A conference is desperately needed to bring together corporate, communication, transport, tourism, technology, entertainment industries, and government to discuss the requirements of 'English for International Communication' for 2000+. TESOL has been the province of university education since its inception in the early 1960's. While this remains an important aspect, the needs of the international community have moved on. As per the March 7 Newsweek article, non-native speakers of English now outnumber native speakers by 3 to 1. The "clients" of our teaching have changed dramatically, from the university and pre-university students wishing to study in an English medium school, to people who speak two different languages and need English as a common language to communicate with each other. These people need to work, communicate, trade, entertain and learn in English. English has become the 'second language' of global communication, and its critical role is hardly addressed by current organizations.
For example, a TESOL conference I recently attended showed minimal interest in representing the English teaching community in the region. The conference was scheduled to run Thursday through Saturday, leaving only one day when mainline English teachers working in the K-12 or private sector could attend. University teachers apparently have more flexibility in their schedules. The onsite registration was $85 which represents a considerable outlay for a local or foreign teachers in this country. Except for book browsing (among books that they probably couldn’t afford) there were few sessions devoted to the needs of the vast majority of native and non-native speaking teachers working at the pre-university level. Most tellingly, there were no representatives of the business community, communications industry, tourist industry, or music industry, which are all tied inexorably to the development and use of English. The interests of the government were marginally expressed in the formal opening speech. The majority of the presentations were most relevant to university teaching and research issues. This conference hardly seemed to meet the needs of the vast numbers of people who will depend upon their English competency to pursue their lives and livelihoods in the coming years.
I suggest that the time has come to bring the new "clients" of English into the picture - business, communications, tourism, technology, tourism, entertainment and government. We can no longer go along smugly thinking that English is just for tertiary level education. I have been working with grades 7-12 for more than six years now, and can personally guarantee that these students know that their futures are critically tied to their acquisition of English language and computer skills (the latter recursively connected to the former).
I propose that a new forum needs to be established. A conference specifically aimed to bring together corporate, communications, tourism, technology, entertainment and government to focus on the definition of the needs and expectations of these new ‘clients.’ These clients are not interested in what the learner “knows” about English; they are only concerned with what the person can “do” in English. The TESOL community is up to the challenge as good teachers and good teaching programs have for years been focused on “competencies” – i.e. situations and contexts in which the student will ‘use’ English. This is precisely what these new ‘clients’ want. Isn’t it time to bring these parties together?
The university sector of TESOL has developed collectively the most effective approaches to the teaching of English at the college level. Most of these approaches are equally applicable at lower and more general English levels. I believe that this is true based upon six years of adapting these methods for teaching rural high school students. There is a crisis in the teaching of English for International Communication simply because it is unrecognized by the professional bodies and educational institutions that could be supporting a broader definition of the ‘learning of English by speakers of other languages’ (LESOL). We need a broader forum, conference, to address the ways and the means to support these learners.
Special Report by Dave Hopkins
2005 ESL MiniConference Online