The Role of the EFL Teacher in Mitigating the Obstacle of Illiteracy in English Language Learning
There is widespread recognition that the demand for EFL services in developed nations is high. A myriad of EFL/ESL courses has sprung up aiming to train teachers to meet this need. Most of these EFL/ESL certification courses function on the premise that the teacher will be working with students for whom the acquisition of English is either a matter of personal aspiration or a requirement for a job position, visa, etc.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Abigail M. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
The Problem of Teaching Resources
Such students are inherently assumed to be literate, therefore the training of EFL teachers functions on literacy-based models of instruction. For example, much of the training is dedicated to teaching how to utilize primary resources such as workbooks, worksheets, written tests, web sites, etc., all of which require literacy. Even secondary resources and activities that are suggested for use in the EFL classroom are often written materials (i.e. dictionaries, vocabulary cards, word-based games, etc.), also requiring literacy on the part of the student.
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Access to English Classes
What EFL courses do not seem to recognize as readily or prepare prospective teachers as adequately for is the need for EFL services in developing nations. There is seemingly little recognition for the need for EFL services among students coming from nations for whom the acquisition of English is not a luxury - an optional class, a work demand, or avenue for personal betterment - but is rather a matter of survival and perhaps their only chance of overcoming disparities, disenfranchisement, and injustice.
Due to their location in developing and impoverished nations, socioeconomic status, etc. such potential students generally have limited or no access to education. Even if there is a school that they can attend, they often will not surpass an elementary education before being required to leave school to work and contribute to the basic survival of their families. As such, prospective students from these contexts have a high rate of illiteracy or very low-level literacy.
Though a lack of literacy means that the standard EFL teaching methodologies may not be suitable, it does not mean that there is no need for these individuals to learn English. I would suggest there is as much need for EFL services among these individuals living in impoverished communities and remote locations throughout the developing world as there is in the developed world. As globalization continues to penetrate even the most remote and undeveloped areas, the chasm of disparities only widens for these individuals due to their inability to communicate and participate with the English-speaking world.
For such individuals, therefore, learning English could help stop the cycle of disenfranchisement, disempowerment, and socio-economic disparity. It would improve their ability to better communicate and collaborate with English-speaking entities, enabling them to protect their culture and their people in the wake of globalization. Also, English would give these individuals a voice against the injustices that they are at high risk of suffering due to their current inability to understand and communicate with outsiders.
As such, it could be argued that illiterate populations are perhaps those in the greatest need of the expertise and service that EFL teachers could provide. However, to properly meet this need, the EFL teacher must be able to function beyond the confines of literacy in teaching English, as the normal literacy-based structure of classes simply will not function for such students. Otherwise, we stand to allow literacy-based methodologies to become yet another barrier for people who desperately need the empowerment that can come through English acquisition.
How then, can the EFL teacher meet this unique need and prevent literacy-based methodologies from creating greater disparities between nations and from becoming a barrier to the welfare and development of disenfranchised peoples in this age of globalization? I do not offer a solution to this unique problem. I only suggest that the EFL teacher can be a solution when there otherwise isn’t one.
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I submit that the EFL community should be at the forefront of the movements of cultural sensitivity and diversified learning, by equipping teachers to help students overcome the barrier of illiteracy in learning the English language. Is it an impossible achievement? I believe that consideration of how the acquisition of our mother tongues came about - primarily through oral instruction, modeling, and practice - would suggest it is not. I believe it is suggestive that with the incorporation of organic methods of teaching and learning, the EFL community can ensure that even the poorest and most undeveloped areas can overcome the obstacle of illiteracy and have a brighter future through the empowerment that comes with learning English.
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