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Teaching English as an International Language: the Chilean context

Sandra McKay
In this paper, the author argues that when teaching English as an international language, educators should recognize the value of including topics that deal with the local culture, support the selection of a methodology that is appropriate to the local educational context, and recognize the strengths of bilingual teachers of English. Based on the results of a questionnaire given to Chilean teachers of English, the author maintains that in Chile there is growing support for such practices and attitudes. Nowadays many countries where English is a required subject are confronting similar questions regarding the use of the local culture in ELT .


Today, many contend that English is an international language (Crystal 1997; Graddol 1997). This is not because it is the most widely spoken native language in the world, since by most estimates Mandarin has three times as many native speakers as English, but rather because of the growing number of speakers who are acquiring some familiarity with English as their second or third language. In fact, Graddol (1999) contends that in the not too distant future, second language speakers of English will surpass the number of native speakers. The increasing number of bilingual speakers of English means that many speakers of English will be using English alongside one or more other languages that they speak, and hence their uses of English may be more specific and limited than monolingual speakers of English. Because of this fact, Cook (1999) argues for the need to avoid comparing bilingual speakers of English to native speakers, and rather to recognize the many strengths of bilingual users of English who have a rich linguistic repertoire to serve their communication needs. This emphasis on the strengths of bilingual speakers of English is also being heard in reference to bilingual teachers of English. Many bilingual teachers of English themselves are pointing to the pedagogical advantages they have in knowing their students’ culture and first language, and in being models of successful language learners. (See Braine 1999; Medgyes 1992; and Seidlhofer 1999 for an elaboration of these advantages.) The growing number of bilingual speakers of English, however, is not the only important characteristic of English as an international language (EIL ). Equally significant is the relationship that exists
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the global status of English has resulted in English being a required subject in the school curriculum. π Third. many Ministries of Education have advocated the adoption of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT ) because it is widely used by native English-speaking teachers in their own countries. so too must EIL methodology. by allowing a locally appropriate pedagogy to be implemented. There. who argues that English must now be dissociated from the colonial past. and c the educational goal of learning the language is to enable learners to communicate their ideas and culture to others. the cultural content of EIL materials should not be limited to native English-speaking cultures. important implications for the teaching of EIL . Yet if EIL has become ‘de-nationalized’. educators look to countries where English is a native language for appropriate methods.between EIL and the local culture. then it is time to recognize the many strengths of bilingual teachers of English. If one of the central educational goals of an international language is to enable learners to communicate their culture to others. However. among them the following: π First. using it for their specific purposes. I would argue that just as the content of EIL materials must be separated from native-speaker models. I believe. In the process of doing so. then EIL materials should provide students with the vocabulary and information to do this by including local cultural content. Recently I received a Fulbright research grant to examine the teaching of English in Chile. and not necessarily be linked to ‘westernization’. π Second. an appropriate pedagogy of EIL needs to be informed by local expectations regarding the role of the teacher and learner. In defining an international language. and modifying it to meet their needs. Smith (1976) maintains that in the acquisition of an international language: a learners do not need to internalize the cultural norms of native speakers of the language. beginning in grade 7 through the end of high school in grade 12. the strengths of bilingual teachers of English need to be recognized. The separation of EIL from any one culture has. Smith’s early call for a need to denationalize the use of English has more recently been emphasized by Kachru (1992). Presently. like many countries around the world. In a similar manner. particularly their familiarity with the local culture. Those who see English as belonging to native speakers and native English-speaking cultures frequently contend that first language speakers of English are the most e¤ective teachers of English. in many countries where English is being learned as a second language. In view of my belief that the teaching of EIL should be 140 Sandra McKay articles welcome . Widdowson (1994) maintains that the time has now come for bilingual speakers of English to assume ownership of English. b the ownership of an international language becomes ‘denationalized’.

and the demands of the Chilean labor market. The revised English curriculum lists fundamental objectives for each year that English is a required subject—from the last two years of primary school (i. and 20 percent to speaking and writing. In terms of the English curriculum. in a survey of 64 high school teachers in the Santiago area. I assumed that Chilean educators. the scope of worldwide communication networks. making them the legally binding basis for school reform in the public schools. In general. There is some evidence that in-service teachers of English are generally pleased with the overall design of the reform. grade 12). the geographical and regional characteristics of Chile. Before discussing my findings. would support the use of native English-speaker cultural content in ELT materials. rather than for speaking or writing. for most Chileans.e. who will need English to partake in a global economy and information network. like educators in many countries in which I have worked. for example. The program of study outlined by the Ministry specifies that 40 percent of the English curriculum is to be devoted to developing reading comprehension. I will outline the current Chilean Ministry of Education guidelines on the teaching of English. Farías (2000). and would express a lack of self-confidence in their own teaching in relation to native English speakers.e. found that 78 Teaching English as an International Language 141 articles welcome . The Ministry believes that an emphasis on receptive skills reflects the local English needs of Chilean youngsters. this is not what I found. however. would advocate the use of CLT methods¡. These objectives were incorporated in a national bill. 40 percent to listening comprehension. the Ministry maintains that the design of the curriculum should reflect the role of English in the world today.e. which will often be of a technical nature. I decided to investigate the following questions: 1 What is the cultural content of widely used ELT textbooks in Chilean primary and secondary schools? What cultural content do teachers believe is appropriate for the teaching of English? 2 What ELT methodology is being advocated in Chilean schools? What methodology do teachers believe is most appropriate for the teaching of English? 3 How do Chilean English teachers view their own strengths and weaknesses in relation to native English-speaking teachers? Having been involved in teacher education programs in many countries. English will be used to access the growing amount of information available in that language. grades 1–12). The Chilean English teaching context In 1998 the Ministry of Education presented an overall Chilean school curriculum reform that specified teaching objectives for various fields of study for primary and secondary schools (i. The major change in the curriculum is the emphasis given to receptive skills (reading and listening) as opposed to productive skills (speaking and writing).informed by the assumptions listed above. The rationale given for this division is that. grades 7 and 8) to the final year of high school (i.

and private schools. the following question were asked: Sandra McKay articles welcome . The teacher questionnaire My research involved visiting numerous public and private primary and secondary English classes in various parts of Chile. in keeping with the Ministry guidelines. and surveying in-service teachers in public and private schools. For example. Perhaps one of the main reasons for many teachers’ satisfaction with the reform is that all students in the public schools are given a textbook and cassette. The students on the ship were selected by their countries to join this educational sea voyage because of their academic ability. gathering Ministry of Education documents related to English teaching. Semipublic schools in Chile are schools that receive public funds but are allowed more diversity in their curriculum. academic lectures. one semi-public Chilean school devotes a good deal of its curriculum to music. the textbooks. Elsworth. interviewing in-service and pre-service teachers of English. and presentations. 85 percent of the teachers believe that the changes are positive because the reform has encouraged them to change their methodology and teaching objectives. questionnaires dealing with their opinions on these topics were distributed to teachers in Santiago. The scenario of the sea voyage enables the textbook writers to deal with local places and concerns. Copiapó and La Serena). as well as to teachers in smaller. and deals with learning skills such as classification. called Go for Chile (Mugglestone. outlying communities (i. 2000). brainstorming. and 11 from private schools. In this paper I will focus primarily on the results of a limited questionnaire of Chilean English teachers regarding their opinions on these topics. strive to develop students’ English language skills primarily in reference to their need to use English to process technical written texts. talking with teacher educators at a variety of teacher education institutions. The cultural content of ELT materials 142 In order to determine Chilean teachers’ views on the role of culture in ELT materials. The questionnaire was given in Spanish to 50 English teachers: 29 teachers from public schools. and attitudes toward native and non-native English-speaking teachers. and Rose 1999. The questionnaires were given to teachers in public.percent of the teachers he surveyed support the objectives and content outlined in the English reform. and analysis. as well as to present information about the various countries represented by the students on board the ship. In order to get a representative sample of in-service teachers. The books introduce academic topics by including texts and lectures on topics such as climate conditions in various parts of Chile. semi-public. the prevalent methodology used in ELT . collecting copies of widely-used textbooks. which implements the objectives specified by the Ministry of Education reform. 10 from semi-public schools. The majority of these teachers (34) had been teaching English for 5 years or more. The overall purpose of my Fulbright investigation was to examine the questions noted above regarding the role of culture in Chilean ELT materials. Hence.e. Go for Chile features a group of students from various countries who are on board a ship sailing along the coast of Chile.

to be communicative. the majority of teachers in the survey (40) indicated they use it ‘sometimes’. a message. Therefore. For this. and ‘to reinforce the values of our culture’. although there was support for the inclusion of local Chilean places and people. and ‘Students have a global vision of the world in which they live. several of the items on the questionnaire dealt with the topic of communicative classrooms and group work. Finally. Those who supported the use of content from native English-speaking countries cited the need to know ‘the origin of the language’. they were encouraged to make regular use of group work. the majority (33) felt that it was not necessary to have group work. ‘rarely’.1 Which type of cultural content would you prefer to use in your class? A Content that deals with local Chilean places and people? B Content that deals primarily with aspects of United States or British life and culture? C Content that deals with the life and culture of various countries around the world? WHY? The majority of teachers preferred content that deals with the life and culture of various countries around the world. You can have the written part too’.’ The use of communicative language teaching methods Before the educational reform in 1998. a minimum of two people is needed. (In some instances teachers selected more than one option. the class does not have to be participating in group work. When asked whether or not they believe a class must use group work to be considered a communicative classroom.’ Teaching in a public or private school made little di¤erence in the response to these questions. teachers were encouraged by the Ministry of Education to use CLT methods. and a receiver.) Teachers Public Option A Option B Option C 7 9 14 Semi-public 1 1 8 Private 2 1 10 Those who supported the use of Chilean cultural content gave reasons such as ‘it is important to keep alive the Chilean culture in young people’. or ‘never’). The following table illustrates the breakdown of responses. those who preferred the use of various cultures o¤ered reasons like ‘This may help students feel that they can use English everywhere and in any situation’. Teaching English as an International Language 143 articles welcome . When asked how often they use group work in their classes (‘every class’. ‘sometimes’. This was especially true of the teachers in the public schools where Go for Chile was being used. Teachers gave answers like the following: ‘Not necessarily because you have communication between teachers and students or through a video or tape. This can be the teacher with the class in general. and ‘The concept communicative implies a sender. More specifically. In view of this situation.

teachers responded with comments like ‘Students learn respect and learn to listen’. ‘Before the reform. When asked who they would hire if they were a director of a private English language institute in Chile—native English speakers or Chileans—over half supported the hiring of Chileans. and the tendency of students to go o¤-task. there was often a sense of relief that under the new Ministry of Education guidelines there was less pressure to use CLT . and ‘Chilean teachers know the sociocultural reality.’ 144 Sandra McKay articles welcome . The role of Chilean teachers of English In many countries. and ‘Being private. As one teacher from a large urban high school in Santiago put it. those who supported the hiring of Chileans gave reasons like ‘Chilean teachers know grammar better’.’ When asked about the disadvantages of using group work. responsibility and teamwork. Chilean teachers of English appear to recognize their strengths as teachers. In private language institutes.’ In my various one-to-one interviews with teachers. it is more attractive to my clients having native speakers. as shown in the following table. ‘Students put social rules into practice’.’ On the other hand. and ‘It reinforces values such as respect.In general the teachers supported the social benefits of using group work. the lack of time. administrators often believe that having native English speakers as teachers makes their program more desirable. some bilingual teachers of English (see. though teachers in semi-public and private schools were more likely to prefer native speakers. Fortunately. and ‘Generally only a couple of students work while the students who don’t participate get a grade that they don’t deserve. When asked what they saw as the major advantages of using group work. native speakers of English are frequently given preference in ELT job openings. but how are you going to do this with 45 students and evaluate them? Students don’t like to speak English. By and large. I found that both the Ministry of Education and the teachers are de-emphasizing the use of CLT on the grounds that it is not appropriate to the local Chilean context for the reasons noted above. and specifically to use group work. in particular.’ In general. Public Native speaker Chileans 14 20 Semi-public 7 6 Private 10 6 Those who would prefer to hire native English-speaking teachers gave reasons like ‘My institution would be more prestigious and would have teachers who teach pronunciation correctly’. discipline problems. most teachers referred to the problem of the large number of students in the classes. One repercussion of this situation is that local bilingual English teachers may feel they are not as competent. for example. but they also felt that using group work involves a number of problems. we were encouraged to use the communicative approach. Medgyes 1992) are challenging this notion. Teachers wrote comments like ‘Each group needs to be controlled so that all students work’. the lack of physical space.

In general. and ‘closer to the students because Chilean teachers know who the students are. in the teaching of EIL . Conclusion I began this paper by arguing that English is an international language. In addition. and they know their own culture well. to base the content of teaching materials. the choice of teaching methodology. Comments like the following were typical: Chilean teachers have ‘knowledge of the education system and culture’. Finally. and therefore do not understand their students’. most of the teachers referred to native speakers’ accurate pronunciation and fluency in the language. they are ‘culturally connected with students’.’ When asked what they saw as the weaknesses of native English-speaking teachers. an appropriate pedagogy for the teaching of EIL depends upon local ELT professionals thinking globally but acting locally.’ When asked what they believe are the greatest strengths of Chilean English teachers. In this way. especially the Ministry of Education approved Go for Chile series. and their lack of fluency in Spanish. realizing that they are the ones who can Teaching English as an International Language 145 articles welcome . they are more natural when they respond. Many currently-used textbooks. and their familiarity with the local cultural context. each country in which EIL is being taught must take ownership of the language. although Chile has in the past advocated the use of CLT . as well as the Ministry of Education. As Kramsch and Sullivan (1996) point out. Teachers o¤ered comments like ‘They don’t know the culture very well. in the belief that it is a modern method widely used in ELT in English-speaking countries. many Chilean teachers referred to native English speakers’ unfamiliarity with the Chilean culture. Chilean English teachers view themselves as professionals who have many strengths. Chilean educators have taken responsibility for developing a pedagogy that is appropriate to the local context. do not give primary emphasis to cultural content from native English-speaking countries. have concluded that some aspects of the method. and ‘They don’t know the socioeconomic reality of Chile and the problems that are present in the Chilean education system. and how they behave’. my interactions with Chilean English teachers suggest that Chilean teachers recognize the strengths they have as teachers because of their bilingualism. or the ideal teacher on native-speaker models. many teachers responded that the most serious weakness they have is a limited opportunity for continuing education. and because of this fact. In general. in response to assessing their greatest weaknesses. the majority responded that Chilean teachers know the culture and language of their students. there is no need. with comments like ‘Native speakers’ pronunciation is correct. Instead. Chile can provide a model for the teaching of English as an international language. English can no longer be linked exclusively to native English-speaking cultures. are not e¤ective in the Chilean context. many Chilean teachers. particularly its emphasis on group work. but realize the importance of continued professional development.When asked what they believe are the greatest strengths of native English-speaking teachers. selecting teaching content and methods that are appropriate to the local context. Interestingly. Hence. Chile seems to be one country in which this is happening.

Medgyes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (ed. L. B. Richards. London: The British Council. Widdowson. Go for Chile. S.) 1999. ‘Appropriate pedagogy’. AILA Review 13: 57–68. where she regularly o¤ers a course on the teaching of EIL . NJ : Lawrence Erlbaum. Kachru. 1996. both as a Fulbright scholar and as an academic specialist for the United States Information Service. and Thailand. 1976. Santiago. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. design. Chile. ELT Journal 50: 199– Appendix Survey questions 11 How long have you been teaching English? A 1 – 2 years B 3 – 5 years C 5 or more years 12 In what kind of school are you presently teaching? A public B semi-public C private 13 Where did you teach before this? A public B semi-public C private 146 Sandra McKay follow-up articles welcome . The Context of Language Teaching.). 1997. G. World Englishes 18/2: 233–45. 2000. References Braine. ‘EFL teachers’ reception of the school reform’. The author Sandra McKay is Professor of English at San Francisco State University. D. 1999. ‘Method: approach. M. TESOL Quarterly 33: 185–209. Sullivan. Hungary. and procedure’ in J.). ‘Native or non-native: Who’s worth more?’ ELT Journal 46/4: 340–49. V. design. Elsworth. develop a locally sensitive pedagogy that can help students learn an international language. English as a Global Language. ‘The ownership of English’. D. P. Her most recent book is Teaching English as an International Language: Rethinking Goals and Approaches (Oxford: Oxford University Press). as involving three interrelated levels: approach. Cook. 1994. B. The Other Tongue Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Revised version received November 2001 Notes 1 I am using ‘method’ here in the sense that this term is used by Richards and Rodgers (1985). B. Morocco. 1999. and procedure. Kachru (ed. 1999. H. J. TESOL Quarterly 28: 377–88. Seidlhofer. Email: 2slmckay@attbi. 1992. Graddol. ‘English as an international auxiliary language’. Smith. 1997. She has been involved in teacher education programs in a great variety of countries. Books 1 and 2. G. Richards (ed. Japan. ‘Double standards: teacher education in the expanding circle’. Chile: Addison Wesley Longman. Mugglestone. Kramsch. D. ‘Going beyond the native speaker in language teaching’. B. Paper presented at the 6th International Conference of IATEFL -Chile. Farías. 1992. including Hong Kong. ‘The decline of the native speaker’. 1985. RELC Journal 7/2: 38–43. 2000. The Future of English. and J. Graddol. Santiago. C. ‘Models for non-native Englishes’ in B. Crystal.. Rodgers. 1999. Non-native Educators in English Language Teaching. and P. P. Singapore. and T. Rose.

14 What grades are you presently teaching? A 1–4 B 5–8 C secondary 15 Which type of cultural content would you prefer to use in your class? A Content that deals with local Chilean places and people. B No. 19 What do you see as the major advantages of using group work in your classes? 10 What do you see as the major disadvantages of using group work in your class? 11 Do you believe students like using group work? A Yes. B Sometimes. B No. WHY? 16 Which type of cultural content do you feel that your students like best? A Content that deals with local places and people in Chile. D Other: _____________________________________ 18 How frequently do you use group work in your class? A Every class. D Never. C Content that deals with the life and culture of various countries around the world. B Content that deals primarily with aspects of United States or British life and culture. WHY? 17 Have you ever been asked questions about cultural information in a textbook that you could not answer? A Yes. If yes. Teaching English as an International Language 147 articles welcome . what did you do? A I ignored the question. C I told the students that I didn’t know but that I would try to find out. B Content that deals primarily with aspects of United States or British life and culture. C Rarely. B I quickly invented an answer. C Content that deals with the life and culture of various countries around the world.

B No. B No. EXPLAIN: 19 Do you think native and non-native speakers of English are treated di¤erently at your institution? A Yes. B Chileans. B No. EXPLAIN: 14 In terms of the Chilean context. EXPLAIN: 148 Sandra McKay articles welcome .WHY? 12 Do you think a class must use group work to be considered a communicative classroom? A Yes. B No. WHY? 13 Are you encouraged to use group work in your class by colleagues or supervisors? A Yes. who would you try to hire primarily? A Native English speakers. what do you think are the greatest strengths of native English-speaking teachers of English? What are the greatest weaknesses? 15 What do you think are the greatest strengths of Chilean teachers of English? What are their greatest weaknesses? 16 What do you believe are your greatest strengths and weaknesses? 17 If you were the director of a private language institute of English. WHY? 18 Have you ever felt that you were discriminated against in hiring because you were or were not a native speaker of English? A Yes.