Language development for teachers (LDT)

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Following up on last week’s post, I’d like to start addressing the language aspect of teacher development today, an aspect I suggested here last week – unjustly so? – was all but completely ignored by our segment – coursebook writers and publishers, school owners and coordinators, ELT professionals dedicated to professional development, and, most perniciously, teachers themselves.

I have since that post spoken to many friends who are ELT professionals – both native and non-native speakers of English – and in the opinions of the vast majority, this seeming ‘gap’ in the market is really there, glaring. Some excerpts (some translated from Portuguese):

– I know a few teachers who did the CAE test at the beginning of their careers and now, 5 or 10 years later, don’t have that level anymore and would possibly not pass the CAE today. Some schools offer free courses for teachers taught by more experienced, more proficient teachers, but many don’t take those courses and keep on teaching lower levels. (…) I don’t know any SIGs or magazines that deal with that.

– Nope. (…) Not a single book (in the area of language development for teachers). They (schools) tend to lump teachers and advanced students under the same generic umbrella. But if an advanced student says “slangs” it’s not the end of the world. If a teacher does, it’s another story I think.

– Some don’t, some do (answering the question of whether teachers care about their language development). Some people don’t really know their limitations and have never had proper feedback. There are people who look for courses and ways of improving, but they’re still a minority, even if there are more people nowadays in that group than in the recent past, I think. As for the ELT market, I think there are many schools that simply don’t want teachers to develop. They want someone who teaches a half-baked class and is happy with R$ 10 (USD 5,00) per hour.

– I don’t know anything that exclusively concerns itself with language development. There are chapters in some books talking about teacher’s development, but not specifically about language development. Richards (2011) talks about the importance of developing confidence and fluency, but does not talk about how to do so.

Some harsher than others, but there seems to be very little doubt in their minds – and in mine, most definitely – that we tend not to consider language development as being an integral part of teacher development. It’s apparently more important – in today’s TD discussions, anyway – to be proficient in classroom technology than in English. Demanding high from our students (or not even correcting their oral mistakes) is also apparently a lot more worthy of study and discussion than proficiency in English. Actually, there doesn’t seem to be a single topic in the realm of TD that is not more important than a teacher’s language proficiency. Now, I’m a great enthusiast of technology in the classroom, Demand High (DH), extensive reading, oral correction, Dogme (not so much) etc, but I just can’t get my head around the fact most of us believe knowing (a lot about) English is not, at the very least, just as important as anything else, or that we somehow take for granted every teacher is linguistically – for lack of a better word – ‘ready’.

Thus, I am very interested in LDT. I’ve actually been very interested in this area for many years, especially as I myself am not a native speaker of English and am constantly striving to get better, to know more. From here on in, I will devote most of my future posts on this blog to the question of (non-native) English teachers’ language development. How can we get better? What’s available for us in terms of courses, books, blogs, apps etc. I hope many colleagues and friends in the ELT area – both native and non-native – will contribute, suggest, comment and help me and any and all readers of this blog to keep on sharpening that which is our most important tool, our most important means and, ultimately, ours and our students’ intended end.

Finally, If you are in ELT, I’d appreciate it if you could answer the following questions. You can do so by commenting on this post or by emailing me (higor@higorcavalcante.com). Feel free to remain anonymous:

Do you think you give your own English language development the necessary attention?

What areas of the English language do you feel you need to work on the most?

What do you do to improve your knowledge of English? (What, how often, who with etc.)

See you next Monday!

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14 thoughts on “Language development for teachers (LDT)

    Douglas said:
    April 29, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    Hello, I have a very ironic experience concerning my language development. I was 1 semester away from finishing a CAE preparatory course when I got my first job teaching and because of my work I had to quite studying. That happened at the beginning of last years and so far I did not resume studying. And when I discuss the subject with the owner of the school the answer is always the same: “But I don’t think you need to study English, you should study… and the suggestions vary from methodology to marketing… well, I look forward to being able to go back to the student’s chairs.

    – Do you think you give your own English language development the necessary attention?
    No, I don’t.

    – What areas of the English language do you feel you need to work on the most?
    Language awareness. To avoid answering a student’s questions with a not at all useful: “just because…”

    – What do you do to improve your knowledge of English? (What, how often, who with etc.)
    I only learn more English when I have to prepare something like a song based class and I have to study some aspect of the song/movie/text…

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      April 29, 2013 at 8:52 pm

      Douglas hi,

      Thank you very much for your comment here on the blog. I found the part about the school owner’s view of language studies particularly… interesting. I believe it goes without saying I completely disagree with him/her.

      Studying other areas and aspects of ELT is, obviously, very important; it is my opinion, however, that it can never be to the detriment of language studies.

      Thank you very much for sharing your views with us.

    Kelly Cordeiro said:
    April 30, 2013 at 9:14 am

    Hey folks,
    I can say that, for a long time, I didn’t pay much attention to my development. I frequently watch Tv series in English and try to copy their pronunciaton like a parrot and I pay attention to new words, but I think this isn’t enough.
    For a long time I postponed my improvement and I’ve always blamed the lack of time or money to study. Luckly, last year I decided to put an end on my procrastination and I found myself lost.
    So, after researching what my options were, I decided to start with a TKT course (that led me to you and Bruna!) and I don’t intend to stop studying. As more class that we have as more I notice how much I need improvement.
    Therefore, I can say now that yes, I am giving the necessary attention to my language development. I need to improve Language, teaching skills, and a little bit of culture. As I’ve already said, I’m studying for the TKT and watch series in English, I’m also looking for good podcasts, and I’m watching some lectures and videos of methodology available on the internet.

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      April 30, 2013 at 10:23 am

      Hey Kelly,

      Thank you very much for your message. 🙂

      I can definitely see how much importance you give to your language improvement, and I see this improvement in classes every day. One thing you didn’t mention, but I know from our classes, is that you also like reading very much. All these things combined with reading will do wonders for your English!

      Once again, thank you for your comment and see you on Friday! 🙂

    Natália Guerreiro said:
    April 30, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    Funny you should say so. In my experience there are English teachers who don’t worry about PD at all, of course, but I’ve come across quite a few who were worried about their language development only!

    But in reference to your questions:
    – Do you think you give your own English language development the necessary attention?
    One could always do better, of course, but I think I pay reasonable attention to it.

    – What areas of the English language do you feel you need to work on the most?
    Productive vocabulary, esp. collocations and colloquial expressions to sound more natural. And pragmatics.

    – What do you do to improve your knowledge of English? (What, how often, who with etc.)
    I wish I could say I have a method, but in fact I have many and none at the same time. I’ve got a vocabulary notebook where I keep interesting lexis (with definition, example sentences and pronunciation) and once in a (long) while I go over what I jotted down there. But I try and do it from memory, too. I listen to podcasts and watch TV series sometimes, and I read extensively, so whenever possible I stop and copy interesting lexis. And it’s funny coz when I listen or read with my vocab notebook by my side I tend to notice more language than when I listen or read for fun or for learning content.
    I haven’t practiced writing, so when I do have to write I feel stuck and keep looking everything up. As for speaking, once in a blue moon I convince my husband, who also has a B.A. in English, to practice a little, but, since he’s shy, we don’t do that as much as I feel I need to keep my fluency. At my current line of work, unfortunately, I rarely get to speak English, but I try and talk to myself at times (at home… in the shower… so no one can hear me, lol).
    I’ve tried recording myself but it undermines my confidence in such a way that I’ve given it up. I’ve tried doing those vocabulary exercise books, but I found out that I don’t learn much from them. They don’t seem to consider a C2 level as their target audience, and I found out that even the expressions that I didn’t know don’t stick. I don’t know what the problem is… Perhaps the context in TV and books makes the vocab more memorable.
    Oh, and I like reading grammars and linguistics manuals. I wish I had the clarity to make it a priority!

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      April 30, 2013 at 8:50 pm

      Hi Natália,

      Thank you very much for your great comment!

      I believe all areas of professional development are extremely important. The reason why I’ve singled language out is simply because it seems to me very few people have, as I said in the post. People tend to place great importance on learning ideas on how to teach skills, how to teach systems, technology, ‘methods’ and so on. It’s very rare, however, to a blog post, an article, a talk in a conference etc. that is focused on a teacher’s language development, especially non-native teachers. I just began wondering why.

      As for the things you do to improve your English, wow! Way to go! My favorite parts were the fact you read a lot – in my opinion, the most important and effective language development activity there is – and how you actually pay attention to new language you come across. A vocabulary notebook is incredibly relevant, and I always have mine around as well.

      You mentioned recording yourself undermines your confidence. Interesting; I’d never considered it could. Since I keep asking my students to do that, I’d better take that into careful consideration!

      I really hope to see other comments by you here on the blog soon. Thank you very much for dropping by!

    lucasrigonato said:
    May 3, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    Hi Higor,
    as I haven’t been in the field for that long (it’s been 5 years since I first started in the TEFL) I still feel like I have to prove myself to the other more experienced teachers, thus, I’ve constantly been in search of new ways to keep pushing myself harder so as not to get stuck in the upper-intermediate/advanced plato concerning my development in English. It is well stablished that there’s no such thing as having learnt all there was to.

    Writing skills have been my area of biggest concern, though. Probably as a result of keeping other areas, say listening or speaking skills, closer to heart. I’ve recently sat Cambridge Proficiency and to my dismay I did not do that well in the writing paper.

    As CPE is past, being it the highest certificate level, I honestly don’t know what there’s to be done in order to keep learning in practical terms other than teaching higher levels – which now I get to do.

    I would very much welcome to put to practice any ideas you might have to offer and will be looking forward to reading them.

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      May 3, 2013 at 10:11 pm

      Hi Lucas,

      Thank you very much for your visit and comment.

      I understand where you’re coming from, Lucas. Getting the CPE certificate is a very important step in a teacher’s language development, most definitely; it can’t, however, be considered the ‘end of the road’. It isn’t.

      I hope the ideas here will help you develop. Please keep on visiting the next few weeks/months (new posts always on Mondays) and get in touch if there’s anything else I can do to help you.

      Cheers!

    Ahmed said:
    May 3, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    no,i don’t give necessary attention to my English language.
    and i am sure i need to do more reading in order to enhance my spoken language,and for building my Vocabulary. for improving my english knowlege i do nothing ,but i want to do more and more

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      May 4, 2013 at 6:03 pm

      Hi Ahmed,

      Thank you for you comment! I believe reading to be the most effective language learning activity there is, and I really think you’d benefit greatly from it!

      Cheers!

    Jimmy Astley said:
    May 4, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    Hey Higor,
    First of all, I must say I’m happy I’ve found your blog. I took the CELTA course at St Giles in Jan 2009 and although you were not my tutor, we did see and talk to each other in the corridors once in a while.

    I really like this post, because I believe a Non-native teacher’s poor level of English is what may lead some people to believe that all Native speakers are better than the ones who aren’t. And most teachers don’t seem to be worried about it. In my opinion, one should never step into a classroom if their English level isn’t good enough. I like to use myself as an example. I speak Spanish and I’ve recently taken a test at the Cervantes institute, which placed me at level C1. Even so, I don’t think my Spanish is good enough to make me a Spanish teacher. I miss seeing this level of commom sense in some people involved in ELT.

    But now let me answer your questions.

    – Do you think you give your own English language development the necessary attention?
    I think so.

    – What areas of the English language do you feel you need to work on the most?
    Vocabulary. My passive vocabulary is ok, but my active isn’t as good as it could be.

    – What do you do to improve your knowledge of English? (What, how often, who with etc.)
    I read a LOT and I’m always watching English TV and films. I also have a vocabulary notebook – which I admit I could use more often – and I teach Advanced levels too.

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      May 5, 2013 at 8:42 pm

      Hey Jimmy,

      It’s great to ‘see’ you again! 🙂

      Thank you very much for your comment and for answering my questions. I’ve said this here before but it’s never too much: There’s nothing more important for language development than reading vastly and variedly. What are you reading at the moment?

      I couldn’t agree more with you when you say “a Non-native teacher’s poor level of English is what may lead some people to believe that all Native speakers are better than the ones who aren’t.” That’s exactly what I think! By not giving their language development the necessary attention, non-native teachers are making their decisive contribution to make sure this preposterous idea lives on. I believe it’s high time we non-native teachers of English (and native ones as well!) realized language improvement is not optional and it’s non-negotiable; if they’re not willing to invest time – and money – in that, they should quite simply find something else to do.

      New post on language development for teachers tomorrow! I look forward to your comments!

      Cheers,
      Higor.

    Fabiana said:
    May 5, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    Hi Higor!
    I´ve found your blog while searching for ideas on how to improve my language skills as I´m a teacher of English from University in Argentina but I really do not know what steps to take to better my English. I love teaching and English language and I do want to take DELTA or a master degree some day, nevertheless I feel it´s important to have a good command of English first. I´ve sent you an email asking for advice, but then I felt I should forget about shyness and mistakes and write a public comment here=)
    – I feel I pay attention to my language development, but I do not know where to start from. I read a lot and have some grammar and voc. books at hand, which I read before going to slepp.
    – I feel I need to work on “writing”, and develop more collocations and phrases which make my English show more natural.
    – As I said above, I often read and do some exercises. I also watch some series on TV, but I do not find interesting enough to follow.
    Thanks a lot for the blog and for this opportunity to open up and share my worries with you all. Sorry for any mistakes you find in my “writing”
    Hugs from Argentina,
    Fabiana

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      May 5, 2013 at 8:55 pm

      Hola Fabiana! 🙂

      Thanks for your comment and for speaking so candidly about your quest for language improvement.

      First of all, let me say you have much, much more than a “good command of English”, as you put it. Your text is perfect! I don’t know much about your experience, of course, but I think the sheer fact you want to do a DELTA and/or an MA proves you’re more than a little committed to your development as a teacher.

      My post tomorrow will be the first on ideas for language development for teachers of English, and I hope these will go some way to helping you develop and feel more confident about your English. I’ll be simply sharing a few things I try to put into practice myself as a non-native speaker of English, and that I have recommended and used with my teacher students over the past few years.

      I hope to see your comments here in future posts, and I might go to Argentina next year to present in the ARTESOL conference!

      Abrazo,
      Higor.

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