Have you ever asked a teacher trainer exactly how they became a trainer? What answer did you get? I’m sure it was rather long, full of ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’. At least mine was, when the charming pair at the TEFL Training Institute interviewed me as part of their podcast on the same topic. That chat inspired me to plan what I’d do if I started all over again…
What will happen to private language schools as English becomes taught more as a universal skill in schools around the world?
The simple answer is that no-one can tell you for certain – but we can make some logical predictions, based on industry trends.
The more complex answer is that the future depends on the motivations of our learners, and so we need to interpret the reasons behind their motivations to find the answer. Reasons that involve myriad demographic, economic, technological, societal and cultural factors.
The number of English learners is likely to peak at around 2 billion in the next 10 years, with most learners coming from developing countries. At the same time, there is an increasing need for English to act as a lingua franca, as migration from these developing countries (whether for work, humanitarian needs, or other) has never been higher.
English has caused a huge amount of internal migration within developing countries, as business process outsourcing in large cities has drawn in all the English speaking talent from surrounding regions (think call centres in India). This unintentionally re-distributes wealth, widening the wealth gap between urban and rural areas.
Researchers have correlated access to English language education to increased salary, and patterns of wealth and poverty are similarly correlated in many developing countries. This may change as English slowly becomes a near-universal skill, with many national education systems teaching English language from an increasingly young age.
Quite apart from the internet being able to deliver low-cost or free language education to anywhere the net is, technology has been levelling the playing field. English has allowed an increasing number of disparate viewpoints to be heard.
At the same time, the amount of English being used on the internet is decreasing in proportion to other languages, and lesser-used (and even endangered) languages are being enjoying an upswing in usage.
Tech is also changing the way we use English, with texting, tweeting and other new forms of communication gaining and maintaining popularity.
The world is becoming more urban and middle class, which is encouraging the adoption of English as families push themselves to gain a competitive edge.
At the same time, multilingualism is growing. Groups of migrants live in a society where they don’t need to use the local language to live, work or survive. Through technology, these groups are closer to distant friends and family than the society around them. This can also lead to a growing gap within families – children who grow up in a ‘new’ country may not be able to speak to their grandparents.
The English language itself is changing, as the majority of English interactions now take place between two non-native speakers. This is leading to new words, slang and phonemic patterns in a new ‘Global English’ that is constantly evolving. Native speakers may even have to face being left behind in their own language!
The idea used to be ‘English as a global language’, but perhaps now, it would be more suitable as ‘global English as a global language’.
The demand for English language education is growing, but so is multilingualism and multiculturalism. So no, the ESL industry isn’t dying, but the learners that we cater for have evolving needs, and we as English teachers have to be ready to adapt to meet them at both an institutional and individual level.
Just as every market mirrors its customers, so emerging trends in ESL will be reflected in the TEFL industry, and ultimately in your job description.
Some would say it’s already changed.
It used to be that if you were a language student, you had to come to us, the experts. Language schools, teachers, and course books were the gatekeepers that controlled access to knowledge. It used to be that you had to come through us if you wanted to learn a language.
Just as the internet changed the way music industry works, it has also started to change the way languages are learned and taught, forever.
Language schools no longer control access to the best language learning methods, materials, or data. We are no longer the gatekeepers, and so we can no longer afford to be complacent.
Learners have access to online tools that can help to practice their listening, reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary. For speaking they can connect to a native speaker for a language exchange. All for free.
For all of us in the TEFL industry – teachers, trainers, managers, product writers, and owners – this has profound consequences for our jobs and careers.
Let’s be honest, as an industry to choose a career in, the TEFL industry does have a train-wreck of a reputation.
It’s easy to see why; a low barrier to entry combined with world travel (i.e. escapism) seemingly provides a path for people to escape their current troubles and start afresh. Coupled with a decent standard of living (especially in second and third world countries), and you’ve got all the conditions needed for an expat community of drunks and no hopers.
“You become a TEFL teacher when your life has gone wrong.” – Alain de Botton, Philosopher
I still remember reading a scathing attack on the TEFL industry the year after I’d started working as a teacher, and wondering what I’d gotten myself into.
Giving A Balanced View
Let’s get one thing straight – I don’t subscribe to the above view.
I’ve been working in the industry for ten years, and yes, I’ve seen the dark side of the TEFL industry. I know exactly what the detractors are talking about.
On the other hand, I am incredibly grateful to the TEFL industry for the experiences and opportunities that it’s given me.
So I want to provide a look at the pros and cons:
Why You Shouldn’t Choose a TEFL Career
Why You Should Choose a TEFL Career
So the Conclusion is….?
Yes, TEFL can be frustrating with poor conditions and poor pay, while you pay your dues. It does also have (more than) its fair share of oddballs.
After ten years, I have no regrets.
I’ve met and made some amazing friends, many of whom are spread out over the globe. I’ve had intense experiences and travel opportunities that simply don’t happen from the comfort of your own home.
I’ve also put in endless hours of hard work to improve and develop my skills, and gained the satisfaction and financial rewards that naturally followed.
I’ve had the opportunity to choose my working environment, my working hours and my lifestyle. I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the most intelligent and driven people I’ve ever met, and wouldn’t exchange those times for anything.
So is TEFL as a Career a Good Choice?
Yes, I believe it is. It requires more independence and forward planning than most industries, but yes. It’s worth it.
Simply put, TEFL is like everything in life – the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.
Did you choose TEFL as a career? Why? Let me know in the comments!
I’m sure that many of you are already familiar with TED.com, the site that spreads ideas from leading thinkers in their field.
There’s one talk I’d like to draw your attention to, as it holds so many ideas that are relevant to us in the TEFL and language education field. As a bonus, it’ll even make you laugh a couple of times.
While the focus is on the American education system and policies, there are fundamental implications for education, learning and teaching that are much wider in scope.
Please, just watch and with each idea that occurs, ask yourself, ‘how could I apply that to ELT?’
Some particularly meaningful quotations from the presentation, that hold true for TEFL;
- “There are three principles on which human life flourishes and they are contradicted by the culture of education under which most teachers have to labour and most students have to endure.”
- “If you can light the fire of curiosity in a child they will learn without any further assistance…”
- “There is no school in the world that is better than its teachers.”
- “…teaching is a creative profession. Teaching properly conceived is not a delivery system.”
- “The role of a teacher is to facilitate learning. That’s it.”
- “The role of testing is important…but they should be diagnostic, not dominate.”
- “…individualise teaching and learning. They recognise that it’s students who are learning and the system has to engage them, their curiosity ,their individuality and their creativity, and that’s how you get them to learn.”
- “Investing in professional development is not a cost, it’s an investment. Every other country that’s succeeding knows that.”
- If you remove teachers’ [discretion], it [the system] stops working
- Education is not a mechanical system, it’s a human system. It’s about people. People who either do want to learn, or don’t want to learn.
- “You cherish and value the relationships between teachers and learners…”
It’s twenty minutes long, so grab yourself a cup of tea, sit back and prepare to have your ideas challenged.