Tagged: EFL

Beyond #ESL and #EFL: Newer Categories in English Teaching

In my teaching and training life, I have heard a lot of excuses here in Korea about why certain things can’t or must be done here because, you know, Korea is an EFL situation. I have  been known to be confused about what people really mean when they use terms like ESL and EFL. Additionally, I have been heard to mutter that EFL and ESL are outdated concepts at best. I’ve also talked about ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) with nearly anyone who has had the misfortune of talking about teaching English with me in the last 3-4 years. Alex “The Breathy Vowel” Grevett’s posts are a nice intro to the topic of ELF.

Back to ESL and EFL for a moment. Some folks seem pretty attached to the EFL/ESL dichotomy. Quite rightly, in my view, some of them point out that research in one area doesn’t mean a guarantee that it will carry over to the other. Having said that, I don’t think it gives us a lot of information about the students or their goals of the situation. Guys, (to my understanding) this distinction comes from ages ago when there were only 2 reasons to study English. The first was to live in an English speaking country (and thus to sound just like a “native speaker?) and the second was to be good at the grammar of English and to be able to read the classics. Things have changed. A lot. Now there are so many exceptions and that the expanding circles are expanding and changing shapes in ways that were unexpected making these terms not only potentially confusing but also less than meaningful.

After connecting with teachers of English all around the world via Twitter I have been trying to note similarities and differences in teaching contexts. I have found the handy ESL/EFL labels don’t really tell me much about someone else’s situation. Lately I have been thinking my teaching context has much more in common with English for Academic Purposes (EAP) programs in Canada (or anywhere, shoutout to Tyson anyway) than it does with General English Programs (GEPs) right down the street in Seoul. There must be distinctions that make more sense and give us more information and insight about the context than boring old ESL vs. EFL. Right? There must be other ways to think of contexts beyond ENSP and TENOR (“English for no Specific Purpose” and “Teaching English for No Obvious Reason”). Plus, as I always say, the thing this field needs is some more acronyms! So, I humbly offer the following ways to describe and distinguish between English teaching contexts. Apologies if I am just making up names for things that have already been named.

English in Language Schools and English in Public Schools

To my eyes this distinction doesn’t seem to get enough coverage when considering teaching contexts or discussing teaching techniques. This distinction seems more important to me than the country in which the classes happen to be occurring.  I am thinking, for example, that language school classes in London have quite a bit in common with language school classes in Seoul and that public school classes in Brazil have a fair amount in common with public school classes in Daegu or Delhi.
[Of course one could say that English classes in the States are drastically different from those in Japan and I would have to concede that point but it doesn’t mean that the above is incorrect or that this is not a distinction we should consider.]

Please note that this distinction is closely related to the next 3.

English with Many Students and English with Few Students and  English with Very Few Students 

Class dynamics, suitable techniques, expectations and potential for individualized attention from the teacher are all related to this distinction. Why is this not mentioned so much? I think it should be one of the first considerations when defining contexts. The question is “How many is ‘many’?”

Some teachers might want to add something about multi-level classrooms here or to create an entirely new grouping but my feeling is that they are all multi-level classrooms.

E2PC and E2NPC
English to Paying Customers and English to Non Paying Customers

Think about all the related factors here! Especially motivation. I have worked in private language schools where some of the customers didn’t pay out of their own pocket but were instead reimbursed by their companies or universities. It almost always obvious on the first day who had paid their own money to be there and who had been sent. There was a dramatic difference. The idea that students might tend to be less motivated and goal oriented can be related to to EIPS and EP4BP (English Paid for by Parents) as well. When describing teaching situations I think it is important to consider if the students have paid for the classes with their own money.

Graded English Courses and Ungraded English Courses

Such a key aspect! This can be further split into GEC-WGAM (Graded English Courses Where the Grades Actually Matter) but the idea is the same. Having grades tends to change things. I don’t want to say that grades are neccesary or problematic. I just want to say that this is another dynamic to consider when describing and considering teaching contexts.

English for Status Reasons

Highly related to ENSP, this is very common in Korea. People of a certain socio-economic status seem to take English lessons because this is what people of their socio-economic status tend to do. They don’t seem to have goals other than being sure to tell their friends that they are taking English classes. This can be quite challenging for the teacher that is focused on progress.

English as a Compulsory Subject

As it says in the title, this is when English is a required course. This is obviously very common in  EIPS and GEC situations. Here in Korea it is also very common in universities, which means all students need to take and pass at least 1-2 English courses in order to graduate, regardless of their majors. As you might expect, the motivation and expectations from ECS can be quite low. Problems can also arise when students that are extremely motivated to learn are forced to take ECS courses with classmates who don’t share this level of motivation.

Speaking English as an Alternative Language 

This is for situations where it is helpful culturally/socially/politically  to have English as an option. English provides another choice for students who might have reasons not to speak the dominant language of the particular region they find themselves in.

CGE and CDE and CFE
Coursebook  Dominated English and Coursebook Guided English and Coursebook Free English

Another continuum to ponder. How prevalent are coursebooks in the given context? Are they a resource? A requirement? Are students expected to touch every page or someone will get upset? Is the table of contents the syllabus? Can the teacher teach out of order if she so decides? Are all the assessments linked to the textbook? And so on.

Focused on TOEIC and  Focused on TOEFL and Focused on IELTS 

This is where the focus of a course is on students achieving a certain score in external demands. The scores on these exams are much more important than the other factors. Students need and want practice and language for the test but not for English improvement.
(See also: FO-CCs (English focused on Cambridge Certificates))

The following just apply to the teacher and teaching environment 

Teaching Under Crazy Supervisors and Teaching Under Reasonable Supervisors 

While most of the other points are focused on the students this is another aspect that we need to consider when describing teaching situations. To many otherwise tolerable teaching jobs have been ruined by shoddy (and worse) management. There are surely more places along this continuum between and beyond crazy and reasonable but this is a start.

Teaching Along Crazy Colleagues and Teaching Along Reasonable Colleagues

As above with supervisors. For teachers, those with whom we work  is a very important factor in determining how well we maintain our sanity as well as how we perceive the context and our place in it.

Teaching as a Connected Teacher

This is for teachers connected to teachers around the world.  I have found it is quite different from teaching as a non-connected teacher.

WIFI Hotspot Enabled Language Learning

Don’t let the “hell” fool you, this is about lessons where students and teachers have access to WiFi. Usually a good thing in my experience.

Tech-Laden TESOL 

This is used to describe teaching situations where ubiquitous tech is ubiquitous. This is not always a good thing. This is especially a bad thing when teachers are faced with random decrees from the management like, “You must use the SMART board at least once per lesson.”

Mike’s Questions: 

  1. What reasons are there (aside from the research point above) for continuing to think and talk in terms of EFL vs. ESL?
  2. To what do you attribute the staying power of the ESL/EFL dichotomy?
  3. What other distinctions/categories do you think are important?
  4. Are there other well-known categories out there?
  5. What did I miss in regards to the “old school” reasons for learning English?

Mike’s Notes:

  • Sometimes  Often my posts are a bit tongue in cheek. Sometimes people misunderstand how serious I am. The tongue-in-cheek ranking for this post is 6.5/10.
  • One thing that jumped out at me as I was thinking about these categories is how they can fit quite nicely with each other and we can use them together with other examples from the list in order to convey a great deal of information about a teaching situation.


Explain the following acronyms to yourself or to a friend.



I’d like to thank they witty, clever, knowledgeable, and kind Lord Andrew Pollard for graciously allow me to use his brainchild “ECS” above.
Actually I didn’t even ask for permission.

The deep, intelligent, and broody Michael Chesnut also provided the acronym and explanation for SEAL. For this I give my gratitude.


Related Links:
(What else should I add?)

Current Perspectives on Teaching World Englishes and English as a Lingua Franca (Jenkins 2006)

29 statements about lesson plans

The following are some statements about lesson planning I believe I have heard, read, thought and imagined in the past few years. I felt spending some time thinking about the statements might be interesting or useful so here I am typing them up. I also thought the list could be a nice start or part of a workshop related to lesson planning. If you’d like to read about my experiences and thoughts related to lesson planning from 2000-2010 you can find them here. 

I wonder if there are statements you strongly agree with or strongly disagree with or those you think are slightly BS, totally BS or totally legit. Any other additions to the list are welcome as well.

  1. I am too busy to plan regular lessons.
  2. There is no need to plan for most classes.
  3. There is no sense planning lessons if we are not paid extra to do so.
  4. The best lessons are those that are unplanned.
  5. Since we are just “covering” grammar points there’s no need for lesson plans.
  6. A lesson plan is essential for every class. 
  7. You can’t have a lesson plan if you don’t have target language. 
  8. We need to use the proper format when lesson planning. 
  9. The key to a successful lesson plan is following the correct frameworks appropriately. 
  10. Lesson plans are primarily for the teacher. 
  11. Lesson plans without objectives are useless. 
  12. Lesson plans need to have SMART objectives. 
  13. We need to use the right verbs when writing objectives so that we know what students will learn. 
  14. Lesson plans can be written in any format, including the back of a napkin. 
  15. We need to write out everything the teacher will say in class. 
  16. We need to write out everything the teacher will do in class. 
  17. We need to write out everything the students will do in class. 
  18. We need to write out everything the students will say in class. (Even if it takes 30 pages). 
  19. They key to lesson planning is finding the right Youtube video to start the lesson. 
  20. The best starting point to lesson planning is choosing fun activities.
  21. The hardest part to planning lessons is choosing objectives. 
  22. The hardest part to planning lessons is choosing appropriate activities for lessons. 
  23. Even if we don’t plan for regular lessons we need to be sure to do so for open classes. 
  24. Lesson plans for open classes need to show new activities. 
  25. Lesson plans for open classes need to be fancy and flashy.
  26. Lesson plans need to include some use of the latest technology. 
  27. Lesson plans (especially for open classes) need to include eye catching materials. 
  28. There is a strong correlation between lesson planning skills and teaching skills. 
  29. There is no correlation between lesson planning skills and teaching skills.


open class = sort of a like an observed demo class. Probably with real students and probably already practiced a bit. It depends on the situation but the purpose might be for the teacher to get feedback on his/her lesson but it also might be for the teacher to introduce ideas/techniques/methods/memes/activities to those in attendance.

regular class = A normal class on a wet Tuesday in May.
(Or actually any day of the week with any weather. Just a normal class without observers)

cover = one of my least favorite words related to teaching. I don’t really know what it means but I do know that it doesn’t tell me much about what the students are doing or learning.

Updates and additions:  

Jonathan Sayers (@jo_sayers) over at ELT+Technology decided to follow a suggestion in the comments to put the list on Survey Monkey. And, here is the collection on a Likert scale. Check it out.



Some links were mentioned in the comments:

(From Rachael Roberts)


(From @icaltefl)


and some links came to mind after I posted this:


6 iTDi posts on lesson planning:


Is video inherently motivating?

Is the use of video in ESL/EFL classes inherently motivating?
You know what? I really have no idea.
(Half-hearted apologies for not defining “motivating” or “inherent” but I am using the lay-person meanings here)

As usual, (?) I have a few stories that I would like to share. Hopefully they will help me come to grips with this question while hopefully entertaining you a bit and giving you something to think about.

“Find the right clip”

It was a few years back and I was doing a day-long workshop on lesson planning for foreign teachers who had just completed the first half of a year-long contract teaching in public schools around Daegu, South Korea. As the workshop progressed I heard something I found quite interesting mentioned a few times.  This was the belief that an (the?) essential part of lesson planning was finding the right clip on youtube. I got the sense that the “right clip” should be vaguely related to the topic of the lesson and the funnier the better. I did not  hear anything about the clips relating to target language or specific tasks for students to do while watching the clips. I wondered what beliefs this idea that we *should start class with a clip rests on.

I suppose an argument could be made that funny and interesting clips lower affective filters. Fine. I also suppose that we could say that showing a clip related to the topic might activate schema. Sure. I guess we could also say that we can learn culture from videos. Ok. What else?

What I found most surprising was the notion (as I interpreted it) that the default mode for starting a class is to show a semi-related clip for motivation. Is video the only way to create interest in a lesson? Is it the best way? Is video inherently motivating?

“A model lesson”

Just yesterday, while “researching” a future blog post, I came across clip of a  demo (“open class”) lesson.  [Please email/DM/add a comment if you’d like the link] In the clip, which I gather is a model lesson for teachers to follow, the first 5 minutes of the lesson (after students read the objectives aloud) are spent watching a some scenes from Home Alone 2

After students watch the clip the teacher asks, “Did you enjoy the video?” My assumption here is that the video is offered as motivation for the lesson that is to come (along with perhaps schema activation as mentioned above). It is possible that I am reading too much into it but…since the teacher asks if the students enjoyed it I am guessing it is important and expected that they do so.

After students say that they did enjoy watching the clip the teacher asks some comprehension questions what they saw. I can’t be sure if they were given the questions before watching  but it doesn’t appear that way.2  My training and beliefs tell me that asking questions after watching such a clip can make it more of a memory challenge than a listening/understanding challenge. But if the point is motivation I am not sure how much this matters.  I also wondered if watching a clip for 5 minutes without a task might make it a bit difficult for students to focus their attention. I don’t have much proof of this being a problem because I couldn’t really see the students in the clip (I could just see lots of Macaulay Culkin).

“The video motivated me”

Two weeks ago, I was watching a teacher peer teach some fellow Korean English teachers. She introduced the topic and shared a video. I think her instructions were, “Please enjoy the video.” This caught my attention and somewhere in the back of my mind there was someone screaming, “That is not a task! ‘Enjoy’ is not a task!! What is the task?!” Anyway, after the session one of the “students” (who, again, is actually teacher by trade) said that the video really motivated him. He said that he wasn’t sure where the lesson was going and then when he saw the video his interested was piqued and he was motivated for the class.

So here was a student saying exactly what I didn’t expect to hear! It sounded like the act of watching video itself motivated him for the lesson. My only interpretation here is that for this student video is in fact inherently motivating. Do you have other interpretations to share?


I can’t help but think that I have been taking the “must have a task” thing a bit too far.  I wondering when/if “just enjoying” is ok?

I am also wondering if perhaps there is a cultural element at play here? Have Korean students come to “expect” a video and has this turned into making using video clips the “default mode” to start classes for both Korean and foreign English teachers?

Another thing that comes to mind is that Korean students are typically accustomed to teacher fronted classes (read: lectures) so perhaps videos are a great break from this which makes them seem motivating.

I am still wondering if videos are inherently motivating. What do you think? What am I missing?

Random notes 

Special thanks to my friend for arguing with me that one time about using such clips in training. If not for this I would have linked to the clip here. Our conversation gave me something to think about. Much appreciated.

Since this is an “open class” it is highly possible that the students were heavily prepped for the lesson. “Open classes” and the culture of such classes are  perhaps rants for another day.

If you have not seen the “Gangnam Style” music video yet I strongly recommend it. It might be motivating.