This first post related to teaching and learning English I would like to devote to the idea of English teaching strategies, more specifically, ESL and EFL. These are two popular terms, which most of people engaged in the area of language learning and teaching have already heard. However, questions might still arise on whether it is actually possible to apply the ESL strategy in the non-English speaking environment. But first things first – it is important to define both abbreviations.

EFL or English as a Foreign Language is defined by Oxford University Press, which is an English Language Teaching Global Blog, as “a classroom in a country where English is not the dominant language” (https://oupeltglobalblog.com/2011/07/12/how-esl-and-efl-classrooms-differ/). Students come from the same language background and culture. The English teacher is, in most cases, the only target-language speaking person in the group. There is no other opportunity to use the language verbally outside the class. Obviously, the homework tends to stress the need for working on reading and writing skills, as opposed to listening and speaking. Exactly the situation, which might be found in many local public schools and language centers in Almaty and other cities of Kazakhstan.

On the other hand, according to William Lake, a lecturer of English, TEFL and Cultural studies, “ESL is where English is taught to students in a country where English is the primary language” (https://www.brighthubeducation.com/esl-teaching-tips/127984-the-difference-between-esl-and-efl/). A good example would be a local student learning English as a part of Summer English Language Course at a university in the UK or the US. Living in the target language country, the student would have a sufficient exposure to the language outside the classroom, he/she might go to the café and order food in English, or buy clothes, books, tickets to return home. Additionally, there would be other students from other countries, who may not speak Russian or Kazakh. These facts prompt the teacher to adapt a certain set of principles and strategies for the course, which should differ from the ones in the EFL context.

Looking at the advertisements presented by various private and public language schools in Almaty, I often witness ESL programs, which mean English as a Second Language (not English to Speakers of other Languages). However, I often communicate as with the students from those schools, as with the teachers. The surprising idea is that most of them do not see the difference, but state that the latter sounds better. This trend makes me wonder if people actually understand the pros and cons of both approaches, used in our language context.

Considering the situation, where we need to teach our teenage students, who go to local schools, the optimal choice would be to offer them the EFL strategy, with a larger portion of homework stressing listening and speaking tasks to compensate for the lack of natural communication in the target language. On the other hand, it is important to rationalize whether listening and speaking components are actually necessary in the given context. Maybe the only need for the language is in communicating with pen friends via e-mails or skype messages. Thus, as teachers we need to evaluate, where the knowledge and skills will be used practically.

In contrast to such a situation, the adults sing up for language courses, as means to communicate with English-speaking colleagues, partners, clients, meaning that after the class there is a higher chance to communicate with someone in the target language. Although the students in the classroom will still have the same background, the amount of out of class language experience is likely to be much more sufficient.

Regarding local schools, it is important to take the new standards in education into account. According to the National Education Program, certain science subjects in the graduate grades of secondary school, such as Chemistry, Physics, Biology, and IT are taught in English. This presumes that there will be additional English language communication apart from the English class. Therefore, English teachers need to think about how to make the communication at the science classes more effective. Of course, talking about ordering pizza in a café would be a funny choice, since all cafés provide local language menus.

Having looked at the points above, it can be concluded that ESL approach can be and should be applied to certain situations, such as for adult employees working for English-speaking organizations, or students of graduate grades in a secondary school. However, it might not be applicable to younger students or people who travel once or twice a year, due to the lack or even absence of opportunity to have exposure to the language. So, we need to be more critical of the nice sounding logos in the advertisements.

I would love to hear your comments on the subjects.

Sincerely yours, Askar Adilkhanov

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