Connecting Asia through English
The president of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages gives insight to how countries should approach English language teaching and learning within the global English context
With this, strengthening non-native speakers' role in English-language teaching and learning and globalising Tesol, says the president, will dominate his term of presidency.
Associate Professor Jun Liu, the first Asian and non-native English speaker to become the president of Tesol, was born and educated in China up to the graduate level. After he completed a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from East China Normal University in 1991, Prof Liu travelled to the United States to pursue a doctorate degree in Foreign and Second Language Education at Ohio State University. Besides his role as Tesol's president, Prof Liu is also a lecturer at the University of Arizona's Department of English and director of the English Language Centre at Shantou University, China. He has published nearly 10 books in China and the US and given more than 40 scholarly talks across the world.
In his most recent talk ``Unlimited Boundaries in Promising Asia,'' at the twenty-seventh Thailand Tesol International Conference, Prof Liu reiterates that Asia holds great promise in education, particularly language education, mainly because of its sheer size of population and economic growth. Also because of these factors, he says, being a language teacher in the Information Age, in which most of what students study in the first year of college will likely be outdated by their third year, is not an easy job. In terms of English language teaching and learning, it also means that the model has shifted from an emphasis on linguistic forms to communicative competence.
In order to explore Prof Liu's vision for the current and future of English language teaching and learning in Asia, as well as gain an insight on what it means for English becoming a global language, this week's ifLearning Postnf publishes the following excerpt from its exclusive interview with Prof Liu on January 26. LP: What does the conference's theme, ``Teaching English for Global Communication in Asia,'' mean? Liu: First of all, English is a global language. In order to communicate and compete with people from all parts of the world, we need to use English as a tool. So in Asia, in particular, because of the latest developments in economy and education, people from all over the world are looking up at Asia as the future super power. We need to train our students with the ability to communicate and to introduce our culture to the outside world. So for this purpose, we are no longer Leg 2 producing a small number of students. We are producing a massive number of students who are able to understand, master, and use the tool to reach out and also to educate people from the outside who are coming to Asia.
LP: Because English has become a global language, do you think it poses a threat to each country's national identity?
Liu: I don't see a threat to national identity, if we are not abandoning our own language. If you acquire English at a certain level, yet you have your own language, you are more resourceful and you are able to communicate with people outside your own circle. It's like you have an additional tool for communication. So to me, this is very facilitating, and I think it is an advantage to be bilingual or trilingual.
LP: What should the national policy be towards teaching and learning the English language?
Liu: Ideally, the purpose of learning English is for communication because eventually we want our learners to be able to use English at meetings, in trade, in writing and email communications, and for all kinds of oral proficiencies.
But in order to do that, we really need to focus on the basic training of language skills _ grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary. We also need to train listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. But we need to contextualise our language teaching, so that we produce users of the language, not just learners. This will allow them to use what they have learned, and they will learn better through frequent exposure and usage. Also, we shouldn't focus only on accuracy or fluency but, rather, focus on communication. Start with the basics; then when they have reached a certain level, enhance their communication skills.
LP: At what age, then, should students start learning English in school?
Liu: In English learning, we have something called a critical period hypothesis that means when students pass the age of 12 or 14, they are no longer able to imitate the native sound. So, we need to take that into account and try to teach them earlier so that learning English is more automatic.
Usually, primary school at grade level three is an ideal starting point. At that time, they have already learned their native language. They won't get confused. So, they will start to develop their cognition. So when you introduce a foreign language at the age of 9 to 12, if all the right conditions are there, the kids should learn more naturally and with less effort.
LP: Is it still important to learn English from native speakers?
Liu: It is important to learn English from native speakers, but it is not native speakers who are only helpful to students. I think students can learn different strengths from native and non-native speakers. Native speakers can provide authentic input. Non-native speakers can explain to you the difficulties in learning and the comparison between your language and English.
So, native speakers and non-native speakers have different strengths. But native speakers without training won't be good teachers. Non-native speakers without perfect English might still be good teachers if they understand teaching principles. So they should join hands. In hiring, I think schools should hire both native and non-native speakers.
LP: Perhaps do team teaching?
Liu: Yes, team teaching or collaborative language teaching and have more collaboration in lesson preparations.
LP: What are some advantages and disadvantages of English becoming the global language?
Liu: As for the language itself, I think it provides a good means for communication for people from all parts of the world. It certainly can quicken the process for the global exchange of ideas, commerce, business, and everything else.
On the contrary, it could also be a potential threat to the national identity and pre-mature merging of national identity with foreign identity. So, I think at the same time that we emphasise English as a global language, we should never neglect the teaching and learning of our respective native language and culture.
There's also a hidden danger in teaching. We over-emphasise communication and neglect basic language skills and the language itself. I think this is an issue of teaching methodologies.
LP: Is there really a short cut to language learning?
Liu: No, there is no short cut. But there are strategies that if used properly can help learners learn quicker and make them more proficient. A short cut is a concept. And everyone wants a short cut.
I don't believe in short cuts. I believe in hard work. I believe in good strategies. I believe in good reflections. And I also believe in good mentoring.
LP: What are some of the good strategies for learners?
Liu: Maximise the input. You really need to listen, read, talk, and write. So, try to be exposed to whatever opportunities you have to practice listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
Secondly, try to use English frequently. And try to understand yourself as a learner because we all have different learning styles. If you are an introvert, if you are shy, you might have your ways of learning. If you are not afraid, then you can talk with strangers. Understand your own learning strategies, take advantage of the environment, maximise input, and use the language frequently.
And the most important thing is you have to have confidence. Learning takes time. You have to have realistic goals and objectives for yourself. You cannot be overly ambitious. You cannot master it in one day. It takes time.
LP: What do you think is an ideal environment for teaching and learning English?
Liu: The ideal environment is still in the English-speaking environment. But in Asia, we don't have this environment. So, I think we need to greatly maximise the environment, called the language input, for the students through co-curricula activities, such as an English corner, an English lounge, English in newspapers, English lecture series, etc. Doing so will create learning opportunities for students. Besides learning language inside classrooms, students can go to different areas to develop specific skills. That's very important. That's number one.
Number two, the school should provide more online resources and CDs, and try to give students opportunities to learn on their own _ self-learning, independent learning, and community learning.
Thirdly, schools need to encourage inter-school and inter-district competitions to give them opportunities to see what is better and to look beyond their classrooms, beyond their schools.
LP: What should be the government's role in supporting teaching and learning of English?
Liu: Governments should allocate more money for the development of curriculum standards and materials. They should also create programmes to encourage teacher research, more award competitions and professional development opportunities to facilitate teachers, and more opportunities for teachers to get out of the country to learn from others.
And finally, governments need to listen to teachers' concerns, rather than make a policy and say you do it. These concerns sometimes are not only for language teaching, but also for their livelihoods, their benefits, and salaries. These are all the factors to ensure that teachers will be more focused on their work as professionals.
The twenty-seventh Thailand Tesol International Conference, ``Beyond Boundaries: Teaching English for Global Communication in Asia,'' was held from January 26-28 at the Imperial Queen's Park Hotel in Bangkok. For more information, visit http://conf2007.thaitesol.org
Beyond boundaries: Making sense of the future
ELT experts convene in Bangkok to discuss future trends of English language education
One of the main challenges faced by today's English Language Teaching (ELT) experts is the shift in the focus of English language education from one that revolves around the language itself to one that focuses on its communicative usage.
This shift not only implies that teachers need to find new approaches to English language teaching, but it also means that the environment in which students learn the language plays an influential role in their future success.
``English language is something which allows greater access to the world around us,'' Education Minister Wijit Srisa-arn said in his opening speech to the twenty-seventh Thailand Tesol / sixth Pan-Asian Consortium International Conference, held recently in Bangkok.
``But gone are the days when English books were only about the rules of grammar. Today, our approach is to integrate skills [because] reading, writing, listening, and speaking nurture each other as learning takes place,'' he added.
To address and discuss the implications of these challenges and ways in which to overcome them, ELT professionals from many parts of the world convened at the three-day international conference, ``Beyond Boundaries: Teaching English for Global Communication in Asia.'' While addressing issues that affect today's English language teaching and learning is considered essential, the conference also serves as a ground for professional networking and sharing of methodologies or trends that influence the profession's future direction.
``As the organiser, we hope that participants will bring some of the ideas back and use them not only in their teaching, but also research, management, and administration of education at their own institutions,'' Maneepen Apibalsri, president of Thailand Tesol, says.
Given this year's theme, the focus is on Asia and its increasingly important role in shaping the future of English language education. The message from the keynote speaker Assoc Prof Jun Liu, who is also the global Tesol president, emphasises Asia's sheer population size and economic growth as the key reasons.
If every person in China learns to speak English, for example, ``China will become the world's biggest English-speaking country,'' he says. He also stresses the importance of English as a means for Asian countries to compete successfully in the global arena, as it has become the language of choice for conducting international businesses.
Under the globalised setting, micro-environmental factors _ teachers, students, and schools _ are not, Prof Liu says, the only factors that shape the trends in English language teaching. Rather, such macro-environmental factors as political, socio-economics, educational, or even entertainment variables, he adds, may shape the language policies, materials, and methodologies. In addition to these micro- and macro environmental factors, Prof Liu said that the new trends in English language teaching would also revolve around five areas, namely curriculum development, instructional foci, pedagogical approach, subject matter, and communicative competence. The new trends present challenges to the English teaching profession, which include, among others, skills training, motivation, methodology, world Englishes, disciplinary collaboration, teacher education, starting age of English learning, and alternative assessment methods.
Besides Prof Liu, the conference highlighted academic presentations by 15 plenary and featured speakers, which included: Gallina Lovtsevich, on ELT in Asia and Asian ELT; John Sivell, on Introduction to Intercultural Communication for EFL Teachers; Sayoko Yamashita, on English Language Education in Japan; Fredericka Stoller, on Project-Based Learning; Deborah Healey, on The Internet: Helping To Create `New English' or Reinforcing Old Dominance; and Joe Bianco, on Too Much and Not Enough: Culture, Identity, and English at a Time of Globalisation.
``No matter where we go in the world today, we cannot avoid using English,'' says Suchada Nimmannit, a member of the Tesol board of directors and past president of Thailand Tesol. ``In the past, we used English to deal with foreign guests, who came to visit us only temporarily. Today, we use English to communicate with clients, colleagues, and friends who come here and stay with us for a long time. There's no barrier any more,'' she adds.
For this very reason, English has become a global language and has transcended beyond national and cultural boundaries.
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Last modified: February 9, 2006