Change must come

This is my final blast in 2017 against those who use their power to defend the lamentable state of English Language Teaching against those who want change.

Who are they?

Those in charge of The British Council, TESOL, IATEFL, Cambridge Assessment English, IELTS, Pearsons, Kaplan, International House, OUP, CUP, McGraw Hill, National Geographic, New Oriental, and many others. Between them, they control the coursebook-dominated ELT industry which has a turnover of $200,000,000,000 ($200 billion).

Their visible face comprises the stars of the ELT world. Many of them are multi-millionaries (Nunan, Richards, Rogers, Murphy, Mr. and Mrs. Soars, Mr. and Mrs Haycraft, for example) and all of them earn more than $200,000 a year.

What do they do?

They promote the use of coursebooks as the driver of ELT in classrooms, in in-company courses, and private classes all over the world. They also control assessment of English profiency and of teacher training.

They produce the coursebooks and the tests that determine a person’s level of proficiency in English, and they supervise the admin and marking of the tests. They also produce the teacher training courses and the tests that determine a teacher’s abilities, and they supervise the admin and marking of the tests.

Their “visible face” is seen at the ELT conferences and in the social media. They are the ELT stars, the shockingly uninformed “experts” who write coursebooks and “How to teach” manuals, who give plenaries and workshops around the world, promoting their own products, peddling the same orthodox line.

In brief, they decide what is taught and by whom.

What’s wrong with what they do?

The fusion of their roles as designers, producers and assessors points to something rotten in the field of education.

They commercialise ELT. They turn education into a product. And as in all commercial endeavors, they get rich, the teachers stay poor, and those who “receive” the product don’t learn as well as they could. By controlling the assessment of English proficiency, of ELT materials  and of teacher training, they ensure that ELT is a profit-driven industry where good practise and results are measured by profit margins. Most people who do English as an L2 courses don’t learn as much as they want, or as much as they could.

What should we do?

First, draw on the findings of instructed SLA research and on the insights of people like John Fanselow and other gifted crafts people. Somehow, we have to bring together our understanding of the learner’s interlanguage development and our collective wisdom of ELT as a craft. However this pans out, it will be a local solution. The biggest fight we have is to make our teaching relevant to our particular context and to slay the control of the global coursebook.

Second, break the hold of those who currently control ELT. Speak out. Criticise the Britsh Council, IH, the Cambridge Examiners, IATEFL, etc. Organise locally by forming cooperatives, in-house workshops, small scale conferences, etc.

Happy 2018 to all.


5 thoughts on “Change must come

  1. Hi Geoff. A worthily bellicose alarum. What would you say are the (top ten?) findings from instructed SLA research that teachers need to be aware of?


    • Hi Diarmuid,

      Off the top of my head:

      1. Learners do not acquire grammatical structures or lexical items on demand, incrementally , one at a time, or in the order that they happen to be presented by a teacher or by a coursebook.

      2. Implicit learning is the default mode of adult L2 learning.

      3. Appropriately timed formal instruction helps.

      4. Research on error correction gives mixed messages. So far the results of studies on the effects of explicit correction versus recasts suggests that recasts have better long-term effects.

      5. There are multiple sensitive periods – for the acquisition of phonology, morphology, syntax, lexis and collocation.

      6. Extensive reading accelarates adult L2 learning.

      7. Task type affects learning outcomes.

      8. L1 use can help – but don’t make Dellar’s mistake of recommending translation as the best way of introducing new vocab.

      9. Vocabulary is better presented thematically than in lexical sets.

      10. Schmidt’s Noticing Hypothesis has been oversimplified and mis-applied to teaching. It does not “justify” the kind of grammar presentation and practice found in coursebooks.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I should say that I cut & pasted Point 1 above from a previous post, and it’s a quote from Mike Long’s book “Problems in SLA”, 2007,


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