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EFL teacher preparation

In this blog, we would like to start a conversation on the preparation of EFL teachers. We would like to depart from our first posting on the research that we are currently completing in El Salvador. We suggest using the following questions as ice breakers and as a point of departure. Later on, we provide a brief description of our study. We will welcome questions or comments on it.

·       Are we preparing teachers effectively for EFL contexts?
·       What content knowledge help prepare EFL teachers?
·       What experiences contribuye to enhance EFL teacher preparation?
A team of experienced teacher educators share the lessons learned from their research on EFL teacher preparation in an EFL context. Through postings and responses to questions, they will share the lessons learned for preparing teachers to work in EFL contexts.
Their research is a survey of EFL teacher preparation in El Salvador. They analyzed the curriculum of various EFL teacher preparation programs at Salvadoran universities, interviewed pre-service and inservice teachers, and directors of teacher preparation programs.

A variety of qualitative research methodologies and instruments were used to analyze the data collected.  Research subjects were selected from a cohort of current TEFL students and graduates of TEFL programs at Salvadoran universities.  Focus groups were organized with program directors, pre.-service teachers, inservice teachers, and  practicing teachers who have not attended a teacher preparation program.

Data collected through interviews and surveys were triangulated with TESOL standards for teacher preparation and with relevant literature and research reports of related research.  Some of the insights gained from this research are:

·       The data gathered has helped to understand how practicing teachers and pre-service teachers perceive the competencies they have developed. For instance, 71% of preservice teachers surveyed stated that their training as teachers has been very good. 55% of these participants assured that the teacher education courses enhanced their understanding of teaching per se.

·       The data gathered through the methodologies and instruments used provided insights that can inform those programs that prepare teachers for EFL contexts. For example, about 80% of research participants stated that the teacher education courses and the practicum courses greatly enhanced their understanding of classroom practices.  Interestingly, not a very high percentage of participants indicated that the second language teaching methods courses and related courses as essential components for their preparation as teachers.

·       Most research participants agree that the weakest aspect in their preparation is the language proficiency.  They do recognize, though, that they are well prepared pedagogically and methodologically.

The data described above is a sample of the amount of data collected and analyzed so far. There is still more data that needs to be entered into the databases and an analyzed in an aggregated manner.  This means that some of the findings so far might vary slightly.

What are your own stories from the EFL world? What are challenges that you have encountered as EFL teachers?
Let´s share our stories!

Blog discussion leaders:

Silvio Avendaño
Dr. Silvio Avendanois Dean of Academics at Instituto Especializado de Nivel Superior Centro Cultural Salvadoreño Americano in El Salvador. He holds a Ph.D. degree in Language, Literacy and Culture.
Guillermo Mineros is an academic advisor and professor at Instituto Especializado De Nivel Superior Centro Cultural Salvadoreño Americano.  He also coordinates the research department at his institution.

Manuel Laureano is assistant to the Dean of Academics and member of the research team at Instituto Especializado de Nivel Superior Centro Cultural Salvadoreño Americano and supervisor for the English Access Micro scholarship program in San Salvador.


Using local languages in English language classes (Ahmar Mahboob)

One of the most consistent findings in the NNEST literature is that both students and teachers find the NNESTs (and other teachers) proficiency in the students’ vernacular as a positive and useful resource. If this finding is indeed valid, then one might ask: why is it that ELT teacher education programs and teacher educators do not train the teachers in judicious and pedagogically appropriate uses of local languages in the classrooms? Why is it that the administrators do not sanction or approve of the use of local languages in classrooms (and sometimes the whole school)? And, why is it that teachers feel ashamed and guilty of using local languages as part of their lessons? In this brief essay, I will share some of the reasons for a lack of engagement in local languages in TESOL & Applied Linguistics and will then (based on some current research) outline ways in which teachers may use local languages to achieve their pedagogical purposes.

There are two major reasons that have led to a development of negative attitudes towards the use of local languages in English language classes. The first reason is related to the history of English language teaching and teacher education; while the second is related to the study of and literature on second language acquisition. Here, we will explore both these factors and identify some of the myths that these factors have resulted in.

English language teaching evolved from practices in foreign language teaching. In early days, the dominant approach to language teaching was the grammar translation approach. This approach gave a primary position to a (dominant) local language (by dominant local language I mean a language that is considered a language of literacy in local contexts; this might or might not be the same as a learners’ mother tongue)and used it extensively in building knowledge of and about the target language. Many of the teachers of languages in these contexts were non-native speakers of the target language. The grammar-translation approach was used to teach not only English but also a range of other foreign languages.

The teaching approaches that developed in the 20th century can be seen as a succession of methods that reacted to the (perceived) shortcomings of the one preceding them. So, for example, the Direct Approach emphasized oral communication skills, which was not a focus of grammar translation method. The Direct Approach, like the other major approaches to language teaching in the 20th century were developed in English speaking countries (predominantly in the UK and the USA). The teachers trained for teaching English (and the teacher trainers/researchers) in these contexts mostly spoke English as a mother tongue; furthermore, the ESL student population in these countries came from a number of different language backgrounds. Given these contextual factors, the role of local languages was not really considered as a factor in the development of pedagogical material or training of teachers. Later, as larger groups of international teacher trainees came to the West for being trained as teachers and teacher educators, they were also trained in the methodologies developed for the ‘mother tongue’ English teachers. As such, these teachers and other educators from NESB (non-English speaking backgrounds) were not directly trained or instructed in the use of local languages in teaching English. In many cases they were explicitly instructed not to use the vernaculars as it was seen as a potential threat to the development of the target language.

Over time, these Western trained educators, who were valued in their home countries as being “foreign” trained, went back to their home countries and further spread the belief that the use of local languages needs to be discouraged in ESL and other English-based education. A result of this has been a negative attitude towards the use of local languages in schooling. This negative positioning of local languages was more a result of the context in which these methodologies were developed and used rather than about a careful consideration of their value or role in non-English dominant countries.

Table 1 below provides a summary of some of the key teaching approaches developed in the 20th century, the context in which these methods were developed, and their position vis-à-vis the use of vernaculars. The table shows that other than the grammar-translation method, the other approaches do not have a systematic approach to using local languages in English language classrooms. It also shows that these approaches were developed in the UK and/or the USA, which partly explains why they did not have a clearly defined role for using local languages.

Table 1: Major teaching approaches and the role given to local languages. Source: Mahboob (2011).

Teaching approach
Context of development
Use of local language
Grammar translation
EFL (also used for other languages)
Dominant (local used extensively)
Direct approach
Europe and US
No use of students’ vernaculars
US (then spread)
No use of students’ vernaculars
Cognitive approach
Limited use of students’ vernaculars
Affective-humanistic approaches
Varied, but limited use of students’ vernaculars
Natural approach
Use of vernaculars discouraged
Communicative approach
US & UK (then spread)
Use of vernaculars discouraged

In our context today, as we have a large and professionally trained cadre of NNESTs (or other teachers with an understanding of local languages), we need to revisit the role that local languages can play in ELT and integrate this understanding into our classroom practices. In the latter part of this essay, we will start to consider ways in which we can use local languages productively. However, before we do this, we will look at another major factor that resulted in a negative attitude towards the use of local languages in English language classrooms.

A second major reason for developing a negative attitude towards the use of local languages in English language classes is the research on second language acquisition. For example, the notion of ‘acquisition’ itself suggests that something is being acquired which is different from what one already has (as opposed to the notion of ‘development’, where one is developing language by adding new ways of creating and representing meanings). This sense of acquisition is most salient in foundational work in SLA (second language acquisition) studies. For example, Selinker’s (1972) notions of fossilization and interlanguage highlight a (inaccurate?) belief that the goal of a learner is to move away from their mother tongue features and adopt the features of an ‘ideal’ ‘native’ speaker of the target language. In this context, there was little role for the use of mother tongue in English language learning/teaching – local languages were seen as a source of interference that needed to be overcome.

In another major theory of SLA, Krashen (1985) posited that the one necessary and essential requirement for SLA is access to comprehensible input in the target language. Once again, there was no real place for or role of local languages in Krashen’s model. While many researchers today question the validity of Krashen’s work; there is still a belief that the use of local languages have negative consequences in an ESL class. Some of the beliefs and myths that result from this work in SLA include: a) use of vernaculars lead to language transfer or negative interference; b) additional languages are best learnt by being immersed in target language, i.e. immersion in the target language is essential; and c) the goal of additional language learning is to sound like native speakers. Research on NNESTs and World Englishes have, over the last two decades, been trying to dispel these beliefs and have been conducting research using an NNEST lens (Mahboob 2010). The NNEST lens, as I have defined elsewhere, is a lens of multilingualism, multinationalism, and multiculturalism through which NNESTs – as classroom practitioners, researchers, and teacher educators – take diversity as a starting point, rather than as a result.

In recent years, there has been some more focussed work on studying the role of local languages in English language classrooms. This work sees local languages as a resource rather than a threat in language classes. Here I will share two recent papers that provide examples of how to use L1s successfully in English language classrooms.

Forman (2010) shares ten principles for using L1 in English language classes. These principles and the reasons for using them are given in Table 2 below. In his paper, Forman also provides a number of examples for each of these principles.

Table 2: The ten principles of using local language in English language classrooms. Source: Forman (2010; p. 78)

L2 development
To explain L2 vocabulary, grammar, usage, culture
To facilitate easy, ‘natural’ interaction amongst students and with teacher
Interpersonal development
To develop collaborative, team-work abilities
To make good use of limited classroom time
To convey meaning successfully
To ensure that all students can participate
To respond to immediate teaching/learning needs
Classroom management
To maintain discipline
Globalised communication
To enable students to move flexibly and effectively across two languages
Political positioning
To resist the political dimension of global English

In another recent publication, Swain, Kirkpatrick, and Cummins (2011) provide guidelines on how to use local languages ‘guilt free’ in an English language class. Among other things, they state that using the local languages help in making the content comprehensible because it allows teachers/students to: a) Build from the known, b) Provide translations for difficult grammar and vocabulary, and c) Use cross-linguistic comparisons. Once again, they provide a number of examples of how this can be done successfully in actual classes.

This recent work on the use of local languages has started to identify some of the reasons why we need to consider using local languages in English language classrooms. While this research has been productive, we still need considerable new thinking in this area. I do hope that this short essay for the NNEST blog will encourage colleagues to develop and carry out more in-depth and systematic studies on this issue. This work will be invaluable as we train our future English language teachers and teacher educators.


Forman, R. (2010). Ten principles of bilingual pedagogy in EFL. In A. Mahboob (Ed.), The NNEST lens: Nonnative English speakers in TESOL. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press.

Krashen, S. (1985). The input hypothesis: Issues and implications. Beverly Hills, CA: Laredo Publishing Company.

Mahboob, A. (2010). The NNEST lens: Nonnative English speakers in TESOL. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press.

Mahboob, A. (2011). Using local languages in the English classroom: Positions, politics, and possibilities. Plenary address given at the Linguistics Society of the Philippines National Conference and General Meeting, Ateneo de Manila University, Manila, the Philippines (August 19-20).

Selinker, L. (1972). Interlanguage. International Review of Applied Linguistics, 10, 209-231.

Swain, M., Kirkpatrick, A. & Cummins, J.(2011). How to have a guilt-free life using Cantonese in the English class: A handbook for the English language teacher in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Research Centre into Language Acquisition and Education in Multilingual Societies, Hong Kong Institute of Education.

Ahmar Mahboob was born in Karachi (Pakistan), grew up in Ajman (United Arab Emirates), and received his tertiary education in Pakistan and the United States of America. Ahmar currently teaches in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Sydney, Australia.

APA style for citing from the blogpost:

Mahboob, A. Using local languages in English language classes. Retrieved month date, year (e.g. September 1, 2011), from


How can we help our students think in English?

Student: “Depend of how people is”.
Professor: “Oh, you mean IT DEPENDS ON how people ARE?”
Student: “Yes, depend of how people is”.

Later on…

Professor: Guys, remember you must not think in Spanish when speaking in English; otherwise you make mistakes.
Student: But professor, how can we think in English?

Whenever a situation like this occurs in my EFL class, I remember when I was a student. I kept hearing my professors saying: “You have to think in English”, but I always wondered: “How can I do that?” Now my students are the ones who ask me that, and although I try to recall the exact moment when I finally managed to do so and how I did it, it is difficult. Is it probably because this fascinating instant happens without us noticing it? Can someone realize when he or she is thinking in the language being learned?
Thinking in English while learning it is definitely a challenge for students, especially the ones immersed in an EFL environment. Since learners practice the language mainly in class, the process of acquiring English demands more time, effort and persistence. Nevertheless, this goal can certainly be achieved; we have all experienced it ourselves, regardless of having been in an ESL or EFL context. So, what about our students? Can we explain to them how to think in English?
Beginners are, by far, the ones who experience more difficulty when having to think in another language since they lack a good command of grammatical structures, pronunciation, and their vocabulary is usually limited. However, this does not imply that students in other proficiency levels do not experience this challenge; it might occur but to a lesser extent. Given that students at the beginning levels struggle more with having thoughts in English, they need to be encouraged to monitor their speech, realize when they use the wrong structures, be able to correct them and avoid making the same mistakes again. Obviously, they must be aware of how necessary it is to think in the second or foreign language and how this helps them improve their level.
But, is it really crucial to think in the language being learned? What are the consequences of thinking in the L1? Are they merely negative? Teaching English to Spanish speakers has made me realize students make fewer mistakes in grammar and pronunciation if they avoid thinking in their mother tongue. If they speak or write in English while thinking in Spanish, their ideas would probably be confusing because of the many mistakes. When this occurs in my EFL class, I can immediately notice it as a result of being a Spanish speaker myself. This means that speaking the same language our students do, either as an L1 or L2, is an advantage for us teachers in terms of identifying errors.  
During my college years I learned to think in English; I rarely had any contact with native speakers of English, though, and all my professors were Costa Rican. But I do remember them telling me some tips on how I could manage to think in the foreign language: thinking in English 24/7, reading extensively, keeping a journal, watching TV, listening to music, talking to others, and so on. I am certain that helped me a lot. The experience of successfully learning English as an EFL student was truly beneficial when studying my third language, Portuguese. I can say it was much easier for me to be aware of not thinking in Spanish when speaking Portuguese, despite of how similar these two languages are.   
Some people might say that in order to think in another language, it is essential to live in a country where that language is spoken. I cannot deny that being surrounded by English helps in an incredible way, it does without a doubt; however, it is not the only way to reach that goal. We as ESL and EFL teachers should make our students understand the importance of thinking in English, especially at the beginning level, since this will make the teaching and learning process very effective. A way to do this is by creating awareness, offering ideas for thinking in English, encouraging them to practice the language at all times, monitoring them and teaching them how to monitor themselves, among others.
What are your insights regarding this matter? Do you recall not being able to think in English or other languages? Do you remember the moment when you did? Would you like to share any experiences with students on this topic? What do you do to help your students think in English?

Nuria Villalobos was born and raised in a Spanish-speaking family in Costa Rica and currently teaches English as a Foreign Language there, at Universidad Nacional.


Do you want to sound like your L2 teacher? (Samantha N.)

As TESOL-trained teachers, we are also programmed to believe that it is not necessary to sound like a “native speaker” to be proficient in a second language (L2).  What then does it mean to be orally “proficient” in a language, and what value does learning a language from a native speaker add?  Who is a “native speaker” in this globalized age which has made human capital transfer so permeable?  More importantly, do students necessarily want to model after their L2 teacher?  Specifically, do you want to sound like your L2 teacher?
I have taught English in several cities in Asia and the US, and am widely considered a proficient user of the English language or even a “native speaker” because of my internationally intelligible English accent but for my oriental face.  I am sought after as a result of my teaching qualifications and experience, especially when students want a familiar Asian face with an inimitable accent, in particular someone acquainted with their cultural norms and yet “western” enough in outlook and practices.  I try to understand this phenomenon in the context of myself as a typical L2 learner.
The first foreign language I learned to a relatively high proficiency was German.  I had wanted to learn German after knowing my German penpal at 15.  When I finally took the plunge in 1997, I learned that my beginner German teacher was a Taiwanese who had studied in Germany for a number of years.  She was my first non-native language teacher, and although somewhat surprised, I enjoyed learning with and from her and did very well.  As a self-confessed perfectionist however, I wanted to sound like someone whose first language was German after several years of lessons.
I was “fortunate” that I had native German-speaking teachers after that because it still means a lot to me when a German compliments me on my “native-like” accent when I speak the language.  Perhaps many institutes offering L2 are organized in close conformance with student demand so that they cannot help but hire native speakers, trained or untrained, to teach that language, and to look the part.  In my experience, this is quite true of Asian learners of European languages.  Why this is so is, regrettably, beyond the scope of this blog, and I invite readers to contribute their thoughts, after which I will respond to them.
I have gone on to learn a few other foreign languages, and remain partial when it comes to accents.  I have my favorites and a so-called “native speaker’s” is not necessarily what I want to acquire eventually, so long as I think I sound mellifluous enough.  That said, I would still prefer to be trained by a qualified teacher who speaks and uses my target language clearly and appropriately…and who sounds like music to my ears, native speaker or not…which brings to mind my first German teacher.
What about you?  What are your own experiences with learning and/or teaching a second or foreign language?  Have you experienced discrimination both positive and negative in teaching a language that you did not grow up with on your mother’s lap, like they say?  Write to us and share!

Samantha N. was born and raised in a multilingual English-speaking family, and is currently based in Singapore, where she teaches academic English.


Welcome to the NNEST onlilne discussion blog (Icy Lee)

Dear NNEST IS members,

Welcome to the NNEST online discussion blog!

This is a new endeavour to make our online discussions more vigorous and  organized.

My plan is to have discussion leaders lead online discussions in April, June, August, October, December 2011 and February 2012. The discussion leaders will publish a post on a selected topic, which provides a springboard for discussion. You are welcome to respond to the topic by posting comments.

I have already got three discussion leaders, who have agreed to lead online discussons. More discussion leaders are needed to keep the online discussions going.

This online blog is NOT meant to replace our listserv. You are still encouraged to ask questions and raise issues for discussion there. This blog aims to invigorate our online discussions. Let's see how it works.

Looking foward to blogging with you!