How Long Does it Take to Create a New Generation of Teachers Who are Proficient in English?

The question above comes as a reflection, and thus a rhetorical question (I wonder…), which does not seek an answer.

It is based on information found in the publication, “English Next”, written by David Graddol.

Success or failure in the area of teaching English as a foreign language, however, may indeed hinge upon the proficiency of the teacher. Though there are many other aspects to consider, the teacher undoubtedly plays a major role.

Teaching English should not be oversimplified. Teaching English as a Foreign Language, or as a Global Language, is very complex. Still, there are three (3) aspects which seem to mark the Chilean experience more profoundly than other factors seem to do.

First, the global trend to teach English at a very young age, often in kindergarden, has begun to show positive results. In Chile, for example, most of the top performing schools in the 2010 SIMCE test begin teaching English in kindergarden. Starting early evidently works well for those who are willing (and able) to put the resources in place (time, materials, facilities, teachers, etc.)

Second, those teachers who are able to teach the entire class in English enjoy a consistently higher level of success than those teachers who are unable to teach the entire class in English. Teaching English in English is an aspect that is shared by those teachers who are successful.

A third consideration must be included. The most successful schools in Chile have reduced the class size from 45 students to numbers that range from 20 to 25 students. Finding some way to replicate these three aspects appears to be a “must” in the Chilean context.

I do not pretend to have an answer as to where you get the financial resources and the human resources to reduce class size. All I know is that the actual experience of our most successful schools in Chile is “telling us” to do three things:

1. Start teaching English early, preferably in kindergarden,
2. Teachers teach the entire class in English, and
3. Reduce class size (20 – 25 students).

Now, let’s turn to David Graddol’s book, English Next, written in 2006, in which he accurately predicted the current state of affairs in EFL in Chile, as we shall see later.

Excerpt from “English Next” by David Graddol


Why global English may mean the end of ‘English as a Foreign Language’

“Implementing a project which will mainly benefit future generations is often extremely difficult for democratic governments who are re-elected every 3–5 years.

If a country decides to make English their second language, the reality is that – if they do everything right and have no untoward setbacks – they are embarking on a project which will take 30–50 years to fully mature.

This is the length of time it took the countries which provide the main models, such as Finland (30 – 50 years).

It is, of course, true that innovation is often faster for later adopters, but many of the problems facing any country wishing to make
its population bilingual in a new language are largely not ameliorated by benefiting from the experience of others or technology transfer.

One fundamental dimension is how long it takes to create a new generation of teachers who are proficient in English.

By the time such resources are put in place, of course, the world for which governments are preparing their populations will have moved on.

Language education requires a commitment and consistency which is unusual in other policy areas.

It also needs an approach which is highly flexible and responsive to a fast-changing world.

The two are difficult to reconcile.


Although there are many reasons – social, economic and practical – why partial implementation may be a bad idea, in practice it seems impossible to avoid.

It seems impossible to roll out a uniform programme in all schools simultaneously.

One reason is that the essential resources are simply not available, especially a supply of teachers who have sufficient proficiency in English.

Countries which have attempted to recruit large numbers of native-speaker teachers have discovered that it is impossible to attract the numbers required, with the teaching skills and experience needed, at a cost which is bearable.

This typically leads to a multi-speed approach, where different kinds of school, and different localities, start teaching English at different ages.

But where there is extensive migration to cities, how can continuity be provided for children who move schools?

Further, textbooks suitable for 12-year-old beginners are not suitable for 7-year-old early readers.

During a transitional period, there will be annual changes in the age-level-content mix which textbooks need to provide.


In the early stages of implementation, it seems inevitable that middle-class, urban areas will be most successful.

Private sector institutions will play a key role in supporting weaker students. And the cities are more likely to provide English in the environment, offering greater motivation and support for learning English.

But the truth may be that such messiness is not just a transitional matter which will eventually go away.

The need to cater for diverse combinations of levels, ages, and needs may be an enduring feature of postmodern education.


Why does English matter so much?

“English is widely regarded as a gateway to wealth for national economies, organisations, and individuals. If that is correct, the distribution of poverty in future will be closely linked to the distributions of English.” – David Graddol

Source: English Next by David Graddol, published by the British Council (2006)


English Next (India) – Interview with David Graddol

“English has become the language of opportunity for India.”


“Both China and India have about 330 Million English speakers.” – David Graddol


About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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