have to take place in the classroom

Chia: First of all, can you explain what you mean by ‘performance-based testing’?

And second, what exactly can be done if we have proper access to the workplace? Are you suggesting that teachers record and analyse the conversations and communications that go on in our clients’ discourse community, do a discourse/genre analysis on it, in order to train our clients to become better communicators?

Evan: Ok, what I mean by performance-based testing (or task-based assessment) is that we need to be able to test our learners’ ability to do their job, i.e. to perform. Of course as English teachers we would be focussing on the elements of the job which require English.

So, for example, if someone says they need to present in English, we ask them to do a presentation, and then work on areas that can be improved. It might be language related, or it might be skills related. In other words, we need to be able to work out where they are now so that we can compare it to where they need to be.

And to answer your second question…

Yes, I mean that teachers need access to the workplace in order to understand the target discourse, but also to provide feedback in context, as it were. Sitting in the back of a meeting room taking notes, and then later providing specific feedback to the learner will be much more focussed than any role-play in the classroom. What I am talking about is learning on the job.

‘Performance-Based Learning’
Photo by Mike Hogan

Chia: It seems to me like what you are asking the teacher to do is not only extremely time-consuming, but requires a fair bit of expertise in both genre/discourse analysis and the client’s discipline. I mean, to really assess our learners’ ability to perform in their job, we need to know the target situation and target discourse community well. One sitting is not going to give us what we need to know.

Let’s take your example of presentations for instance. A presentation in an Applied Linguistics academic conference is very different from a presentation at a Civil Engineering academic conference (and I am not just talking about lexis and technical jargon here), which is again very different from a presentation at a board of director’s meeting for Siemens, which is again very different from a presentation pitching new solar equipment to clients in Abu Dhabi.

We can reel off the usual ‘What makes a good presentation’ lesson from ‘Presenting in English’ or whatever the latest coursebook on presentations is, but that isn’t really focussing on their discourse community and their ability to do their job, is it? It’s just paying lip service to the needs analysis.

Academic presentations are a different kettle of fish altogether.
Photo by Mike Hogan

Evan: Yes, maybe you’re right. But it’s still a lot better than what is being done now, where teachers really have no idea of the discourse communities that the learners need to operate in. As you say, it requires expertise. And it is already happening in many corporate training contexts, where people are beginning to recognise that staying in the classroom is extremely limiting.

Chia: I must say that is an interesting idea – having the teacher/trainer in the workplace observing and providing feedback. But surely that can only work in one-to-one training? And subject to the clients’ company allowing such an ‘intrusion’?

Evan: Well, it’s quite common if you have an in-house trainer working full-time in a company.  It’s not seen as an intrusion, but as part of the job. In-house trainers can do much more than someone who simply pops in from time to time to run English classes.

Chia: Ah, okay. So if you are an in-house trainer, I suppose you would have sufficient time and exposure to the clients’ field to be able to familiarise yourself with that specific discourse community. But most teachers/trainers don’t have that kind of luxury, Evan. Yet they pay lip service to a needs analysis which they never really use…and if they do, they simply do it in a generic ‘Let’s look at phrases used to ask for opinions in meetings’ sort of way…

Evan: Yes, I think you’re right. Many teachers are handicapped by their teaching context – no chance to do a proper needs analysis, and no requirement to develop the skills either. Maybe this is a consequence of the way the industry has developed over the years, particularly in the private language school sector. People are willing to pay for teachers to do a job which they are not really trained to do. But that’s another topic …

Chia: Many teachers/trainers feel that their area should be English language teaching. Discourse analysis and the specialisation needed to really deliver true ESP is just way outside their scope, and they are simply not paid enough to deliver that sort of content. Let me throw in another argument here. Most teachers would also argue that a grasp of General English should be enough for learners to negotiate meaning and figure out the conventions of their discourse community on their own, that there are really not enough variations in lexico-grammar to justify a ESP approach.

Is the exchange rate just simply not worth our while?
ELTpics: Photo by @acliltoclimb

Evan: Well, maybe that’s where we disagree. For me the whole point of ELT is to help people communicate in the real world. So the more we can find out about that world the more focussed and more effective our teaching will be. There is never enough time to do everything, so we need to compromise and make priorities. Without some sort of needs analysis this is not possible. I think that every teacher does this anyway – all I am saying is that we can get better at it. In answer to your point about General English, this has been a debate in the industry for many years. Is there a core language that we can teach before we move on to the specific contexts people require in their real worlds? I am not convinced. Language only has meaning in context, and if we remove that context we are left with very little.

Chia: I’m definitely not advocating that we remove the contexts, and I do think that sometimes the difference between ESP/BE and General English is just a matter of contexts. e.g. In General English, we teach students to introduce themselves in the context of meeting other students in a classroom or a party. In BE, we teach students to introduce themselves in the context of meeting new colleagues at an office. But the linguistic devices for both contexts are not that different from each other…We could therefore conclude that there is a core language and generic skills that cuts across disciplines, wouldn’t you say, Evan?

Isn’t specificity only possible at higher levels?

Is there a core at the heart of it?
ELTpics: Photo by @thornburyscott

Evan: Yes, in those situations the language might be similar. But I am not sure how many of those situations you are going to find. Even a simple task like answering a telephone is quite different as soon as you go into a workplace context – and I would argue that it makes more sense to focus on the workplace conventions if you have business English learners.

Regarding your point about specificity at higher levels, yes, I think this is a good point. But that it is not to say we cannot be specific at low levels as well. For example, low level business English learners often learn lexis to describe departments and responsibilities – this is specific to business English and would not be covered in a General English course of the same level.

Chia: So you are saying that we can teach Business English even to beginners then? :-)

Evan: For sure

Would I dare say otherwise?

Chia: You present an irrefutable argument here, Evan. I hate balanced people like you…they are just so difficult to put up a fight against!

Evan: Heh heh. Does that mean you’re now going to rush out and buy all those low level business English books you don’t already have? 🙂

 

Time to rush out a get a copy of Evan’s ESP book for the oil industry
Photo from Amazon.co.uk

Chia: Just the other day, someone in my staffroom saw me holding a coursebook and tried to take a photo of me…and now you’re telling me to BUY one? ROFL

Evan: I’ve heard some people just photocopy the bits they need …

 

But I’m sure Evan would rather you not photocopy his books!
Photo from Amazon.co.uk

Chia: For the sake of great coursebook writers like you (and all those who wrote the coursebooks featured here on today’s DA), I hope everyone buys the books and not just copies them!

…despite the fact that these books clearly aren’t THAT specific to the needs of the students by nature of the fact that they are published coursebooks…of course.

Evan: Heh heh. No, not at all. That is a cynical view of coursebooks. The thing is, teachers and learners need some way to access the target discourse. Often in ESP the reality is that the teacher is not an expert, and nor is the learner. So the course book is simply one way of accessing that target discourse, in other words, of providing ways to work with the sorts of language and contexts that have been identified in a needs analysis as most relevant to the learners. The point is that if we don’t have some way of accessing this target discourse we could end up focussing on things which are not necessarily a priority.

Hang on. I’ve said that already. You just weren’t listening …

Chia: And here was I thinking ‘Deja Vu! I thought he said that already!’

But seriously, there are some arguments for and against specificity that are really worth examining…and I’m really glad we managed to touch on some of the issues today, and hopefully this will propel readers to reflect on their own practice more and explore this area more.

At the end of the day, specificity versus general aren’t two mutually exclusive concepts, and probably exist on a continuum, don’t you think?

Let’s not overgeneralise! Even Essex has 50 Shades…
ELTpics: Photo by @pysproblem81

Evan: Yes, all good things in ELT exist on a continuum. It’s one of the eternal truths about the profession.

Just like the answer to all questions about teaching is “It depends”.

Chia: Wise words, Evan! Thanks for spending time with me today, and for allowing me and the readers to explore the controversies and debates surrounding ESP and specificity.

Evan: I have to say your DA column is great fun. And a great way to think through some of the issues. Thanks for the invite, and keep up the good work. 🙂

Evan’s talks are unmissable!
Photo by Mike Hogan

Epilogue: Evan’s opinions are his own and do not represent any organisations he is associated with. Chia was only playing DA, and truly believes that every teacher should hone their expertise within their field at every opportunity possible. Chia and Evan are still friends, although Evan never fails to remind Chia of the times she failed to come to his talks…but that’s a discourse for another time…and another genre…

Devil’s Advocate vs Shelly Terrell on Technology & Young Learners

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

So the ninth victim on the hot seat is Shelly Terrell.

Shelly Sanchez Terrell is a teacher trainer, author, and international speaker. She is the host of American TESOL’s Free Friday Webinars and the Social Media Community Manager for The Consultants-E. She has co-founded and organized the acclaimed educational projects, Edchat, the ELTON nominated ELTChat, The Reform Symposium E-Conference and the ELTON nominated Virtual Round Table language and technology conference. Her prolific presence in the educator community through social media has been recognized by several notable entities, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, UNESCO Bangkok, and Edweek. Her award winning education blog, Teacher Reboot Camp, is filled with training resources and free materials for teachers. Keep an eye out for her book, The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators published by Eye on Education. Find her on Twitter, @ShellTerrell. Shelly has taught English language learners at various levels since 1998 in the US, Greece, and in Germany. She currently presents and hosts workshops on integrating technology effectively with young learners and adults. Shelly holds an Honours BA in English and a minor in Communication with a specialization in Electronic Media from the University of Texas in San Antonio and an Honours MA in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix.

 

Chia:  Hi Shelly, thanks for sparing some time to be here today!

Shelly: Thanks for inviting me.

Chia:  I’m just really honoured to have you here because I know that you are huge in the field of technology for Young Learner (YL) education all around the world.

Shelly:  Yes, I do support teachers using technology to effectively help their kiddos learn.

Chia:  But don’t you think that kids today just spend way too much time on their computers already as it is? Why are we encouraging them to do that more often?

Shelly:  Unfortunately, that is more of an issue that falls on parenting and I think teachers need to be cautious when we make these assumptions. Plus, I believe effective technology integration involves engaging parents and asking their participation in the technology for learning journey.

Chia: Are you suggesting that teachers have no responsibility for keeping their students away from all the technology that surrounds them? That it is their parents’ duty to strike that balance?

Shelly: What I mean is that parents need to know how to help their children use technology effectively to learn…

If we assume that parents are allowing their children to use the technology too much at home then we address these issues. I host parent technology workshops at the beginning of my classes where I ask parents their fears of technology.

I show them what technologies I plan on using. I get their permission and we come to an agreement of sorts of what we are both comfortable with.

Chia:  But why go through all that effort just so that we could use some of that technology in teaching? Children were learning effectively before, without the use of all this technology. Aren’t we just using technology for technology’s sake? Aren’t we just using it because it’s there?

Shelly:  See, I don’t believe that children were learning effectively before. I think that for a long time many classes are filled with teachers lecturing and I think the ICTs today help our kids get out of their microcosm and begin to learn about the world. If we don’t teach them to communicate and problem solve effectively with technology, then when they become adults and must use it in their careers and future, they won’t use if effectively. We see signs of that already.

When we think of a teacher-centred classroom, we often think of boring technophobic teachers.
Is this the image that comes to mind?

Chia:  Interesting. Let me address the first point you made before going on to the second…

In the more traditional approaches, classrooms were quite teacher-centred and there was too much of ‘transmitting of information’ going on. That, I totally agree with. We’ve since moved on to an era of ‘learning by doing’ and focusing on the student-centred classroom.

However, by using technology, aren’t we simply replacing the ‘lecturer’ with ‘technology’, and turning the classroom into a ‘technology-centred’ one, instead of a ‘student-centred’ one?

Simply swapping ‘teacher-centred’
for ‘computer-centred’?
Are we letting the tail wag the dog?

Shelly:  There are many technologies that are now put in the hands of learners. One of the ones I am a huge supporter of is mobile technology. It’s hard for a teacher to lean over the student and take control. This dynamic of having it in the hands of the learner means it supports student centered learning.

Whereas there are some technologies I would agree that when teachers are trained improperly would support teacher-centered teaching. One example is an IWB.

Chia:  But I envision student-centred learning to be one where the student is at the centre of it all, with the teacher mediating and supporting the learning process. With mobile technology, since it’s hard for the teacher to monitor the situation and contol it, wouldn’t it simply serve to cut the teacher and other students off in an anti-social kind of way?

For example, wouldn’t it be harder for the teacher to know if the student is really doing the task that has been set and not just texting their mates?

Mobile Learning or students just fooling around?
Photo from IH Barcelona Tech ELT Blog

Shelly:  This is an issue of teacher training which is really important to the effective integration of technology with learners. In my training, I suggest teachers do things like have students go on scavenger hunts with the devices. This promotes bringing the real world in the classroom, illustrates learning is all around them, and also gets students out of their seats moving around. This is an example of an effective way to use technology support learning. W

I’d like to address the issue of managing off tasking as well…

Chia:  Yes, go on.

Shelly:  Students will go off task even without technology. They will daydream, write notes, etc. A teacher who properly knows how to facilitate and be a guide will walk around while students work in pairs or groups or complete short tasks. This again deals with training. It is easier to manage students who are doing hands-on tasks rather than an entire group at once we are lecturing to.

Chia:  But surely some of these hands-on tasks are tasks that make the teacher so redundant that learners can do them at home (as homework, for example). Why waste precious classroom time fiddling with gadgets instead of milking every moment the student has with the teacher as their guide?

Without guidance, young learners can get buried under all the issues technology can pose.
Photo from #eltpics by @dfogarty

Shelly:  At home students will use technology and they will rarely have any guide either than their friends. We have problems like cyberbullying and texting that resulted from this. It is important kids learn to use the technology in effective ways with a mentor and the classroom offers that opportunity.

Chia:  Could you expand on the effective ways YLs could use technology in the classroom?

Shelly:  One way is to collaborate with peers worldwide. I address that in this post.

One example is that my 4 to 6 year-olds in Germany skyped with Emma Herrod’s 5 year-old son, Thomas, in the UK. Thomas showed my students how to create an origami box. This was hands-on, my students got to interact with another child from another country, and they also got to communicate in English in a more natural way.

Chia: Was this an English language lesson?

Shelly: Yes

What kind of origami were they being taught on Skype?

Chia: But instead of wasting all that time setting up the Skype call and ensuring the technology was working right, you could have showed them how to create an origami box yourself, couldn’t you?

Shelly:  No. That is more teacher talk time. They got to interact with a child around their age and heard and tried to understand that child’s accent and culture. They were speaking a child’s language if that makes sense. It was a child’s conversation in English between two cultures and that is more effective and powerful for learning than my teacher talk any day.

Teacher Talking Time doesn’t always have to be like this…

Chia:  Wait a minute…let’s not demonise teacher talking time too much…

Any FLA (First Language Acquisition) research would tell you that the feedback and scaffolding given by adult talk is part of what promotes acquisition. Surely teacher talking time is useful for YLs in SLA (Second Language Acquisition) too?

Shelly:  Yes. The teacher will talk but I’ll play devil’s advocate. Teachers already use tons of teacher talk time and so I rather take the stance to make teachers aware of that because the least likely thing most teachers worldwide do is have children communicate with other children around the world and I think that is what needs to be highlighted, shared and promoted. My goal isn’t to make a teacher feel better about their use of TTT but to make them aware that more time can be spent in getting children to use ICTs to communicate in English with others.

Chia:  YOU are playing devil’s advocate? Now I’ll be out of a job…

So, technology can provide YLs with opportunities to communicate with other young ‘uns around the world and help them realise about the world out there.

Anything else that technology can do that the teacher can’t?

Using technology to motivate and engage YLs to collaborate and work on tasks together.

Shelly:  Teachers can use technology for so many learning issues like diversifying instruction, getting students to problem-solve and learn about others worldwide, teaching to various learning styles, and more but at the end of the day one of the most important things to remember is what Bill Gate’s said, “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.” I don’t believe in technology replacing teachers. I believe it can help teachers.

Chia: Fair enough.

But let me take this debate in a different direction.

The constant use of computers, game consoles, and mobile devices are giving rise to some not-to-be-ignored physical ailments ranging from bad eyesight to RSI, not to mention the mental issues such as ADHD. YLs are already exposed to these electronic devices for the majority of their time awake. Should we really be encouraging them to spend more time dong so?

Shelly:  Part of my job is to inform parents and I think this is happening already but working with parents we can help teach them about balance. I limit the time we spend in the classroom with technology. It’s not an everyday thing. The most important is for kids to play, get out of their desks and move while learning. We sing songs, play games, do fingerplays, color, and many other activities that don’t involve technology. I also give parents options for out of the class exploration in my wiki. You will see tech based activities as well as options to play with the children and learn English. http://englishstorytime.pbworks.com W

Chia:  Thanks for the link!

You see, the problem I have with the internet and modern technological devices is that it seems to encourage a short attention span and spawns a generation of restless kids.

Shelly:  I understand but I like to take a proactive approach. If I don’t teach and train the students and parents how to effectively balance or use the technology then this problem will continue. Perhaps, it is because parents weren’t taught when they were children how to balance and I believe through guidance and addressing these issues we can help solve these problems.

Chia:  Well, most of these parents we are talking about didn’t have the internet and mobile devices to contend with as children, so I doubt if we know about striking the right balance, or what that balance might be.

Speaking of which, what would you say is the right balance, anyway?

Shelly:  I believe we start how we use any tool. For example, a pencil is a tool and if kids spend a majority of the class time sitting down writing that isn’t healthy. It’s the same with technology.

We give kids tasks where they move or don’t stay dormant in front of a computer for more than 15 minutes. I think more research is needed but I tend to try to get kids to use the technology for 5 minute increments like record a short video, record their voices, or take a picture.

This is for very young learners but as kids get older they can have a little more access. This depends on the age level as well. I refresh myself with the stages of development. John Piaget is an excellent source. Then we do other things like sing songs, have story time, etc. The technology is only used if I believe it will be more effective for that particular section of learning.

Don’t demonise technology!
Sitting down and writing for too long could cause health problems too.

Chia:  Well, I’m more a Vygotsky kind of girl myself.

Let me clarify.

While Piaget believed that the development of a child takes place before learning occurs, Vygotsky saw learning as arising from interpersonal interactions.

By speaking aloud to oneself, the thought process acts as a mediator, enabling the child to plan actions and thereby bringing about the learning process.

It is through interpersonal interactions and its accompanying sociocultural influences that prompts the intrapersonal.

I know you mentioned the use of Skype to encourage interactions with other children around the world earlier, but other uses of technology, on the other hand, seems to be rather anti-social to me.

How can this aid development?

Does technology make us more sociable?
How different is online interaction from face-to-face interaction?

Shelly:  I’m a big fan of Vygotsky as well. I think his learning theory is very effective. But the point is we need to reflect on how kids develop and how we use technology and how much time they spend in our classrooms with the technology.

Chia:  But do you find that technology encourages anti-social behaviour?

Shelly:  Again, that is on how we choose to use the technology. The teacher makes the choices. For example, we can decide if the children we teach will play a game for 30 minutes to learn particular the alphabet or we can choose if they will use something like VoiceThread to crowdsource the alphabet. Barbara Sakamoto has a perfect example of this.

Chia:  Wow. Seems like quite a lot of effort just to get students learning the alphabet. Won’t the alphabet song do the trick? It did for me as a kid…

Shelly:  Every kid learns differently. The children in Barbara’s voicethread learned new words, were exposed to different accents worldwide, and have a digital Alphabet book made with others that lasts a long time. Moreover, they were having fun and motivated to continue learning with others and continue their exploration of English words.

What’s the best way to learn the alphabet?
Photo from #eltpics by @hartle

Chia: Now, I know this is going to sound like it’s contradicting what I said earlier, but bear with me for a moment and hear me out.

We’ve been talking about limiting the time that a child should spend using technological devices, and I’ve been saying how the nature of the internet tends to give rise to short attention spans, right?

Shelly:  Yes…

The global phenomenon of the short games

Chia:  In fact, with the advent of apps of mobile devices, even games are starting to get shorter. A student of mine who develops game apps for mobile devices revealed to me that gone are the days of Role Playing Games and strategy games. People now want shorter puzzles and games that they can whip out and play with on their short train rides or while waiting for friends.

Games like Angry Birds, Bejewelled, Cut the Rope, Guitar Hero, etc are good examples of that.

So while shorter games, shorter clips on Youtube, and shorter blogposts (this sure ain’t one) can capture the attention of the young digital natives better, and can allow teachers to limit the time spent on using these electronic devices, does it not lack pedagogical continuity?

What I mean is when we used to watch Sesame Street on TV, there was a beginning, a middle and an end. It was pedagogically sound as it didn’t just present language to us. It allowed for time to absorb, practise and recap.

A short 3-minute clip of Oscar the Grouch on Youtube just isn’t going to have the same pedagogical credibility.

Does Oscar the Grouch have a short attention span too?
Wonder how many friends he has on Facebook…

Shelly:  I think when using technology in a classroom you can only use short bits to make sure that the teacher has time to scaffold and guide the student with the technology. Technology used at home for self-learning is entirely different. I think young learners need constant guiding and scaffolding with the technology. I’m not too comfortable with leaving a young learner to watch or play a video game or mess with an app with no one around. I think that’s a bit lazy.

Chia:  So you think that parents should constantly monitor their children’s use of technology then?

Shelly:  Yes I do believe that. I don’t mean recording all the information but I do believe it is important to be in the same room a child is playing a game or exploring the Internet or even watching a television program.

Don’t forget to monitor your children when they are using the computer.

Chia:  No computers or TVs in your future children’s bedrooms then? ; )

Shelly:  Nope! I plan on playing with my children constantly 🙂

Even if I’m worn out! 🙂

Chia:  And will you be playing with them with the use of an iPad? ; )

Shelly:  Yes! I will! 🙂

Chia:  I so envy them! Will you play with me and my iPad too?

Shelly:  Yes 🙂

Chia:  Okay, I’ll quit fooling around now. ; )

Shelly:  LOL! 🙂

Chia:  Thanks so much for spending time with me today and letting me challenge you…

You’re a hard nut to crack though, Shelly, coz you are just so balanced in your views.

Shelly:  LOL! : )

Chia:  At the end of the day, as you said, technology is a tool for us teachers to exploit, but should never become the tail that wags the dog, wouldn’t you say?

Shelly:  Yes! Well said!

Chia:  But could I at least get you to admit that in the wrong hands, technology in the classroom can become a way to simply wow the students before its novelty factor wears off?

Shelly:  I will admit that without proper teacher training that is always the case with any learning tool whether it be a pencil, the slate, desks, books and so many other tools we’ve seen that have been used to drill children into believing learning is boring, tedious, and difficult when really it is being curious and learning to explore those curiosities and having the chance to do just that to see where it leads.

Chia: A fantastic summary to a well-balanced argument!

Shelly:  Thanks for expanding my thinking. Always great to run ideas off with a very resilient and beautiful Devil’s Advocate 😉

These were once considered high tech toys by some too…
Photo from #eltpic by @fionamau


Epilogue: Shelly’s opinions are her own and do not represent any organisations she is associated with. Chia was trying to play DA but Shelly’s views were so balanced and logical that it was hard not to agree with her.

Devil’s Advocate vs Hugh Dellar on Intercultural Communication

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

So the eighth victim on the hot seat is Hugh Dellar.

Hugh Dellar is a teacher and teacher trainer at University of Westminster, London. He has been teaching for almost twenty years, mostly in the UK, but also in Indonesia. He is the co-author of two five-level General English series, INNOVATIONS and OUTCOMES, both of which are published by National Geographic Learning. He has given talks and teacher development sessions all over the world and blogs at http://www.hughdellar.wordpress.com. He also runs a busy language-focussed site here. In addition, he is a life-long Arsenal supporter, obsessive hoarder of obscure 1960s vinyl and general bon viveur, as the photo bears witness to!

 

Chia:  Hi Hugh, thank you for taking time out to be here today!

Hugh:  Thank you for inviting me, Chia

Chia:  I have heard that you are not the biggest advocate for dealing with intercultural communication in the English language classroom. Would that be right?

Hugh:  Kind of, yes. Part of the issue for me is that I’m never really sure what is actually meant by things like ‘dealing with intercultural communication in the classroom’ . . . and I fear many people who bandy such terms around aren’t either!

I believe that the MAIN role of a language teacher is to teach language and that most other things are a distraction.

Chia:  Surely the role of a English language teacher these days is to help our learners become better communicators. And well, Hugh, as soon as you communicate with someone who is not from where you are from, you are communicating interculturally.

Communicating Effectively
ELTpics: Picture by @ij64

Hugh:  The way we help our students become better communicators is by teaching them better English.

Your definition of communicating interculturally just seems to me to mean talking to people!!

I think that the real issue is that students communicate better with each other when they share more language in common, and the more English students speak, the more they are able to communicate with each other and find both common ground and differences . . . and in a sense that’s the same whether you’re talking to someone from the other side of the world or from a neighbouring country. I just don’t see what the ‘cross-cultural’ part is supposed to be apart from providing language and opportunities for students to talk to each other . . .

Chia: First of all, Hugh, as a coursebook writer, you must agree with me that communicating is not limited to just speaking. What about writing, listening and body language?

Hugh: Well, of course, communicating includes writing, listening and reading yes. But those essentially involve linguistic knowledge and competence.

As for body language, well, that’s very personal and something that for me – unless it crops up in class, as admittedly it sometimes does – is certainly not something I’d go out of my way to ‘teach’.

Chia:  What you are saying is that when people can find common ground and differences and be aware of these, then they will become more successful communicators, right?

So therefore, if we can help them to become more aware of cultural characteristics of those with whom they will be communicating, can we not make the learning process more efficient by allowing them to become more aware of these common grounds and differences (and I include body language in that).

We’re training our learners to become better communicators, not just better English language users. Or do you see that differently, Hugh?

Intercultural Communication
ELTpics: Picture by @senicko

Hugh: I’m not even necessarily saying that you need to find common ground or difference, really. I’m saying people who have more language and can use that language more skillfully will be better communicators. It may be that you use that talent and that language to find common ground, if that’s what you’re interested in, or differences. It may also be, of course, that you use it to manipulate, abuse, sell to, etc. It depends on what you want from situations, doesn’t it? And what people want depends on them and the situations they’re in and who they’re interacting with. In life in general, I mean, not just in classrooms.

I’m very very wary of talk of ‘cultural characteristics of those with whom they will be communicating’, though, partly because it inevitably leads to over-generalisations and stereotyping of the ‘Germans are direct and blunt, Japanese value politeness and ritual’ variety; partly because who actually knows who our students will be dealing with outside of class in the rest of their lives and partly because people vary so widely. I’ve met super informal, sweary, drinking Japanese folk and far more formal ones, just as I have Germans, English and so on, and any smart person treats each person on a person to person basis – and the core of the way you negotiate that is through language.

Does intercultural training mean teaching dos and don’ts?

Chia: In no way do I mean we should teach dos and don’ts. And I agree that over-generalisations lead to stereotyping and essentialism. What I mean is – Should we not make our learners aware of how their communication styles can be interpreted by others, and how other people’s communication styles can be misinterpreted by them?

It’s about raising awareness of potential areas of difficulty and not about trying to overgeneralise certain cultures or nationalities. e.g. Many coursebooks have topics like ‘Work’ or ‘Jobs’ and have writing tasks involving the writing of a CV. In the USA, putting your date of birth on your CV could result in it being thrown in the bin as they don’t want to risk being accused of discrimination, but in Germany, not putting your DOB or photo on your CV could mean your application might not be considered. Shouldn’t learners be made aware of such things?

Hugh: I just don’t see how you think this works in class Chia. Some people might think you’re direct, others might think you’re not; some people might feel you’re talkative, others may be more talkative than you. How does knowing this benefit students? And is it really our job to tell them this? People learn what others think about them through interaction throughout their lives, and most people – if they’re adults – already have a fairly strong sense of their own self anyway . . .

If all you mean is learning conventions of how things like CVs are done in UK or US cultures, then that’s fine. I see that as genre awareness rather than cross-cultural differences. Though of course even this knowledge only really helps students if they’re applying for a job in the UK or US.

If a German is applying to an international company in Germany but sending a German-style CV in English, is it such an issue? I suspect not and I suspect it certainly won’t be what gets them the job or doesn’t get them the job.

All I do as a writer or teacher is present things like CVs in the standard way I’d expect them to be, but don’t make an issue of this being ‘cultural in any way . . .

And besides, at University of Westminster, we get 5-10 CVs a week coming though the door, almost all from native speakers, and are they somehow culturally consistent? Are they heck! They’re wildly diverse . . . so where then are cultural norms?

The way to write your CV

Chia: Let me first respond to your point on the adult learners’ sense of self.

Coming from someone who believes that we shouldn’t overgeneralise, you obviously know that our sense of self and the identity we portray changes from context to context, depending on the communities of practice we are in, the interlocutors involved, our past experience of that particular discourse community, etc. e.g. A career woman who has to adjust to the discourse styles and rules of the playground when associating with other mothers might choose to portray herself quite differently. If she doesn’t, she could risk being misunderstood. That is why it is always difficult when first adapting to the culture of a new company or social group we find ourselves in.

You also can’t deny that the culture in which we grew up in has a strong effect on the opinions we form. e.g. Would you agree that ‘the best form of decision-making is group consensus’ or ‘a person’s value is measured by their achievements’. Surely you must acknowledge that these are culturally loaded opinions. Would it not benefit our learners to reflect on how the way they see the world is socially constructed? And would it not be possible to do such reflection and awareness-raising in an English language class? Should we not be teaching our learners to become better communicators or not just better users of the linguistic features of a language?

The different roles we play and the different identities we take on

Hugh: in terms of the career woman, I’m not sure what your point is IN TERMS OF LANGUAGE TEACHING.

Yes, it might be a nice study to do for someone on a Sociolinguistics module on an MA TESOL or something to see how one person varies their own language use across contexts, but all that’d tell you is . . . how one person varies their language across particular contexts. It won’t tell you anything of value in an EFL class.

As for awareness raising of how culturally constructed our own sense of what’s right and wrong, what’s normal is, etc . . .I just don’t see that as our job as language teachers . . . and I’m not sure that it’s actually achieved through discussing things like whether or not you agree the best way to make decisions is through group discussion or through one leader telling everyone what to do etc .

I’m also not sure folk from one country will agree anyway . . . I don’t buy into the idea that these supposed ‘norms’ actually really exist that much. Maybe . . . MAYBE . . . if I was preparing a Business English student to go and do business in China, say, I might want to do ONE small exercise on things people say about China and the business culture there, with the proviso that these may or may not be true, and that really they’d be best going and finding out for themselves, but that’s about it.

I honestly don’t believe that if you put 100 Brits or Japanese or Russians or whatever in a room and did a test on them to ask, for example, if the best form of decision-making is group consensus or if a person’s value is measured by their achievements, you’d get agreement. People differ. Some Japanese people will agree with some Brits and Russians more than with some other Japanese.

Intercultural Training should not be about promoting stereotypes

Chia: In terms of the career woman, it is an example of how we need to adapt to new environments and to accommodate the new discourse communities and the new people we encounter, or else we risk being misunderstood and not portraying the image we want to portray. Some people are just better at accommodation than others…

I’m afraid you’re missing the point, Hugh. No one is expecting every Japanese or German to have the exact same values. As I’ve said above, it’s definitely not about giving learners dos and don’ts lists (which may only reinforce cultural stereotypes). It’s about making learners more aware of the values, beliefs and opinions THEY hold, which are culturally bound, and how to adapt and cope when dealing with situations of uncertainty where their interlocutor is clearly communicating upon a different set of beliefs, rules, opinions, etc.

Even if the 100 Brits or Japanese all have different answers, that is fine. Learners need to be aware of the fact that people are different from themselves and might not perceive them as they want to be perceived. If they want to become more successful communicators, they can’t just be dealing with lexico-grammar. We are not teaching a language like Latin that was used only in academic writing. We are teaching a language used for communication. How can you say that you don’t want to teach learners to become better communicators?

Is the gladiator a super-communicator?
ELTpics – Picture by @ij64

Hugh: Indeed, some PEOPLE are just better at accommodation that others – not some CULTURES! It’s all down to the individual. Our job is not to ‘improve’ students and turn them into what we imagine a better person might be. Our job is to teach them language. It’s up to them what they then do with it. Apart from telling students “we need to adapt to different discourse communities and the new people we encounter” – which they will have been doing all their lives in L1 anyway, where they all learn and grow and adapt through their encounters with others, as they grow up and become adults, I’m STILL not sure what you think we should be doing IN THE CLASSROOM to enable students to become these super-communicators?

As for missing the point . . . perhaps you’re making it very clearly! Are we having a cross-cultural breakdown here, Chia?

I’m not saying that anyone expects anyone to have the same values; just that you can’t predict or generalise about what values people may or may not have because of where they’re from.

I DO want my learners to be better communicators, by the way. I just think the way that this is achieved is by teaching more language. Not by telling them blindingly obvious truisms like “By the way, you do know, don’t you, that your own opinions are shaped by your own experiences and that others might not have had these experiences and therefore may have different opinions and thus it’s a good idea to tread carefully when dealing with people that are not you!’

Also, thinking about it, many of the most successful intercultural communicators actually do so by being totally themselves and of their own backgrounds and by making no concession to others on any level. I’m remembering a very hard-nosed Chinese Seamen’s union negotiator I taught last year.

Is Hugh building up a wall to keep inter-cultural awareness out of his classroom?
Is Hugh ignoring the cultural differences beyond the walls of his classroom?
ELTpics – Picture by @sandymillin

Chia: I think we might be having a cross-cultural miscommunication here, indeed. Let us define ‘culture’ for starts. You seem to be hung up on ‘culture’ as in ‘national culture’, when ‘culture’ does also refer to ‘corporate culture’, ‘family culture’, ‘social group culture’ etc, (notwithstanding the cultural filter through which individuals perceived the world)

I think you are still missing the point.

Hugh: Make it better then!

Chia: I’m not advocating we predict or generalise what values people may or may not have because of where they’re from.

I’m advocating that we help learners realise the issues that arise when they are communicating in situations with interlocutors out of their usual discourse community, and adapt accordingly.

e.g. I had some Latin American and Mediterranean students who were in the same class with several Koreans and Japanese students for the few months they were at International House. One day, we started talking about the way we take turns and how we hold the floor, and the Latin Americans and Mediterranean students at first were adamant that Oriental are just shy. Through discussion, they were surprised to realise that the Koreans found it rude to interrupt others, and in turn thought that the Mediterraneans were rude. The discussion seemed like a revelation to both groups, and is a clear example of how cultural differences could be glaring at you in the face, and you might still attribute it to interlocutor’s personality if you were not made aware.

So, what about discussing such issues in English instead of just talking about hobbies, holidays and the usual banal stuff you often find in course books.

 

Not banal – Fridge magnets showing us cultural differences!
ELTpics – Picture by @amfromz

Hugh: Obviously, only an idiot would say they don’t want their students to deal better with situations where communication breaks down, but in classroom terms, I still don’t see what you think we should be doing. It just sounds like you want us to give trite little mini-lectures to students and tell them to ensure they adapt when communicating with folk from different backgrounds! Isn’t this what people all do anyway? In L2 as in L1? I don’t buy the basic premise that these breakdowns even occur that often, to be honest. What I see happening in communications between folk of different cultures, whether they be national, local, company cultures or whatever, is people talking to each other, negotiating meanings (which the better they use English, the easier they find) and getting stuff done or having conversations . . . in terms of the Koreans and Latin Americans, where does that then get them? Did the Koreans all start butting in and interrupting and the Latin Americans waiting and hesitating? Almost certainly not! All that happened is they realised the mirror has two-way glass in it, but their view is still their view . . .

Anyway, . . . I’ve never advocated just discussing banal stuff, as anyone who knows my books will hopefully testify to, but I honestly think too much is made of these ‘breakdowns’ and that if students are given interesting things to talk about, anyone will talk to anyone, provided they have common language to allow that. My advanced class this term has 8 Chinese, eight non-Chinese, including two other Asians . . . German . . . Spanish . . . Colombian . . . today they chatted about religion in their countries, divorce and divorce laws, and much else besides. It was super interesting, brought about by materials that realised these issues . . . I pre-taught language to help these discussions and then taught more in response to things they wanted to say, but couldn’t. THIS is what I think we should be doing in class.

If you want ONE of these kinds of classes to be about how you start / end / enter conversations, fine  . . . but divorce and religion is at least as interesting!

Which would you choose as a topic for your classroom? Intercultural communication or divorce?

Chia: Fine, I’ll give you that. In a multi-lingual class, that might be very interesting. But how would you propose dealing with the same issues in a monolingual group?

Hugh: In a mono-lingual class students will still disagree about things like the divorce laws . . . maybe religion in their country won’t be such an issue, but monolingual NEVER means mono-cultural. Students will all orient themselves to topics in different ways, have different takes and different opinions. As a writer – and a teacher – those are the spaces I’m interested in exploring – and that I try to teach the language to facilitate discussion about.

Chia: Hugh, it looks like you’ve just agreed that teaching issues like this in class is important. Cogito ergo sum, we should integrate cultural issues into language training! Thank you very much Hugh. I’ve really enjoyed doing this DA with you!

😉

Hugh: Ha ha. I thought it was me who just heard what they want to hear! 🙂

Anyway, thank YOU, Chia, for your time, your questions and your (misplaced) enthusiasms!

What I did to Lindsay Clandfield during the Teach-Off I wanted to do to Hugh Dellar

Epilogue: Hugh’s views are his own and do not represent any organization he is associated with. Chia, this time, was not only playing DA, but was genuinely taking a stand about the topic in question. Hugh and Chia may have been engaging in many online fights lately, but rest assured they are still friends who are not adverse to the occasional rowdy debate in the pub.

Devil’s Advocate vs Marjorie Rosenberg on Learning Styles

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

So the seventh victim on the hot seat is Marjorie Rosenberg.

Marjorie Rosenberg has been teaching English in Austria since 1981. She has worked in a variety of settings in adult education and currently teaches at the University of Graz as well as working with corporate clients and doing teacher training.

Her interest in making business English fun and accessible to a large group of learners prompted her to write the photocopiable business English activity book Communicative Business Activities which is now available on English 360 http://learn.english360.com. She has also written In Business, two Business Advantage Personal Study Books and is a regular contributor to Professional English Online, Cambridge University Press.

Marjorie’s work with NLP brought her into contact with different models of learning styles and she is currently working on Spotlight on Styles, Delta, which is due out some time in Autumn this year.

Marjorie is the coordinator of the IATEFL Business English Special Interest Group.

 

Chia:  Hi Marjorie, it is such an honour to have you on the DA hotseat today!

Marjorie:  Good to be here.

Chia:  I hear that you are quite the NLP expert and that you have a book coming out soon about learning styles?

Marjorie:  Right. I did my Master Practitioner and Trainer’s Training in NLP with Robert Dilts in Santa Cruz, California where it all started.

Chia:  Wow…that’s impressive! I know we talk a lot about learning styles in our teaching and even in teacher training, but could you give us an overview as to what we are talking about here?

Marjorie:  Sure, NLP and learning styles are actually two separate things. In NLP we look at what has been called ‘representational styles’ meaning how we ‘re-present’ the world to ourselves. These are basically the visual, auditory and kinesthetic modes. …

They also include gustatory and olfactory which are more important in some cultures than in others. That’s why it is sometimes called the VAKgo model. …

These representational systems are used in NLP to help us establish rapport and have some idea of ‘how’ another person perceives the world but certainly NOT what they are thinking.

Does the use of colours indicate a visual learning style?
ELTpics: Picture by @acliltoclimb

Chia:  But learning styles are often considered part of NLP, aren’t they? Could you perhaps give a quick definition of NLP just so our readers could understand the subject at hand and see the difference between the two?

Marjorie:  Learning styles are a much broader field as they include the sensory modalities of the VAK model but they also go on to include cognitive processing which deals with how we think and process information – either globally or analytically) as well as the models which deal with our behavior.

These models include our preferred style of learning something new for example. One way to look at this is a model I use, which is divided into four parts depending on how we perceive and then organise the information we have received. This is based on research done by David Kolb and Anton Gregorc but reworked by April Bowie in the US.

To explain the four types in Bowie’s model, I usually give an example of instruction manuals: some people write them, some use them constantly, some have no idea where they have put them as they just push the buttons till something works and others just need to know someone who has read the manual and can explain it to them. These are four distinct styles.

Chia: That, I am assuming is the general definition of learning styles. What about NLP?

Marjorie:  I realised I didn’t answer your question. NLP began as a short-term therapy and then quickly moved into the business world as a communication model and eventually into the classroom. …

NLP makes use of the representational systems as I mentioned, but in order to improve communication, not necessarily to teach someone something new.

Chia:  Okay, for the purpose of today’s DA debate, let us focus on learning styles then, shall we?

Marjorie:  No problem.

Learning styles were around before NLP but I actually learned about them in an NLP for teachers’ course.

Michael Grinder, whose brother John was one of the founders of NLP, runs classes for teachers where his aim is to help educators find out how their students perceive, store and recall the information they receive. Michael says that school success is actually based more on where we have information stored, rather than what specifically we have learned.

What he means with this is that once we have received information, we need to have access to it and if we are auditory for example, we remember best what we hear or say but if we got the information in visual form we may not be able to access it easily.  This is a bit like a computer, data is useless unless we know where we have saved it.

Is the cat an audio learner? Or is the seat in front of Underhill’s IPA chart simply warm and comfy? Is it even a real cat?
ELTPics: Picture by @Senicko

Chia:  Surely that must depend on the type and nature of the information at hand? If we are trying to learn about the geographical location of Sao Paulo, it clearly would be easier to use a visual way of teaching than an auditory way?

Conversely, if one is trying to get their learners to produce the phonological chunking of a text and the correct placement of the tonic nucleus, it would be easier to drill and do it the auditory way?

Marjorie:  That depends on your style and how well you have learned to adapt. Michael also talks about teaching – which is teaching to all styles in the VAK model – and ‘re-teaching’ which means breaking down a lesson into one of the three (VAK) modes in order to make it accessible to someone whose primary system is not the one which was addressed in the original presentation.

An auditory learner may still need to say the places on the map aloud whereas the visual learner probably just needs to look at the map. And the kinesthetic learner may actually need to draw a map or move bits around to really understand it.

Chia:  But saying the places on the map out loud isn’t exactly going to help the learner know its geographical position though…and draw a map and moving bits around just to figure out that Sao Paulo is in Brazil seems like an awful waste of time…

Is there a non-visual way of learning this?
ELTpics: Picture by @SandyMillin

Marjorie:  It may seem like a waste of time to someone who understood it right away but for someone who didn’t, this may be the only way to really learn the material.

A few years ago we helped out the son of friends of ours who couldn’t learn English vocabulary. He did the usual, writing a list and trying to remember the words but as a kinesthetic learner it didn’t help him. I suggested he write the words on flashcards and move them around. He immediately started tearing up pieces of paper, played with the words, his English grades improved and in the end, he went on to study English.  His parents were also surprised at this fairly simple solution.  Another young person recently told me that she doesn’t like having to learn everything from books and would really prefer it if someone would just read everything to her. I have known her since she was four, she’s now 22 and has always been auditory.

Chia:  But are we really either visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learners? Aren’t most of us just a mix of all of the above?

Marjorie:  To some extent, we are a mix.  But the latest brain research is actually showing that we are born with one stronger tendency. We learn to adapt but tend to go back to our strong channel in stress situations. It could be that ‘stress’ is the important word here, when we are relaxed we have access to all our channels but when faced with an exam or answering a question, it is exactly then that we need to tend to rely on our strongest channel.

However, learning styles are NOT an excuse. We still have to put up with whatever is done in the classroom, we just have to find the best way for ourselves to deal with it.

A classroom that is always ready to deal with different learning styles
ELTpics: Picture by @mrsdkreb

Chia:  You use the phrase ‘put up with whatever is done in the classroom’, which seems to suggest that most teachers are not very attentive to their students’ learning styles. Do you think most teachers do not take this into consideration?

Marjorie:  I think a lot of teachers don’t have the time to try and accommodate all the students they have. When a teacher has a group of 20 – 30 students, it just isn’t possible to do activities in three different ways. And most of us tend to teach in the way we learn.

I co-train with a friend who is auditory – kinesthetic (motoric) and I am visual and kinesthetic but emotional. We once started a training session and there was no flip chart, which didn’t bother her at all, but I insisted we find one. She goes running at lunch and I find someone who I can talk to who I like.

Chia:  I can see the benefit applying our knowledge of different learning styles and varying our lessons so that most of the students feel motivated and catered for. But don’t you think it is a bit essentialist and categorical to say ‘You are visual’ and ‘You are kinaesthetic of the emotional sort’? Surely, everyone reacts and learns well when what they are presented information they can connect emotionally too and can discuss that with a partner?

Marjorie:  Not everyone connects emotionally to material, this is also dependent on type. This is one of the reasons I wanted to do a book on learning styles. The idea is to give teachers more insight as to the different styles in their classroom and expand their repertoire to try out activities aimed at specific styles. As a non-auditory type, I don’t do a lot with listening comprehensions I have to admit, even though I used my guitar for years in class. But CDs were not at the top of my list of teaching tools.  Pictures and photos were, however!

Chia:  I don’t think I’m a visual learner at all, considering the fact that I tend to think in words rather than pictures, I can never remember faces and I always dream in black and white or sepia tone. But I see the words, rather than hear them. And although mindmaps don’t work for me, I often have a photographic memory of lists and paragraphs with words. So I’m visual only when it comes to words. Does that make me a visual learner or not? It’s all so ambiguous!

Could memorising all this be a turn-on for some? Am I just weird? Or plain nerdy?
ELTpics: Picture by @acliltoclimb

Marjorie:  This still sounds visual to me.  However, you may be an analytic learner as well rather than a global one, which would mean that the individual words are more memorable than a picture. VAK is only part of the mix – we have to look at the whole picture. …

Having said that, however, I never analyse my students unless they are having problems learning something and ask for advice. Then it may help them to suggest that they approach a task in a different way and that just may do the trick.  However, using a variety of tasks taking these different styles into account or allowing groups to organise themselves when it comes to completing a task gives them the chance to make us of their individual strengths.

Chia:  That’s interesting that you say that because on the CELTA course, one of the criteria states that trainees have to show an awareness of different learning styles in their assignment ‘Focus on the Learner’. This means that most CELTA tutors deliver an obligatory input session on learning styles, coupled with multiple intelligences and the different kinds of motivation, just to fulfil the criteria. But CELTA trainees never seem to know what to do with this information, and neither do the tutors, to be honest. The end message, of course, is always ‘VARY YOUR LESSON AND METHODS’ but that message can be delivered without mentioning learning styles at all. Do you agree?

Are cuisenaire rods for the visual or the kinaesthetic learner? How can we better connect emotionally with the rods?
ELTpics: picture by Scott Thornbury

Marjorie:  Yes, I do agree. It would be good to actually teach the background of VAK which means that teachers can determine the input and output of the information but not the storage.  That is up to the individual.

Then if someone is more global and needs the big picture or more analytic and prefers details, that also makes a difference in how they learn/remember information, for example.

Then we can look at David Kolb’s model of those who perceive concretely but reflect on the information or need to actively experiment with it and those who prefer abstract concepts and then reflect on it or experiment with it – these are the four styles April Bowie worked with which I mentioned earlier.

Chia:  …or we can also talk about learners with more organic learning styles and those who prefer systematic approaches, couldn’t we? There are just so many…

What then should we teach on CELTA training courses, if any of these models…?

Marjorie:  Good question. I am concentrating in the book on the VAK, global-analytic and the model of the four styles April researched. In my opinion, these are the models which come up most often and include academic research. I haven’t touched multiple intelligences as they are more talents for me although some of the categories overlap with the other models. …

Visual-spatial, for example, is similar to visual but the standard visual model does not include the spatial aspect. This means that although I recognise a house on a street I still get lost because my spatial orientation is not very acute.

Chia:  My spatial orientation is terrible! Ask anyone who knows me! I could walk into a shop on the high street and by the time I walk out of it, I would have no clue which side I came from!

My teachers should have done more spatial orienteering with me when I was at school. I blame them!
ELTpics: Picture by @Raquel_EFL

Marjorie:  I understand as I have the same problem. However, to sum up some of this discussion, I would say that what is important for me in the whole learning style debate is that it is important for teachers to recognise their own preferred modes and to be able to stretch out of them from time to time in order to reach more of their learners. We also need to be tolerant of someone who does something in a different way. We criticise students who mouth words while reading, for example, but auditory learners may actually need to do this.

Since I began working with styles I find my students to be fascinating as I observe the way they do things when left to their own devices. There is a jigsaw puzzle game with phrases on it in one of the photocopiable books. I gave out the game to two groups – one read the phrases aloud and put the puzzle together based on the phrases which matched and the other group simply looked for the pieces which went together and looked at the phrases at the end. That was really interesting to watch!

Chia:  I love doing tests that help me know my learning styles, etc. But a lot of the time, these tests are so obvious to the people answering them that I wonder if they are really testing my learning style, or what I THINK my learning style is and reaffirming my assumptions about myself…in a placebo effect sort of way? Also, doesn’t categorising people and letting them think they are a visual or auditory learner close them off to other ways of learning? I know people who would say stubbornly, ‘That just won’t work for me because I’m not auditory!’ before even trying things out.

I love doing personality tests from these magazines…! Oh, have I let on that I am a bit of a bimbo…?
Photo from http://meggiecat.blogspot.co.uk/2004_08_01_archive.html

Marjorie:  I was just thinking about that. One possibility is to have students or learners observe themselves in relation to any learning style survey before actually ticking the answers. And, as I mentioned earlier, it is really important to remember that this info is most important in a stressful situation. I can listen to the radio in the car when I am not stressed but the minute I have to park, it goes off.  My partner, however, is auditory and the radio is on non-stop as it relaxes him. I collect photos – he collects CDs. But again, styles ARE NOT an excuse.  In order to be successful we all have to learn to accommodate to the world around us.

I would say that the goal of the teacher is to help a student (who is having problems) to learn how to stretch out of one mode if that is what is holding him / her back and learn to work in other ways which are necessary for the task at hand (looking at a map for example or learning chunks of language).

Chia:  And will your soon-to-be-published book be showing us teachers how to do that?

Marjorie:  That’s the plan.  The first section deals with the general information about styles, then there is a transition part with surveys, learning characteristics and learning tips and the middle part is full of activities for the different styles including ideas on adapting the activities to suit more than one style …

Chia:  That sounds brilliant! What’s it called and when can we expect it on the shelves?

Marjorie:  It is called Spotlight on Styles, being published by Delta and is about 3/4 done. Hopefully out in the late fall this year.

Chia:  I’ll definitely be looking forward to getting a copy!

Thanks so much for taking time to be subjected to the DA grilling today.

Will you still sign my copy despite me playing DA with you today? : )

Marjorie:  Thanks for asking me.  I hope that some of the ideas I presented will help teachers to work with types who are different than they are. It takes patience and tolerance but the end result is worth it. And yes, I will sign your copy, no problem.

Chia: Fantastic!

Hmmm…does my obsession with this picture make me a gustatory learner? Feed me and I will learn!
Photo by Chia Suan Chong. Food courtesy of http://www.highlife.ie

Epilogue: Marjorie’s views are her own and do not represent any organization she is associated with. Chia was mainly playing DA but did have some genuine doubts and queries about the topic in question. Marjorie hasn’t kicked Chia out of IATEFL BESIG yet, so that must mean that they are still due to have those few drinks together at the BESIG Summer Symposium in Paris in June.

It’s an Anniversary!

Some of you might be wondering why I have suddenly changed the layout of my blog.

Well, it’s been a year.

Courtesy of #ELTpics. Photo by @mkofab

April 30th 2011.

The day I started blogging. The day I started this blog.

I started this blog because I love writing.

Through writing, I am able to organise my thoughts because I am given the opportunity to articulate them.

Through the banter you provide me with, I am able to decide on what I believe in because I am allowed the chance to challenge the attitudes and views that I encounter.

Through the support of my PLN (Personal Learning Network), I am able to find the courage to say the things that are not necessarily popular or cool, to write about issues I really care about, and to express a part of me.

I would like to thank all the people who have viewed these pages and watched the videos, the people who have read, commented and like the posts, the people who have tweeted, shared, and used the ideas and articles here.

Thank you all for your support.

Courtesy of #ELTpics

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To celebrate, here are some facts and figures to help recap the year:

Total hits: 62,950

Views on Busiest Day: 976 (25th April, 2012)

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The Top 5 Most Commented on Posts are:

1.    The Teach-Off – My reaction to coursebooks and Uncount nouns  (51)

2.   Why are Business English Teachers paid so badly?  (50)

3.   10 Things Teachers Should Never Forget  (48)

4.   Devil’s Advocate versus Vicki Hollett on ELF  (42)

5.   The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 1  (36)

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Aside from myself, the Top 5 Commenters (and their respective twitter handles) are:

1. Phil Wade @phil3wade                 (53)

2. Chiew Pang @acliltoclimb                      (27)

3. Varinder Unlu @varinderunlu             (26)

4. Dale Coulter @dalecoulter             (23)

5. Mike Hogan @irishmikeh                (20)

Thank you so much for taking time to comment. You have contributed more than you can ever imagine!

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Excluding the Home Page, The Top 10 Posts (according to hits) are:

1.   Intercultural Dining Etiquette and Table Manners

2.   Devil’s Advocate versus Phil Wade on Exams and Testing

3.   Why I brought back the foreign language lesson to the CELTA

4.   Learning English Through a TV Series

5.   Dogme in Exam Preparation Classes

6.   What is Systemic Functional Grammar (Part 1)

7.   What is Systemic Functional Grammar (Part 3 – The Experiential Metafunction)

8.   10 Things I do with my mini-whiteboards

9.   What is Systemic Functional Grammar (Part 2 – The Interpersonal Metafunction)

10.   What is Systemic Functional Grammar (Part 4 – The Textual Metafunction & Conclusion)

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The Most Watched Videos (according to hits) are:

1.   IATEFL 2010 Presentation on Dogme

2.   BESIG 2010 Interview on SFG

3.   BESIG 2012 Interview on Politeness and Pragmatics

4.   Chiew’s 2011 interview with me on IaskU

5.   IH DOS Conference 2012 Presentation on ELF

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My top 5 personal favourites are:

1.   In defence of Callan (and other behaviourist methodologies)

2.   Making student-centred Dogme student-friendly

3.   11 things I learnt in London – a pseudo-ethnographic exploration of British vs Singaporean culture

4.   Gaellic – To save or not to save?

5.   Cringing at Cheese this Christmas?

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There has been 4 series on this blog thus far.

The first was a series inspired by a conversation with Mike Hogan, and still continues till today.

Devil’s Advocate is now at its 6th instalment and they are:

1.   Devil’s Advocate versus Mike Hogan on Business English Teaching and Training

2.   Devil’s Advocate versus Dale Coulter on Dogme for Newly Qualified Teachers

3.   Devil’s Advocate versus Phil Wade on Exams and Testing

4.   Devil’s Advocate versus Anthony Gaughan on Lesson Aims & Plans in Teacher Training

5.   Devil’s Advocate versus Vicki Hollett on ELF

6.   Devil’s Advocate versus Rakesh Bhanot on Non-Native Speaker Teachers of English

There will be more Devil’s Advocate instalments to come right after the Teach-Off is over!

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The second was a series of posts about my Pre-Advanced Dogme classes:

1.   MLearning, Mini-Whiteboards, and Emergent Stuff

2.   Only in a Dogme Class

3.   All Because I Hoped I Didn’t Fall in Love with You

4.   I left my head and heart on the dance floor

5.   Wham! Vroom! And things that jet setters do…

6.   And then my students said…

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The third was a series of posts about the IATEFL Glasgow conference 2012:

1.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 1

2.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 2 – PCEs

3.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 3 – Adrian Underhill’s Plenary

4.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 4 – Dave Willis on Grammar

5.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 5 – Anthony Gaughan on the Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT

6.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 6 – Jacket Potatoes, MLearning, ELearning & Skype

7.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 7 – 52 Subversive Activities & lots of parties

8.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 8 – Diana Laurillard’s Plenary

9.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 9 – A Smorgasbord of Prezi, Metaphors, Drama and the Passive Voice

10.  My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 10 – Willy Cardoso on Sociocultural Perspectives to Teacher Training

11.  My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 11 – Steven Thorne’s Plenary  THE ONE THAT GOT ME MY BRITISH COUNCIL AWARD!

12.  My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 12 – Digital Devices, Digital Storytelling, and the NNS Teacher

13.  My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 13 – Pecha Kucha Evening

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And the fourth, as many of you might know, is the Teach-Off that is taking place as we speak:

1.   The Teach-Off – The Premise

2.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 1

2.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 2

3.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 3

4.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 4 

5.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 5

6.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 6

7.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 7

8.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 8

9.   The Teach-Off – The Dogme Observer’s POV

10. The Teach-Off – Introducing the Coursebook Round

11.  The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 1

12.  The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 2

13.  The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 3

14.  The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 4

15.  The Teach-Off – My reaction to coursebks and Uncount Nouns

15.  The Teach-Off – Coursebook Day 5

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Thank you so much for reading and for being a part of this blog…even during times when I was unable to blog regularly.

Thank you for an amazing year.

And here’s to the next!

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Now, pardon me while I go off and sing Happy Birthday to myself…

Devil’s Advocate versus Rakesh Bhanot on Non-Native Speaker Teachers of English

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

So the sixth victim on the hot seat is Rakesh Bhanot

Rakesh Bhanot has been involved in teaching/teacher education for over 40 years and has delivered workshops/seminars in over 30 countries. He has contributed to a range of publications and is the founder editor of the journal Language Issues. He lives in London and is thinking about starting a blog.

Chia:              Hi, Rakesh, really good to have you here.

Rakesh:          Pleased to be here.

Chia:               I hear you have a rant that you want to share with us.

Rakesh:          Well, firstly, I am not, and do not feel like, a victim. Secondly, what I have to say is hardly a rant; it’s common sense.

Chia:               Ah hah! You might not feel like a victim now…but when I am done… (she rubs her hands together in glee…)

So what is this common-sensical thing that is irking you?

Rakesh:          Let’s just get this out of the way: the Devil often falls into her/his fire. So watch out!

However, here is my position: put bluntly – since I am a blunt Northerner from Lancashire as well as from North India – non-native teachers of English are better than so-called native speakers of English. I can and will qualify that as you approach the cliff edge of the eternal fire.

Chia:               Wait, first of all, as this is a touchy subject, I would suggest we clarify the terms Native Speaker and Non-Native Speaker before proceeding into eternal fire.

Rakesh:          Giving dictionary definitions may or may not help you here. My big fat dictionary describes a  Native Speaker (NS) as ‘someone who has spoken a language from earliest childhood’. That begs all sorts of questions: how early is early? what about a person who grows up in a multilingual society? etc.

Chia:               Let’s just say that someone who spoke the language from, say as early as 5, and was educated in English at school, even if they were multi-lingual? Does that sound like a good definition to you?

Rakesh:          Such parameters can help but life is more complicated than that. For example, I did not speak any English until I arrived here in the UK aged 10 and yet I have taught English in many institutions – both public and private – that claim/ed to employ only NSs.

Chia:               Do you think these institutions saw you as a NS?

Rakesh:          I don’t think they saw me in those terms; they simply saw me as someone who was popular with their students in spite of the fact that I do not look like a (stereo)typical Englishman or a British person. What mattered to them was that I could deliver a professional ‘service’ and what mattered to the students was the ‘feeling’ that they could understand what I was saying; often more clearly than the NSs they had rejected because they could not even understand the accent of the so-called NSs. Shall I elaborate?

Chia:               Hang on…let me pick up on your point about students not understanding the NSs’ accents…

Is it not part of language acquisition to learn to understand the NSs? Why are we protecting them from that?

Shouldn’t such exposure be part of letting students get used to listening to NS accents?

They probably couldn’t understand NS accents only because they are not used to them… Is it not our job to provide them with more listening practice then….if that is the case…

Rakesh:          Well, Ms Devil, you have opened up another can of worms that I am rather pleased about. I agree with you that learners should be exposed to different NS accents. However, if the learners cannot understand the NSs because their regional accent is so far removed from a variety of English that they need to learn for the geographical context in which they live, then one has to ask why.

Let me give you an example from my own experience. When I taught in Spain in the early 1970s, I was twice pushed into a classroom by the director of the school and told to go in and say that I was a native speaker (sic.) of English to the students.

Technically, I am not a NS since I had no knowledge of English until I was 10 and I did not speak English at home, and never did so while my parents were alive, but for the students who had paid good money to learn English I was a ‘better’ teacher since, to begin with, they could at least understand what I was saying. In fact, I remember my opening remarks on both occasions was to confess to the students that I was not a NS of English and received such a positive response from them to the effect ‘thank god, we can understand what you are saying‘.

Chia:               But you still haven’t answered my question, Rakesh. What if these students come to the UK and are unable to understand what NSs are saying?

And if you argue that they might never need to come to a NS country, then what if they watched English language TV programmes, Hollywood films, etc and can’t understand a thing? They would turn around and blame the teacher for not preparing them well. After all, what use are English lessons if the students can’t come out of it understanding the English?

Rakesh:          Exactly, if the students cannot understand English when they have been exposed to it then there is clearly there is something wrong.

You have accepted that there are many kinds of English and many sorts of  NSs who speak with a variety of accents. There is not a norm as was perhaps the case when RP was the ‘accepted’ standard. Most language learners go in with an expectation that they will learn the variety of the target language that will enable them to communicate with the majority of its users.

If I am learning English in, say a part of China, to come to London to live and work or study and I am being a taught by a NS with a heavy accent from Glasgow that I cannot understand because it does not seem similar to what I have seen or heard on the Internet or in films, then I maybe a bit peeved. You do not employ a Geordie or a Scouser with heavy regional accents because they may come across it at some time in their lives; you employ a teacher whose accent may help you communicate with lots of different people.

Clearly, if you are teaching ESOL in Glasgow for local residents who have to get by with the locals, it would make sense to learn some of the local dialect but I think most people want to learn English which will help them deal with situations more widely.

Chia:               So what you are basically saying is that having a NNS accent could cater to their needs and their wants more?

Rakesh:          No, I am not saying that at all. Look, everybody has an accent and some accents are more distant to what may be considered the norm. The issue is not about NS or NNS or regional accents or dialects…. it is about clarity and compensability.

Chia:               But you must admit that you are the exception to the norm, Rakesh.

Many NNS teachers of English do not necessarily have such clear and comprehensible pronunciation.

They speak with heavily accented English which their students then learn off them…

In Japan for example, many Japanese teachers of English can’t really distinguish the /r/ and the /l/ themselves, and as a result, they are not only unable to model the sounds correctly, they are not able to teach students to recognise and produce the different sounds correctly either.

Rakesh:          Yet, you and I both know Japanese speakers of English who have no problems with those sounds. So, it’s not a question of NS or NNS but more of the ability to master (sic.) the sounds of English and the ability to help the students to communicate. In some ways, the whole debate around the NS ad NNS dichotomy is a false one. Would you agree?

Chia:               Sure, there are NNSs who can pronounce English sounds, but statistically speaking, there are more NNSs who CAN’T pronounce English sounds than NSs, wouldn’t you say?

And that is the same for knowledge of the language on the whole too…lexicogrammar and all…

As Naom Chomsky suggests, it is the NS in whom the idealised speaker-listener state is inherent… NSs know what sounds right and what sounds wrong by intuition. They can use this intuition to help them with their knowledge of the language, and to guide students…

Rakesh:          I think you may be slipping into the fire already especially when you try to claim that NSs have a superior knowledge of grammar as compared with NNSs. Studies, anecdotal evidence, reports from NNS teachers of English who do training courses with NSs etc. all clearly show that NNSs have a much better knowledge of the English language than their NS counterparts – even when the NS have degrees in English.

As for Chosmsky, not only do his critics dismiss his ideas about the ‘idealised speaker listener state’, even Chomsky himself is not sure about how his ideas have been (mis)interpreted. Some/most NSs may be advantaged in dealing with sounds but nowadays there are many multi-media ways to provide role models of sounds. In short, NSs may have a small advantage but often they have many shortcomings when compared with NNSs who know about the English language in much more depth.

Chia:               Hang on a second, I did not say that NSs have a superior knowledge of grammar. In terms of talking about language and knowing how grammar works, yes, many NNSs know a lot more because they had to learn it as a second language and thus had to analyse it and contrast it to their L1s.

But as we know, talking about language, and using the language are two completely different things. NSs may not be able to talk about language (until they have had some training and some development) but they already instinctively are able to use it. They are naturally competent as it is their first language. The knowledge about grammar can be picked up by reflecting on how they use their language.

Rakesh:          That does not make the NSs better teachers! Yes, instinctively, NSs can use the language better but we are not talking about an ability to use the language BUT an ability to teacher/ to help others to learn. They are different skills.

One of my ex-employers, the late Peter Fabbian who was the Director of the London School of English, once said to be in not much diplomatic terms that anyone who has not been through the pain of learning a second language to some degree of fluency should be let loose in front of language learners. I guess this brings us to another important distinction, viz. the debate is not so much about NS v. NNS but ‘mono-lingual teachers (who only speak their own language) versus bi/multi-lingual teachers ( those who have made the painful journey of learning another language).

Chia:               But one needs to be able to use and manipulate the language well before they can help learners to do the same.

For fear of sounding like a broken record, I must state again that simply by nature of being NNSs, there is a higher statistical possibility that they are not able to use the language well and lack the ability to intuitively know what sounds right and what sounds wrong. And overuse of clichéd idioms, for example, is how an NNS could come across quite badly.

Matters of pragmatics, discourse, and styles (within particular genres) are difficult ones for NNSs to get their heads round, and often come with repeated experiences of interactions with other NSs. They are thus less able reflect upon how language is being used and help their learners with it.

Rakesh:          In my 40+ years of experience in ELT, I can honestly say that many NNS teachers of have actually spent/had to spend time reflecting  on the nature of the English of the language they are teaching and that many NSs simply try and get away with having the status of being NSs without an in-depth knowledge of how the language works. Many are unable to explain the basic rules of English grammar.

The issue is not one of whether NSs have an automatic advantage as teachers over NNSs but whether a particular individual has the professional ability to help others. We can argue all night who can do this better.

Let me ask you a question: if you wanted to learn, say Arabic, would you prefer an Arabic speaker who has no knowledge of your language learning needs as a speaker of English  or would you prefer a an English teacher who has made the journey and someone who knows what difficulties/challenges lie along the way? Would you not prefer to be able to ask questions in your own language from the outset? Think before you answer.

Chia:               That’s an interesting question, Rakesh. And it leads me nicely to the devil’s next argument.

Most students would say they want a NS as their teacher.

Schools all over countries like Japan publicize the fact that they only employ NSs as their selling point.

Are you saying we ought to ignore the expectations and wants of the learner/client?

Rakesh:          Many learners have little or no idea about how best to learn unless they have some experience. The myth of the native speaker being a better teacher has a history (and form) and one can trace it quite precisely; when and where it started. There is no scientific basis for it. If you repeat something for long enough and market it people will buy anything.

If you want to read a scholarly account of this and other myths/ fallacies about language teaching then I suggest you look at the work of someone like Robert Phillipson (Linguistic Imperialism OUP 1992 but there is new edition available) .

There are other fallacies e.g. that English is best taught monolingually; that the earlier English is taught the better; the more English is taught the better the results; that if other languages are used in teaching English it will damage the standard of English being learnt.

Phillipson demolishes each of these fallacies ‘created’ for post imperialistic neo-imperialistic motives.  Go back to what kind of teacher you would like to have for yourself and forget the pseudo-scientific nonsense propagated by those who wanted to continue the ‘rule of England by controlling the way English was taught’.

Good teachers are not born; they are made and the accident of speaking a language from birth does not make you a better teacher

Chia:               Of course, the term ‘better’ is very subjective as well.

Part of being a teacher is helping learners to use the language and communicate more effectively.

But there’s also the learners’ expectations and presumptions as well. Take for example, the cultural element that learners often expect from an English course. I have met so many learners who say they want to learn about the English culture and how English people see things.

Now, you could say that it’s because I work in a language school in London. But I also know of many language schools in Japan who, as I said before, use the NS teachers they employ as a selling point, advertising the fact that they can ‘transport’ the learner to England and teach them about the quaint English culture (bowler hats and cups of tea are featured in their publicity material).

Photo by Jasonoutthere, Photobucket

When I was learning Japanese, I wanted to know all about the Japanese culture – its history, its pop culture, how the people think and see the world etc. If I had learnt Japanese from a NNS, I would only get their perspective of the Japanese culture. I wouldn’t be getting the ‘real thing’, would I?

Rakesh:          Two queries re the above: ‘helping learners to use the language and communicate effectively’ is something different from just being a NS and not if NSs have this ability. I would trust someone who has done this (i.e. learnt English to high level) to have these skills.

Secondly, most people want to learn to speak/read the language and culture, albeit a key part, is not why people join language classes.

Which and whose culture? Middle class white British culture or the modern day multiculture?  This touched on what for me is the key issue in this debate that is never touched on. The debate about NS v NNS is really a euphemism, a mask which really disguises the true nature of what is happening and the insidious way in which owners of language schools and the learners themselves collude with the blatant racism that goes on and will go on.

When learners say they want a NS, they are often saying they want a light-skinned person who fits their stereotype of what they think Englishness is. It is nothing to do with being a native speaker! Generations of brown skinned and black-skinned Brits growing up here in the UK are ALL NATIVE speakers of English but they are not seen as Natives! They are seen as foreigners!

Don't we all want Doris Day as our English Teacher?

Chia:               But, Rakesh, just to play Devil’s Advocate, calling someone with cultural capital discrimination is like saying that a student who wants a Business English teacher to have the social and symbolic capital, having been in a habitus of the Business English field, is classist.

Rakesh:          NO, maybe I did not make my point clearly…one example of a colleagues in Bradford is poignant. Abdul – name changed –  born and brought  locally MA in Applied linguistics/academic publications to his name   experienced teachers of ESL and EFL is asked to teach two Saudies who look like  him in appearance  but these students say they don’t want him even before he has opened his mouth since they reject him as not being English enough. BTW I have not experienced this personally in 40 years BUT these incidents happen to the very few brown and brown skinned people who dare enter the ELT profession.

When Language schools, whether here or in Japan, say they employ only Native speakers, what they mean is that they do not employ people like you and me   they employ only light skinned teachers  who have certain types of features.

Let me try and sum up what I think I am trying to say:  There are good teachers and bad teachers; true, not all NSs are automatically good  and vice versa  However , many are like driving instructors who cannot drive or have never driven  how dare they teach a language which they did not have to learn!

On a pragmatic basis if I wanted to learn another language and I have tried to learn many and failed in learning most.  I know what kind of teacher I would prefer and that is someone who is an expert speaker. Call it near native if u like and someone who knows about my own cultural and linguistic needs.

The arguments fallacies about the superiority of NS teachers was formulated at a time prior to the availability of tapes videos so the point that NS provide good models of pronunciation is redundant

Chia:               So you do agree that NS pronunciation targets are desirable then?  ; )

Rakesh:          Not necessarily. It depends what you need the English for. Given that most interactions in English are between NNSs, the kind of accents you may wish to instill in your students learner will depend on where they are going to use English.

Chia:               I would really like to ask you how you would suggest we go about changing the minds of students and language schools who think that NS teachers are better than NNS ones. But that might be the stuff of another blogpost… Perhaps we could invite comments from the readers about this?

Rakesh:          Yes. The whole issue of the inverted  racism that students have about NNS teachers is another can of worms and worth a separate debate.

Chia:               Certainly stuff for another DA! Fancy coming back in the future and being a ‘victim’ again? ; )

Rakesh:          Yes, I’m game for a laugh.

Chia:               Anyway, thanks a lot, Rakesh! You’ve certainly stood up for all the NNSs in the world and for all the injustices they have had to deal with in their professional lives!

Photo from ELTpics (Flicker) by @dfogarty

Epilogue: Rakesh’s views are his own and do not represent any organisation he is associated with. Chia was certainly just playing DA. Rakesh and Chia are still best of buddies!