Recently, when giving feedback on something written for English teachers in Korea I told the writer that it would probably be better to say “ELT” instead of “ESL” in a sentence that was originally something like “It is so nice to connect with other committed ESL teachers.”
A few days later I saw a blog post where a different author wrote something like, “If you want to improve your ESL lessons in Korea, you will need to get the right EFL books.”
Color me confused.
Generally being a proponent of ELF (English as a lingua franca) and World Englishes I still had to wonder about the use of the acronym “ESL” for the Korean context. My understanding is and was that ESL (even if it is an outdated concept) still refers to countries in which English is the main language. Of course, determining such things can be messy and English is extremely important in Korea but I think people would be hard-pressed to call Korea an ESL situation.
The uses of “ESL” above got me thinking….
1) Was I being pedantic? (This is a charge that I will willingly accept at times)
2) Would readers judge the authors for using the term “ESL” in this way?
3) What is the big deal anyway?
4) Do these distinctions still matter?
I will leave the first 2 questions up the reader but I am not certain how much these distinctions matter much anymore. I am not saying that we would teach necessarily teach the same way or the same things in Seoul and New York City but I don’t know that making broad assumptions about students and “the way” to teach them based on this (false?) EFL/ESL dichotomy is the way to go. Let’s consider some scenarios. Which of these sounds most “ESL-ish?”
The class is a conversational English class in a graduate school in Seoul and there are 10 students and 5 of them are Korean. The rest of the students are a mix of Chinese, French, Russian, and Swiss, One of the Korean students has never left Korea and another one went to high school and college in Canada. English is the main language of communication in the graduate school (meaning that all their classes are conducted in English).
30 Korean college students go to Boston for 2 intensive weeks in the summer. They mostly study TOEIC prep and vocabulary but also have some excursions around town. They speak Korean with each other for the majority of the time when they are not in class and don’t have much contact with the locals.
30 Korean college students go to an English camp in Korea where they study English all day every day for a month. The camp’s policy is “English Only” and students are given penalty points if they are caught speaking Korean. The main focus of the camp is “survival English” in order to live and survive in an English speaking country.
In Manila, 10 Korean students study in a class with 3 Japanese students, 3 Chinese students and 2 Vietnamese students. The class is mostly focused on conversation skills and vocabulary.
Are some of them more “ESL-like” than others? Is it just based on the location where the course is offered? Is there more to it?
Other questions include:
When would you use “ESL” and what would you mean by it?
When would you use “EFL” and what would you mean by it?
When would you use “TESOL” and what would you mean by it?
When would you use “ESOL” and what would you mean by it?
When would you use “ELT” and what would you mean by it?
(Please don’t send links about terms or inner-circle/outer-circle stuff…I am mostly concerned with how you would personally actually use the terms)