Talking the talk and walking the walk in English: why EFL teachers should give it a go

WALKING-MALEWhy should French teachers talk about teaching in English? After all, a good deal of professional discussion among French secondary school teachers of English will be with French colleagues: mentor teachers, peers, university tutors and inspectors. This post makes the case for English teachers talking about English teaching in English.

Secondary school EFL teachers in France are trained in the new schools of teaching and education (Ecoles Supérieures du Professorat et de l’Education), which are part of the state university system. In their first year they sit French ministry of education entrance exams, where didactics and pedagogy are tackled in French. In their second year, they teach part-time, take more university classes, and write a thesis based on classroom research (or, in some cases, perhaps broader educational themes). Those who successfully complete the programme are awarded permanent teaching contracts, and as French civil servants their careers are managed by the ministry of education and its local education authorities (académies).

In this context, it is legitimate to ask why these pre-service teachers, planning on careers teaching English in French secondary schools, should conduct research projects in English. After all, it’s always harder to work in a foreign language, even for advanced L2 users: terminology needs to be checked, the composition process is slower, and a native-speaking proof-reader is generally advisable. So why write and reflect on English language teaching and learning in English, when both the writers and immediate audience for this work is largely francophone (even Franco-French)?

What’s the English for “décrochage?”

So why work on English teaching in English?

A few reasons come to mind, which may appeal to different ways of looking at teacher preparation:

  • pragmatism: current education policy favours pedagogical innovation through technology; foreign language teaching trends include communicative and task-based teaching as laid out in the Common European Reference framework (CER). Inspectors and local education authorities are pushing international exchange projects. Reading and writing research reports in English teaches the terminology you need to engage with teachers in other countries in order to organise such exchanges. For example …
  • collaboration: there’s a whole world of EFL teachers out there, facing the same challenges and opportunities as secondary school teachers in France; English is the lingua franca for communicating with them.  And like it or not, English is the international language of research, including the kind of applied research that is most directly relevant to classroom teachers; again reading and perhaps contributing to this kind of work is vital for continuing professional development. Indeed,
  • independence: it can be difficult to separate “theory” and “practice” (or policy and pedagogy) when they are lumped together in official programmes and directives, and in textbooks designed to reflect national programmes. But programmes change with education policies, and buzzwords come and go over one individual’s teaching career. Moving to another language can help teachers gain perspective, distancing themselves from their very specific day-to-day concerns and constraints, and reformulating them for other purposes and audiences.

How?

Perhaps the easiest way to get started is to read about English language teaching in English. There are any number of blogs by both new and experienced teachers, teacher trainers, materials writers and academics. You can find some here.

Terminology

More encouragement can come from a glossary of language teaching terms. A French/English English/French glossary would be most helpful for my students and student teachers. We have started one and hope to build on it.

French and English texts

Dictionaries and other translation tools

Among quick and dirty free tools I rate

  • linguee.com
    This site can be used as a dictionary or search engine: it pulls out translations of the word or expression you’re after from online sources, including professional translations of company websites and EU documents, for example.

    PRO: each expression is presented in context in both languages, examples are easy to scroll through

    CON: a good proportion of proposed translations are not particularly felicitous, so it can only really be used a) as a jog to memory or b) for suggestions which you will need to check elsewhere.

So, walking the walk in this case is going to be a work in progress. Hopefully this post will offer a little motivation to put on your walking shoes.

By the way,

décrochage scolaire = dropping out, early school leaving
décrocher = disengage, drop out

References

Académie de Grenoble. Didactique-ressources. Site d’anglais.

Héron, L., & Ahern, E. (2007). English-French glossary: Language teaching and school vocabulary. CRDP Académie de Bordeaux. PDF

Whyte, S. (2014). Glossary. Contextes pour l’enseignement-apprentissage des langues : le domaine la tâche et les technologies. Note de synthèse, Dossier d’HDR, Université du Havre, novembre. PDF

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