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How effective is TEFL?

Moderator: Tempo Gain

How effective is TEFL?

Postby Gain » 08 Jun 2016, 03:50

This is more of a general question, not just about Taiwan, but virtually all places in which TEFL is a business.

I've had quite a few this kind of teachers growing up, mostly in the (public) schools I attended, and maybe a couple in cram schools/kindergarten when I was like 5, and for me I genuinely felt like it didn't really help improving my English proficiency, at least not substantially. I mean they were all really nice people (well except for one ... who's the nastiest bigot I've ever personally met in my life. He was basically wearing the biblebelt, talking shit about homosexuality all the time, and saying stupid crap like 'Lady Gaga and Angelina Jolie are total sluts' ... people like him are exactly the reason why religion is in such a drastic decline in the West), and many of them were really making an effort to teach, but I feel like most of the time they were like artists performing in front of a bunch of unresponsive pumpkins. :2cents:

Obviously you guys are at the opposite end of the table. I'm just curious, have you seen any truly brilliant progress from any of your students, Taiwanese or not, because of you, as a native English speaker, teaching them the language? Do you think it only works for a certain type of students? Or do you think the whole thing is just a fraud the cram schools came up with to make more profit, and the native English speakers are simply using it as an excuse to live abroad for a couple of years?
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Re: How effective is TEFL?

Postby HenHaoChi » 08 Jun 2016, 08:35

many of them were really making an effort to teach, but I feel like most of the time they were like artists performing in front of a bunch of unresponsive pumpkins.


... but who's fault was that, if they were doing their best? The students have to put some effort in too.

We had 6-7 levels in London, and I saw many students go from less than 10 words vocabulary to intermediate and beyond in one year. I saw many more go from intermediate to advanced in less time. The system worked for 90 percent of students. They weren't speaking English outside the classes, so progress was mainly due to the lessons. In Prague and China I saw lots of improvement too. They would give you a 3 month syllabus and you just had to get the students ready.

I would say it worked for 80 percent of students.

It doesn't always work in Taiwan, because the schools force outdated curriculums on the classes, and make teachers cover lots of ground (lots of book pages per lesson) so students can "learn more". :roflmao: Teachers are forced to rush through a book whether the students know the target language or not. Consequently the students learn nothing. You can deal with many classroom situations, but a rapid teaching pace will destroy the class, the students, and the buxiban's income.

I'm not sure what percentage of Buxibans do this. It's hard to tell, as I have only taught at a few. Some were excellent, some weren't.

There's also a culture of pleasing the parents here, and the parents blaming the teacher if their little pumpkin doesn't get good grades. Great idea. Give every student high marks so the parents don't get annoyed.

It's better outside Taipei and in the South, there are Buxibans that understand how to to let the teacher get on with it.

Is TEFL a con? Most of the time, no. Even the worst young teacher, who drinks at night and mumbles through lessons, will still teach them something. Taiwanese Buxibans? They might be a con.
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Re: How effective is TEFL?

Postby Gain » 08 Jun 2016, 08:54

HenHaoChi wrote:... but who's fault was that, if they were doing their best? The students have to put some effort in too.

Yeah I agree, but I feel like most of the time Taiwanese students are used to being unresponsive in lectures, as in all other classes are conducted in a similar, asymetrical way, where the teachers do all the talking.

We had 6-7 levels in London, and I saw many students go from less than 10 words vocabulary to intermediate and beyond in one year. I saw many more go from intermediate to advanced in less time. The system worked for 90 percent of students. They weren't speaking English outside the classes, so progress was mainly due to the lessons. In Prague and China I saw lots of improvement too. They would give you a 3 month syllabus and you just had to get the students ready.

I would say it worked for 80 percent of students.

It doesn't always work in Taiwan, because the schools force outdated curriculums on the classes, and make teachers cover lots of ground (lots of book pages per lesson) so students can "learn more". :roflmao: Teachers are forced to rush through a book whether the students know the target language or not. Consequently the students learn nothing. You can deal with many classroom situations, but a rapid teaching pace will destroy the class, the students, and the buxiban's income.

I'm not sure what percentage of Buxibans do this. It's hard to tell, as I have only taught at a few. Some were excellent, some weren't.

There's also a culture of pleasing the parents here, and the parents blaming the teacher if their little pumpkin doesn't get good grades. Great idea. Give every student high marks so the parents don't get annoyed.

It's better outside Taipei and in the South, there are Buxibans that understand how to to let the teacher get on with it.

Is TEFL a con? Most of the time, no. Even the worst young teacher, who drinks at night and mumbles through lessons, will still teach them something. Taiwanese Buxibans? They might be a con.

I've never really been to any of those buxibans for English but I can definitely see it being the case in Taiwan, unfortunately. :p
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Re: How effective is TEFL?

Postby HenHaoChi » 08 Jun 2016, 09:07

Thanks for listening. The best way to get students responding is to walk in with a huge beach ball. It's tacky but it works. I've seen more than one teacher carrying a ball or other props on the train. At least I hope they were teachers. I thought most of my Taiwanese students were excellent. As soon as I wrote on the board, they started saying what I was writing. I have never had such attentive students. It genuinely made me sad that I had to teach them this crap from moldy books. When I was left to my own devices, students would beg me to extend lessons even over 2 hours. I have never had that before. When I was forced to teach from rubbish books, they couldn't wait to get out after 40 minutes, and neither could I.

Even a bad book, I can lift good material from it, but this place (in Luzhou) placed great emphasis on getting students to learn useless paragraphs at high speed by rote. OK, [/rant]...

The good side of this, is that if 3-4 teachers got together with a Taiwanese local, and opened a decent buxiban, within one year world would get around about how good this place was, and they would make good money. I don't want to do it, as I am learning other things now, but the opportunity is there.
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Re: How effective is TEFL?

Postby Ermintrude » 08 Jun 2016, 10:25

How effective are gyms?

'Success' at languages is a mix of motivation, closeness of L1 to target language, intelligence and exposure. A teacher can motivate some students (never all: -- beach ball people will attend the same classes as the quiet, 'noticing' people, although skilled people can create a class culture and include everyone) and manipulate exposure within a classroom but never enough to create the sustained conditions for true acquisition. There are a ton of other things. Don't like to read much in your L1? Fine but it affects your literacy in other languages.

Teaching may affect learning, but it doesn't always, and Taiwan needs to step away from the weird perversion of Confucianism whereby if they take a class, there will be a 'result'. There's no need to 'blame' anyone: different things work for different people because although we all learn in pretty much the same way, motivation has infinite variations. Taiwanese cram schools are just ridiculous, but they are fulfilling a cultural and social need, even if that need is to simply externalize the reasons for failure.

I talk about it a lot with students. Helping them to make connections with the outer world. But it's an elite thing, in the modern world. Where I work, it's expensive, and the classes still have double the amount of students that were in my university classes (and were free). If you're crammed into a smelly classroom with 20, 40, 60 farters, a bunch of seven years out of date computer equipment and plastic chairs, it's not exactly Hogwarts, is it? Inspiration isn't listening to me, it's about when students get, on an emotional level, that sticking -s on the end of verbs gives them a stake in something they want to do. Now that happens less when learners are outside the target language culture, or if it far away enough to be almost unreachable (one reason kids do poorly at language learning, beyond the basics). It can be positive or negative. The possibility of losing his scholarship that keeps you and your motherless children from having to go back to Libya at the height of the post-Benghazi crap was an example of what motivated a guy to get from a band 4 to 7 in one year in IELTS. But in places where the motivation is mostly from whether the class is entertaining or not, the students will be able to get to intermediate but they'll never get that far: they'll never be eloquent or even accurate. I will swim out to meet those people because every student is important, and try and help them connect with what they want.

Thinking about former students who have been successful, there are some characteristics. It's about hunger. I have students who have been very very successful. They all had a deep need to be 'better' at this.

HOWEVER, is the 'unsuccessful' student wasting his/her/my time? HELL NO. Language learning develops everything. Something interesting is that of my most high-achieving students in the UK and here in China is that the best ones are already highly proficient at something else. Violinists, surgeons, lawyers, painters, a woman who owned a restaurant chain. If they don't become proficient at English, you're still heping them become a better Korean speaker or someone who is able to memories all their biochemistry stuff. You're also giving them, hopefully, a positive experience of someone from your country, particularly when your country has bombed, invaded or colonized theirs. That matters and it's one of the remits of places such as the British Council.

Classes are dumbells. Teachers are kettle thingies.

So, conclusion. Leo van Lier said (I'm paraphrasing) 'Although we know teaching has no effect, we much teach as though it does.' Teaching is not learning: learning is not something I can ensure in 19 year olds without bullying and manipulating them. I can be present, kind, interested and open to new techniques and I will even give a fuck when they don't because I know what it's like to be young and bored and trapped by social convention. The rest is down to the students. At the risk of sounding like an Education student, these things are socially constructed.

Thoughts on Taiwanese cram schools? There's a place in the ecosystem for MacDonalds. If you're going to eat it every day, don't sue the company if you get fat. And don't bitch out and insult the counter staff because they didn't give you a fillet steak, no matter what the advert promised.

(Did I just talk myself out of quitting my job?)
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Re: How effective is TEFL?

Postby HenHaoChi » 08 Jun 2016, 10:42

It's true that beach balls don't work for everyone. There are always a couple of quiet ones that think it's too noisy. It's hard to strike a balance between the boisterous ones getting bored, and the introverted ones getting overwhelmed, but that is what makes the job interesting, on a good day.
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Re: How effective is TEFL?

Postby Ermintrude » 08 Jun 2016, 11:01

HenHaoChi wrote:It's true that beach balls don't work for everyone. There are always a couple of quiet ones that think it's too noisy. It's hard to strike a balance between the boisterous ones getting bored, and the introverted ones getting overwhelmed, but that is what makes the job interesting, on a good day.


Oh yeah. Just try and be eclectic, and human with it. When I was young, I found the 'contact' elements of teaching hard, particularly when I had to work in non-uni setting where I might have 18-24 contact hours a week. I'm very very sensitive to kids who can't really cope with classrooms because I was one.

Teaching adults is a bit different: they really respond well to honesty and genuine connections. If you respect them and find the right balance between pushing them (hell, I teach 19 year olds) and listening to them and yes, cutting them some slack, then they don't spit the dummy when you make them do a lesson on in-text citations or something.

It's the human element. Basically, it's all we have left. If anything you can do in a cheap language school (by 'cheap', I don't mean the price students pay), you can do on the internet for free, then why bother? I guess I'm trying to turn the question round. What do students get from my class, apart from the opportunity to look at my fabulous outfits? Scalable, standardisable education is the government dream in the info-tech age, but motivation, desire, is co-created.
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Re: How effective is TEFL?

Postby ironlady » 08 Jun 2016, 20:12

Language is not weight to be lost nor skills to be memorized and used. It's a natural process that happens, given enough comprehensible input.
Look for the language teachers who are providing that comprehensible input and you'll see the students who are making "stellar progress" -- supposing again that the progress is measured using proficiency instruments, not fill-in-the-blank grammar assessments. It doesn't even truly have to do with motivation -- I've had students with emotional issues (public school) who had their heads down most of the year and still acquired. The brain can't help it, if it can make the match between meaning and the language coming in. And that rarely happens in traditional language teaching because there's very little language coming in, what's coming in is often not correct in the first place, and what the students hear and read is usually not comprehensible to them because of the 50 vocabulary words for this lesson that were memorized (maybe).

It's really about the fact that most second language teachers have no idea about how language is acquired, and prefer to believe that it's a lack of effort on the students' part, because that fits traditional culture and relieves the teacher of responsibility.

Bill Van Patten, a professor of SLA, has a regular podcast about such issues these days. https://soundcloud.com/teawithbvp
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Re: How effective is TEFL?

Postby Gain » 09 Jun 2016, 07:52

ironlady wrote:Language is not weight to be lost nor skills to be memorized and used. It's a natural process that happens, given enough comprehensible input.

I agree with this, at least according to my personal experience. I genuinely found what the schools and teachers, domestic or foreign, offered me to be extremely limited in terms of English acquisition. I had some really good English teachers in middle school and high school whom I really respected and loved, and I definitely enjoyed their courses and whatnot, but if I were to be asked about how much I had learned from them in terms of English, I'd be lying if I said 'a lot'.

I feel like it was through real interaction in English that my English significantly improved. I joined an internet forum when I was in high school where the users were from all over the world, so naturally English was the only language being used. Then over the years my English improved quite a lot by posting crap and reading crap posted by others, and I started to be able to 'think' in English. Of course I also watched tv series and movies as well, but they didn't help as much since there were always Chinese subtitles.

It's a whole different story for French though... cela est beaucoup plus difficile que anglais... :s
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Re: How effective is TEFL?

Postby Ermintrude » 09 Jun 2016, 08:17

Gain wrote:
ironlady wrote:Language is not weight to be lost nor skills to be memorized and used. It's a natural process that happens, given enough comprehensible input.

I agree with this, at least according to my personal experience. I genuinely found what the schools and teachers, domestic or foreign, offered me to be extremely limited in terms of English acquisition. I had some really good English teachers in middle school and high school whom I really respected and loved, and I definitely enjoyed their courses and whatnot, but if I were to be asked about how much I had learned from them in terms of English, I'd be lying if I said 'a lot'.

I feel like it was through real interaction in English that my English significantly improved. I joined an internet forum when I was in high school where the users were from all over the world, so naturally English was the only language being used. Then over the years my English improved quite a lot by posting crap and reading crap posted by others, and I started to be able to 'think' in English. Of course I also watched tv series and movies as well, but they didn't help as much since there were always Chinese subtitles.

It's a whole different story for French though... cela est beaucoup plus difficile que anglais... :s


You don't get enough input in a classroom to go beyond an (at best) upper intermediate level. To become, say, an author (one of my former students is a published author), a translator, or even just interesting to talk to, you need to give a shit enough to find your own input. Look at it from a different perspective: people blame poor tuition when they do not have a fluent command of a language after an incredibly small amount of hours of input. Add it up. How many hours of hearing a language do you think it takes? Did you get those? And were they high quality one to one hours like you get in your L1, or were you in a room with 20+ other people?

You have a high level of English because you had the interest and nous to get yourself more input, with feedback (no-one wants to wade through gibberish, so the internet can get pretty sharp with learners posting nonsense!).

Think about your other subjects. You also knew fuck all about those when you left school either. You didn't really go into that much depth during your undergrad degree either. Were you a competent chemist, geologist or historian at 17, either? It doesn't mean you 'failed' or there was anything wrong with your education. I'm guessing you got the basics from schooling, though, however slow it was.

I perhaps have a different viewpoint on motivation because I have pretty much always taught EAP or ESOL apart from in Taiwan where I taught at British Council which is the adult buxiban/PLS model. I only taught kids for a couple of years (Shane!). Repetitive input is the obvious thing to do with kids because their motivation is irrelevant because they are trapped.
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