What is EFL / TEFL /TESOL? What’s the big picture?

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A little while back someone (maybe you?) was kind enough to fill out the Magic Wand Survey with a comment that I must confess has only just “hit” me.

I read it when it first came in, but to be honest I don’t think I really “got” the fullness of the “problem” for the commenter.

The question is: “What is your biggest stumbling blcok or burning question about EFL teaching?”

The answer was “Picturing it as a whole in my mind.”

I missed the subtly of this at first.

A complex mix

There are, indeed, a lot of things that go into teaching — and that’s why I think it really is a craft. It’s more than simply knowing the “technicalities” (of both the language itself and ways to teach it) and then slapping them all together. There are those kind of “undefinable” things that make for effective teaching. But that’s a different topic for another day!

For a novice teacher, it can, understandably, be quite overwhelming; There are so many things to juggle: presenting, clarifiying, and practising grammar; same again with vocab; improving “The Four Skills”, working on pronunciation, etc. And then all the administrative things such as planning a schedule of lessons, integrating elements of revision into that schedule, appealing to the interests of particular groups of learners, responding to the needs of particular groups of learners, setting and marking homework tasks, designing and administering tests, and so on. The list is pretty long.

Of course, like any profession, with experience the intersection of these things becomes second nature and you’re able to coordinate half-a-dozen of ‘em simultaneously while dealing with discipline issues, all without breaking a sweat and all before morning tea, right?!

But, at first, it all seems a bit much.

So where do you start?

How does it all fit together? How can you picture it as a whole in your mind?

The answer, I believe, is fairly straight-forward: Ask yourself “What’s the purpose of language learning?”

Okay, okay, I know this could very well open a decidedly UNproductive can of worms insofar as a lot of students HAVE TO learn a foreign language whether they like it or not—for all sorts of reasons, some valid, others less so. But…

To keep it at its simplest, I’d suggest that the purpose of language learning is:

To understand and communicate with others through a foreign language
(in our case, English).

Almost TOO simple, really, innit? :razz:

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So how is this definition useful?

Well, far from claiming that it’s an Earth-shattering revelation or anything, I reckon its useful to a novice teacher who’s struggling to “picture it as a whole” because it focuses things back on the fundamental purpose of what we attempt to do each day, i.e. help our students understand and communicate with other people through English.

This way, you simply look at whatever you’re presented with in the curriculum and textbook and ask “Will this help my students actually understand and communicate through English?”

If the answer is “Yes”, go ahead and do it. Well done. It may or may not be successful (because there are a lot of other factors at work that will determine an activity’s success. And what works well with one class may not fly with another; often for inscrutable reasons). But you’ll be moving in the right direction.

If the answer is “No”, then scrap it. Don’t do it. Or, if (you feel that) you HAVE TO do it, then modify it so that it moves your students towards the main objective: to be able to understand and communicate with people in English.

The framework

This may be a fairly simplistic framework – I dunno – but it is, I think, helpful to keep you focused if you’re overwhelmed by what is, actually, a pretty complex process. Sure, there are a thousand different things you can do in the classroom, all of which can be done a hundred different ways, but they should all be leading to the same endpoint: improving the students’ ability to comprehend and/or speak a foreign language, not merely jumping through hoops.

The exact elements and the exact way(s) they combine are things that you uncover with more training and experience and reflection. Particular approaches, particular techniques, and particular teaching points are only avenues for getting your students to the checkpoints along the road.

I hope that helps! Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can comment below.

Cheers,
Leslie


If you have a better answer for our novice colleague, then fire away! You might be able to better answer his/her question than I’ve done here. If so, muchos gracias!

 

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5 Responses to “What is EFL / TEFL /TESOL? What’s the big picture?”

  1. donia donia says:

    Thanks a lot :wink:

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  2. Özcan D. Özcan D. says:

    Dear Leslie,
    “Of course, like any profession, with experience the intersection of these things becomes second nature and you’re able to coordinate half-a-dozen of ‘em simultaneously while dealing with discipline issues, all without breaking a sweat and all before morning tea, right?”

    this is the most important part for me…

    Thanks for very useful article on Efl..See you

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    •  Leslie says:

      Heya Ozcan

      Glad to hear another new voice in the discussion.

      All the best,
      Leslie

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  3. Trisha M Trisha M says:

    Thank you for this! I've just enrolled in Cert IV in TESOL at TAFE, and although I have a bit of experience (no real quals, though I've done a bit of trainign) in this field, I immediately became very excited and immersed myself in the thigns I know I'm shaky on (concept checking, grammar points, c*r*e*a*t*i*v*e* lessons plans etc … eeek) and when I found this article in my Inbox this morning I thought .. Yay! this will help me step back and think about "What's the best thing I can be doing to move toward this goal, long-and short-term, right now?" The other aspect of it for me is a reminder that I will need to keep myself in a good position to make sure that my skills are what's needed to meet this goal for the students.

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  4.  Leslie says:

    Hi, Trisha

    I hope your course went well. As you can see, it has taken me three months (more, actually) to log in to this site and respond to your comment.

    I appreciate your sharing the two introspective thoughts this article inspired. I wish you the very best of luck with it all.

    Leslie

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