Online Learning is Rapidly Changing How People Learn English.
How does this Affect the Demand for ESL Teachers Abroad?
Covid-19 ushered in an era we, ESL teachers, have already been witnessing in this industry: the rapid emergence and acceptance of learning English online, opening up opportunities for both ESL learners and teachers.
ESL learners, who not long ago, had to travel some distance to a language school to learn English during evenings and weekends, now can learn English in the comfort of their homes, with access to English teachers anywhere in the world.
ESL teachers, who have long been known for packing their suitcases and heading abroad to teach English, can now teach any number of hours per week from their homes, or on the road, with students from around the world. Online ESL learning/teaching is truly a game-changer.
But, it hasn’t come without its detractors, and up to this point, has been largely regarded as supplemental learning, quietly nibbling away at the brick and mortar private language school business. For people who want to immerse themselves in a foreign country as a way to experience different cultures, teaching English abroad has long been the de facto way to do it. Among ESL teachers living in foreign countries, you’ll surely find plenty who bemoan online learning as an ineffective, inferior learning experience to classroom-based learning. They aren’t the only naysayers, either. Indeed, parents, local teachers, and even students in much of the world where ESL learning is in high demand view classroom-based learning as necessary.
The Demand for ESL Teachers Abroad is Still Strong. But it's Changing.
The discussion of whether ESL teachers will be needed to teach abroad in the future is one that has floated around in circles for some time. Certainly, finding enough people willing to move to a foreign country to teach English has never been an easy feat. There has been, and continues to be, a massive demand for teachers abroad, and a supply of teachers that simply can’t fill this demand. In fact, not only is the demand for ESL teachers growing abroad in countries such as China, South Korea, and Brazil, it’s growing in countries where English is an official language, such as USA and Canada, where there aren’t enough ESL teachers to meet the demand (source).
English is the international language of communication, and is a high demand skill that can have an immense impact on a person’s academic and career success. This is evidenced by the fact that China has the largest number of English language learners in the world, yet scored 40th out of 100 countries tested for English proficiency. South Korea, another high demand ESL market, scored 37th, and Japan, yet another, scored 53rd. There remains a world of opportunities – and a significant demand for ESL teachers abroad (source). People around the world need to learn English for economic reasons, and this is only becoming more – not less – pronounced.
So what’s changing? And how can you prepare for a successful ESL teaching career amidst these changes? Let’s take a closer look.
You Should (or Must) have a University Degree and TEFL Qualification
Before the turn of the millennium, all that was needed to be an English teacher in many countries was to simply be a native English speaker, or to look and sound like one. You didn’t need to know how to teach. You didn’t need to understand how people learn new languages, and you didn’t need to think about the challenges English language learners faced. As long as you ticked the boxes of looking, sounding, and acting like an English teacher should, you would be able to find a job with minimal difficulty.
The turn of the century has seen slow, but sustained changes to the industry, whereby education ministries in many countries have mandated specific requirements for legally employing ESL teachers.
In most countries, ESL teachers are required to have a bachelors degree and a TEFL certification. Despite a significant gap between the supply and demand for ESL teachers, the demand for qualified ESL teachers is growing.
High paying ESL teaching positions may even require a masters degree, and in some cases, a valid teaching license in the teacher’s home country. Many employers look for TEFL certifications that provide at least 120 hours of coursework and have a practical component, ensuring that ESL teachers can effectively teach and cope with the challenges of working with English language learners.
Expect the demand for ESL teachers abroad to evolve from simply requiring native English speakers, to seeking individuals who have the qualifications and skills to teach English using effective methodologies. Anticipate schools to demand ESL teachers who have no less than a bachelor degree and a government accredited TEFL qualification such as a UK Level 5 TEFL certification. As English becomes more prevalent on a global scale, expect the way students learn English to move further towards inquiry-based learning, resulting in a demand for highly qualified and experienced teachers. While it’s still possible to teach English abroad without a degree in some countries, this may not be the long-term reality.
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Level 5 Online TEFL Certification
Increasing Use and Acceptance of Technology in the Learning Experience
Technology has permeated nearly every aspect of our lives, and it has also become an important tool for learning languages. Social apps, language learning apps, speech-to-text apps, and translation apps are at our disposal, making language acquisition more accessible than ever before.
This easy access comes with both advantages as well as disadvantages.
One advantage is that we can learn (or teach) new vocabulary in an instant. We don’t need to carry around heavy, expensive dictionaries, because our smartphones and other devices can quickly tell us what a word means, how to use the word in various contexts, and how to pronounce it correctly. And, we don’t need English teachers to teach us these facets of English when technology can do it for us precisely.
Apps can also connect ESL learners with both fluent English speakers as well as other ESL learners, enabling people to practice speaking English through natural conversations. This allows people to break free from the chains of traditional learning models which focus more on repetition and memorization of grammar and sentence structures – models which have failed ESL learners miserably for decades. Connecting with people around the world is a true motivator, as it gives ESL learners a more immersive experience through natural conversations.
Translation apps can translate words and phrases through speech, text, or even image inputs. Although translations aren’t yet perfect, they’re getting more accurate, thanks to big data and artificial intelligence.
So why even teach English when the technology is there to show or even do the heavy lifting required to learn a language? Because, the purpose of education is, first and foremost, to learn how to think about, process and apply what we learn. We don’t merely learn a subject or skill for the knowledge itself; we want to be able to challenge, decipher, practice, and experience what it is to learn. Much of our human learning experience also involves human interaction. We are, by our very nature, social beings, and learning is one of many ways we socialize.
The disadvantages of technology need to be considered as well. As people become more dependent on technology, they also become less present in the moment. You can hear classroom teachers around the world grumble about how students lack attention in class and use their smartphones to their detriment. Perhaps using smartphones and social media have affected our attention spans and concentration, but no matter how much teachers complain about it, using smartphones in nearly all aspects of our lives is now normal. So, classroom-based ESL teachers need to adapt their teaching methodologies as opposed to expecting students to change. Incorporating the use of smartphones in the learning experience is a skill that ESL teachers who teach in classrooms should learn.
Online ESL teachers are already using technology to teach English using conversational and interactive approaches, where teachers engage students using questions, body language, and eliciting responses through imagery, video, and interactive elements in the courseware. Rather than focusing on grammatical structures, online ESL teachers primarily engage their students through natural conversations, games, activities, and role-playing. All of these use a blend of technology and human aspects of learning. For young learners today, studying on a tablet or smartphone is normal.
ESL teachers working brick and mortar schools abroad will be increasingly expected to incorporate technology as part of their teaching methodology. A blend of online and classroom based learning is a reasonable expectation, as it reflects our current reality, where people engage in both physical and virtual worlds.
Blended learning will be the norm for learning English. ESL teachers can expect that schools will seek out teachers who can effectively teach through blended learning modes.
How unreasonable is this, when ESL teachers themselves are gaining their TEFL qualifications through online or blended learning, too?
Even in the classroom itself, we expect ESL learning to incorporate more use of technology, be it on smartphones, tablets, or interactive screens and games.
ESL teachers planning to teach abroad should be prepared to adapt for classroom environments in which virtual reality, augmented reality, interactive online games, and using the Internet to research and present information in class is standard practice.
ESL Teachers will be Facilitators Rather than Teachers of English
The traditional ESL classroom learning model has failed learners in so many ways. People spend several years of time and effort, and significant amounts of money, studying English and taking numerous tests. At the end of the road, they still lack confidence and fluency in English.
Leaning English through canned phrases and expressions, and endless review of grammar and verb tenses, has not been an effective method for improving fluency in English.
It’s not unusual to observe that ESL learners who are highly proficient in English have largely integrated English into their academic, professional or personal lives. On a professional level, they may be required to use English in their daily interactions, research, and performance of tasks. On a personal level, they may be in relationships or be acquainted with people from other cultures, with whom they must communicate in English. In other words, they are actively using English, rather than passively learning it.
Inquiry-based learning is a form of active learning that stimulates learning through questions, situations, and problem-solving. Rather than relying on the teacher to impart knowledge, inquiry-based learning places more of the responsibility on the learner, and the teacher takes on the role of facilitator.
When ESL learners are presented with situations, problems, and concepts that they must analyze and solve, or recommend solutions for, using English, then their English language learning experience is active. This is in contrast to the traditional, archaic model of passively learning English, where students are presented with canned phrases, expressions, and dialogs, which they either listen to, read, speak or write down.
Another challenge with the traditional model of ESL education is that it is heavily focused on British English or American English, and many of the contexts provided in ESL textbooks don’t relate well to 21st century and our globalized world. We’ll elaborate on this in a moment.
In the coming years, expect the role of the ESL teacher to evolve from language teacher to facilitator.
English will Increasingly be Taught as a Lingua Franca
Putting students through the rigor of trying to grasp the differences between American and British English through cultural contexts is not only perplexing, but not relevant to internalizing their English language learning experience.
ESL teachers have been trained (or not) to teach English in an American vs. British cultural context. Endless hours of learning grammar points, spelling, pronunciation, and copious amounts of canned phrases and expressions, followed up by listening, reading, writing, and speaking tests, which still don’t move them closer towards fluency.
Unfortunately, this educational model has very little value to ESL learners, because once they leave the classroom, there is no internalization of the language, and there is no practical relevance of English to their lives.
English is no longer the domain of the Anglo-American world. It is indeed an international language, recognized as much as an official language in many countries where English is not the primary language. It is studied and used in academics, business, and social contexts throughout the world.
What’s important to ESL learners is to achieve a level of fluency through which they can communicate in English effectively, regardless of their nationality, or whether English is spoken as a first or second language.
We are living in a time where people are engaged on a global scale, through social media, commerce, travel and tourism, and intercultural relationships. ESL teachers must thus be equipped with the skills to teach English for practical application, as opposed to learning it to sound like a native English speaker.
We expect the concept of English as a lingua franca to mature and become form the basis of English language learning, both in the classroom as well as online.
Teachers will Need to Have Skills and Experience to Teach English for Specific Purposes
Today, English is used on a global scale, but many people need to use English in very specific contexts.
Call center representatives working in a bank will not only need to learn spoken English, but also be able to troubleshoot and recommend solutions or options that are tailored to clients’ needs. They will need to learn relevant banking and financial vocabulary, they will need to learn skills such as expressing empathy in English, and they will need to be able to clearly communicate the bank’s policies and regulations.
Healthcare workers will need to be able to diagnose and treat patients, and communicate in a precise and organized manner with patients as well as other medical professionals.
English language learning won’t just be about learning terminology for specific purposes. Instead, English lessons will likely be designed around themes and scenarios which enable learners to simulate real-life circumstances in which they must utilize English to accomplish specific goals and outcomes.
Whether it is for preparing learners to apply critical thinking skills in English, problem-solve, or to be effective communicators in specific professions or fields, we envisage an increased need for ESL teachers to have a combination of skills and experience that enable ESL learners to use English in ways that are meaningful to them in their careers and in various cultural contexts
The Future of ESL: A Chat with IELTS Writing Expert and Author David Wills
David Wills is from Scotland and has been teaching English since 2007. During this time, he has lived and worked in several countries, including South Korea, China, Taiwan, Thailand, and Cambodia.
With more than a decade focusing on IELTS, David has written books on IELTS , grammar, and literary history.
At the time of this interview, he is based in Cambodia, working on his next book, as well as continuing to provide IELTS essay marking services.
David has been vocal about the evolution of ESL teaching as we know it, due to technological advancements, and in this interview, we are going to tap into his thoughts about this necessary topic. You can learn more about David’s views on the future of ESL at his website.
In this interview, we discuss how technology will play a more critical role in the ESL classroom, and how ESL teachers can prepare for changes in the ESL teaching abroad industry.
ESL teachers interested in teaching IELTS can have a look at David’s website, which has a wealth of information about IELTS, or can purchase his IELTS writing texts:
Be Ready for the Continued Growth in Demand for ESL Teachers Abroad
Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the ESL industry. While the demand for ESL teachers abroad remains strong, the pandemic has caused both people and organizations to re-think how we work, study, interact, and even travel. While Covid-19 is not itself the cause for this disruption, it’s been a catalyst for pushing industries that have been sitting on the fence to move forward and evolve.
We expect to see a higher adoption of blended learning, where students study online in tandem with classroom-based learning. This was already becoming mainstream before Covid-19 shook the world. Now, it is an inevitability.
What does that mean for ESL teachers who currently teach abroad, and for those planning to go abroad to teach English? Institutions around the world will have a strong preference for, if not require, highly qualified and experienced ESL teachers. A university degree and internationally-recognized TEFL certification will almost certainly be a basic requirement to be legally employed as an ESL teacher abroad.
The shift to increased global communication through the Internet also means that proficiency in English is evermore important. We are now in a highly collaborative and integrated world, and those who are fluent in English will most definitely have an economic and social advantage.
This could mean that institutions will be more selective about the ESL teachers they hire, focusing more on relevant skill sets such as the ability to incorporate technology into the learning experience, facilitating through inquiry-based learning, teaching English as a lingua franca, and creating learning opportunities in English tailored to the specific needs of the learners.
If you are an ESL teacher, or considering becoming one, it’s now more important than ever before to have a recognized TEFL qualification, have an adequate technological savviness, possess strong facilitation skills, and be able to step outside of the antiquated methods of teaching English, opting for learning models that can help learners learn English through more practical and relevant means.