Choosing to speak English opens doors

As ESL and EFL teachers, we should encourage all English language learners!

“A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.”

-Brad Henry (1963- ), former Governor of Oklahoma

Our students have chosen to speak English because it opens more doors. We should help them realize their ambitions, support their dreams, and avoid judging their motives.

For better or for worse, knowing English makes life easier and better. For instance, the ability to speak English allows individuals to communicate with millions of other people from around the world. Some globalization critics and ethnic nationalists, especially in smaller countries, have attacked English as subverting national and group identities. English speakers tend to be the more educated, more affluent, and more successful individuals in several developing countries. This fact apparently offends many people, including a surprisingly number of ESL teachers, who feel seeking worldly success, money, status, or an international spouse is elitist.

You will also find a rich literature on the use of English in advertisements in non-English speaking countries for the same reasons. Modern technological products and companies, such as LG, advertise in Europe in English their message that “Life is Good”. The clear implication is that buying their LG product makes “Life Good” and as does speaking English since only English speakers can understand their ads. Hence, English has also become a symbol of modernism and stylish consumerism. LG is a Korean company!

Attacking the prevalence of English remains popular, and questioning the “morality” of choosing to speak English in some academic circles. This obsession seems misguided and ironic. As English teachers and tutors, we need to carefully assess the full range of aspirations and skills that our students as we choose and develop materials. But assessing does not mean judging them! A teacher should support the legal goals of their students.

If our students need a certain score on a standardized exam (TOEFL, TOEIC, citizenship), we need to choose appropriate materials to meet their immediate goals – including active skills like speaking and writing. The new TOEFL, by the way, is a huge improvement over the old, grammar-focused one used for decades. Speaking has been recognized as a vital life skill.

Yet we also need to help students develop authentic language skills that transcend immediate test scores. Many administrators, for understandable reasons, attempt to force all instruction toward standardized tests. Many English instructors feel that standardized test scores have displaced traditional educational goals. Professor Charles Talcott, for instance, has passionately argued against “The Tyranny of Standardized Testing in English Language Classrooms.”

How many times have you encountered ESL students who have collected impressive test scores yet struggled to express themselves in a simple conversation in English? Students need the chance to develop their conversation skills – in and out of the classroom. Listening and speaking remain essential skills so students can express themselves – even be themselves – in English.

English, an optional language for a majority of the globe, remains a smart choice for our students. They have chosen to be English language learners. Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics helps English language learners go from students to authentic speakers. Speaking English opens many doors. Can you think of a door you would like to open for your students?

 Ask more. Know more. Share more.

Create Compelling Conversations.


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