English language Teaching (ELT) should be based on what we know about how people learn a second language (an L2).
We know that language learning relies mostly on implicit, unconscious learning. Learning English as an L2 is not the same as learning geography, biology, or most subjects that form the programmes of primary, secondary and tertiary education. Learning English as an L2 happens, mostly, as the result of using the language, of doing things in the language, rather than studying it as an object.
It follows that, while telling students about the language is helpful (depending on the way it’s done), it should not the basis of ELT.
Telling students about English is the basis of most ELT. Protests from coursebook writers and other prominent teacher educators notwithsatanding, research shows that in most ELT settings, where teachers use coursebooks, 70% plus of classroom time is taken up with teachers telling students about the language.
It follows that most ELT is inefficacious.
The reason why this inefficacious approach to ELT persists is because it allows for the packaging and delivery of English courses for profit. ELT, which includes materials, teacher education and testing, is a multi-billion dollar industry. ELT is commodified, to the detriment of learning.
There are better ways of organizing ELT. All of them start with rejecting the CEFR framework, the use of coursebooks which use a synthetic syllabus to get students from A1 to C2, and the use of high stake exams which falsely measure people’s communicative competence.
The “better ways” include Dogme, Content Based Language Teaching and Long’s version of TBLT, all of which are more efficacious. They aren’t more widely understood and used because of the enormous power of the commercial interests that promote coursebook-driven ELT.
Current ELT practice results in the general failure of students to reach their objectives and in the appalling pay and conditions of most teachers.
Progress depends on social change. The world’s 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 percent of the planet’s population. Far from being tangental, this is central to understanding the way current ELT is carried out.
We can bring about change. The best way to do so is by informing ourselves about how people learn languages. This will lead to recognising the weaknesses of current ELT practice. Along with that, we should organise at a local level in such a way that we teach differently and fight for decent pay and conditions.