The convention hall was very well designed and we never felt overcrowded, despite an attendance of more than 2,000. Sessions were of uniform high quality and plenary speakers included Diane Larsen-Freeman, John Murphy, David Nunan, Herbert Puchta, Jose Luis Ramirez, Steve Taylore-Knowles and....well, me.
The Central American Caribbean Convention is held biannually and is hosted as part of one of the regional association’s convention. This year MEXTESOL was the host. There were 11 countries represented and being able to talk with all these affiliate/association leaders and learn of their successes and their challenges was definitely the highlight of the convention.
Something that surprised me was finding that challenges in other parts of the world were challenges in the Central American Caribbean region as well. The world is growing smaller and I think that the ESL/EFL distinction is starting to fade.
From teachers in Mexico and Belize I heard about the challenges of educating youth from from marginalized, impoverished communities—about the challenges of teaching them academic language and the higher order critical thinking skills that school success and the 21st century workplace requires. The same kinds of problems we have been addressing in the United States, particularly in K–12 for years.
From teachers in a number of countries, I heard of the trials of implementing curricula and assessment schemes imposed by governmental decision makers with limited teacher input, just like with U.S. teachers and the No Child Left Behind Act.
Another problem, which I remember first appeared in the former Soviet states and East Asia a decade ago, was Ministry of Education decrees to introduce English instruction into lower and lower grades and the havoc that this could cause because teachers of other subjects were “repurposed” as English teachers because of the acute need for English teachers, despite not having adequate English skills themselves. This is happening now in many Latin American Countries.
Another problem, widespread in Europe and starting to appear in Asia, was the increased use of English as a medium of instruction; that is, learning content in English because English is perceived as the language of the global economy. I’m all for content-based instruction, but I have to ask, if your Ministry of Education deems it necessary for students to master critical thinking skills, couldn’t they do it in Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic or any number of locally dominant languages and then simply learn the English to express such skills in English?
I think that these challenges are increasing because of an increasing desire by both individuals and states to be more engaged in the global economy. And while deciding to participate in the global economy should be a decision that one makes with open eyes, I can understand that having control of English can be a useful tool for such engagement.
However, politicians know little about linguistics, language acquisition, or even good quality language instruction. Often, their introduction of English involves cutting corners in ways that will not lead to good learning and their expectations of how much proficiency one can have in a foreign language, even after adding a few additional years of English instruction (at usually 2–3 hours of instruction per week) is very unrealistic.
We need to collect data on how these key challenges are playing out in every country. With this kind of case-by-case data we can develop powerful position statements and research briefs that both associations and individual teachers can use as support to educate decision makers about the best practices of language learning.
The good news is that the demand for English instruction is not decreasing. We’ll likely all have jobs in the future. However, to support our students and to support our values (multilingualism, avoiding “submersion” approaches to English instruction) we need to work together and share data.
Perhaps we look to a new relationship between TESOL and its affiliates. Rather than a hierarchical relationship, maybe we look at a “hub and spoke” relationship where the relationship is equal but TESOL (the hub) analyzes and disseminates the information provided by the spokes (the affiliates).
A wonderful conference. Thanks to MexTESOL for inviting me.