… And Now

“Are you ready?” He clambered along the sofa to be right next to Paul. “And remember, I’ve been teaching EFL for years and years. The thing about EFL, or ESL or EAL or whatever a particular school wants to call it, is that unlike any other kind of teaching, it’s always been a business, aimed at expanding itself, rival schools fighting and marketing, moving into new territories. The lesson plans and the textbooks have always been about life in America or Britain, fantasies of what life is like there, what careers the students could dream of, the opportunities that taking this class – rather than any other – will bring you.”

“There was a time when all the lessons were grammar lessons, drilling, repeating, copying sentences and breaking them up into parts of speech. I’m no fan of grammar, let me say this from the start, it’s always privileged certain types of kids and adults, who have been to schools that teach like that in their native language, who come from a certain type of background, and a new language shouldn’t have those barriers in place around it. But nowadays – in fact, if I can digress for a minute, it’s a similar sort of logic to IQ tests: kids who are good at grammar have learnt to think abstractly, and to understand the intentions behind questions, the right sort of answer, having been exposed adequately to this type of quiz before – and you might find it interesting to know that the school you and I are both proud to call our own uses IQ scores as part of its entrance criteria. Something to consider.” He grinned.

“Anyway, where was I? Oh yes: ‘But nowadays…’ But nowadays, all the grammar has gone out the window. All the theories, all the experts will tell you communication is what’s important – all lessons must be designed to get the class talking as much as possible.” He thumped the table in time with the words. “We say anything that makes students speak is a good lesson, and anything that keeps them quiet, that requires the teacher talking to them all the time is bad. So now lessons are tailored to subjects the kids already know and like, or should like – so we look at where you live, who’s in your family, what’s your daily routine; favourite films, TV shows, music, relationship status if they’re a teenage or adult class, all the stuff that goes on your Facebook profile. If you look in any EFL textbook that’s been published in – I don’t know – the last ten years? There’s always one unit on holidays, and one on jobs, one on shopping, one on computers, one on talking about feelings, always. Nothing on history, nothing on work, the government, religion, anything that could be controversial or worse, so much worse, painfully worse, produce silence and uninterest. Still with me? You know why this is bad, Paul? Because it cheapens experience, reduces all possible learners down to some tedious, mainstream exemplar. And they come to the classroom,” he beat the table for emphasis again, “feeling like a consumer, knowing how much they’ve paid or their parents paid per hour – not per term, or year, but per hour – and always threatening to vote with their feet, knowing they could be taught at different schools, knowing the average EFL teacher is just some journeyman scared of losing hours, running around the city looking for classes. So you have to teach them classes they like, and that are easy, and make them feel good about the world – in English. That’s the language for being happy, and for finding life straightforward.”

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