Winning the battle against low self-esteem (A guest post by Katherine Bilsborough)

Katherine Bilsborough has worked in ELT for 30 years. These days she lives in the mountains of northern Spain where she divides her time between writing and gardening. She very kindly agreed to write this guest blog post for me to share with you all. Enjoy it! 

Kath Bilsborough

Kath Bilsborough – copyright Katherine Bilsborough, used with permission.

Winning the battle against low self-esteem

Last year I wrote a couple of journal articles and gave a BELTA webinar on the topic of self-esteem. I looked at the psychology underpinning low self-esteem and in particular, its causes and consequences. I then suggested some practical ideas for increasing self-esteem, focusing on the ELT teacher. My reasoning was that if we can find strategies to increase low self-esteem in ourselves, we’ll be equipped to help our colleagues and our students too; first by recognising the signs and then by responding in a number of ways.

My interest in self-esteem emerged from my own professional insecurities and, in particular, from conversations I had with colleagues. They found it hard to believe that behind my apparent confidence and self-assurance lay a wobbling, self-conscious doubter who felt like a fraud and was constantly questioning her ability as a teacher and her right to be standing at the front of a classroom. I might have doubted my skills as a teacher but I was, apparently, an excellent actor. I’ve come a fair way since those days but I still have spells of insecurity and vulnerability. The difference is that now I’m armed with strategies to deal with them and it helps to know that I’m not alone. Even the most experienced, ‘big name’ professionals go through wobbly patches.

For this post, I’ve researched the subject further and come up with a more comprehensive list of practical ideas to help improve self-esteem. Items on the list are sometimes specific to ELT teachers but simple tweaks can make them relevant for students too.

Recognising low self-esteem

It is perfectly normal for everyone to feel down about themselves at times and even the most self-assured people suffer from a lack of confidence from time to time. But when the feelings persist it can be an indication that you need to sit up and do something about it. Some of the most common signs of low self-esteem are:

  • Being overly critical of yourself.
  • Ignoring your strengths and accomplishments.
  • Focusing on your weaknesses.
  • Comparing yourself with other people.
  • Being unable to accept compliments when they are given.
  • Having a negative outlook on life.
  • Worrying about not doing well or not being liked.
  • Exaggerating the things you perceive as negative.

 It isn’t always easy to identify the causes of self-esteem. Things like constantly being overlooked for promotion or being bullied are clear-cut. But sometimes motives are less obvious. The good news is that self-esteem levels aren’t fixed and there are plenty of things you can try to address the problem.

Twenty tried and tested recommendations


The keys to winning that battle! (Picture by Bohman Keys, certified for non-commercial reuse with modification.)


1          Practise positive self-talk in order to build your confidence.

2         Keep a ‘positive calendar’ in which you write down three things each day that went well in class because of your efforts or actions.

3         Know your subject matter as well as you can by studying it further. CPD is an excellent way of increasing self-esteem.

4         Invest time and effort into the things you can change and try to ignore the things you can’t change.

5         Increase your understanding of the theories that underpin teaching and learning. This will make you a more confident teacher.

6         Do regular exercise. Being fit and active relieves stress and helps you feel good about yourself.

7         Do at least one thing that you enjoy every day. This doesn’t have to be something big. It can be something as simple as meeting a friend for a coffee or listening to your favourite music.

8         Make sure you are surrounded by people who are supportive, in the real world and in cyberspace.

9         Distance yourself from people who are critical. If this is difficult, try telling them how you feel and politely ask them to think before they criticise you in future.

10       Stop comparing yourself to others. We all have a unique blend of strengths and weaknesses. Everybody is good at something.

11       Don’t be too hard on yourself when you get something wrong. Learn from your mistakes and move on.

12       Get to know your students. The better you know them, the more effective your teaching (and their learning) will be.

13       Celebrate every achievement, however small.

14       Know your work context well. Make sure you know where resources are kept and how the latest technology works. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

15       Talk to a colleague (or colleagues) about problems or worries you might have with your classes. Most of the time a problem shared really is a problem halved and two heads really are better than one.

16       Take pride in your ideas and your opinions and don’t be afraid to voice them. But don’t be afraid to change your ideas too. Willingness to change is a strength, not a weakness.

17       Don’t aim for perfection, it’s unachieveable so disappointment is inevitable.

18       Have realistic expectations in the classroom. For example, if you teach in a monolingual context, don’t expect all of your students to speak English all of the time. It isn’t going to happen.

19       Try to keep a positive attitude towards teaching. Joining social media groups of ELT teachers or creating a PLN will help with this.

Above all …

20       don’t be afraid to ask for professional help. Sometimes self-esteem can become severe and lead to depression. If this happens, you should speak to a doctor or a psychologist. Don’t forget that everybody is human and a cry for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s common sense.


Summer School

That, in two words, is why this blog has been so quiet… We are just coming to the end of Week 5 out of 10.

My language learning update is well overdue – but rest assured, the absence of it is not due to my having given up on the languages, but rather because I don’t have time to do it AND blog about it! 😉

There are loads of things I want to blog about but the precious non-work hours that I have are split between sleeping, eating, cycling/running, gardening and language learning, pretty much. Oh and cuddling Flora hamster. Normal service will probably resume sometime in September – most likely AFTER I have my post-summer school holiday!

I hope you are all having fantastic summers, wherever and whatever you may be doing with them. (Do comment and tell me, it would be lovely to hear!)

60 seconds...starting now! Image taken from, licensed for commercial re-use with modification

Can I have some more hours in the day, please?! 🙂  Image taken from, licensed for commercial re-use with modification

My IATEFL Summary of Posts

I thought I would collate all my IATEFL blog posts into a single post, as I usually do, but with a twist: This year, I am going to weave them into a narrative of my IATEFL 2016.


I arrived at the ICC  from New Street station after my “I’m going to walk” initial attitude had been wiped out by immediately getting lost and doing a big circle at the end of which I was back at the station again. “Where are the taxis?” was a much more successful approach. Thankfully, Sandy was there when I arrived (somewhat flustered!) and pointed me in all the appropriate directions, which meant I was well in time for the start of the event.

This was the day I attended the Materials Writing SIG Pre-Conference Event – Print VS Digital: Is it really a competition? I watched Ceri Jones’s talk about the similarities between print and digital, through looking at a specific learning task in various print and technological manifestations. This was followed by Genevieve White telling us about the skills needed to adapt a print course to digital. After the break was the young learners and teenagers section – Katherine Bilsborough gave us lots of great tips for primary materials design and Fiona Mauchline took us into the minds of teens. From this, we moved on to a focus of self-publishing with Damian Williams and editor etiquette with Sue Kay. I was very surprised to discover that leaving 2 spaces after a full-stop isn’t something that everybody else does. I learnt it when I learnt how to use computers and have done it ever since…or have I? Looking at my blog posts, it seems that I actually don’t leave two spaces after all. Yet I could have sworn I did… Just as well it’s no longer a thing then! The SIG day was rounded off with a panel discussion.

On Tuesday evening, along with Sandy, I discovered that Jamie’s Italian does some very good vegan options – yum! Of course, the time spent catching up with people who you haven’t seen, well, since the last IATEFL conference, is all part and parcel of the experience.


It started, of course, with the opening plenary delivered by the wonderful David Crystal, which did not in any way disappoint. A fascinating hour and twenty minutes. My next session was a sit-out, as I wanted a bit of head-clearing time before I did my talk in the 12.00 slot (How amazing to have such an early in the day AND early in the conference slot! (I’m used to the penultimate day graveyard slot…). It was part of a listening forum, which meant that I spoke alongside Craig Wealand and Ellen Servenis. Craig talked about using podcasts with students, in terms of encouraging them to listen outside the classroom, while Ellen talked about using listening journals with, like me, the goal of encouraging students to use metacognitive strategies to help improve their listening skills. Both talks were very interesting and I enjoyed being part of a forum, though our time allocation seemed incredibly brief!

That done, I could get down to the serious business of making the most of my IATEFL. After lunch, I attended an EAP-focused talk, by Angela Smith which was about sharing ideas for supporting postgraduate students, a materials development focused workshop, by Kath Bilsborough and Sue Lyon-Jones, which had loads of ideas for using what’s already out there in your materials and how to do that, and a talk about introducing flipped learning into a university EAP setting, done by Robyn Brinks in collaboration with Pearson, so a nice variety, all in all.

From 6.30 to 8.00 in the evening, following a rushed bite to eat at The Handmade Burger Co. near to the ICC, it was the Cambridge “invitation-only” event time. I have no idea why I was invited, but on the plus side for me, there were two-minute talks as well as the usual hobnobbing that I am so inept at! Through these I had a taste of Silvana’s fantastic presentation style, which made me look forward to the next day’s plenary.


Well, between having seen Silvana speak briefly on Wednesday evening at the Cambridge thing and having read the abstract for her plenary – The Native Factor: the haves and have nots – I had high expectations. What I didn’t expect was to reach the end of it feeling like I wanted to cry and having to fight really hard to get all my emotions back under control. Because seriously, who cries in a plenary, how embarrassing! Turns out I wasn’t the only one. Such an important topic, so immaculately delivered, I highly recommend that you watch the British Council recording.

The plenary finished a bit late (I assume – I went directly to the next session I had earmarked and it had already started!). It was a session about using TextInspector. I didn’t write a blog post because not only did I arrive late but I couldn’t get on the wifi either, so made a few notes in Word. These are they:

Text Inspector

Late entry – worth it! (plenary)

  •  Profiles a text according to CUP – CEFR band scales. You can try a version for free on the Vocabulary Profile website.
  •  If you go to Text Inspector: paste text into text box, click analyse and you get the output from text inspector. Different metrics down lefthand side. If you think it has miscounted e.g. number of sentences, you can edit it and update the scores.
  • You can also jump straight to the scorecard and get an overall analysis of your text, all the statistically significant data. Number of metrics used are e.g. average syllables per sentence etc. They have a statistically significant influence in terms of Band.

Not really worth a blog post, I think you’ll agree! It looks an interesting tool though, worth a closer look. I did manage to get on the WiFi for the next talk, which was by Michelle Tamala who was looking at how to help EAP students become more autonomous and use metacognitive strategies. Finally before lunch, I also attended Alan Maley’s talk, Ten great educators and their legacy.

After lunch, I had planned to attend the ELTJ debate on teacher training but I had been offered an interview slot which clashed with the start of that session. Nevertheless, it was exciting being interviewed! (I was going to say it was my first live interview, but I guess that award goes to my ELTon award one! Pity I didn’t remember that at the time, then maybe I would have been less nervous…!)

Thursday had an EAP theme running through it – the next talk I attended was ‘You tell me! Practical ideas for student led tasks in ESAP’ by Anne Heaton of Coventry University who she talked about making general English for Academic Purposes classes more subject specific by using students’ own knowledge within tasks, and I went from that to “How to optimise tutorial time: the 20 minute fix” by David Jay of Anglia Ruskin University.

Finally, I attended the Panel on Native Speakerism – it seemed the obvious thing to do after the morning’s plenary! It was interesting to hear about the issue from a range of perspectives. I was very shocked to learn that Christopher Graham had received hate mail (of the “You are betraying your tribe” variety) for supporting the TEFLEquity movement. I suppose I always like to think that people might have got over being so ridiculous by 2016. The truth is, in our profession, the battle is yet young.

I didn’t attend any evening events on Thursday evening, was exhausted funnily enough! And my apartment had a bathtub…


Friday was another lovely day, full of the spontaneity that makes IATEFL, well, IATEFL! I started with Tyson Seburn’s talk on learner-sourced visuals for higher level texts and then took a break from the EAP theme with Dita Phillips’s talk, “I’m a non-native speaker teacher, hear me roar!”  I nearly didn’t get in – first I sat on the floor and then the ushers tried to chase me and some lovely person gave up their seat for me and exited! Thank you, whoever you are!

After that, I really wanted to go to Sarah Milligan and Patrick Curry’s talk but finally opted for the MaW SIG Open Forum, after all I am a member! It was great to hear the summing up of the year, as well as about their future plans. Their scholarship (in collaboration with OUP) winner also said a few words, which was nice. Finally, I won one of the raffle prizes. 🙂  The SIG are recruiting new committee members and I am tempted to put in for the deputy publications role, running out of time though!

After lunch, I returned to the theme of EAP with Michelle Hunter who spoke on the topic of “Demanding High in ELT – silently” and followed it with the follow-up workshop to Silvana’s plenary  – couldn’t miss it! As you would expect, the turn-out filled a good-size hall! The time went very quickly, too quickly really, but the discussion was fruitful. I think/hope lots of people have gone away from IATEFL thinking about how they can make a difference. I know I have!

Then it was break-time and I met up with my tutors from Leeds Beckett and a handful of Leeds Beckett students past and present. It was lovely. The final talk I attended on Friday was that of my M.A. tutor Heather Buchanan and her long-time friend Julie Norton, a tutor at the University of Leicester. It was “What makes an outstanding coursebook? The publisher’s perspective”there was a lot of interesting information but not enough time. Hopefully they can say a little more about it in a future webinar…

That was all the conference sessions for the day, so off I went to Wagamama’s to grab a bite before the Pecha Kucha. Two other delegates had the same idea, one of whom I “know from online” and so we wound up having a lovely dinner together quite unexpectedly. This is one of the things I love about IATEFL! I thoroughly enjoyed both the dinner and the Pecha Kucha. It must be a real thrill to do one!

Other highlights of the day included picking up my annual Black Cat publisher bag! 😉 And also discussing ideas for future IATEFL talks with Sandy and getting an idea for a project that may well keep me going for years!


Saturday began with snow, which was rather a shock! Fortunately by the time we made our way over to the ICC, it had stopped.

Scott Thornbury did the final morning plenary – 1966 and all that: a critical history of ELT. I missed the session straight after the plenary because I was saying goodbye to some people but then I went to “What is this thing called Academic English Language Proficiency?” which was really interesting! All about conceptual frameworks for competency and Dr Pamela Humphrey’s idea for one that combines all the ones she has read about. The last talk I went to was Damian Williams’ talk on language development for teachers, which was about integrating language development into teacher development.

Emerging from the bubble, walking in the sunlight after getting back to Sheffield and the real world (feeling somewhat bizarre after 4.5 days of intensive conferencing) followed. And that was the end.

Except…yesterday evening, I finally got round to putting the registered blogger badge on my blog! (Along with the TEFLEquity supporter one that I now proudly sport!) You can add one to your website or blog too, see this page to find out how. For other ideas of how to get involved have a look at this page.

My final IATEFL-related acts for the weekend were sorting this blog post out and writing a post that was my way of continuing the Native Speakerism issue. (It’s ok, I haven’t spent all day on the computer, I also went for a lovely little 12k run in the sunshine!) Now it’s back to the real world, but carrying all the motivation and buzz that IATEFL never fails to supply.

Thank you, IATEFL, for a fabulous few days and see you again next year, I hope!! (Meanwhile, I need to put my project into action! And hopefully also catch up with a few of the sessions that were recorded that I missed but wanted to attend…)

IATEFL 2016 You tell me! Practical ideas for student-led tasks in ESAP (Anne Heaton)

Well, I had been planning to go to the ELTJ debate about teacher training, after lunch, but then my interview slot with IATEFL Online clashed with the start so instead I am attending Anne Heaton’s talk on student-led tasks in ESAP. Anne is Associate Director of Pre-sessional English Courses at Coventry University.

Anne starts by talking about the general to specific continuum. You could use this activity in an EGAP class to get students used to the idea. Start with some gaps in the chart for the students to fill in:


Thinking more specifically about general to specific in my subject we are going to take “EAP” as our subject. We are going to look at the same activity.


The best way to do it is using post-it notes which they can then freely move around. This means you can add in different layers/categories to the spectrum/chart. We tried it out:



These are the principles of the tasks we are looking at today:


Where Ann works, there are 8 intakes a year and within that 1000 student enrolments. They have two large pre-sessionals, one pre-September and one pre-January. Students have a wide variety of destination subjects (60). As there are so many students, tutors with a wide range of experience end up working there at busy times. Until 2014, the courses were EGAP institution generic courses. There is an even split between postgrads and undergrads. The majority are from China, followed by Middle East. BA in International Business is the biggest subject and B.A. in Business-related subjects make up the majority of students. Same with the post-grads.

Ann outlined the differences between EGAP and ESAP:


It is set up as a dichotomy but the two co-exist in reality. In 2014 they decided to make a move towards an ESAP approach. Not to lose the EGAP but to sit ESAP alongside it. Difficulties included establishing collaboration with subject specialists but information is needed from them as we aren’t experts; dealing with ‘odd’ subjects; deciding how to group students when there is a mix of undergrad and postgrads; managing the issue of teachers feeling underprepared to teach.

They have re-named it EIMS (English in my subject) to emphasise it is language not content. This is a typical timetable:


They use a parallel structure so that the same task type or skill will be introduced across all EIMS groups but it will be tailored content-wise to the specific subject. As much as possible, they get students to generate the ideas, students positioned as experts in their subject. Students can tailor an activity to their specific interests.

Our next task was:


Different reporting verbs can be used to indicate the writer’s stance in relation to what is being quoted. Agreement and disagreement are introduced and continued differently. In the ESAP classroom students would have looked at a similar activity in their EGAP lessons and might do something like this in relation to their own subject to practice it and make it more motivating. All the teacher has to do is find a contentious view within the specific subject and it can generate a lot of discussion. The teacher can also get the student to come up with the view as well. It works well set as homework so that students have time to think about it. Students within a subject will come from different backgrounds. Students can be allowed to put forward their own views or from the literature. They write it on a piece of paper, teacher collects them all and redistributes so that students respond to the view using reporting verbs.


One thing that they are looking to do more now from this year is to look at different genres of academic writing. The pre-sessional course focuses almost exclusively on essays because they occur in all disciplines and are the most frequent genre overall. Most EAP lecturers tend to come from a background where they are familiar with essays. Therefore they are easier to teach and to test. But Ann wants to move to a wider genre focus. The approach is to use the students as “chief investigator in their discipline” (De Chazal).

This is what students will have to do:


Students can look in the British Council writing for a purpose website to find out more and there are activities to help them. They are also encouraged to use corpus tools to help inform themselves, such as Sketch Engine, where searches can be narrowed by text type:


Student feedback has been positive so far.


IATEFL 2016 Plenary Day 2 (Silvana Richardson)

The “passionate and inspiring Silvana” (as she was introduced and I agree with based on the few minutes I saw her speak for at the Cambridge networking thing last night!) will speak to us about the ‘native factor’ – the haves and the have nots. (Twitter name, in case you are interested: @laIoli)

Silvana starts by telling us a few things about herself: she is not tall, she is not male, not single, not atheist, not sport, not fantasy buff, not a native speaker. She uses this ‘ridiculous way of introducing herself’ i.e. litotes (negation of one quality to emphasise another) to pose a question: what quality is she emphasising by saying that she is a non-native English speaker? Why do we still refer to an aspect of the professional identity of over 80% of the teachers of English as a ‘non’?

How is it still a legitimate term?!

It’s not just a word.


It’s time to find something better!

Next Silvana gave us –

The one minute history of Native Speakerism starring the Monolingual Bias.

She takes us  back 100 years to The Direct Method: thou shalt not use your own language in class. This and subsequent methods created a monolingual bias which gave a biased view of the native speaker. The common goal was to achieve native-like competence. Meaning 3 things: That NS is the best model, that the way that the NS acquires L1 is the best way to acquire a foreign language and that the NS makes the best teacher. This creates a deficit view of the learner’s own language – it becomes a source of interference and an obstacle, and a deficit view of the NNS as defective, a failed monolingual of English. The ideal native speaker according to Kramsch is monolingual, monocultural, speaks only a standard variety of English, and is equally competent in oracy and literacy skills. This concept has been critiqued as a figment of linguists’ imagination (Palkeday 1985). It is, however, a very resilient myth. Take for example the European Profiling Grid which is used in recruitment of teachers. The ultimate goal is “Has native speaker like competence in the target language”.

How does this notion impact on identity, as an NS or an NNS?

If you have the native factor, you can safely assume that: The native speaker is the best model, the ideal teacher. I am an NS. Therefore I am the ideal model and ideal teacher.

If you are a non-native speaker, it is the reverse. I am not the ideal model. I am not the ideal teacher.

Very problematic and toxic logic. Kamhi-Stein (2005) criticises this ‘native speaker fallacy’. It makes assumptions that NS have particular features but actually they can all be acquired through training. Silvana then shows us a linkedin profile and what it does! It devalues all of us and professionalism.


The logic also creates a competence dichotomy. A very unhelpful separation into camps. An us versus them. It’s very damaging to all of us.

The Plight of the Have Nots

We will look at this from four perspectives.


The Market forces’ discourse: customers prefer native speakers

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a student in need of English language lessons must be in want of a native speaker”

DO customers prefer native speakers? How true is this claim? Is it based on reliable records or on impressions? Out of 1000 students how many is it? 500? 5? The two who shout loudest? What does research say about what students prefer? This is a relatively new area of study. She is gong to look at a few studies and we have to decide what the findings support.

Cheung 2002 – attitudes to NS and NNS and the strengths/weaknesses of both. Questionnaires, interviews, observations, 420 ss at 7 universities in Hong Kong. Findings:


Benke and Medgyes (2005) – SS perceptions of NS and NNS teachers, questionnaire, Hungary.


Lasagagabaster and Sierra (2005) – Students perceptions of NS NNS;  Closed and open questions; Basque area of Spain


Walkinshaw and Hoang Duong (2012) – how learners rate ‘native-speakerness’ compared with 7 qualities valued in EL teachers: rating survey and questionnaire, Vietnam.


Silvana then presented a summary of the perceived advantages of NNESTs:

  • Declarative knowledge: knowledge about English (They had to learn it!)
  • Ability to identify areas of potential difficulty: when you know the L1, you know what will be easy or difficult, from your own experience.
  • share and use the students own language
  • able to make cross-linguistic and cross cultural comparisons
  • teach grammar more effectively
  • empathise with the learner (been there…)
  • provide appropriate strategies
  • willing to work hard

Followed by those of NS:

  • procedural knowledge (how to use English, tacit and unconscious)
  • teaching of lexis (idiom, colloquialism, slang)
  • fluency in English with ‘original English accent’
  • no apparent language difficulties
  • linguistic authenticity
  • teach speaking and listening more effectively
  • cultural understanding (of own culture)
  • more relaxed attitude to error correction

These perceptions were taken from various studies.

Silvana summarises by saying that students generally value professional and personal qualities over nativeness. Both NEST and NNEST are perceived to be competence each with unique strengths. Preference is inconclusive. Some indicate both, some one, some the other.

There is the discourse of Employers having no choice. This is discrimination. These are discriminatory practices disguised as common sense. Actually, employers always have choices. Collusion with inequality and prejudice is a choice. Discrimination is a choice. Also, “just because the market is demanding certain things, it does not mean that the market cannot be made to see things differently” (reference missed, sorry!).

Is the customer always right? Silvana did an experiment a few months ago. She had a two-hour conversation with a student who adamantly wanted a native speaker. He was shocked that it only took a month to become a teacher. He changed his mind. The real question is, are customers expectations realistic? How do we behave when they aren’t? What if their preferences are racist or discriminatory? “I didn’t come to the UK to be taught by a trainer who is a native speaker of my own language” – has been said. First they ask those who said it if there is anything in the promotional literature about this? No. This is because we are equal opportunities employers and we are proud. Proud to employ the best trainers and nativeness doesn’t come into it. They are told to give the trainer a chance and come back in a few days if still unhappy. They don’t come back.

Why are NNS rejecting themselves? (As per above example)

2. Discrimination and recruitment.


No EFL qualifications required in either!



Even narrower!

This is the reality:

This is the lay of the land.

The lay of recruitment land.

And these announcements are damaging:


Clark and Paran (2007)

Looked at the recruitment of NNESTs in the UK. 72.3% of participant institutions judged nativeness to be very important.

Selvi (2010) 

A vast majority of the advertisements favoured NESTs and rejected NNESTs. He describes discrimination as a multi-faceted phenomenon. There is also the issue of variety of English, where qualifications are obtained (golden standard: Anglophone institutions) and location of citizenship.


Mahboob and Golden

Focused on East Asia. Nativeness was the single most frequent criterion mentioned in the ads. 49% of the ads listed specific countries from which the applicants must come.  US being at the top. Some ads also specify colour. Nativeness is linked to inner circle countries only. Students are being taught by ‘teachers’ who are not qualified to do so.

3. The mono-training orthodoxy

If you look at SLA in the 20th century, if you look at the theories, you find yourselves in a very confined cognitive space. Very little reference and interaction with the world around you. The result of this is narrow approaches to teaching, learning and teacher education. Native speakerist, monolingual and monocultural.

If we look at the areas in which native speakerism has dominated, no stone left unturned -theory, research, publishing, teaching and learning materials etc. Cook puts it very eloquently:


There is no research evidence on whether students learn better in an ‘impossible to code-switch’ classroom environment.

Ernesto Macaro’s study on code-switching: little known but important!

Monolingual approaches abound. There is a cultural appropriacy issue with this. An approach designed to work in a BANA country will not necessarily work elsewhere. Silvana gives another snapshot of realities around the world:


She then plays us a clip from Pablo Toledo – EFL Howl on teaching in difficult circumstances:


4. Issues of confidence and self-esteem

What has all this done to the T whose first language is something other than English?


Inferiority complex: belief that own knowledge is inadequate to the linguistic standards (think back to the teacher standards we looked at earlier – ‘native speaker’)

Stockholm syndrome: secretly admiring the NS and denying self the right to be a recognised language user.

Impostor syndrome: feelings of inauthenticity and inadequateness.

Faking it: If you can’t be a native, at least try and pass for one. Hope that students won’t notice but concerned about being ‘caught out’. There is still institutional pressure – schools asking Ts to pretend to be a different nationality. What does this do to identity?

Silvana thinks NNS develop coping strategies. 

  1. Shying away: in EFL contexts, shying away from modelling language and instead ‘play the tape’ so that the script models the language; and away from using English in the classroom as the language of instruction and communication.
  2. Hiding own identity in terms of L1 status: In English as home language context never telling the students that you aren’t a native speaker; hiding it initially and then gradual or final revelation, like an embarrassing confession. “I only tell them once they trust me and like me”.

The future?

  • The wider context
  • Overcoming the dichotomy
  • What can we do?

The Wider Context: Multilingualism

A paradigm shift is unfolding out there as we sit here in this auditorium. It is now the turn of the multilingual. Multilingualism is the new norm in a Globalised world. Recent publications reflect this. It is a trend to watch and find out more about. We are moving from a deficit view of the learner’s own language to an asset view. We are moving away from an NS view of acquisition to a bilingual view. Second language acquisition is moving towards plurilingual development. The perception  of learner’s own language is moving from obstacle to resource. The goal of learning is moving from near NS competence to multilingual competence.



Monolinguals, take note…

Overcoming the dichotomy 

How can we overcome the dichotomy? We, as in those of us who were born and raised using a language other than English can’t do this alone and neither should we. This is a major battle about ethical and principled professionalism against prejudice. We need to stop thinking about them and us and start looking at professionalism as a continuum. On the continuum we can look at professionals as being more or less prepared, knowledgable, competent, proficient USERS of English.

What can we do?

(NB: deliberately larger font!!!) 

What can we do? We need to find out more about this issue, become more aware. Write about equality for NESTS and NNEST.

Teachers: Join an advocacy campaign and show support. There is a forum this afternoon about it! Write a statement supporting this campaign. Promote advocacy initiatives on social media. Start a discussion in your workplace to raise awareness. Do research, more is needed.

Teacher educators: review programmes in terms of the scope. What is the ultimate goal of these programmes? To develop well-rounded critical professionals or churning out skilled technicists who can produce monolingualism for export? Consider the content and methodology – is there critical exploration? Are they sufficiently inclusive? Sensitive to glocalisation? Using the students’ own language? What about bilingual identities? The elephant in the room is teacher’s own language proficiency – how can we help teachers develop this?

Workplace: Do you have an Equal Ops policy? Do you implement it? Are you proud of it? Do you challenge students’ expectations? Do you recruit based on merit?

Equal ops in work place

Teachers associations: Issue a statement against the discrimination of NNESTs. TESOl France writes to employers who write native speakerist ads to discourage them from that. Create alignment maps of professional qualifications of teachers of EFL at regional, national and international levels. Encourage members not to apply for positions where advertisement is discriminatory.

There is a lot of work to be done to make our professional equitable.

And the only way is to work together. Silvana’s dream is that teachers be judged on their merits as a teacher not on an accident of birth. Silvana’s real name is Silvana Ioli. She was born and raised and educated in Argentina. And she is really proud of it. She is a professional and plurlingual teacher of language.

And oh my goodness what a plenary! Standing ovations, some tears (not only mine!! I fought mine back, then was quite relieved to see someone who hadn’t, meaning I was not the only one to get all emotional!)

In my current context, I finally work in a place that DOES has equal ops (as far as I can tell!), where I DO have colleagues from all over, working there on the basis of their many merits rather than their skin colour or passport type. This should be the rule rather than the exception. Previously, I have worked in schools where: teachers were hired based on skin colour and passport, ‘non-native speaker’ teachers were viewed (including by themselves) as second-class citizens of the teaching world, where all teachers were British, where being male and North American was the basis the recruitment decision was made upon… I’m not going to say which indictments go with which schools. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we all do as Silvana said and recognise what has gone on, what is going on and where the future is/should lie, and do our bit to push it in that direction, regardless of our role in the teaching world. We are all professionals in the ELT world together, we all need to fight together to make it what we want to be. Jim Scrivener tweeted that this was ELT’s “I have a dream” plenary. It may be cheesy but let’s make it all of our dreams. In the hopes that at some point history will look back on this period as one where finally the paradigm shifted away from the ridiculous. 

Ok, rant over. I have only one thing left to say: this post deserves to be the most read on my blog. Silvana’s words were inspiring. So spread them. Share this post. And, if anyone wants to use my blog as a platform to share their ideas in relation to this topic, please do get in touch. You are welcome, I would be happy to host guest blog posts. 

Oh, one LAST thing: don’t forget to have a look at the TEFLEquity website too! 


British Council Webinar: Learner Autonomy – Tools and Tips

Today I had the pleasure of doing a webinar for the British Council TeachingEnglish folk, the topic and title of which was: Learner Autonomy – Tools and Tips. A whopping 97 people participated! (I mention this because it properly surprised me…!) What lovely attendees they were, though, which made for lots of great discussion.

This is my write-up of the session but if you want to watch the recording of the webinar, you can find that here.

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The outline of my session was as follows:

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In the event, due to my internet briefly conking out about 3/4s of the way through, the end discussion became questions to take away and think about, BUT there was a lot of discussion and interaction throughout, fortunately, so there was no missing out in that respect.

We started with this key question:

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The participants came up with some great definitions. Then I changed the focus slightly to:

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Getting the participants to speak about what learner autonomy looks like to them immediately brought us onto something more tangible. Again, they had plenty to say, lots of which I was able to refer back to in the course of the webinar.

Next we looked at a seminal definition from the literature:

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Having doffed our hats to Holec, we looked at different approaches to learner autonomy, as illustrated by Benson (2011):

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When we talk about learner autonomy, it is my opinion that interwoven through the discussion should be the following two concepts:

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I think it’s safe to say you can’t get very far in autonomous learning without them!

Having looked at the key concepts under consideration, we moved onto the question of methodology:

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Smith (2003) identifies a strong and a weak methodology for learner autonomy. The former starts from what the learners bring to the table – their existent capabilities – and aims to build on and develop these, while the weak methodology is a deficit model where the teacher aims to transfer a set of skills that she or he associates with the “good language learner” (you know, that ideal person who studies for hours and hours every day outside class and has no other commitments to worry about, the perfect person…yeah, the one that mostly doesn’t exist). So, the strong methodology places the teacher more in the role of facilitator or enabler rather than transferrer of knowledge.

Moving away from the image of the “ideal language learner”, we were able to consider the constraints that teachers and learners face in the real world:

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The real world is often far from ideal. However, in being aware of the potential issues, we are better equipped to negotiate them.

Of course at this point it was time to talk about the practical side, in this case how I have negotiated the issues, which is encapsulated in my top 7 tips. We did this as a guessing game, where I displayed the pictures and had the participants guess what they thought the tip would be, based on the image. They did not disappoint – lots of great ideas consistently throughout the game!

My top 7 tips


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Tip 1

What I mean by this is, find out as much as you can, as soon as you can, about what your students do and don’t do already. Encourage them to find out as much as they can about what their peers are doing. This is your starting point. How: For example, at the beginning of the course, you could use a Find Someone Who activity (they find out about each other, you listen in and find out about them), followed by writing you a letter (you find out some more). They aren’t empty vessels.

Here is an example FSW I made and used with some of my classes.


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Tip 2

In a nutshell, provide ideas. E.g. my experimentation with English handout.

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With higher levels, encourage them to add and share ideas of their own. There is no such thing as an exhaustive list. (For more information about this, look at my previous related posts! )


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Tip 3

Nothing happens overnight…

In fact, the question of time works on many levels. Firstly, give them time to talk about their outside class activities in class. Doesn’t have to be heaps of time. Little and often is good. This provides opportunities to bolster each others’ motivation, spark interest in untried ideas, share victories or issues, celebrate, troubleshoot and so on. It also motivates them to keep going. Secondly, in terms of take up: Don’t worry if they aren’t all enamoured with the project from the get-go. Give them time to get used to it, and to start to recognise the benefits. Encourage discussion of the benefits. Thirdly, emphasise to the learners that whatever little they are able to do is better than nothing. Learners often have the impression that if they don’t have a good hour to dedicate to studying then it’s not worthwhile even starting. Whereas ten minutes here or there is not only more likely to be the case, given peoples’ busy lives, but done regularly is really beneficial! Learners need to know that.


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Tip 4

This links to my previous tip, in terms of discussion of benefits. Helping students develop meta-awareness of the learning process is important, as understanding the why behind activities will help them be better able to select suitable activities themselves, independently. This makes them less teacher-reliant in the long run. This contrasts with just blindly doing what teacher tells them. I showed an example of a handout I used with my learners to facilitate discussion with regards to reading outside class:

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The handout encourages learners to discuss their experience thus far, and to question it (so not only ‘what do you do/have you done?’ but ‘why?’). In raising their awareness of different resources, approaches and the benefits and drawbacks of each, we equip learners to make more successful decisions with regards to what they will do next.

For ideas of how to engage student metacognition, I suggest reading/using:

Vandergrift and Goh (2012)

Vandergrift and Goh (2012)

Note the free samples also!

Note the free samples also!



















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Tip 5

Having realistic goals to aim towards helps to break down the mammoth task of learning a language into achievable steps in the right direction. This helps students not to lose motivation and to be more aware of their own progress. Making effective goals is not simple, and it is worth bearing the following principles in mind:

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Tip 6 – Forget-me-not!

It’s important not to set everything up and then forget about it. Keep being interested in what the learners are doing. Give them that bit of time regularly, as mentioned before. If you forget about it, chances are they will too. Let them show off! Keep bringing it back into the classroom.


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Tip 7

Using some kind of platform that allows them to share and communicate outside class, e.g.Edmodo or a class blog or wiki, immediately increases the scope and variety of what learners can do outside class. More activities become possible. (For ideas of how to useEdmodo or class blogs/wikis in this way, see the posts I have written in relation to this!)


Having shared my 7 tips and so brought the guessing game to its end, I shared a bit of feedback from students:

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To conclude the webinar, I shared a final quote with the participants:

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I also reminded them that learner autonomy is…

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It’s not all going to go perfectly straight away, but we should persevere and remember that it is an organic process.

To reiterate the books whose virtues I extolled earlier:

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Here are the references from my webinar:

Benson, P. (2003)  Learner autonomy in the classroom in in Nunan, D. [ed] Practical English language teaching. PRC: Higher education press/McGraw Hill.

Benson, P. (2011) Teaching and Researching Autonomy (2nd Edition) Harlow: Pearson Education.

Dornyei and Ushioda (2012) Teaching and Researching Motivation (Kindle Edition)Harlow: Pearson Education.

Holec, H. (1981) Autonomy and foreign language learning. Oxford: Pergamon. (First published 1979, Strasbourg: Council of Europe.)

Morrison, B. and Navarro, D. (2014) The Autonomy Approach: Language learning in the classroom and beyond. Delta Publishing.

Oxford, R. (2003) Towards a more Systematic Model of L2 Learner Autonomy in Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Basingstoke: Palsgrave Macmillan.

Smith, R. (2003) Pedgagogy for Autonomy as (Becoming) Appropriate Methodology in Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Basingstoke: Palsgrave Macmillan.

Vandergrift, L. and Goh, C. (2012) Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action. Oxon: Routledge.

And here are the discussion questions that became questions to take away and reflect on:

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Thanks again to the British Council for this opportunity, I very much enjoyed it and the participants seemed to as well! 🙂

Phonemic chart review game: Connect 3 (or 4)

As part of the Sheffield University 10 week pre-sessional programme, I have been teaching a Social English class 3 afternoons a week at 1h30 a pop. Last week on Thursday, I introduced them to the phonemic chart, using Adrian Underhill’s method. Today (Monday) I wanted a fun way to review the sounds with my learners, and so Connect 3 (or 4), using the phonemic chart, came about…


None! (Excellent…)


  • A phonemic chart projected onto a whiteboard (failing that, an A3 print-out would work equally well)
  • a board pen (more than one would be even better – see my comments at the end of the post)


  • Put learners into 2 teams (or 3 if you have a big class) of 4-6 players.
  • Each team has a symbol. With my learners today, Bing were suns and Bong were stars. (They are always Bing and Bong: borrowed from an ex-colleague of mine at IHPA, these names refer to the buzzer sounds that you get on TV game shows and that the team in question must make before answering in any games where speed to answer is of the essence…)
  • Explain the aim and rules to the learners. The aim of the game is to get 3 squares in a row to score £100 or 4 squares in a row to score £150. (Could also be points, but as we had just done a vocabulary auction, we stuck with the money theme!). In order to win a square, learners must make the sound that corresponds with that square correctly and give an example word with that sound in it. (Number and letter off the squares so that learners can choose a square by calling out e.g. E5. As there are more columns in the bottom half of the chart than the top, there is a special extra column H here. See picture below.)
  • If learners make the correct sound AND give a correct example word, they get to have their symbol drawn in the square and the square becomes theirs. The turn passes to the next team. If learners make a correct sound but incorrect word, the turn passes to the next team, ditto if they make the sound incorrectly. In this case, the square is still open to be won either by the next team, or, when the turn returns to the team who were incorrect, they can try again (or choose a different square if they prefer!).
  • Each time a team of learners get 3 or 4 in a row, write £100 or £150 in their score board column.
  • Towards the end, you will probably end up with a handful of squares that will not help learners gain a 3 or a 4. Sell these off at £50 a pop, with teams taking it in turns to make the sound and give an example word in order to win this money. The same rules re correctness mentioned previously still apply.
  • When everything is finished, add up the money and see who is the winner! You could also add up the number of suns and stars (or whatever other symbols) to see who totalled the greatest number of squares.
The phonemic chart at the end of the game!

The phonemic chart at the end of the game!

Showing also our scoreboard (one set of numbers goes back to the vocabulary auction...)

Showing also our scoreboard (one set of numbers goes back to the vocabulary auction…)

My comments:

  • My learners enjoyed this and it was good to see how much they remembered from last Thursday. Making pronunciation physical does make it much more memorable. (They remembered things like ‘the idiot sound’, ‘like having an orange in your mouth’, for example, trying the sounds out in their groups before giving their final answer.) Understanding way the chart is organised helps too – it helped them remember some of the sounds between the ones they were more sure of.
  • If I did it again, I’d remember all my board markers so that I wasn’t stuck with only black pen. Each team could have a different colour, and any squares that were done incorrectly could be marked in a different colour to flag them up more clearly for some further post-game review.
  • To up the challenge for academic English classes, stipulate that the example word given should be an academic word (and bonus if one of the ones you have studied recently!). To up the challenge in a General English setting, stipulate that it be a word related to a particular set of topics or course book units, depending how your programme works.

Enjoy! 🙂