Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The language educator and globalisation – how do we best prepare our learners?

This was the title of the opening plenary at the recent CamTESOL conference.  The speaker was Richmond Stroupe and what follows is a summary of his talk.

Richmond Stroupe
The English language is a source of economic opportunity for many of our learners.  Nowadays, being able to speak English is seen as a basic skill – a given, an expectation – rather than an advantage.  As this trend continues, the age at which users become proficient in the English language will decrease.  It takes eight years for a language learner to achieve proficiency, so children are beginning to learn at a younger age.  There is also a growing importance placed on plural-lingualism.  Many people are learning multiple languages in different contexts.  English language skill is just one skill in a basket of skills that learners need as competitiveness in business increases.

English is not enough anymore.  English language teachers often have to teach study and workplace skills too.  Some questions we need to think about:
  • How do we empower our students?
  • How do we make them global citizens?
  • How do we bring these skills into our ELT classroom?
There are many examples now where institutions are introducing ESP workshops and short courses as part of their ELT programmes.  Skills covered might include:
  • Negotiation
  • Report writing
  • The etiquette of meetings
  • Social English
  • Collaboration
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Responsibility
  • Critical thinking

The importance of the last one – critical thinking – cannot be underestimated.  CT skills are extremely important and teaching them shouldn’t be limited to high-level students only.  We need to scaffold the skills back to make them appropriate to the level and then develop them over time.
We can teach many of these academic and workplace skills through task based learning and group work, where the final product is a poster presentation for example.  Here, the teacher’s role is facilitator rather than teacher.
We also need to bring aspects of intercultural communicative competence, such as flexibility, adaptability, interaction and respect, into our classrooms.  This applies even if we are teaching in a monolingual, mono-cultural setting.  In the global village we live in now, such homogenous groups rarely exist in the workplace.  We need to remember that culture isn’t just what we see on the outside – we also need to teach a deeper understanding of beliefs and behaviours.  Culture consists of:
  • Beliefs +
  • Behaviours +
  • Artefacts +
  • Institutions

Integrated language skills, such as those we teach in order for students to pass the TOEFL exam, are key to equipping our students for the 21st century workplace.  This is the approach used all the time in academia and business and we need to do it in our classrooms.
English language teachers have a tremendous amount of responsibility!!

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