English teachers aren’t really teachers, are they?

This is something I have been thinking about for a while now.

I was just drafting this post when I saw this link by Steve ‘the Linguist’ Kaufmann (NB: I started writing this post three months ago).

I’m not sure that we EFL teachers are actually teachers.

After all, we are in charge of helping learners become proficient in a language. I see this as a skill to be practiced rather than a set of knowledge to be taught. I have always compared language learning to sports, and described what learners should be doing in terms of practice and training. The sports analogy seems to work very well:

1. some people are naturally better at sports/languages than others
2. anyone can get better at sports /languages through practice
3. formally studying sports/languages is of limited use on its own, although it can help if done in conjunction with practice
4. being good at one sport/language will often help you with another one
5. if you want to get better at a sport/language, you should aim to do meaningful practice every day
6. training equipment will help you improve at a sport/language, but is no substitute for practice
7. drills can be helpful, but you also need to practice under realistic conditions if you want to get better at a sport/language

You can probably make similar analogies to playing a musical instrument, or producing art.

The point is, if we are coaches rather than teachers, don’t we need to re-examine our teaching situation?

Are formal classes, exams, class assignments, and grades appropriate ways to help our students master the skill of English language use (as opposed to the academic equivalent knowledge), or are they actually counter-productive?

Now, most of us are restrained by our work situations: we can’t abolish classes or grades, but perhaps there is some way we can change our classes to make them more practical. I’ll be thinking about that in the new academic year, starting in April here in Japan.

I like the sports analogy and it seems the most tangible one I can think of as well. I like how you continue to bring it back to “but you also need practice.” On another site of mine, over 40% of Turks say that the biggest barrier to learning English is lack of practice opportunities. That is something to work on. Anyway, thanks for the link to my article and as well for the link to the Ken Robinson interview. Great stuff. Also, have you seen Seth Godin’s new free Stop Stealing Dreams book? It seems a must read for educators. Keep up the great work as a teacher. You are changing lives for the better!

Hi Aaron, thanks for stopping by 🙂

I have indeed seen Seth Godin’s education manifesto -will be doing a follow-up post on it soon!


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