Tony Gurr

What’s IN, What’s OUT – for ELT…

In ELT and ELL on 17/09/2011 at 2:53 pm

I know the phrase “what’s IN, what’s OUT” is more commonly associated with Joan Rivers and the caustic comments of her “fashion police” – if she only saw what I wear on the weekend!

Like many people with all our “guilty pleasures” we educators also enjoy a good list of INs and OUTs!

OK – let’s get a bit more serious!

Like many language teaching professionals I am always intrigued by new trends in language and language learning. Trends have a way of clarifying “where we are” and “where we are going” – and help us spot the “driving forces” that will shape how we “do business” in the future.

However, in looking at trends or patterns it is important to remember that we cannot simply jump on the “flavour-of-the-month” band-wagon. As educators, we need to reflect critically on how underlying trends and changes will develop over time and impact the types of “living educational philosophies” and “lived missions” we use to design learning opportunities for our students and the planned experiences we take into our classrooms.

One interesting set of trends I saw recently were presented in a “think piece” prepared to help educational leaders and teachers better understand current trends in language education.

In the monograph, Global Trends in Language Learning in the 21st Century, Eaton presents a listing of “What’s IN” and “What’s OUT” for the language classroom: 

What’s OUT 

  • Vague, hollow promises that can’t be proven.
  • Saying that learning languages is easy.
  • Authoritative teacher attitudes.
  • Complaining about cutbacks and lack of funding.
  • Language labs. 

What’s IN 

  • Clear, provable demonstrations of learning.
  • Frameworks, benchmarks and other asset-based approaches to assessment.
  • Individualized, customizable, learner-centred approaches.
  • Proving the value of language learning through stories and speech.
  • Using technology for language learning.
  • Linking language learning to leadership skills.
  • Showing funders the impact their investment has on our students, our communities and our world.

At first sight, her list of “ins” and “outs” does not seem to offer many earth-shattering insights.

It is certainly true that behind Eaton’s list is a more powerful message on the purpose of language learning: the focus in language education in the twenty-first century is no longer on grammar, memorization and learning from rote, but rather using language and cultural knowledge as a means to communicate and connect to others around the globe.

However, this should not be news to many of us – as is her suggestion that more old fashioned “authoritarian models are giving way to gentler, more collaborative models” and the fact that “geographical and physical boundaries are being transcended by technology”.

What is different, however, is her emphasis on the fact that that we need to reconceptualise how we “do business” in ELT around the notion of “walking our talk” and knowing exactly “what that talk is all about”.

One of the most comprehensive discussions of trends in language education is presented by David Graddol, in his excellent monograph “English Next. In this, he builds on his innovative analysis given in The Future of English (1997) – and also offers a great deal of insight into helping us understand where the business of ELT is going.

Graddol’s main purpose is to explore a wide range of trends from demography, economy, technology, society, education and languages. Ultimately, he arrives at the same conclusion as David Crystal and recognises that English has become “the” de facto global language. In much the same way that Crystal notes, he also claims that the current, apparently unassailable, position of English as the world’s lingua franca, is the result of the unprecedented social, technological and economic global changes we face today.

Some of the economic trends to which he refers have already become a reality. This year saw Japan’s 42-year ranking as the world’s second-largest economy come to an end – as she was finally eclipsed by China.


Graddol draws on some mind-boggling statistics, generated by a computer model developed by The English Company (UK) Ltd to forecast potential demand for English in the education systems around the globe.

There are now over 5 billion people globally who do not speak English as either their first or second language.

Around 1.9 billion of these are between the ages of 6–24 (the key age group for education and training).

The total number of non-English speakers is expected to rise slowly and peak in 2030 at just over 2 billion.

In 2000, the British Council estimated that there were around 750 million and 1 billion people that were learning English. If Graddol and The English Company are correct, almost a third of the world’s population is trying to learn English – as I write this.

This is great news for ELT professionals – we all get to keep our jobs for the next 20 years. 

Well, not such great news for native speakers!


This is because, as Crystal notes, the spread of English is not as stable and permanent as it once was. Graddol suggests that the rise of “Global Englishes” and Teaching and Learning English as a lingua franca (ELF) is changing the traditional face of ELT and EFL – but that’s for another conversation!

It is this last point that distinguishes Graddol’s work from that of Crystal.

Graddol also focuses his attention on the impact these changes and the rise of “linguistic post-modernity” are having on the world of ELT and uses this to introduce what he describes as the “new orthodoxy” that is shaping the world of ELL.

For Graddol, this new orthodoxy is built on four pillars:

(1) Start teaching English at primary school – preferably Grade 1 but at least by Grade 3. 

(2) Begin teaching at least part of the curriculum through English at secondary school. Possibly provide specialist support by English teachers. 

(3) Require students to be proficient in English at entry; reduce support for English teaching within university to specialised subject knowledge. 

(4) Teach more courses at university through English, or at least expect students to be able to access study materials – such as textbooks – in English.

In his earlier monograph Graddol suggested that “the future was bilingual”, however, in his sequel he talks more of how English has become a “basic skill” (as is the case with literacy, numeracy, technology and learning how to learn) in today’s globalised world – and about how this is having a profound impact on who is learning English. 


OK – perhaps that was too serious! 

Where were we with the “What’s IN, What’s OUT” list? Here’s a few more to consider:

  1. We should not overestimate the position of English.

    I live in London and if anyone says to me “everyone speaks English” my answer is “Listen and look around you”. If people in London do not speak English then the whole question of a global language is completely open.

    The promulgation of English as the world’s “lingua franca” is impractical and linguistically undemocratic. I say this as a native English speaker!

    Impractical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.

    Undemocratic because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is essential.

    As a native English speaker, my vote is for Esperanto 🙂

    Your readers may be interested in seeing Professor Piron was a former translator with the United Nations

    The new online course has 125 000 hits per day and Esperanto Wikipedia enjoys 400 000 hits per day. That can’t be bad 🙂

    • Hi Brian – and thank you so much for the contribution. I think many of my co-bloggers would agree (even though many are English Language Teachers). I do not think that many would subscribe to the linguistic imperialism that many languages have fallen foul of – I too would love to see a language that facilitates “communication without discrimination”. I remember it was not too long ago that many language instructors were talking about the rise of RFL (Russian as a Foreign Language), then we had talk of CFL (Chinese – actually meaning Mandarin) – this had many in the world of ELT and ELL thinking about “re-training” 🙂

      The trend, however, is still biased towards English – and most are predicting that this will continue. OK – I did (in a rather tongue-in-cheek manner) suggest that this was good for ELT and ELL professionals but the interesting thing is that there are many, many more “non-native” instructors – working with their own varieties of “Englishes”. My hope, regardless of who is learning what and who is teaching what – is that we can all do a bit more with the “INs” 🙂

      I must admit I do not know much about the spread of Esperanto but I’ll follow up the links you shared. Thanks again 🙂


  2. Hi Tony,

    A great post and especially like the ‘in and out’ list you finish with. I was discussing the current lack of PD within my my school with my HoD last week. She remarked that finding ‘experts’ to come in wasn’t always easy and a lot depended on what the publishers could offer. I immediately pointed out that having someone from an outside company give us a 5 minute overview of a theory followed by 40 minutes of examples showing how their product utilises said theory is exactly what we DON’T need. What we do need is right here already – experienced teachers with a wealth of ideas to share and first-hand knowledge of our teaching context.

    In-house peer workshops help those great ideas filter to everybody in the department (which doesn’t happen with the informal passing on of advice in the staffroom) and also help the teacher who leads the workshop develop and articulate their thinking. My HoD agreed with me but also recognised the unfortunate fact that most of the people who could give those workshops would begrudgingly view it as ‘extra work’….

    The fight goes on!

    • Hi Dave – Yes, I often think we can find all the “experts” we need by looking inside, asking the right questions and saying “thank you” more 🙂 That last point often helps to get round the “extra work thingy” (BTW – when was “learning” and helping others to learn defined as extra work) 🙂


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