How’s English teaching changed over the last 30 years?

Wow. A landmark. 30 years of Teaching English and Spanish as foreign languages. And counting. But honestly speaking, English has always taken the lion’s share of my teaching hours.

Out of those years, over 25 have been teaching one on one so I can say a thing or two about changes in language teaching in this segment.

1. Accessibility: when I started teaching cable tv was limited. Students could watch videos of movies in English but subtitled in Portuguese. No radio programs in English…lots of English songs but how could they understand what was being sung? Limited access to lyrics. Now they have all the English speaking world at the touch of a button on their cellphone.

2. Technology – when I started teaching I not even had a cassette player and the school followed their own coursebook without cassettes. If I wanted to play a song I had to take my portable turntable and vinyl record. From cassette – to CDs and we moved up from VHS – to DVD’s and now to streaming and millions of channels on YouTube. Not to mention the hundreds of language learning apps.

3. Pedagogy – teachers were the reference in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary. If the teacher didn’t know it how could a simple student know that word? From teacher-centered the language courses have moved on to a learner-centered approach (at least in speech). Learners can do way more than what their teachers might tell them to do (well, it doesn’t mean they’ll do it).

4. Resources – from coursebooks and the occasional imported magazine or newspaper now we all have Doctor Google. There are loads of apps for students to practice vocabulary, pronunciation, even using AI for actual conversation. They can record themselves and self evaluate their progress.

5. Creativity – that’s changed but still the same if you get my gist – I mean, we teachers have always had to resort to creativity from role playing to imaginary conversations to using tv commercials recorded on a VHS tape as part of our class material.

Despite all the improvements in pedagogy and technology some things still continue wearily unchanged.

Many students still think that a native teacher is better than a teacher who HAD to learn the language as they are doing now. After all, if the teacher says, “come, come, it’s not that difficult”, they can always argue, “not for you”. Still language schools give priority to a teaching candidate who’s spent 2 years washing dishes or cleaning houses abroad over a local language college graduate.

Many students also think grammar should be taught first even though they hate it… so it must be good like the bitter taste of medicine, right? Still controversies over teaching pronunciation and cultural values of the English speaking countries. Even those who defend the teaching of a global English accept the fact that some parameters must be defined, otherwise the English someone is learning in Indonesia might be incomprehensible to someone learning it in Ecuador.

The future will present even more changes, but some things I’m sure will remain the same: the importance of knowledgeable, committed and caring teachers working along students who have developed or discovered their own motivation.

Here’s to 30 more years of teaching!

Cheers,

Mo

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