8 Major Trends in the Global ELT Field

The TESOL President’s Blog

Recently, I have been invited to share my perspectives on major trends in the global ELT field at several international conferences. Here’s a summary of what I shared with the participants—of course this isn’t a comprehensive list. I think that trends in today’s ELT field can be broken down into three major categories: globalization, localization, and interdisciplinary collaboration. I’d love to hear your thoughts on current trends, as well.

Trend 1: Changing perspectives on English teaching and learning
Over the last 50 years, and especially during the last 20 years, the ELT field has seen a dramatic change in our views of the role of English language teaching. English educators have realized that many language learners know more than two languages. English is not simply their second language anymore. With this awareness, acronyms for the field have also evolved—from TESL (teaching English to second language learners) to TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages), from Western English to English as an international language (EIL). The term TENOR (teaching English for no obvious reasons) has been replaced by TESR (teaching English for social responsibilities) and CLT2 (communicative language teaching, contextualized language teaching). Nowadays, more and more research and discussions have focused on the issues of “World Englishes” and English as a lingua franca (ELF) rather than simply referring to any English spoken outside of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia as EFL.

Trend 2: Changes in goals of English teaching and learning
The goals of ELT have changed from focusing solely on developing language skills and mimicking native English speakers to fostering a sense of social responsibility in students. More and more educators realize that we can’t claim success in teaching, no matter how fluent our students become, if they are ignorant of world issues, have no social conscience, or use their communication skills for international crime, corruption, or environmental destruction (Cates, 1997; Brown, 1994). With this growing awareness of the importance of producing responsible citizens for society, teachers now well recognize that the teaching of English is not simply a project to prepare students to imitate native English speakers as language learners but that it should produce fully competent language users, critical thinkers, and constructive social change agents, as Crystal (2004) and Cook (2005) noted.

Trend 3: Changes in approaches to teaching
The 21st century is referred as the “Postmethods Era” by many scholars (Kumaravadivelu, Brown, Larsen-Freeman, and Mellow to name a few), where the focus of teaching is on eclecticism. Eclecticism involves the use of a variety of language learning activities, each of which may have very different characteristics and may be motivated by different underlying assumptions. Today, the use of L1 in L2 pedagogy and the use of different accents in listening activities and tests are encouraged in teaching and learning.

Trend 4: Changes in teaching content, curriculum design, and assessment
The field is recognizing the growing importance of content and disciplinary knowledge. This increased focus on CBLI, CLIL, SIOP, and ESP has meant that more and more programs require English teachers to use cross-curricular, cross-disciplinary content in teaching and to teach both the content and English. Textbooks and learning materials include more multicultural content, drawing on both local and global resources to help students gain multiple perspectives and cultural understandings. Curriculum design is more content based and theme based with emphases on both language and content knowledge. Learning outcomes and learning standards are broader and pursue the development of not only language skills, but critical thinking, learning strategies, and related content knowledge and skills in the real world. Today, standards, accountability, and assessment have become a major focus of the educational reform in many countries in the world.

Trend 5: Expanding the dimension of communicative competence
A large focus of recent research and publications has been expansion of the framework of communicative competence. Some scholars have introduced a new way of looking at second language acquisition (SLA) as “multi-competence” (Cook, 2012), and others (Byram, 1997, Kohn, 2013) focus on the importance of intercultural communicative competence. The implication here is that when teaching intercultural communicative competence, teachers need to attend to both local and international cultures. The goal is to produce effective language users competent to use English as an international language, not just learners who mimic the “inner- circle” countries’ languages and cultures.

Trend 6: Changing views of an effective English educator
With the changing views of communicative competence and the awareness of intercultural competence, perceptions of what constitutes an effective English teacher are also changing. Recent studies on World Englishes and ELF, as well as the roles of nonnative-English-speaking teachers (NNESTs) in the TESOL field, have made more people recognize that the effectiveness of English teachers should be determined by their linguistic, instructional, and intercultural competence rather than simply by their linguistic identity. We want to make sure that our students are served by well-prepared and well qualified teachers regardless their first language background.

Trend 7: Rapid development and integration of information technology in ELT
The recent rapid development of technology and the use of cell phones and different multimedia devices have opened endless possibilities for teachers to teach English and access information. The Internet, YouTube, Web.2.0, e-books, and various websites have changed how we prepare our lessons and instruct our students. Now, with ready-made materials at the touch of a keyboard button, it is a lot easier to bring real-life issues to the classroom and have a meaningful discussion. Appropriate integration of technology in the classroom encourages students to use language in many different ways. Furthermore, learners from different parts of the world can get connected and exchange ideas via the Internet and other media devices. Students may know more than their teachers about how to use technology, and yet they need proper guidance from the teachers on how to select, analyze, and utilize the right information to achieve their learning goals.

Trend 8: Changing roles and increasing responsibilities of teachers
With all these new trends, the role of today’s teacher is also evolving, and our responsibilities have been increasing. In the 21st-century classroom, teachers have multiple roles and responsibilities as facilitators of student learning and creators of a productive classroom environment in which students can develop the skills they will need for the 21st-century workforce. More and more teachers are asked to use collaborative, content-based, project-based curriculum to help students develop higher-order thinking skills, effective communication skills, and knowledge of technology. Another change noticed is that many teachers no longer teach in isolation. Teachers have the opportunities to coteach, team-teach, and collaborate with other teachers from other disciplines. It’s more important than ever that teachers receive real institutional support including funding and release time to attend professional development activities and implement new ways of teaching and assessing learning. These are essential if we are to prepare our students to be effective users of English and responsible global citizens, and also prepare ourselves to be reflective practitioners and critical social agents in this world of globalized Englishes.

I share these eight trends with you and invite you to, in return, share your thoughts with me.


Brown, H. D. (1994, March). On track to century 21. Plenary talk at the 24th Annual Convention of TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages), San Francisco, USA.

Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence. Bristol, United Kingdom: Multilingual Matters.

Cates, K. A. (1997). New trends in global issues and English teaching. The Language Teacher, 21(5). Retrieved from http://jalt-publications.org/old_tlt/files/97/may/cates.html

Cook, V. (2012) Multi-competence. Retrieved from http://homepage.ntlworld.com/vivian.c/Writings/Papers/MCentry.htm

Cook, V. (2005). Basing teasing on the L2 user. In E. Llurda (Ed.), Non-native language teachers: Perceptions, challenges and contributions to the profession (pp. 47–61). New York, NY: Springer Science+Business Media.

Crystal, D. (2004, May 20). Creating a world of languages. Introductory speech presented at the 10th Linguapax Congress, Barcelona.

Kohn, K. (2013, March). Intercultural communicative competence: An English as a lingua franca perspective (PowerPoint), presentation at TESOL Arabia conference.

About Yilin Sun

Yilin Sun
Yilin Sun has served as president of TESOL International Association, as chair of the TESOL Affiliate Leadership Council, and president of Washington Association for the Education of Speakers of Other Languages (WAESOL). In 2011-2012, Dr. Sun was a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Taiwan at the National Taiwan Normal University. Dr. Sun received her doctorate in applied linguistics/curriculum and instruction from the University of Toronto, Canada. She has more than 28 years of experience in the field of TESOL as a teacher educator, a researcher, a classroom teacher, and a program leader with various institutions of higher education in China, Canada, and the United States. She is the author and co-author of books, book chapters, and research papers in refereed professional journals. Her research interests include curriculum development, program assessment and evaluation, L2 reading, vocabulary learning, classroom-based action research, teacher education, adult education, teaching English to young learners, World Englishes, ESP and nonnative English speaking teachers (NNEST) in the ELT field.
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20 Responses to 8 Major Trends in the Global ELT Field

  1. Ald says:

    This review of the development in ELT is a life-saver. Much obliged!

  2. MD kamal hossain says:

    Dear and honourable Yilin Sun! You have made great help to your readers with this.

  3. Nishan Wijenayake says:

    Dear Dr.Yilin Sun,
    I’ve read your article and I found that your work is very useful for my BEd in ELT Degree at University of Vocational Technology in Sri Lanka. Thanks for giving me the idea about Global ELT trends.
    M.N.R Wijenayake

  4. Sahaya Xavier Raj. says:

    Dear and respected Yilin Sun,
    Thanks a lot for this thought provoking trends and settings for teaching and learning English. I believe that i would be of great help and use to many. Great experience has begotten greater ideas. Wish you many more experiences.
    Thank you. God bless.

  5. Algaraady says:

    Dear Yilin

    I appreciate your efforts in the TESOL porgram , it is the most comprehensive program of preparing the globall experienced teacher
    I hope all the ESL/EFl teachers all over the world work too cooperatively and collaboratively to work out the fast solutions for the preplexing topics in the field
    personally , Iam goint to put the first step in reseach for finding out the cognitive remedical cures of affecting the language faculty withing the learners after the 13th age .
    I think from your experiences you may be aware of more crucial problems that deals with the current issues. I hope to get your suggestions via email algaradymhmd at gmail dot com

    Best regards

  6. Sabah Mehdi says:

    thank you for this enlightening and well referenced article. I would be so grafeful if you could add me to your contact list.

  7. Dr S Thirunavukkarasu says:

    inspiring and educative

  8. Jatupon Phulakor says:

    Hi, Yilin Sun
    I’ve read your attractive work and I found that your work is very useful for my Ph.D. study at Burapha University in Thailand. Thanks for giving me the idea about Global ELT trends.

  9. mitiku teshome says:

    hi, Yilin,
    it is my first to involve in reading of your works. i appreciated it, since it gives us an awareness of ELT. currently, as you have said, issues in ELT are emerging in large. and having a researcher and nice practitioner like you is a bravo one for all ELT experts around the world. very shortly, i will participate researching and publishing on different recent trendsin ELT.
    keep doing on it!

    best regards,

    • Yilin Sun Yilin says:

      Dear Mitiku,
      Thank you for reading my TESOL Blog posts. Very best wishes to your research and practice in ELT. Happy New Year of 2016!


  10. mohammad hussain khan says:

    Hi Yilin Sun,
    It is very attractive and Impressive to see your great work in the field of language.May u add me in your content list so that i can enhance my update knowledge regarding the rapid expansion of English language teaching.And i am also developing my interest in this area to perform my research.

    Thanks and regards,
    M Hussain khan

    • Yilin Sun Yilin says:

      Dear Hussain Khan,

      Thank you for your nice comments and I’ll be happy to add you to my contact list. All the very best to you for a successful New Year of 2016!


  11. Fathi Mnassri says:

    Hi Yilin Sun
    Actually what you are saying is very interesting and terms like ” critical thinking ” effective users of English language” represent cornerstones of successful ELT classrooms. There are still many unsolved issues especially regarding the question whether to teach English through the English culture or to teach it through the culture of the country in which English is taught . In many countries it is still a political decision. You gave an answer when you said “Teachers need to attend to both local and international cultures ” Don’t you think that English language learners seen to have a common background knowledge especially when we take into consideration the great number of people engaged in social media ?
    Fathi Mnassri

  12. Monir Hossen says:

    My Dear
    Assalamo Allikom.

    Thank you very much for clarifying the concepts of the best way of TESOL & for expanding your thought in this regards. We wish to have more and more detailed information regarding this new thing in ELT.

    And my best wishes for you. Have a good time with you vision of life.

    Thank you
    Monir Hossen
    MA in English
    Department of English
    Comilla University

    • Yilin Sun Yilin says:

      Dear Monir,
      Very best wishes to you for a successful new year of 2016! I hope to meet you at TESOL 2016 Convention.

  13. Yilin Sun Yilin Sun says:

    Dear Brian,

    Thank you for sharing your comments with me on this blog piece. The dilemma you indicated here is not unique. It’s everywhere. Your point is well taken that TESOL educators should reach out to subject area teachers and vice versa. This year’s TESOL Convention theme is Crossing Boarders and Building Bridges. I hope we can encourage more teachers to cross boundaries and build bridges to form interdisciplinary collaboration between ELT educators and subject area teachers. Once they experience the success of student learning from this innovative approach, more teachers will buy in. All the very best to you and hope to meet you at TESOL 2015 Convention.


  14. Brian King says:

    Hi Yilin Sun,

    Thank you for such an insightful post. I think that Trend 4 is particularly interesting because it has such an impact on how and what English teachers teach. I teach English at a Cambridge International School, and my English curriculum incorporates Maths, Science, and Geography throughout. I’m not sure, but I think most English teachers are excited about this change, because it provides more real-life contexts to use the second language. We recently finished a unit focusing on optical illusions. Students were so engaged because the content was interesting to them.

    The dilemma I have been facing at my current school is convincing the other subject teachers that they are also English teachers to some degree. All instruction is in English at the school, but many subject teachers do not see any importance in altering their instructional strategies for English learners. This problem is particularly troublesome during exam times. Many of these teachers do not right the exams with the students’ abilities in mind.

    It is interesting that English teachers are not integrating other subjects into their classrooms, but other subject teachers do not see the importance of integrating some English instruction into their rooms. A system where each teacher complements the content learned in other classrooms seems like the best way to fully integrate English and content learning.

    Brian King

  15. Azizah says:

    Teaching English as a lingua franca with multiple varieties is SO important! As an ESL learner myself, and now an educator, I have seen firsthand what the privilege of American native speakers looks like. The whole industry of accent coaching, accent reduction, and trying to change one’s variety of English to be more “standard” is just a frustrating, money-consuming game. In reality, there is no “standard” English anymore – when we try to remove our accent we are just making it easier for privileged native speakers to understand us, and effacing our own identities. I am glad that native speakers are starting to realize that they, too, have a responsibility to accept the pluralism of Englishes and to make an effort to understand us. Teaching English as a multi-faceted language also helps educators share social issues with students, since the privilege of native speakers is embedded in political, historical, and oppressive dynamics from the past.

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