11-26-2008 19:50
Future of English Language Teaching

Tory S. Thorkelson
By Tory S. Thorkelson

What is the future of English language teaching? The answers appear to be more students taking more exams and using more technology in the classroom. However, the question is whether this is really a surprise to anyone working in an ESL or EFL environment like Korea (or whether we should all hand in our chalk and resign now). But don't take my word for it.

English Teaching Professional magazine published the results of a 2003 survey of teachers in over 110 countries on their opinions of the future of English language teaching. Sixty-six percent of the teachers surveyed thought there would be an increase in the importance of English as a global language over the next ten years and over 80 percent thought that the numbers of students would increase accordingly. Of course, this only begs the question whether English can get any more ``global`` than it already is, with the number of first language speakers ranking second only to Chinese, according to David Graddol's ``The future of English?`` (1997) and the numerous countries that use it as a first, second or other language. Plus we have users of English in other countries, such as Korea, who use it for business and other international transactions.

As for the students, they may be studying more English, but how and from whom are key to how we evaluate the place of English and its teaching in the future. Ideally, they will all have access to native speaking English teachers to help them succeed in their English studies, but are non-native models and accents really so detrimental to the students' English-language development? Access to native speakers is not an insistence that non-native teachers are inferior, but recognition that many students find native speakers motivating. Furthermore, access to speakers who do not share a local learner's variation of English (such as Korean-English, or Konglish) could help avoid a potential ``vulgarization`` of English to the degree that led to the romance languages of Europe. As you know, Italian, Spanish, French and Portuguese, among others, all grew from localized versions of Latin, and they are now quite distinct and different languages. When Korea has teachers of English from Australia, Canada, and the UK, to name just three, this promotes a more globalized variety of English, building linguistic bridges, instead of walls. And soon there may be English teachers from the Philippines, India, and Nigeria as well!

Further, almost every teacher thought students would want an English-language qualification as a result of their studies-either in general English or in a specialized English subject. But while many Korean companies and universities require TOIEC scores as a measure of English skill to enter the workforce or to graduate from their programs, the number of institutes offering tips and strategies to do better on the test or even guaranteeing an increased score call into question the accuracy of a TOIEC score in assessing test takers' English skills. Or are we measuring their ability to beat the test in some way or other? In fact, a study by Wilson (2004) and listed on the ETS Web site indicates that Korean scores on the TOEIC tend to be overestimated, as compared to the Language Proficiency Interview (LPI) procedure. So does this mean that the LPI ratings are wrong, or that the TOIEC scores are inaccurate? In my opinion, this finding suggests that the demand for higher test scores may in fact be counterproductive to having learners improve their actual English skills, and that the test scores themselves may not be as accurate as they should be. Considering the popularity of this particular test for gauging the English proficiency of Korean speakers for a variety of purposes, this is a cause of great concern.

Also in the teachers' survey, ninety percent of teachers believe technology and the Internet will grow increasingly important in the classroom. Will these serve as tools to help students and teachers do better as learners and educators, respectively, or is this a clue to the decreasing role of the teacher in the classroom in favor of in-class programming and the latest offerings on the Internet? If teachers are simply recycling the same lecture in numerous classes, perhaps technology is a viable replacement. Teaching, however, is more than lecturing. Trained teachers should be a step ahead.

The message for schools seems to be clear: prepare for exam classes and make sure you are up to date with technology & the Web. But where does that leave the teacher? Looking for answers, I should think. Where to find solutions? For answers to these or other questions about what to do in your classroom, meeting the needs of your students better, or finding out the tips and strategies other teachers have for improving your classroom and your students' experiences there, consider the upcoming 16th annual KOTESOL conference ``Responding to a changing world.`` The theme is specific to these problems, its not just the same old ``methods`` and ``language`` program. With 15 invited speakers (including the above mentioned David Graddol as a plenary speaker) and numerous presentations suitable for teachers, researchers, professors and anyone interested in English Education, more than 1,000 teachers, both native-speakers and Korean, are expected--the most popular event for teachers in the country! It's held at Sookmyung Women's University on October 25th & 26th. It also includes a large display of language learning materials and graduate school programs.

I don't promise that you will find answers to all your questions, but certainly most of the issues appearing on the survey will be addressed by one of the many workshops, presentations, or papers being presented. Find more information at www.kotesol.org and if you can't make the conference, consider visiting one of the chapter meetings that take place in 10 different cities across the Korean peninsula each month. We can't know all the answers to the future, but failing to take steps towards our students' needs beyond the classroom guarantees that teachers will be left behind.

Tory S. Thorkelson (M.Ed) is Incoming President for Korea TESOL and an assistant professor at Hanyang University. He can be reached at thorkor@hotmail.com