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Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 12:20 pm
by fluffyhamster
Just a few quick remarks, but before I say anything else, I should say make it clear straight away that I've never been to Taiwan, nor have I read the link to which Stephen is referring to beyond the quote he has taken; I can only really talk about Japan (I could also talk about mainland China, but that doesn't seem to be the focus of discussion here).
In Japan, there appears to be an informal, but well understood division, that language instruction be divided along racial lines. Linguistic content is provided by local instructors and communicative content is provided by foreign teachers. As a result, many foreign teachers whose careers are spent in Japan are under the impression that foreign teachers are necessary to teach communication.
This division is often at the insistence of the Japanese teachers and/or school management (often the same thing), and would be excusable were it not for the fact that some of the teachers have quite bad English* (or at least, conversational skills in English) and an even worse idea of any methodology beyond how to start and end a class "in English". I really find it quite irritating**, and frankly insulting, for often everybody concerned (especially me, when I am viewed "simply" as an "AET"), when it is presumed that "language know-how" and "knowing how to communicate" are poles apart (or can or should be kept poles apart, and that the former is being taken adequate care of independently by the supposedly more "knowledgeable" - knowledge-able? - of the teachers): obviously the two support each other, and I for one feel that a student arrives at a surer knowledge by seeing accurate facts put to fluent and real use. Of course, the "expertise" ('Communication! Communication! Communication! I don't know what it means exactly, but I do know that it's an important buzzword!') of your average JET participant doesn't help, but hey, I'm not the one hiring half those numbskulls, am I? Those in charge can't paint anything other than a cliche given the type of paint and canvas THEY acquired, and the composition THEY sought, can they? ... 1966#11966 (My experience of teaching in a school that really did have its head up its you-know-where, and treated its foreign teachers, hell often its Japanese teachers too, with utter contempt. Go down to just beyond halfway through my looong post there, to the paragraph beginning with, '* Here's my story, then: .....').

Of course, there are teachers who have excellent English and who could, I am sure, do as good if not a better job than many native speakers, but even these teachers still seem to ultimately prefer limiting themselves to simply teaching (usually lecturing) on the grammar in the books, syllabuses and ultimately the university entrance exams they have to contend with, and they are just not interested in making the language appeal to the 90-95% of students to whom this kind of stuff does NOT appeal or make easy sense (these teachers simply assure me that those who are "suited" to English will develop in similar ways to those in which the teacher did). Then, there is always doubt in their minds, when they do begin developing any remotely communicative activities about exactly what exponents would be suitable (I say "communicative" with the strict proviso that the ACTUAL LANGUAGE needed to complete the activity - beyond compensating "strategies", not that these should be disallowed - will be given SERIOUS thought, which these teachers SHOULD be more than capable of, but often ARE NOT, it seems; (no) doubts and/or can't be bothered?!).

I've suggested elsewhere that for e.g. JTEs to really become good English teachers, they should try teaching Japanese to motivated, expectant, quizzical, demanding FOREIGN LEARNERS - it might help them understand what some of the high school "students" might be feeling, thinking or wanting, and how more of them would probably respond if the teacher would meet them more than only ever up to just halfway (if that!) all the time. ... 1556#11556

Depending upon teachers who are drawing upon very limited (data-wise, and often incorrect to boot) pedagogical grammars, and imparting them through a lecture-based methodology along with lashings of silly right-wrong memorize the required answer type of questions, does not seem, in my opinion, to be a good way of imparting much "genuine" knowledge-ability (make of that "genuine" what you will***), and in most cases it is a complete turn-off for the students, even if they force themselves to struggle through and remember enough to pass some stupid exam at some future point. (Actually I say "stupid" exam, but those who can pass will probably make impressive, noticeable gains - noticeable to others and themselves - in any language once they start thinking for themselves and actually using or immersing themselves in it. This, however, does not excuse the methodology of their schooling, which could've set them upon a less rocky path much earlier; this path was, after all, the one that finished off most of their classmates as far as any liking or passion for English was concerned!).

So, there may well be many native "teachers" who are nothing of the sort (and shouldn't be accorded too much, if much, respect at all), but there are also plenty of non-native teachers who could be doing a whole lot better even when they are more than linguistically (in both senses of that word, especially the "linguistics" one) capable of doing so. Pleading that they have to cover what's in the exams doesn't excuse them not doing anything to improve the student's general English (for purposes beyond the exam, but that also, I feel, might actually complement exam-in-ability, especially when those exams start to assess aural and especially oral abilities too - as they are now beginning to. Hopefully, this trend won't eventually mean that the exams become, at the other extreme, too subjective and "easy" to pass, either).

*This can range from making statements such as 'He has ever been to Australia - true or false?' multiple times in the course of a "Guess about the AET"-type game, to being almost as incomprehensible as Mr Bean (said teacher actually looked and sounded like Mr Bean, and was called 'Mr Bean' too, to his face. His favorite movies were "religious" ones - no Battle Royale, no sir! I was tempted to ask what he'd thought of Scorcese's take on things...).

**Sorry, having a go at the creators of this "well understood" (accepted, perhaps, but not understood in the sense of being justifiable) rather than at you, Scott!

***The students don't need to be blathering away like natives: communicating nicely and politely (in ultimately and often necessarily, especially pedagogically, limited ways), as many competent non-natives soon manage to, shouldn't be such an impossible achievement to expect, should it?

Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 1:39 pm
by fluffyhamster
Getting back to expense v benefits of training (both for the teacher), I find it interesting that the general belief (of obviously the training institutes, but also, it seems, the employers too, who look to the training institutes for some guarantee of "quality") is that you can't learn from a book, despite the fact that most training courses are little more than enforced read-throughs and discussions based upon widely available books (many of which we might already own regardless of whether we are intending to do one specific diploma or MA rather than another). This aversion to book learning becomes even more intriguing when you consider how some students manage to reach very appreciable levels just from studying with books and tapes.

Students may not have the nouce to start and stick with their Teach Yourself books (thank goodness for us teachers, in need of a job, and thinking we can help MUCH MORE!), but at least we teachers can see that you can't really pay somebody to tell you much more than what you (should) already know (or at least be suspecting) in (that is, via, in the medium of) your native language - I mean, what's so hard about reading about ELT in English? Do MA programmes have a special course for linguistically challenged (=English language, and thus linguistics- impaired) teachers or something? You'd think that we were living in the Dark Ages, with hardly any books, and little access to like minds beyond our villages full of idiots similar to ourselves, awaiting the arrival of Saint Mario De Rinvolucri to spread the gospel. :lol:

Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 2:01 pm
by fluffyhamster
This all sounds like I am absolutely opposed to basic, and certainly to further training in TEFL (I have said many times that the division into so-called levels of "need to knows" is itself a bad and suspicious sign). I'm not, otherwise we'd all be doing as we pleased, and imagining we were doing a great job despite research to the contrary or the fact that every other colleague does things differently to us (and all of those colleagues, in a similar way to each other). But I certainly do feel that the "majority" (and the majority of the dissenting minority, too!) of "ideas"/"people" following all the "ideas" are not true to the language or to people generally and genuinely (even the so-called "humanistic" approaches)....not that any of this matters if it is the accepted status quo is in favour of the "communicative" approach, and broadly tolerant of throwbacks or idiosyncracies among their teachers. Ultimately what makes the readings of "advanced" courses resonate is not the voice of the trainer (unless they are very good, and dispensing what are themselves hard-won literal PEARLS of wisdom, not just rehashes of the "basic" readings) but the experience, reflection and above all thought, reflection and (continuing) consideration of the trainees; that is, if REAL, heartfelt INTELLECTUAL as well as the omnipresent "practical" NEEDS are GENUINELY being MET and FULFILLED, then I will have no objection to this kind of "training" course.

Not talking about you in any of this, revel, of course not! :D :wink: :lol: :twisted: 8) :P But in reference to your saying that only "good" teachers are retained or remain around for long, which explains their being good and just getting better and better (but are not rewarded appropriately), in my experience, I would say that unless a teacher does something really bad (e.g. garners universal complaints through NEVER being prepared/always drunk, or molesting every female student within reach, or punching out the boss etc), they are retained by the school until at least the end of their current contract; probably the school isn't under any illusion, despite what its advertising says, about how good a place it is to work (not that it is necessarily bad either)...things just drift along, the overheads get met, and when the economy picks up a little and/or learning English seems even more of an urgency, perhaps a profit is shown for all the hard work "everyone" is "still" putting into the operation.

Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 3:00 pm
by Scott.Sommers
Stephen, thank you for the commentary on my site. One of the things that I often forget is that I have posted a large amount of material on the site, and not everyone has the time or will power to wade through all of it. Having said this, I think that I have addressed at some point virtually every point that you raise. But let me try to provide a quick summary.

1. The idea of a need for 'foreign teachers' is pretty much an Asian thing. In fact, the widespread use of such teachers is limited to Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. ... acher.html

2. The vast majority of teachers in nations where English is taught effectively as a foreign language (Sweden, Holland, The Philippines, Singapore, HK, etc) are local teachers. ... gli_1.html

3. There are many highly skilled foreign language teachers in NE Asia, but they fail to be effective educators because very few of them function in the education system as real teachers. ... _spea.html

4. Confucian education and imperial examinations have little to do with the current problems of language education in Taiwan or anywhere else in NE Asia. ... s_of_.html

Finally, your statement, "that money should be being invested to bring in top of EFL personnel from abroad to train the next generation of teachers," is exactly the position held by the Executive Yuan when they announced their plan to recruit foreign expert teachers. It is a plan that has been tried repeatedly in NE Asia over many decades. It has never worked. Please correct me if you know of any reason to believe that I am wrong, but if Taiwan were able to make such a system work, this would be first time in human history. Because, as I have said, there is no place on Earth where English is taught effectively as a foreign language where virtually all teaching is NOT done by local teachers.

Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 4:58 pm
by fluffyhamster
Thanks for the summary, Scott (I for one will try to "wade" through some more of your blog, just out of interest, still :wink: ). I would agree with you that English does seem to be taught very effectively (judging by general fluency of the nationals) by local teachers in many European countries (I mean, I doubt if everyone who speaks English packed themselves off to study with a native speaker after school)...maybe this has something to do with the affinities between language and cultures that exist there?

I wasn't sure for a long time what the status of English in Singapore was (some friends I met from there at university in Scotland, before I got into TEFL, got me confused when they said things like 'I learnt my English from American movies'), but I've realized that it is an official and second (or third, or fourth) language there (multicultural soceity and all that), and doubt if it is at all a "foreign" language for (what I presume is) the majority of the population there (but I could be wrong - I've never actually visited, and have only read e.g. Tom McArthur's descriptions of "Singlish" etc).

Regarding "effective education" and "the current language problems in NE Asia", I guess the competent local teachers are ultimately the ones who have got to get the system changed and tell people what worked for them. Personally, I do not particularly care if they adopt western "communicative" approaches or not, because I believe that such approaches could be bettered and may not be appropriate for Asia, but it does seem certain that the present system in those asian countries is hindering rather than helping the average student, and turning off many potentially fluent speakers of English, making them regard themselves as failures because they cannot get through the examination systems that are currently in place (by that I mean the university entrance exams, rather than e.g. "progressive", and in several respects seemingly "easier" homegrown Japanese exams such as Eiken/STEP, which are taken by many who might not go onto university, have already graduated or indeed never went to university in the first place!).

I'm sorry that I seem to be mentioning Japan a lot, and keep butting in on the "Taiwan" subdialogue...anyway, it's interesting to see where each contributor takes the discussion (in light of their specific experience), and I think/hope we can still all discern general undercurrents wherever the discussion seems headed at a particular moment in time. :P

Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 6:06 pm
by Lorikeet
I just wanted to thank all of you for your postings. I have read them with great interest (and a little sadness for you guys). My situation, as I have stated previously, is so different that there is really no comparison. I don't know what I would do if I were in your situations. I give you all credit for hanging in there in situations where the wages and working conditions are...uh...less than stellar.

Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 6:23 pm
by fluffyhamster
Sadness? Don't pity us, please! We TEFLers are teflon-coated!! Sh*t don't stick to us, and we don't leap out of the the frying pan - we ARE the frying pan! We can take the heat. :wink:

just a comment

Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 10:35 pm
by Tara B
What about raising the minimum standards for a TESOL Certificate? In my experience, that certificate (and the equivalents) can mean anywhere from a week-long seminar in someone's living room to a year of full-time study at a university. Maybe TESOL International needs an accreditation procedure for the schools that issue those certificates. (If anyone out there knows how this works now, I'd really like to know!)

I think the same problem exists with the Masters Degree. It could mean. . . well, just about anything.

Anyway, the point is, the TESOL Certificate is supposed to provide a minimum standard for teachers. Right now, that standard is pretty laughable. So if it were harder to get, not only would the quality of the teaching go up, but the supply of teachers would go down and the employers would have to pay us (not to mention respect us) a little more and treat us a little nicer. Yes?

Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 11:36 pm
by fluffyhamster
I would like to see e.g. the month-long type of certificate (e.g. RSA/UCLES CELTA) have an (optional? Better compulsory!) part-time or distance learning preparation phase (up to a year, why not!) in which trainees would be expected to read a much wider and more ambitious range of books, and write a dozen or so essays (one per month) as well as complete numerous smaller assignments. After this more thorough (Applied) linguistic grounding (phonology, reading and writing/orthography, child learners, SLA, grammar and vocabulary/lexicogrammar, study skills, materials development and syllabus design, ESP, ethics of ELT etc etc), the learners might be in an actual position to benfit from the praticum offered by the (final) intensive month full-time (this could even be shortened to about two to three weeks, seeing as at least half the time on CELTA courses is spent in lectures and group discussions/"workshops"). Another option might be to have two weeks of orientation into ELT and some of the practicum, followed by a year in which to reflect, after which the final two weeks would really pick up.

I don't know how much it would cost to do this, and I doubt if many training institutes would go for it - there's probably more money to be made by stringing things out between two qualifications (certificate and diploma level). Then again, many people, I suspect, never go on to to a diploma*, so the training centres are actually losing money whilst doing little to prepare teachers adequately. I really think there should be a higher basic level of knowledge and expertise in the profession - I mean, doctors don't go out performing surgery after only having studied half the necessary physiology and techniques!

*They either leave the profession, don't feel they need it or perhaps even feel they wouldn't learn much from one after several years' experience, given the limited scope of the CELTA; then, there is the issue of earning back the money invested, taking time off from work etc - in fact, one weakness almost of the DELTA is that people seem to have to be IN work to complete it!.

Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 11:52 pm
by woodcutter
A native teacher is a better teacher (for conversation) than a local teacher if the local teacher happens to have really rotten pronunciation, so that when the real deal is encountered, confusion ensues. That is why Asian countries currently fork out to employ us, they don't do it from philanthropy. When the situation with the local teachers improves, our jobs will go.

I think a stuffed parrot could teach English effectively in Holland, Sweden or Singapore, where it is an essential second language, and all around.

Posted: Wed Mar 02, 2005 12:13 am
by fluffyhamster
I can see what you mean, but what exactly do you mean by "rotten pronunciation", woody? And what exactly is "the real deal"? Encountering the Queen herself? "Real" English is what these people will encounter, and, heaven forbid, say themselves, all of it often quite different from the RP pronunciation that's been drilled into them. If you want to know why they insist on being so "difficult" about it, try finding even a little out about someone like Jenkins (as in Jennifer) - or do you know about her already but reckon what she says is a load or old rubbish or something? :lol:

Posted: Wed Mar 02, 2005 12:26 am
by woodcutter
Rotten pronunciation is unique to the speaker. If it conforms to some local standard of difference, then it is something like "Indian English", and not rotten pronunciation at all.

All the same, Indian English currently is a bit of a drawback outside the sub-continent.

Only the good die young....

Posted: Wed Mar 02, 2005 7:23 am
by revel
Hey all!

Your highlight, fluffy, on my comment on good teachers lasting longer than mediocre ones is a point well taken. As I mention earlier in that post, good teachers also cause less headaches to administrators, and I know that there are also boring teachers who keep their jobs for the same reason, they are always on time, always fill out the report-cards, never demand, always say yes. I have seen, though, some of these mediocre teachers lose their jobs, as you point out, at the end of the contract, because of complaints from their students, the class was boring, I didn't learn anything, I didn't get to participate much in class, etc....while I myself have never been let go from any teaching job I've had despite my hard-headedness and sometimes demanding nature, as much with the clients as with the bosses.

What I personally think of so-called "conversation classes" aside, I might point out that though a native speaker might be more able to hold an uninterrupted conversation in his/her native language, it is also somewhat true that, depending on the level of the non-native in that conversational setting, the native ends up doing all the talking while the other tends to nod the head and try to believe that comprehension is improving through listening to this talkative Brit or Yank go on about his/her experience as a well-read, world traveller. Hmmm. When asked to do conversation classes I always say no, but I have had a bit of success pairing up these students with others, non-natives as well, with a true interest and motivation for practicing their English. I have seen these conversation pairs work quite well and my only interference is an occasional meeting to clear up doubts that one or the other might have had. I don't need to be there to act as referee to their English pronunciation or structure, since the objective is to practice the art of conversation. Those who are truly motivated to converse will always find one anothers' errors, I find that without the native interference these students take on the responsibility for their learning and thus learn more.

On TOEFL and TOESL, if I were king of the world (anyone else wading through the three plus zero conditionals this term?), I'd start where fluffy has suggested, provide the interested party with a complete, annotated bibliography and set up a schedule of book-reports, both written and discussed with a competant tutor. I would place the student in a real-life teaching situation, such as any of the academies that exist in this world, and insist on weekly reports on class planning, idea production, game playing, successful and failing techniques. After about two years of this grueling read-report-practice-report, I would give the student six months to prepare and write a type of dissertation that represents his/her experience in self-teaching. Once the student has finished this final project, I would then insist on two years of study of a foreign language of his/her choice, applying to him/herself those things learned in the first two years of study. At the end of these four years of study-report-apply-report, I would have the student review the first dissertation and then re-write it, finally presenting it orally to a jury of qualified and experienced teachers, perhaps even insisting that such presentation be done in the second language learned during the second two years of the program. Only then would I award the student with the blessing of being a qualified language teacher of the first degree. In order to maintain that certificate, the teacher would have to prepare further reports, say one each two years, demonstrating that he/she continues to take interest in self-development as a teacher. If such reports were not done, the certificate would get stuck where it is. Or maybe be taken away. Too many people think that once the diploma is in hand or tacked on the wall, there is nothing else to be learned or done. Some might just say, "thank god revel's not king of the world!!" and they would be right in thinking so.

Thanks, lorikeet for your kind words as well.


Posted: Wed Mar 02, 2005 7:30 pm
by fluffyhamster
Scott.Sommers wrote:I am intrigued by the idea of language schools as cooperatives. This would bring language teaching closer to the professional model offered by Law and Accounting, where profit-sharing partners manage firms. I teach overseas where I doubt such an arrangement is practical for reasons I will outline below. Do you think that ESL teachers or EFL teachers in English-speaking countries would be willing to cooperate on this level for the long-term? Please share more of your thoughts on this.

Since there are no legal barriers to such an arrangement, I have to speculate that market conditions are what has inhibits their development. Very few people, outside of the public sector, actually choose to teacher language overseas. Most fall into the field or end up there as a result of temporary/permanent barriers to movement into the public sector. Subsequently, practitioners are often looking for a way out.
Well, a teaching cooperative would perhaps mirror the professional model offered by Law and Accounting, except that there wouldn't be as large a profit (especially if it really was ostensibly non-profit). :lol:

Surely there have always been legal barriers in place, which can only have become more stringent as the industry has expanded "out of control" (leading to "crackdowns", reams of tough new government regulations etc). I really know very little about this, but in China and, I believe, Japan, a local "partner" has always been required or at least "a very good idea" (but which can complicate as well as simplify things right away), and it was probably much easier to set up these types of ventures decades ago, before the bubble burst etc (which is around the time when many of the "leading" highstreet or "in front of the train station"-type chain branches established themselves).

Revel has given some indication of the complexities involved in going it alone in Spain (that being said, the situation might be somewhat easier for an EU citizen).

Posted: Wed Mar 02, 2005 11:50 pm
by fluffyhamster
I was just thinking, seeing as the certificate-level qualifications are such a joke, why don't prospective trainees just not bother doing any and save themselves 1000 pounds simply by reading through things like If the training institutions are going to continue being ultimately contemptuous and "cynical", why shouldn't we be humorously cynical about them and (bog-)standard TEFL generally in return?