Published 22nd December 2017

Education is a field that a lot of people have very strong opinions about, probably because it’s kind of important. In the TEFL world, teachers, researchers, publishers and parents all have their own ideas about how things should and shouldn’t be. Many of these controversies have really stood the test of time, with debate still raging around them in conferences, staff rooms and on social media.

Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and so here we look at a few of these controversies and give you our two cents’ worth on each of them.

Standard English

This is a biggie, but it’s quite outdated by now. Traditionally, teachers were expected to teach Received Pronunciation, or what was otherwise known as BBC English. These days, there are not many people who actually speak BBC English (even those on the BBC) so this aim for a particular accent is a bit misplaced.

What’s more, there is no standard English spoken anywhere in the world. Different Englishes have different accents, vocabulary and even grammar. Our students need to be exposed to a variety of Englishes in order to learn to understand them, because they never know who they might end up communicating with. At the same time, the English they should be focusing on producing simply needs to be clear, comprehensible language. Communication is key, not sounding like a TV presenter from the 80s.

Translation in the Classroom

There are many teachers who believe very strongly that there is no place for translation in the English as a Foreign Language classroom. Students are there to learn by immersion and translation will interfere with that process, or so the thinking goes.

While it is true that translation can be problematic if it is overused or if the translation is incorrect, there is no real reason not to use translation appropriately and effectively in the classroom. After all, it’s another teaching technique to add to our arsenal.

Multiple Intelligences and Learner Styles

On your TEFL course you may have learnt about the different intelligences that our students have (linguistic, musical or spatial to name a few) and the idea that this dictates the way our students learn best. In theory, we need to employ a variety of teaching methods and learning activities in order to cater for the learning needs of all our learners.

This is a very nice theory. There is certainly some truth in the matter – we all prefer studying a particular way, be it taking copious amounts of notes, parrot-style repetition or mind maps. However, this is not to say that students can only use one method of learning. If that were the case then most people would not have learnt anything at school, which invariably focuses on linguistic and logical-mathematical reasoning. Having said that, though, it is a nice idea to include a variety of activities in your lessons.

There is no doubt that these controversies will continue raging for many years to come. Keep an open mind about them and listen to other people’s opinions but ultimately you can make up your mind how you feel about these issues.