TESOL Releases White Paper on Language Teaching Policies and Practices

TESOL International Association has recently inaugurated a series of white papers, research briefs, and policy briefs. Written by thought leaders in the field, these documents will enable the association to share its perspective on emerging issues in English language teaching and learning. The first document in this series is a white paper, written by Ahmar Mahboob and Namala Tilakaratna, titled A Principles-Based Approach for English Language Teaching Policies and Practices.

This paper identifies six principles to help policymakers, researchers, and practitioners develop effective English language teaching policies and practices in varied contexts. From the executive summary:

The principles are collaboration, relevance, evidence, alignment, transparency, and empowerment (CREATE). While acknowledging the complexities inherent in the process of language policy and planning, this white paper also includes a discussion of how these principles have emerged as a result of the demands of globalization and the interests of the local populations of countries in which the teaching and learning of English is having a major impact.

As more and more countries struggle to meet the global demand for an English-speaking workforce, developing an effective and fair language policy has become an increasingly salient issue. For example, Luis Fortuño, governor of Puerto Rico, has just announced a plan to make Puerto Ricans as fluent in English as they are in Spanish by 2022. Last December, Thailand announced its English Speaking Year 2012 initiative to prepare for its economic integration, along with other ASEAN countries,  into the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015. Some have argued that English is key to successful integration.

And yet, as English supplants local languages, some communities have expressed anxiety about losing their identities. In India, where an estimated 850 languages are spoken, the Toto people are struggling to retain their language and cultural identity as the economy demands that they learn Hindi and English. In the Philippines, another linguistically diverse nation, Tagalog and English are displacing minority indigenous languages as the country strives to form a national identity. Languages are dying so rapidly in the Philippines that Manuel Lino G. Faelnar and Junika P.  Soriano, writing for the Defenders of the Indigenous Languages of the Archipelago, have called the situation “quite appalling.”

Language policy can even be used as a weapon, as China has used it in Tibet, to assimilate a minority culture. According to Free Tibet, a nonprofit organization that supports Tibetans’ right to self-determination, “The use of Tibetan is being systematically wiped out as part of China’s strategy to cement its occupation.” The Chinese government has promoted its language policies by limiting the use of Tibetan in classrooms and textbooks, causing students to protest in Qinghai province. Some students and monks have demonstrated their resistance by self-immolating.

As the authors of this TESOL White Paper note, the stakes around English language policy are high, and they call for policy makers and other stakeholders to recognize the consequences. “The unique sociocultural, political, economic, and historical aspects of each individual country or setting need to be taken into account when developing language policies and ELT programs and standards appropriate to these contexts.” The principles-based approach they recommend in this TESOL White Paper acknowledges the difficulty of developing fair and effective English language teaching practices and policies, and it offers policy makers, teachers, and other stakeholders a place to begin what should be a complex and inclusive discussion.

I hope you will read and share this white paper with your colleagues. If you have any comments about the paper, please share them below.

How have language policies affected your classroom? How have they affected your relationship with your students and your peers? How might language policy and education reform in the United States benefit from a principles-based approach?

About Craig Triplett

Craig Triplett
I am a senior editor and web content and social media manager at TESOL International Association, an international nonprofit devoted to promoting excellence in English language teaching. TESOL has 12,000 members worldwide and more than 100 international affiliates. For more information about TESOL, go to www.tesol.org.
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