Critical Issues In ELT

Today , us English language teachers face a world that is very fractured, post-modernist and with many dimensions. It is no longer the case of just “open the book and teach”. There are many issues changing and challenging the profession.

Here are a few issues that I feel are particularly critical for our profession to address and resolve.

  1. The growth of online language learning. Millions are now learning English online. Many teachers are becoming “independent contractors” and seeking out the freedom to set their own hours and work remotely. However, it’s uncertain whether the growth of this market is beneficial for teachers. Pay tends to be lower, curriculum standardized and boring, there are absolutely no benefits. It seems to be a race to the bottom as large corporations seek margins and profits at the expense of learning and teacher well-being. It’s a huge and growing challenge for ELT – how to set this up for success? So both the companies and the teachers/students win?

2. Pay and work conditions. Aligned with the above. Many teachers work for pennies and receive negligible benefits. Also, there is no job security for most teaching positions. The current school closings in Ireland are a case in point. Despite attempts to unionize ELT remains an endeavor in search of a profession.

3. Androcentrism. Put simply, “male dominance”. Old, white males continue to lead the conference hit parade, write all the course materials and do all the teacher training. It’s a huge problem and there is a big crisis in terms of diversity within ELT. There is a lack of multicultural voices, people of color, youth. ELT must continue to call this out where and when it appears.

4. Standardized teaching. Coursebook addiction. Yes, it truly is an addiction. Despite all that has been written and cheerled about the rise of educational technology and the death of the textbook – it is still alive and kicking. Too few teachers have the freedom to really teach and are just page flippers and coursebook conductors. There is a much-needed debate ELT must have regarding the efficacy of using textbooks.

5. The Research Gap. Unfortunately, many teachers aren’t trained or educated in what actually works in the classroom. In their certificate courses and education, they receive scant information on research aligned best practices and don’t learn how languages are learned. Pre-service teachers get a pocket full of techniques and strategies and that’s about it. ELT needs to set out strong standards of practice and training for teachers in what we do know about how people learn and language and how to teach to make this a reality.

6. Technological Panacea. ELT still clings to the view that educational technology if done right is a “cure-all” and “shortcut”. It isn’t. There is a place for technology as a tool to aid instruction and aid the learner. But first things first – you can’t replace the primacy of actual communication. Scott Thornbury thinks that teachers won’t survive the next wave of simultaneous translation devices. I’m certain teachers have nothing to fear – there will always be a social component to communication and students will always seek a teachers’ help in preparing for that.

7. The decline of native speakerism. English as a Lingua Franca is a reality and here to stay. No longer do we see the “native speaker” as the model to aspire towards. Accents are beautiful again. The accent of the “local teacher” is where the stress must lie – not in parachuting in teachers, however well educated, from English speaking countries. Still, much discrimination happens as local teachers are paid less for the same work and as jobs are advertised seeking – white, pure souls from overseas. It’s an issue that needs to be tackled head on.

8. Young Learners. Around the world, nations are requiring students to learn English at a younger and younger age. This despite a lot of research that indicates it isn’t needed at such a young age. Yes, children can learn a second or third language very young at home, outside of school. But learning a language in a school environment is a very different kettle of fish.

Got an issue to mention? Let us add it to the list! Write us a comment and let us know. You might also like this list from the TESOL Int. blog.


  • Geoff Jordan

    The ELT industry must respond to the current global climate and ecological emergency. Modern communications technology allow people to meet, discuss things and work together without being in the same location. Materials writers and teacher trainers who fly all over the world to give plenaries and workshops should stop, and stop now. Conferences should be local, materials should be locally produced, everybody in ELT should make the maximum effort to reduce their carbon footprint.

    • ELT Buzz

      Hear, hear. Can’t disagree with that. However, how to turn this large ship around? The inertia is immense and the commercial drive and existing structures powerful. Hard nut to crack but agree. Conferences especially should be “local” and about building from the ground up – not a dog and pony show.

  • Don

    Agree. Though re (4), equating photocopies with learning is almost as bad, and just as bad for the environment (totally agree with Geoff’s comment!).

    (9) A lack of basic management skills by all too many in positions of responsibility, i.e. school owners and those in DoS and ADoS positions (total blindness to the need for change, inability to hold a productive staff meeting, inability to motivate their poorly paid staff, poor people skills generally…); in some cases, people in management who are totally unfit to be there.

    • ELT Buzz

      Good point about the management skills. It’s been my experience too. Usually they are former teachers who got the job through their personal relationship with the owner/board etc … And that’s not a proper way to get the right person.

      • Don

        Or they were great, enthusiastic teachers and getting into management was a promotion, a reward… And a mistake! Never waste great teachers in management 😉 !

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