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The Incomplete A – Z of EFL: A-K


By Allistair Elliott

For the real and authoritative A-Z of ELT, please visit Scott Thornbury However, this is going to be a more unstructured and antagonistic look at EFL and EFL in Asia, as I’ve experienced it over the last 11 years.

A is for Authority.

Along with the growth of ESL as a product , so has grown a hierarchy of management to manage this product. A large and dubious career pathway has been, and is being, developed that seemingly offers as its ultimate reward, a  management job that doesn’t involve the inherently distasteful dirtiness that is actual face-to-face teaching. Who wants to do that? Surely only losers want to teach, and indeed only losers are still teaching after 11 years in EFL. Much more satisfying is to get into someone’s face and complain about a lesson plan, class conduct or some grievous methodological error, just because you now have the authority to do so. Authority is conjoined with respect, and they are damaging EFL. To paraphrase St Francis of Assisi, ‘Where there is fun, let us bring misery. Where there is learning, let us bring tests. Where there is care, let us bring fear. And where there is flexibility, let us bring rigid authority. More of this, later.

B is for breaks.

You know Asia, both EFL teachers and EFL learners need breaks, right? Neither are machines. But if we are indeed machines, we still need time to recharge our batteries and process the information at hand. Breaks are vital to English language learning. Time and space allow the brain to make sense of what is happening. That this is often denied, is to be decried and challenged. For better results, more down-time is needed, especially for the learners.

C is for care.

You’ve got to care for your students. If you don’t, won’t or can’t care, go away and do something else.

E is for Exams in Asia (and elsewhere).

There are far, far, too many unimportant exams in Asian countries. Replace many of these with more time for learning, play and thinking time, and results will improve. Just my opinion, but worth researching, don’t you think?

F is for Filipino teachers.

I do so like Filipino teachers, but to me, they are quite enigmatic. I just can’t quite figure them out. They are certainly capable teachers of English, but for me, they are just too biddable. They are too easily pushed around by bosses who quickly realise they can be pushed around. I wish they would stand-up for themselves more, but sort of understand why they don’t. It is often a rough world for Filipinos. I do wish they’d get the respect they deserve.

F is for you know what ing

If you are not doing it, why on Earth are you in EFL? How can you cope with the wheel of misfortune that is EFL without being at it? Go forth and multiply.

G is for George Santayana.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. These are the words that eventually got me to Korea. Justly inspiring words, I feel. They helped a lot.

G is for go go go. “I think like many people, I didn’t intend to be an English language teacher…I met someone who said, you can go to this place in London and do a four-week course, and at the end of four weeks you can get a job teaching almost anywhere”.”> This is how Jeremy Harmer started. And it is broadly still true, with the caveat that your options are a bit more restricted than the breezy days of the 1970’s. Still, what’s stopping you. Take your chances and go go go. There’s a lot of fun and mischief to be had.

H is for free housing.

It sounds great, it is great, but after a while you begin to see the big problem with it. After a while you realise how much of a hold your employers have over you. Enjoy the feeling of rent-free living and watch in awe as your bank balance quickly rises, but as and when the sh** hits the fan, be under no illusion, your situation can quickly deteriorate as the hidden mendacity of your employer becomes clear. By all means, enjoy rent-free living but do have a back-up plan. You may well need it.

I is for IELTS testers.

In my experience, most, though to be fair, not all, IELTS testers are failed EFL teachers. They just don’t possess those vital soft-skills like rapport, empathy or common decency, to be any good at EFL teaching. However, and by sheer good fortune, the absence of these qualities are the precise qualities needed to be the perfect IELTS tester. Can you talk exactly and without deviation from a script, test in, test out, without feeling, thought or concern for what you are doing? Check. Are you able not to make eye-contact, smile or show any human feelings whatsoever, whilst somebody speaks to you for two minutes, time after time after time? Check. Are you able to gloat, be happy, and even excited as you mark an answer incorrect, because the test-taker has failed to put the final ‘s’ on a plural answer? Check. If you answered check, check and check, you are either an IELTS tester now, or will be in the near future.

And you know what the kicker is right? Yup, for many boring and explicable reasons, IELTS pays much more, significantly more, than general English teaching. Unbelievable really. More pay for less skills. But wait, I hear you say, don’t you have to pass an IELTS examination test. Yes. Yes, you do. To become an IELTS examiner you must pass a training course which lasts for a mind-sapping four days! But don’t worry if you fail, you have four opportunities to pass this rigorous test!! It’s wondrous to behold the confidence passing this miniscule test gives to failed EFL teachers. Good for you guys (and the occasional female). Well done. Go on, let your hair down and have fun. Your reward? It appears to be a life of mundanity, mediocrity and boredom. Enjoy it. Many of you clearly deserve it.

K is for Korea.

Where oh where to begin. In an A – Z of EFL Asia, K for Korea must be included. But what to say and where to begin? Overall, I have extremely fond memories of my time there. I met some great people and had some great times. I also met some not so good people and had some not so good times. I guess that’s Korea. It’s an extreme and contradictory place to work, live and play. There doesn’t seem to be much compromise, and everything exists seemingly in a state of tension, difficulty and agitation. But I look upon my time there with tremendous appreciation. There is much that can and must be said about EFL Korea. Perhaps I’ll say it in a bespoke article.

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