Key Issues In ELT

Those new to English language teaching might think the only issues are those about how to teach in class – methods. Which activities work best. Which approaches we should take. What makes a good curriculum (textbook or not).

However, the field is a lot more than just this. Currently, there’s a lot of issues under debate and for which teachers need to form beliefs around – beliefs that will inform their teaching practices and educational philosophy.

So here is my quick list. I offer up only questions – for each of us to figure out where we sit on the issue. Do you have others to add? I’m sure I missed many. Also, read Geoff Jordan’s post about my list. Further, an older post of mine on this topic. Also, this much older post (interesting to compare).

Teacher Precarity. This article really hit the spot. Why are so many language teachers underpaid, under-respected, in a precarious career position? Why is the profession filled with neo-liberal, race to the bottom, disrespect of human capital? Or is everything fine? It is what it is?

Native speakerism. Is there such a thing as a native speaker? Does it matter if? Why is ELT ruled by white, older male, “native speakers”? Why do students want to sound and have a “native speaker” accent? Why aren’t NNESTs (non-native speaking teachers) given their due respect and equal job opportunity?

Grammar synthetic syllabus. So many courses, textbooks follow a synthetic syllabus of verb tenses and a set belief in an order of acquisition. Language is dolloped out in bits and pieces – controlled. But does SLA – Second Language Acquisition research support such? Many would say not. Why is this type of organization of content so popular and such a big part of all teacher training? Why aren’t task based approaches and analytic syllabuses given much credence?

Teachers and Research. Why don’t teachers read and follow the “evidence” and teach using practices that are supported by research? Should a teacher do this or just follow their “gut” based on what they have tried and seen work on the ground, in their own classrooms? Why does research have such a hard time reaching the eyes and ears of teachers?

Teaching Practices. Does error correction work, how should one do it if? Do students pick up errors they hear? TTT – teacher talk time. How much should a teacher speak during class? Lesson plans – do they help, are they necessary? Do grades help or hinder learning? Should you give homework or is it a waste of time, no learning? How should you group students? How much control should students have in the classroom? Is free speaking worth actual class time? What issues are “proper” for the language classroom – which are taboo (PARSNIPS)?

Conferences. Is there much benefit in terms of teacher professional development by attending conferences? Or do teachers just confirm their own beliefs and biases? How can we make conferences more practical and better at informing teacher practices? What is the future of conferences now that virtual communication is so powerful? Does the role of the “parachuted in” guru still hold water? What about our ecological footprint – how to lessen this?

Discrimination. Why are there so few minorities teaching English? So few black or brown? Why do job ads still request or infer the need for a “native speaker” or “energetic” (code for “young, female and hopefully blonde”). Ageism. Why does this exist in ELT? Why are there so few females in positions of power, administration and on conference programs?

Ed Tech. Does this really benefit a language learner? If so, how? Will technology replace teachers? Will technology make teachers less valuable and poorer? Is the disruption of ed-tech worthy or contributing to teacher precarity. What is good ed-tech, what is bad ed-tech? Do the scions of Silicone Valley actually know anything about how people learn best and best practices for language learning (does Duolingo grammar-translation work?)? What will be our response to surveillance technology used on students studying online? Does this really benefit learning, covert tracking of student online study?

Certification / Testing. Do you really need a certificate to teach English, to be good at teaching English? What levels of qualifications should be required by teachers in the classroom? Why do so few ELTers have degrees in education? Students – why do they need to pay so much for test results? Why are these test results not very reliable (look at international students entering US universities with high test scores but still having major problems in classes). Will tech be able to automate the testing process and better assess student competencies and fluency? Is there widespread cheating in the industry – degree/certificate mills?

OER – Resources. Should teachers pay for resources to use in their classrooms? Why hasn’t Open Educational Resources succeeded within ELT? Is it right for teachers to sell their materials to other teachers? Are worksheets, fill-in-the-blanks, printables actually the right approach for a language classroom? What is the future of the textbook? Video – does it have a major role as a teaching resource?

Inductivism vs Deductivism. Implicit vs Explicit teaching. Why do teachers teach like they do? Why is language instruction so formal, PPP / ESA and about teaching explicit language points, rules, lists, structures? What does SLA have to say about this?

Online Teaching Has the pandemic changed education fundamentally or will we all return to our brick and mortar classrooms in a year or so? Is online synchronous teaching as effective as face-to-face? What is the role of blended learning and asynchronous study in the language classroom? Why do teachers feel so tired and why is there a general feeling that online teaching isn’t a panacea? Is the future of teaching a camera and monitor?


  • William Hellriegel

    First, ELT is not ruled by older white males. ELT is heavily female dominated, even at the highest levels. Of the current 80 UCIEP directors, 2/3 are female, and the UCIEP leadership is also majority female (5/9). TESOL is female led. NAFSA is female led, with its upper management overwhelmingly female and the entire staff being almost 80% female (43/55). EnglishUSA is female led, with the leadership team being 70% female (9/13). In fact, there are arguably too few males in ELT.
    Next, I have been in ELT for almost 40 years and I have never noted that “native speaker” and “energetic” are code terms for “young, female, and hopefully blond.” In fact, in all my years in the U.S. and in other countries, “native speaker” has meant Caucasian, it is true; and “energetic” meant young, also true.
    While I share many of the concerns you express above, I abhor your casual bigotry, and you will have to look to another field rather than ours to vindicate your prejudices.

    • ELT Buzz

      Bill – there is nothing bigoted or casual about my comments. I suggest you open your eyes. At the higher levels of schools, institutions – there is a lack of female representation. Fact. I even sat on a symposium a number of years ago addressing this issue. Further, the issue of the lack of women invited to speak at conferences. This issue continues internationally. I stand by my experience, knowledge and comments. In ed-tech, publishing, management, school ownership, a dearth of female representation at the highest level. I’ve worked and experienced a wide spectrum of TESOL internationally over 30 years, running online a few of the largest online professional development communities for ELT. I suspect your experience is that of US colleges/universities and it would be wrong to judge TESOL based on this very small cohort. This post highlights the lack of women as visible representatives of the field.

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