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Teaching English in the Time of Crisis

Por: | 11 de marzo de 2012

Most teachers of English as a foreign language (TEFLers) are trained to teach this lingua franca using the communicative approach. Essentially interactive and student-centred, the approach stemmed from an early 20th century shift in educational paradigms that put students’ needs and the “learning is fun” principle at the forefront of teaching. As a result, traditional board-and-chalk endeavours have been replaced with games, role-plays, interactive boards and blended learning, while coursebook contents switched from the pervasive grammar exercises to a variety of tasks developed around topics such as travelling, celebrities, sports or pets.

And yet, is today’s English teaching really up to the 21st century? Let us have a look not so much at recent textbooks or in-class e-Beam technology, as at the context in which we are teaching English as a foreign language these days. It may well be that, before the outbreak of the “Crisis,” English was mostly needed for travelling, socialising, and studying or doing business abroad. Since then, however, the Arab Spring has been going on, the “Iceland Revolution” toured the EU to eventually cross the Atlantic as the Occupy Movement, and in major European TEFL markets like Spain, Greece or Italy significant social changes are in full swing.

To put it differently, news from conflict zones have been posted on Twitter in English, reports on killings and rebellions have snuck their way to the free media in English, information on cross-national civil mobilisation and good practice exchanges have reached, in English, a “Facebookful” of advocacy groups. So I think we can hardly deny that English has acquired a slightly different role in the lives of present day learners. Whether they are engineers, undergraduates, lawyers, entrepreneurs, local council advisers, social activists or unemployed, today they need English to face effectively a myriad of socio-economic challenges, from job hunting to grassroots policy-making.

With that, English teaching might just be getting out of its “leisure stage” and moving towards a social responsibility one. And I wonder: are TEFLers prepared to go beyond the correct use of Present Perfect or the correct pronunciation of “chocolate,” to meet these new demands? Are they skilled at enabling their students’ participation in English-based resources relevant to the reform processes going on in their countries? Are they trained to have the right mindset for teaching the English needed in times of crisis?

If I were to update my own job description, I would include these requirements:

  • think of yourself as a teacher trainer of English
  • think of your students as learners users of English
  • think of your classes as activities think tanks in English

To end on a practical note, I would like to suggest an excellent resource for English language trainers: the TED talks available online for free, which TED actually encourages educators to use in the classroom. Not only do they demonstrate how English is put to innovative use by (non-)native speakers that our students can emulate, but they also inspire relevant listening and speaking English classes: classes rooted in today’s social, political and moral reshaping.

Hay 22 Comentarios

A good blog always comes-up with new and exciting information and while reading I have the feeling that this blog really have all those great qualities.
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as i explained,the problem is not to teaching english, the problem is how to transfer the correct meaning of the words.what the word of english is mean in countra the other language with ethics ,and morals ,to avoide the mistikas from one language to another WHICH COULD affected BADLY TOWARDS THE STUDENtS AUDENES

i think ,the comments of the topic are mixed up from theaudiances viewees because it is much defferent between translation from one language to another which has rules to set ,before we start to translat,and the teaching language in particulary language.the piont as english do,well fine as the tradation common for english they do.
eventally i think the siuation in journalis deffrent than teaching. it is translation,it is interpretations from one language to another.
thank yuo.

Why not?

I agree that best way of enhancing English is doing things you usually do in English every day: listening to music, reading books, seeing films, talking to friends, writing stories etc.

I haven't read the article so I'm not going to say if it's good or lousy. Just I wanted to express despicable myself regardless, when somebody rack off when they pop in without a yell or wishel. If u wanna a bikkie but you aren't starving, go to the white good, pomp it up, and grab something big enough to put in you mouth and try to say something raty. If you are'nt succesful with ya, then try to quit smoking wild turkey..that really rocks! If you fail then try to quit smoking a possum or even better idea, try to hide yourself in a kangaroo pouch pretending to be a Joey!!!
Swagmen oz...

Daily updated blog with resources for learning English:

Hi there! Just to say that I can understand enough well this article is really god to me, thanks to my English teachers. Ja, ja, I know, I need more classes.

I'm a mature student of English and I think the best way of enhancing English is doing things you usually do in English every day: listening to music, reading books, seeing films, talking to friends, writing stories etc.
I leave you my Blog with resources for learning English, in case you are interested in have a look at it. It's daily updated:
Carmen Martín

Guys, you should give the anti-robot message into English. Allow me to help you out.

Como paso final antes de publicar el comentario, introduce las letras y números que se ven en la imagen de abajo. Esto es necesario para impedir comentarios de programas automáticos.

¿No puedes leer bien esta imagen? Ver una alternativa.

Before we can publish your comment, please enter the letters and numbers you can see below. This is a necessary measure against robots.

Can't you see the blooming image? Here's an alternative.

De nada, hombre, nada.

Noch ein Bier, bitte!

"To put the expression very much before the verb is not correct.
English is easier than most languages, this fact can explain partially its success as lingua franca." Publicado por: Maria | 11/03/2012 22:11:02

Frankly, darl, I so very much disagree with your statements!
Can't at all see what's 'incorrect' about placing an intensifier before a verb; it may inelegant, infelicitous or simply stupid, but not incorrect. As for English being easier than most languages, well... I guess the fact that someone with such a self-conceited view of herself as you appears to have learnt it to an acceptable degree goes very much to explain why it is, seemingly, an easier language than most. Still, you've probably heard the joke before, sweetpea: "What's a Spaniard?" -"Someone who spends their whole lifetime trying to learn English".

Noch ein Bier, bitte!

It's an inevitable part of my job to ask the people who learn why they are doing it. Aside from a fair proportion whose motivation is the Edmund Hilary argument ("Because it's there") the only other comment that comes up with any real regularity get a (better) job. From about 11 years old upwards, and certainly from early teens that is the prime mover, where there is one at all.

I wait with anticipation the day anyone tells me they want to learn English to join an NGO/agitate for political change/improve multiculturalism in their barrio. It may happen. It hasn't yet. When it does I'll do it.

Because call them learner, student or what you like. In fact they're actually my salary-payer. So, it's most often the English teacher's lot to teach to what the customer wants.

Interesting article, though as an ESL teacher here in Spain and 2 other countries for more than30years, I do believe that most of the professional teachers here are more than aware of the evolution of English teaching and alternate techniques(TEFLers & present perfect) ,use TED on a regular basis plus many other sources. English is a vehicle not an end in itself. To suceed, classes must be custom-made.


After nearly twelve years of teaching English in Spain, and having taught in three different countries, I would also add that teaching is only half the battle. You can have the best teachers, using the most up-to-date technology with the best textbook on the face of the planet, but if you don't have students who are willing to work at their English, forget it. Learning English is like any other skill. It requires an investment of time and energy to do something well.
The people who speak better English are not smarter; they're not more linguistically gifted; they're not richer. They're simply willing to work harder to get what they want. A competent, successful teacher can help, but the end result is entirely dependent on how hard students are willing to work to improve their English. As they put it in "The Matrix": "I can show you the door, Neo -- but YOU have to walk through it."

It is quite possible to get by in today's world with a vocabulary of under 500 English words. You don't need to speak a perfect English, you just need to know "global" English, which consists of a small subset of the language known by any foreigner in an international environment.
It is also known that fluency is more important than accuracy, meaning that it doesn't matter if you make mistakes as long as the sentence makes sense. Expressing yourself fast and without pauses, even if making mistakes, but making sense is far more important than trying to be accurate (but speaking slowly while trying to find the correct words).
Ultimately, those who dare to speak in spite of their limitations find out that the learn faster and better this way.
My advice: don't be afraid. Use your limited knowledge without fear, and don't wait to be Shakespeare to begin using it.

"I very much doubt our students really care about the Arab spring or the financial markets

Publicado por: Teacher of English | 11/03/2012 14:03:08"

To put the expression very much before the verb is not correct.
English is easier than most languages, this fact can explain partially its success as lingua franca.

English is just a minor brunch of Germanic language that is on its own a brunch of basic Hindustan language, in other words, a fkng Wiking not understandable form of monkey kind of expression, regards, El Borncas

very interesting article! keep up!

As a "trainer of English", I understand ESL students need to use their language skills to learn, communicate and understand the world, English is a global language!

I very much doubt our students really care about the Arab spring or the financial markets

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Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

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Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

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Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

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