>Does China have the worst English teachers in the world according to international test results?

>Some teachers tried to tell me that China has the worst teachers and students based on the international test results of the Cambridge BEC tests. Is that true? Can we use those tests results and other tests like IELTS and TEOFL to see where the best and worst English teaching is being done?

Here are the statistics for 2004 sorted from lowest pass rate to best pass rate, or you could say from worse to best.

As you can see, China did indeed score the worst of all the other countries. Does this mean China’s teachers are the worst? There is an easy test we can apply to find out the answer.

If these statistics show us that China’s teachers are the worst in the world then they should also help us to see which teachers are the best in the world.

China, People’s Republic of 40%
Indonesia 41%
Vietnam 45%
Brazil 58%
Hong Kong 59%
Italy 67%
France 68%
Spain 70%
India 71%
United Kingdom 74%
Argentina 78%
Bangladesh 79%
Czech Republic 79%
Switzerland 80%
Croatia 81%
Poland 81%
Russian Federation 81%
Germany 84%
Austria 86%
Portugal 89%
Canada 93%
Slovenia 95%

Is it true that Slovenia has the best teachers in the world? They scored a 95% pass rate! Incredible! Even better than Canadian teachers. How did they do that?

And what about British teachers? Is it true that Argentinean teachers are better than British teachers?

I’m afraid we can only use the pass/failure rates of the BEC (and also the IELTS) to show us the rates of those who took the test and passed or failed. It does not reflect the language ability of students in general and the teaching ability of teachers in general.

People take this test for different reasons, different goals at different ages. Only if the BEC was given to ALL High School graduates or at least a true random sampling of students who were ALL at the same level could we use them to try to interpret teaching quality. These statistics from the BEC do not answer the question on the English teaching ability of teachers in China.

But this does not mean Chinese English teachers are good. It only means these particular statistics are not going to be useful in the question.

As I said, it doesn’t really matter if China came in last in the BEC tests as this sort of test is not going to tell us anything about the teaching or learning skills.

>ESP needs

>As far as teaching students who are working, I’m terribly disappointed with the published materials for English for Special Purposes (ESP). Our school wanted to start several various ESP programs and we did a review of all the books available.

Cambridge’s Information Technology ESP book, embarrassingly, has vocabulary including for “floppy disk”. It is typical of many books on the market. (1) Out of date information. These books get old and are not updated. (2) Out of touch. IT people nearly always have a good technical vocabulary and perhaps to a lesser extent so do other professionals.

Of all the ESPs the biggest one and the one that attracts the most efforts of publishers is Business English. Even with Business English it is difficult to find material that is truly suitable for office workers.

I am about to start another year of teaching at an American logistics company that has centers in over 40 countries. Here is a typical Email that represents the type of English they need. This is written by one of my next students there:


Dear Mr. Cao(ABC Co.), Polly(DEF Ltd.), Charles(GHI Inc.) and Daniel(JKL),

Greetings from Susan Lau, MNO Guangzhou.

Per PQ’s e-mail below, I believe you already come into production the Holiday POPs. As you know, MNO need to repack and allocate the POPs to more than 400 RST Stores in Mainland China.

Usually, we will do the following when POPs ETA MNO:
– Combine some POPs to one carton to save packaging materials. (e.g. We usually put the Translite, Standee and Hanging Mobile into one Standee wrap)
– Ask some Temp. Helper on the POP allocation(to reduce Over Time Pay for
– Catch Normal Routing Delivery to DCs, then from DC to Stores(to save delivery cost)
– 2 days repack in SUMS for 400+ stores

Therefore, we need your cooperation to deliver the POPs to MNO on or before Dec. 27, 2004. Otherwise, some POPs will be delivered by Express mail, this will bring on high delivery cost.

Any query or comments please feel free to call me or send me an E-mail.

Many thanks!

Susan Lau
Manager Trainee – MNO(GZ)

BERL Services (Guangzhou) Ltd.


Most business people have difficulty with basic English. Students should probably focus on basic English until the upper-intermediate level. At that point the technical vocabulary they need is often particular to their specific type of business and their particular company and it is unlikely that a business book will even come close to it.

What is the solution? Something the publishers have no interest in giving us.

The ultimate ESP teacher tool would be a computer program that drove a flexible template based course generator. It would be strong on basic functions and notions and grammar practice (as is needed in the sample above) and allow teachers to easily insert the vocabulary and themes needed by the ESP teacher.

Photo: My student, a manager of a cold storage logistics company, visiting one of the top supermarkets in the city with me, learning and practicing her English about…well, cold storage.

>It’s a small world when the world becomes your classroom

>A teacher wants to know what students can do to help themselves improve their English outside of class.

One of the hardest things to do with students who do not live in an English speaking country is to help them practice their spoken English. Thanks to today’s modern technology, this no longer has to be a problem.

Skype is a free “telephone” program with which you can call another person computer to computer. The sound is of such a high quality it rivals a telephone call. Skype is currently the most popular downloaded program in the world. It’s completely free.

Students can call each other or people all over the world to practice their English. There are some businesses which use Skype (search Skype for “hotel” or “services”) which may be more ready to speak, especially to people perceived as potential customers.

Teachers can also have conference calls with students.

Additionally, for about 2 cents a minute Skype users can call normal telephones. This opens up just about every phone in the world. They could spend hours and just a few dollars practicing their English by getting information on ski trips and lodgings, cost of notebook computers and their features, and how the services of a personality consultant can makeover their life.

>Grammar teaching – a fading star

>A teacher said, “That is what I wanted to hear – ‘Communicative Language Teaching doesn’t exclude grammar or even translation’ !!!”

Rest assured, Grammar will never be without a job.

Up until the 1970’s, Grammar used to be the mega movie star of English teaching, a true prima donna. Grammar was simply adored by all fans; teachers and students, alike. Grammar’s name featured prominently on every textbook or coursebook. People memorized every aspect of Grammar. It was near worship. Then Chomsky released his blockbuster which, while not widely accepted by the entire public, marked a new era and saw Grammar’s popularity begin to wane. Grammar suffered further humiliation when Krashen came along. Now many people respect Grammar just as many people regard Casablanca or Gone With The Wind, one of the greatest movies ever made. But when most people want real entertainment, they don’t go to these old movies any more.

That doesn’t mean Grammar is out of a job by any means. It still plays an important supporting role in many movies just like many former stars appear in smaller parts in movies and TV shows. (Alan Alda even won an Oscar for his supporting role in the new movie Little Miss Sunshine.)

As Krashen puts it:

“I recommend delaying the teaching of these rules until more advanced levels. I would first give acquisition a chance, and then use conscious knowledge to fill in some of the gaps. There is no sense teaching rules for Monitoring that will eventually be acquired. Grammar, thus, is not excluded. It is, however, no longer the star player but has only a supporting role.”

More from Krashen:

In my reviews of these studies, I have concluded that they confirm the correctness of the Comprehension and Monitor Hypotheses: they show only that even after substantial grammar study, even very motivated students show only modest gains in accuracy, and these gains occur only on measures that encourage a focus on form. Truscott (1998) has arrived at very similar conclusions.

Some have interpreted this position as a claim that all grammar teaching is forbidden. Not so. There are two good reasons for including grammar in the EFL curriculum.

The first is for “language appreciation,” otherwise known as “linguistics.” Linguistics includes language universals, language change, dialects, etc. The second is to fill gaps left by incomplete acquisition and places in which idiolects differ from the prestige dialect. Society’s standards for accuracy, especially in writing, are 100%: We are not allowed “mistakes” in punctuation, spelling or grammar. One public error, in fact, can result in humiliation. Even well-read native speakers have gaps, places where their grammatical competence differs from accepted use.

Consciously learned rules can fill some of these gaps, which are typically in aspects of language that do not affect communication of messages. The place to use this knowledge is in the editing stage of the composing process, when appealing to conscious rules will not interfere with communication.

I recommend delaying the teaching of these rules until more advanced levels. I would first give acquisition a chance, and then use conscious knowledge to fill in some of the gaps. There is no sense teaching rules for Monitoring that will eventually be acquired.

Grammar, thus, is not excluded. It is, however, no longer the star player but has only a supporting role.

More: http://www.sdkrashen.com/articles/eta_paper/02.html

>Teachers are dangerous examples

>A teacher explained: “I am fluent in my mother tongue because I speak it all the time. But I consider myself a better French speaker as a learner of its rule which I ignored in the former.”
The big problem with teachers referring to their own learning experiences is that often teachers are good students. Of course, that wouldn’t be a problem if our students were good students.

Some of us were good students in school. Perhaps we even sat in the front of the class, got good grades, really enjoyed learning, perhaps found it somewhat easier than our classmates. Many of these kinds of students become teachers. But that actually skews our viewpoints of the learning process and what works and what doesn’t work in the classroom.

A friend and I decided to learn Japanese. We got a book. There were no tapes. I quit after two weeks. Today, my friend has a pretty good command of Japanese. He LOVES grammar, says it’s like a puzzle to him. When he was in school he used to do algebra exercises for relaxation.

Frankly, these kinds of students we don’t have to worry about. They are going to learn English with us or without us or in spite of us. (And we also have to be careful that we don’t look to them as brilliant examples of our teaching skills.)

The kinds of students we have to worry about are the ones who are not doing so well in the class. The “average” learner, not naturally academically inclined nor super motivated. The kid sitting in the back of the class, or at least in the middle.

So when we as teachers use ourselves as examples we have to ask ourselves are we the right kind of example to give us insight into our students needs?

>Bob: Deciding on a Participation Index

>After teaching some corporate students, and reluctant to hand out school-type “grades” but still needing something, I developed the idea of a “Participation Index” to have a measure of how involved the student was in the training. This experience gave me a different viewpoint on grades.

At my college I had one student who came on the first day of class and again for the final exam. I promptly forgot him after seeing him the first time and wondered who he was when I saw him the second time. The class monitors keep track of attendance. Now I have the class monitors also keep track of attendance in my Excel spreadsheet. At the most basic level, if the students are in class they are (hopefully) going to learn something. The idea is to show their “participation”.

Class Interaction
But still some students are doing some other homework, reading something else, chatting with their neighbors, etc. Are they learning during this time? No. (Perhaps they already know. In that case it probably should be OK for them to do something else if it doesn’t disturb others.) The idea is not to punish students but to show their “participation” in the lesson. Some MBA course instructors give scores up to 40% of the students’ grades for “airtime”, visibility acquired on basis of class participation. In “Alternative Approaches to Assessing Student Engagement Rates”, Elaine Chapman at The University of Western Australia describes several ways of measuring participation and I’m thinking of using the one she describes as “Direct Observation”.

I have 160 students and sometimes hand out homework with each class. So I usually see if the students did the homework without seeing how well they did it. The idea is that applying themselves to the work is beneficial for their learning whether they got it all correct or not. We then go over the questions and answers together and everyone self-corrects.

I want to use quizzes more effectively and more frequently to see if the students are “getting it”. When I haven’t done this I’ve been surprised how many students really didn’t understand (or pay attention).

To measure the take-away from the training. I’m having lots of other thoughts on this. While the school course teaches things like how to read the corporate year end report, I have found a lot of my students go out after graduation and get jobs as Nokia phone salespeople in a discount department store or other sub-entry level job. It is likely that a lot of what they learned is lost well before they get a chance to use it. I am thinking about not only not testing their comprehension of corporate reports but steering the course away from that sort of thing and focusing more on English that they will have more hope of using soon. If they don’t use it they’ll lose it. But to help them keep it we should teach what they’ll use.

>The problem with movies in the classroom

>Although I love movies I seldom use them in the classroom. The biggest problems are that the language is normal or even above normal (flavored with special accents that I have seldom come in contact with in my 20+ years around the world, or peppered with the vocabulary of special interest groups of people like maybe hip-hop). I have few real advanced students who could understand 80-90% of this, most of mine are upper or lower-intermediates.

I buy into Krashen’s input hypothesis which holds that the learner improves and progresses along the ‘natural order’ when he/she receives second language ‘input’ that is one step beyond his/her current stage of linguistic competence. For example, if a learner is at a stage ‘i’, then acquisition takes place when he/she is exposed to ‘Comprehensible Input’ that belongs to level ‘i + 1’.

The second problem is time. Movies run to 90-120 minutes. If pauses are added that brings it to 120-150 minutes which in my situation is too long.

When I do show a movie I will preview the movie 2-3 times jotting down an outline of the movie, transcribing a few bits and also selecting certain sections to skip to cut the movie shorter. Of course, I also try to find the script on the Internet but seldom have success for the movies I have shown. But I do try to create some sort of hand out for the students to emphasize points I want to teach.

The bottom line has been that that they can take enormous amounts of time trying to prepare, show and teach from a movie.

Later I will discuss some great ways you can use movies.

>What’s YOUR problem?

>I had an interesting discussion with some teachers in Japan about why Japanese students are so quiet in class.

But it seems odd to discuss the quietness of Japanese students with you, the reader of this blog, yes, YOU.

Why are Japanese so shy? Why do they respond so little? What is it in their culture that causes this situation? What can teachers do to make Asian students more responsive? After all, as teachers we think our students should be responsive. They should be interactive. Right? What teacher in his right mind would actually want students who are not interactive? Who would want quiet non-responsive students?

Although you and I are not students it does seem really odd that we even try to discuss this question on this blog. Why does it seem odd?…because you are probably not going to comment on this blog. You will not mention your thoughts or opinion, agreement or disagreement. YOU are going to be quiet. YOU are not going to interact. I am not upset with YOU. It’s just that I don’t understand how we can ask our students to be something that we are not going to make the effort to be ourselves, interactive.

Is it because the YOU are too timid to venture an opinion? Some people reading this page are experienced teachers, MA’s or even PhD’s. It is likely we may draw some managers of various schools as well as IELTS, UCLES, TOEFL, ETS, Oxford and Cambridge University Press. We may have university professors who visit. We may have the very gurus and rock stars of our profession on this list. But still this blog is impoverished by the lack of sharing of the riches of their experience and training.

Seriously, how can we as professionals in this field ever blame the poor students in Japan for not being interactive when we are doing the very same thing everyday?

This seems odd to me. We all understand the Japanese problem. What I want to know is:

What is your problem?

Please tell us in the “Comments” section.

>Break all the rules of sensitivity, politeness and courtesy

>A teacher explains: “I’m sure we think we’re trying to help our students, encouraging them to speak, urging them, filling in awkward silences, repeating instructions to ‘clarify’. In fact we dominate and intimidate them. They can’t get a word in.”

This teacher and others have given some very good and practical advice. Even Edward De Bono, the father of the approach to Lateral Thinking, had trouble with this and offered no revolutionary solutions except for calling on students directly.

But I suppose I often break all the rules of sensitivity, politeness and courtesy.

I know how to warm up to a class and how to get a class to warm up to me. After being a teacher for awhile you can start to read a classroom of students like a book. (But like all good books, you do get surprised from time to time.)

I usually reach a point with my students, here in China, when I give them “the talk”. I tell them what Westerners think of them. I tell them Westerners think that they are often too quiet, too reserved, afraid to make a public mistake, afraid to step out, to give their own opinion and too concerned with unity with the group. I have heard many Western managers complain about this trait. (In fact, when I was doing teacher training around China, I even heard experienced Chinese ELT teachers complain about it, too. Funny thing was, even these teachers would sit quietly when I asked a group of them a question. They were really surprised when they discovered they were doing it as well.)

I tell students about the invisible wall that is between the teacher and students or speaker and audience. I tell them why they can feel safe in not answering my questions, because they are doing what the group is doing, nothing. To various extents, all peoples do this. I even tell them the tricks I use to break down this wall at the start of each class (games, warm-ups, etc.)

Is there something wrong with Chinese culture? No. It’s different. But if my students are going to be talking to the world, if they want to be able to be effective with all manners of people, they need to realize what Westerners think and expect just as much as we need to sensitize ourselves to the different ways of Asians.

I then demand that they speak up and not do the group thing to me.

>Should students practice their English by posting articles to Wikipedia?

>An American teacher working in Beijing said: “In our summer course, we are having students post their own ideas onto Wikipedia. One student had already done this and his article about a ski resort near his home was published but marked as incomplete.”

I’m sure students get a great thrill out of contributing to something that is as famous and internationally recognized as the English version of Wikipedia. But I can’t help but feel it is irresponsible for a teacher to have a number of students do such a thing and violates the expectations of the people who go to Wikipedia for facts. If one student does it, it probably won’t hurt anything.

By definition, English students are learning English because their English is not “good enough”. They feel their ability to communicate in English is too poor. That’s why they study English. Why is their English suddenly of the caliber to contribute to an encyclopedia? And why “their own ideas”? Wikipedia is not a blog. Just because they CAN do it does not mean they SHOULD do it. It would be better for them to write to some more informal areas of the web like actual blogs.

Likewise, a mailing list like TESL-L does not allow linguistics teachers to assign students to post here as a class project or homework. Without this rule, list members would become defacto teacher’s assistants to a group of students in Morocco or some such place.

Of course, Wikipedia has different language versions and the students may do an excellent job contributing to one in their own L1. There are good places for students to practice and there are bad places for students to practice. Wikipedia was not designed as a practice venue for English students.