8 Current Trends in Teaching and Learning EFL/ESL

The TESOL President’s Blog

Last month, I had the good fortune of having been invited as a plenary speaker in MexTESOL’s 40th anniversary convention, held in lovely Querétaro. I had a wonderful time, and I really felt at home—I discovered that Mexicans have a lot in common with my people (Egyptians). During the convention, I was also asked to give a talk about the current trends in English language teaching and learning in an EFL or ESL context. I was very pleased to do so, and here are the key eight trends that I talked about. These are not necessarily an exhaustive list and most likely there are other trends that I have not mentioned.

Trend 1: Change in the Goal of Teaching English
In my opinion, there are two key changes in the purpose of teaching English. Firstly, as Penny Ur (2009) noted the goal is “to produce fully competent English-knowing bilinguals rather than imitation native speakers.” As I mentioned in a previous blog, the purpose is not to aspire to become native speakers of English, because we are already native speakers of our own L1, but to focus on English as a means of communication. Secondly, English is not viewed as an end in itself but as a means to learn content such as science and mathematics. Content and language integrate learning (CLIL) is an approach where the English teacher uses cross-curricular content and so the students learn both the content and English.

Trend 2: Early Start in Teaching English
Many countries have started teaching English in earlier grades at school. For example, since 2011, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam have been introducing English from Grade 4. Also in 2011, Japan introduced English in the primary stage, and, in 2012, Dubai introduced English in the KG stage instead of Grade 1.

Trend 3: Change in the Approach to Teaching Culture
Both the local or native and international culture dominate in English language classes. There is less focus on teaching the culture of native speakers of English unless there is a specific purpose for doing so.

Trend 4: Changing View of an English Teacher
It is increasingly being recognized that the quality or effectiveness of teachers is determined by their linguistic, teaching, and intercultural competence rather than their being a native speaker of English.

Trend 5: Change in Teaching Content and Test Design
Teachers use a range of local texts or English translations of literature in the classroom. The use of L1 as appropriate as well as the use of a variety of accents in listening activities or tests are encouraged in English language classrooms.

Trend 6: E-Learning
Because of the proliferation of tablets and smart phones, I believe that textbooks will disappear in a few years. Furthermore, the access to knowledge in terms of flexibility and mobility has changed drastically.

Trend 7: Strategic Teaching and Learning
Teaching in English language classes focuses on fostering student thinking as well as language content, outcomes, and learning activities. There are significant and complex student-teacher interactions inside and outside the classroom. The gamification of learning is emerging as a way to make language learning more engaging and relevant to the younger generation.

Trend 8: Teachers as Life-Long Learners
In a knowledge-based society and to remain competitive and employable, teachers are expected to engage in continuous professional development or professional learning activities from the beginning to the end of their careers. As with any other profession, teachers are also expected to assume greater responsibility for their own professional learning, continually developing their knowledge and skills.

How have these trends affected your teaching? I look forward to hearing from you about additional trends that I neglected to mention.

About Deena Boraie

Deena Boraie
Deena Boraie is the dean of the School of Continuing Education at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, and president of TESOL International Association. She is a language testing expert and teaches research methods in the MA/PhD Applied Linguistics Program at Cairo University.
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10 Responses to 8 Current Trends in Teaching and Learning EFL/ESL

  1. SABINO MORLA says:

    .My name is Sabino Morla. I am an associate English professor at UASD, the public university in Santo Domingo, DR (the heart of the Caribbean)
    I am attending this year’s convention in Portland and would like to know if there is a workshop of PCI on the topic you just discussed in these commentaries.

    I really appreciate these guidelines on today’s EFL teaching and learning process.
    I’d love to have some of the resources you base this information on. It is relevant material for those of us training new teachers.

    Look forward to seeing you in Portland
    Sabino

  2. Brian J says:

    Hi Deena,

    Thanks for your insight!

    I have been teaching in Japan for the past 12 years and have witnessed most of the trends you mentioned come into practice. Trend 4 concerning the importance of teachers being more qualified and not just English speakers is one that has not taken shape here in Japan. However recently the Japanese government has stated that by the year 2020 English education will be begin from the third grade of elementary school which will hopefully put pressure on the profession to demand more qualified educators. In trend 7 you mentioned the increasing gamificaiton of activities for young learners yet I have to disagree with the effectiveness of this strategy, for years I utilized games for young learners and vocabulary was retained however there was not an increase in communicative ability. A few years ago I made the switch to more content based learning with constructive activities and communication has really improved. What is your opinion concerning content based learning and the use of the students native language in the classroom?

    Thanks
    Brian

  3. Gustavo R. Boechat says:

    I’d like to say that those trends presented are really important and crucial to us teachers. I agree totally in all of them and I have learned a ot with them. But there are 2 that called my attention. The first one is about the importance of not act as a native because the students aren’t indeed. Sometimes we feel students depressed because they do not achieve the level a native has. Thats ridiculous! For instance,we Brazilian are Brazilian and we must call the attention to our locality and respect different cultures. The second one is related to the importance of teachers keep on studying and developing their abilities. We must go on learning to help those who are in a “lower” level. Thank you!

    • Deena Boraie Deena Boraie says:

      Dear Gustavo,

      Thank you so much for letting me know about the two trends that caught your attention. I of course completely agree with what you wrote. Wishing you a happy New Year. Warm regards from Deena

  4. Walton says:

    I’ve always found that the pressure to teach “English” culture has always come from the students. Specifically, I used to teach in Kazakhstan and the students’ interest with British culture sometimes bordered on obsession (And I’m American!). Things like high tea and lining up and the role of government or the way to shop in a store fascinated them and provided endless debate and discussion. There was even a question on the national school leaving exam for English language–When was the great fire of London? What does that have to do with speaking English well?

    That being said, a lot of my students wanted to come study in the US so teaching some academic culture actually made a lot of sense. And others were looking to work in foreign companies and needed to understand the working culture. In fact, when students have the goal to in some way integrate themselves into an English-speaking culture, I think some teaching of culture is important. I am certainly glad my students who went off to the US asked me first how to talk to professors or whether all black people in the US are drug dealers. But for the majority who plan to live and work in their own country, culture is nothing more than a source of content.

    • Deena Boraie Deena Boraie says:

      Dear Walton,

      I agree with your comment that sometimes teaching “English” culture is needed and is requested from the learners themselves. You make a very interesting point regarding academic and working culture. You are right about this – we have go deeper when discussing culture – it is not just about high tea or shopping in a mall. Thank you very much for this. Warm regards from Deena

  5. Deena Boraie Deena Boraie says:

    Thank you so much Norman for your reflections. I really enjoyed reading them . I love your comment about action and practitioner research. Research is certainly part of life-long learning – though- provoking indeed !!

    Warm regards from Deena

  6. Matthew says:

    Thank you for your post, Deena. I like that you describe these as trends without specifically noting whether these are positive or negative trends. That leaves room for constructive debate and deliberation.

    1. I know I value the insights and new understandings that learning my L2 has provided. I would assert that my L2 has in many ways affected my L1

    2. Is this a positive or negative development? It’s debatable. Could the focus on English disrupt the process that these young students must go through to become fully proficient users of their L1? Could it create a backlash against a perceived linguistic imperialism? Will it help these young brains become more flexible and adept learners, both in language and in other fields? These and many other questions have yet to be answered.

    3. It never really has made sense to me that English-speaking culture be taught alongside English unless the background or situational information is needed to aide comprehension, although it is true that the occasional cultural tidbit can pique students’ interest, which can be a positive motivational factor.

    4. Professional ability. As my professor once noted, people who have always lived in a house are not necessarily the best people to explain how to build it.

    5. Regarding accents, I have made recordings of people from many cultural and linguistic backgrounds speaking English and have used these in listening classes. The students liked it and seemed to do well with it. From my own language learning background, I appreciated living in an L2 are with a dialect very different from the standard L2 taught in my classes. It helped me develop a more flexible ear.

    6. I sincerely hope textbooks do not disappear.
    I love my kindle for reading news or for books I cannot obtain in physical form.
    Online hybrid courses and blended learning schemes are developing rapidly and showing great promise.
    HOWEVER, all research I have read indicates that the very act of reading as it is done electronically, on mobile devices and computers, prompts and utilizes very different neurological processes than does reading of traditional paper texts. Study after study reveals that students retain more content when it’s read in physical rather than electronic form.
    I love utilizing technology: I record, I video, I edit, I blog, I vlog, I tweet, I have a website, etc. But I fear replacing books entirely will be an socio-cognitive experiment from which students will ultimately suffer.

    7. There is a balance that needs to be found between gamification/perceived relevance and rigor. I don’t l know where that balance point is, and it very well may differ culture-by-culture (as culture does affect thinking and learning patterns over time) and person-by-person (in line with individual strengths and learning styles. Nevertheless, I know that my L2 (especially the writing) could not have been acquired without rigor.

    8. As one whose #1 Clifton StrengthsFinder attribute is Learner, I fully concur.

    • Deena Boraie Deena Boraie says:

      Dear Matthew,

      I completely agree with your comment about whether the early start in learning/teaching English is a positive or negative development. It is debatable indeed. I also hope that textbooks won’t disappear – but I wonder !! We’ll see. Thank you so much for all your other comments. I found them really interesting.

      Warm regards from Deena

  7. Dear Deena,

    I enjoyed reading your thought provoking and engaging overview of EFL trends. Here are some of my reflections:

    1. EFL Goals: My purpose is to accommodate the individual or group goals of my students as in CLIL but my intentionality is to use English Language Instruction to break down cultural boundaries and to create an environment in which both student and language facilitator share in the joy and excitement of being enriched by a culture other than their own. To both celebrate what makes us different and to share in the commonality of what makes us human.

    2. Whether we like it or not, at least for the time being, it looks as though English will be the International Language.

    3. Culture in the Curriculum: I want to learn from my students. I want them to teach me about their culture – to tell me what they love about it – what they hate – what they want to stay the same -what they would like to change. To tell me who they are what they believe – in English.

    4. Hooray for intercultural competence – I love it. Study the culture – study the people.

    5. Teaching Content: I’m not sure about the use of diverse accents. I tend to favor the General American (GA, SAE) or Standard American English commonly used in American TV series and by newscasters – aka newscaster accent (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_American). I tend to think that both the presentation of English and that used in testing should be somewhat standardized. It is enough of a challenge to learn the language let alone a variety of different English accents. But again it depends upon the students’ needs and preferences.

    6. E-learning: The value of instant access to answers, knowledge and learning platforms provided by the internet defies measurable value. We are netizens – we are moving quickly toward global community and the internet is making that happen.

    7. Teaching Styles: People learn first and best through meaningful relationship. If I am not relating openly to, and striving for meaningful relationship with, my students then I am failing both spiritually and academically.

    8. Action Research and Practitioner Research: We should realize that we are realtime, frontline action researchers each and every time we set foot in a classroom, take credit for it, and be proud of it! Excellent overview here: http://www.tlrp.org/capacity/rm/wt/campbell/
    Thanks for inspiring my thoughts!

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