(Quick acronym explanation:
EFL – English as a Foreign Language
ESL – English as a Second Language
TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
– I’m using EFL for convenience sake. Also, that’s what I’m doing now.)
I came across this post this morning. I suspect the video I’ve linked is the one she talks about. As someone with a degree in English literature, becoming a teacher of English to speakers of other languages is seen as a fairly safe option, as there will always be people wanting to learn English.
(The next safe options are teaching English to native speakers and becoming an editor.)
What is the ‘End Game’ for EFL teaching? Is there always going to be a need for us – native teachers, teaching English to non-native speakers? Will there always be room for us to teach English to beginners?
English is the world’s second language, this TED talk tells us. It is the ‘language of problem solving.” The world, he tells us, is not having this pushed on them, but they are ‘pulling’ it.
It also made me think about this video:
There are 1.5 billion speakers of English in the world. A quarter of those are like me – native speakers, a quarter speak it as their second language, and about half speak it to a lesser degree – able to ask where the swimming pool is, and other similarly ‘useful’ phrases that you learn when learning a foreign language.
The speakers of English as a native language are well outnumbered. Even in my own hometown, they’re outnumbered, although I seldom had to speak any language but English when I was there.
I did a course called Introduction to TESOL during my degree. I really wish I’d payed more attention, or kept my notes, or something like that. But I do remember my lecturer speaking about certain kinds of errors that are made by non-native English speakers in certain errors. These errors after often remainders of the stage between when one starts learning a language and when one becomes a fluent speaker of the language – it’s called interlanguage. When errors that are made here are not corrected, fossilization occurs. These errors remain.
My lecturer then explained that for some non-native English teachers, these fossilized errors are then taught to new students. Fossilized errors become even more deeply entrenched, and English becomes less recognizable.
I taught students who had learnt English in this manner last year. Some of the best exercises I did with them was to illustrate these problems and explain how they had happened.
I think of my co-teachers now. Every exam period, the native teachers in my office are taking sample exams. After each paper, we are brought dozens of questions to clarify. Our experience and knowledge is highly valued. My co-teachers speak excellent English. They need to in order to teach here. Their knowledge of grammar far exceeds my own, and I spend a lot time looking for answers to questions I am sent. But they still need us.
So what is the end game for EFL teachers? I imagine there will be less demand in the future. One day, having been taught English by a native speaker will be a thing of prestige, and people who teach EFL will need to have higher qualifications in order to do so.
But will the world ever outgrow their need for us?
Maybe one day.
But not for a long time yet.