In Chile, Vocational. English. Is. Impossible.

Vocational English for vocational students is impossible in Chile, isn’t it?

All of the students in the video above are learning a specific, vocational career. The majority of these students plan on entering the world of work, getting a job, immediately after high school graduation. As far as English is concerned, their vocational English needs are quite different from the English that a student who is planning to attend university will need.

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For university bound students, General English is fine. In university, they will begin to learn Academic English. They will need Academic English to read and write in their chosen career fields. In sum, university students can wait until university to learn Academic English. Again, General English is fine for these students.

However, vocational students represent an enormous challenge for teachers of English. How is this?

It is because the students are the experts in their vocational career field, while the teacher is “only” the English expert.

One of the usual givens in the teaching and learning context is that the teacher knows more than the students. So it is understandable why teachers of English would be uncomfortable teaching vocational English. The teacher is not the only expert in the classroom.

Is this the main reason why vocational students in Chile do NOT recieve vocational English instruction in high school???

Let’s be honest. I mean, where is Chile going to find an English teacher who has sufficient knowledge of electronics to teach a vocational course to electronics students? nursing? gastronomy? forestry? accounting? auto mechanics?

Therefore, is it absurd, at best counter-intuitive, to think that a teacher of English has the knowledge of English Language Teaching Pedagogy, A-N-D, the technical, specific, career-related know-how to teach a course of vocational English???

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Now, let us be fair to teachers of English in Chile. Maybe there are some teachers who really do have specialized knowledge, training, education and experience in one or more career fields besides English Language Teaching. However, it is highly unlikely that the number available is sufficient to meet the demands that exist. I have seen statistics which show that 40% to 50% of the entire Chilean secondary education system is vocational education.

The most important fact: Only 40% of High School Vocational students will go on to university immediately after graduation. This 40% will recieve at university Academic English or Professional, career-related English (TOEIC, for example).

The remaining 60% who enter the workforce are not prepared for the English necessary to use it as a tool to enhance their occupational, social, or economic aspirations.

Nonetheless, we must look at the enormity of the task of providing Vocational English to all Vocational students in Chile’s vocational high schools (Liceo), Centers of Technical Training (CFT) and Professional Institutes (IP).

In Chile, vocational education students (3rd and 4th year high school) choose to study a specific, work-related career from among 15 economic sectors, 35 specialties (vocational career options), and 17 mentions (minors).

In all fairness, both short-term and long-term solutions are available.

For example, teachers could be trained in the initial teacher training programs at Chile’s universities, as the video below makes quite clear. Once the decision has been taken to prepare future English teachers in the appropriate English for Specific Purposes (ESP) / Vocational English methodology, the first graduates could be available on the market nationwide within one year.

I could also envision a Masters Level (two-year) specialization in Vocational English Teaching. Clearly, the enormous number of vocational students in this country would justify a post-baccalaureate, Masters in Vocational English Teaching Pedagogy course.

I would like to believe that such a qualification, which aims at providing high-quality English training for at risk, socially-and-economically-vulnerable-students, would mean higher pay, benefits, and prestige for the teachers with this qualification. (As Shakespeare’s Hamlet would say, “Aye, there’s the rub…”)

Another solution for currently qualified teachers could be an ESP Methodology Diploma (Diplomado) for Vocational Students course of 3 to 6 months duration. No, we are not talking rocket science here, as the video below makes clear.

Once teachers, educators and administrators accept the fact that a vocational student needs vocational English, the appropriate methodology, curriculum, coursebooks and human resources could be made available for vocational students. As I have said elsewhere:

“… we must not forget, or lose sight of, the fact that overwhelmingly, vocational career students represent the most socially and economically disadvantaged students in the Chilean education system. To put it bluntly, these are the poorest students n Chile. Statistically, approximately 50% of these students will not go on to higher education. Ever. Their high school vocational education is the highest level of education they will have for their entire lives. Social mobility under such circumstances is highly unlikely, if not to say, impossible. A cycle of poverty, passing poverty on from one generation to the next is the result of low levels of education and income.”

We have come full circle. It is clearly NOT correct to think that we can NOT teach Vocational English to Chile’s Vocational Students. We have the knowledge, tools and resources to do this right now.


Teaching Vocational English does NOT require specialized knowledge of any career (other than English Language Teaching).

What teachers of English need to know is how to teach English.

Quite simply, it IS Possible to teach Vocational English to Vocational Students.

Right now.

Who are we to tell the poorest, most economically disadvantaged students in this country that now is not the time for them?

Who are we to tell the poorest, most economically disadvantaged students in this country that today is not the day for them?

Who are we to tell the poorest, most economically disadvantaged students in this country that they have to wait?

They have literally been waiting all their lives…

Finally, I will go one step further and finish by saying that it is both immoral and unethical to NOT teach Vocational English to students whose entire quality of life could be socially and economically enhanced by high quality, vocational English language instruction…

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.
This entry was posted in Educación Técnica Profesional, Education, EFL, human-rights, PLN, Politics, Reflections, Teaching Tips, TEFL Employment and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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