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TESOL Transformed; From Job to Career?
by Neal McBeath
- 2

Students

At Southampton Technical College we had two types of EFL students – full-time and part-time. It is, I think, significant that they were so labeled. They were accorded and administrative category rather than being regarded as people who had specific educational needs.

The full-time students were both a minority, and a new development. The College had started accepting these students in 1972, when the raising of the school leaving age from 15 to16 had caused a crisis for Further Education. So far as the Department of General Studies was concerned, change was almost automatically bad, and the full-time students who required EFL teaching were a double inconvenience. Their parent department was Mathematics and Science, and they were studying English for purely instrumental, matriculation purposes.

In order to enter British universities, these students were required to pass “A” Level examinations in two or three subjects, but they were also required to pass “O” Level English, Cambridge First Certificate, or the JMB Test in English (Overseas). Today, of course, those students would be placed on an ESP course, but in the 1970s, ESP was in its infancy. Robinson’s (1980) pioneering study was years in the future, and so these scientists were left with standard “general English” courses which spent a great deal of time on pronunciation and phrasal verbs, but gave them few of the skills that they would need later on.

In my first year at the College, the full-time students were exclusively Greek and Iranian. In 1975 there was an influx of Lebanese fleeing from civil war, and then a large number of Malaysians. The Malaysians were significant, because they forced the college to reassess some of its standard working practices.

Full-time students were often taught by people who had little, or no, EFL training. The College Principal was of the opinion that if students had registered for “A” Level courses then they were “A” Level students and it was impossible for them to have learning problems. Following this half-baked logic, it was accepted that any teachers who were short of teaching hours could be allocated an EFL class and just left to teach that.

On one occasion, however, an economic historian was given the job of teaching a group of Malaysians, and decided to use excerpts from The Ascent of Man (Bronowski; 1973). It was, she said, “The sort of thing they should be interested in.” Unfortunately, Bronowski’s book was a Darwinist text based on the premise that, through the appliance of science, the world was steadily becoming a better place.

The Malaysians refused to accept this. Firstly, as Muslims they believed that the world had had its best chance at perfectability when the Holy Prophet and the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs were alive, and that things had been going downhill ever since. Secondly, they recognized that this material was doing nothing to prepare them for high stakes examinations, and so they made a formal complaint, and someone else took over the class.

The part-time students, by contrast, never complained. By and large, they were au pair girls, Western Europeans in their late teens who had come to England for a limited period of time, and who did light housekeeping and child-minding duties in exchange for board and lodging, pocket money, and the chance to “improve” their English.

This last task was accomplished by attending classes for one day a week at the College, and then taking Cambridge First Certificate or Cambridge Proficiency examinations. The lecturer in charge of EFL was shrewd enough to enroll these girls for examinations which were generally at the same level, or slightly below their existing level of proficiency – baccalaureate, Abitur – and then praised their work to the skies. They, in turn, enjoyed the classes, socialized with other girls doing the same job, reported favourably to their host family, and ensured repeat business the next year with the new au pair.

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