Importing language teaching methodology


February 28, 2014 by Willy Cardoso

To deny that there is a conflict in contemporary ELT, particularly but not exclusively in the ‘importing’ of new techniques associated with communicative language teaching into the state sector educational systems of developing countries, is to deny a reality with which many are familiar.

(Ray Brown, 2000: 227)

This is a relevant concern and one that would benefit from more discussions, especially those voiced by teachers at the receiving end of this so-called ‘import’.

A simple premise to understand the issue is that with any methodology (or approach if you prefer) there also comes some cultural educational values, which are implicitly or explicitly present in the learning theories, language acquisition principles, classroom management techniques and materials that permeate the imported methodology, or any methodology in fact – that is, it’s not merely a classroom technique or a coursebook that is being imported but also some less visible elements which come along as part of the package.

But why do some countries import teaching models, and many times even value them more than local ones?Image

Besides the-grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side factor and the questionable mentality that what is foreign is automatically better (believe it or not, this exists), or what is native-speaker(made) is better – although of course sometimes it really is better – we could look at the obviously sensible idea that things are imported when they cannot be produced locally, whether in quantity or quality, and this is caused mainly because there is a lack of resources: human and/or technological. And when there is a surplus (and these days even when there isn’t), the other party can export. Nothing new here, just some very basic principles of economics – but judging from where the world is today, we can draw some conclusions and be skeptical of it false naturalness…

Anyway, when is it a good thing and when is it not, to import methodologies?

Another point that can be raised he extent to which foreign experts are hired to on the one hand ‘solve a problem’, and on the other to upskill the local workforce to be able to solve their own problems. Think about the old saying teach a man to fish, etc.

Moreover, and as the quote above suggests, how come did this so-called Communicative Language Teaching become accepted ‘best practice’?

Can it be possible that one set of principles work very well across different cultures? Is it fair, realistic, principled to expect teachers in the state sector of developing countries to adopt approaches that were created mainly in and for private language centres in English-speaking countries?

What are the implications of being trained in a ‘foreign’ approach?

Have your say in the comments section below, it’s free.



Brown, R. (2000). Cultural continuity and ELT teacher training. ELT Journal 54 (3): 227-234


2 thoughts on “Importing language teaching methodology

  1. Hi WIlly,
    Very interesting post. To me, it all boils down to the fact that the field of ELT, particularly that area of the field concerned with methods made popular through private language schools, has remained at the margin of discussions of Critical Pedagogy and situated teaching and learning. Holborow (2012) makes this point very strongly in Chapter 2 of “Neoliberalism and Applied Linguistics” and shows how transnational agencies have popularized certain “methods” within a process of commodifying the teaching of English as a Foreign Language. And it is not just methods. Other examples of “policy lending” are frameworks such as the CEFR–developed for adults within the European Union and being applied in an unreflective way to the teaching of children and adolescents– or the famous TESOL/NCATE standards for the training of ESL/EFL teachers.
    We cannot forget that the English language (and consequently, the methods, materials, and processes used for teaching it) has been the most powerful tool of globalization.

  2. Hi Gabriel
    Thanks for commenting! And thanks for the reference, I didn’t know this book, it looks very interesting, I’m sure I’ll read it soon.
    The more I read on general education, the more I share the view, like you, that ELT (in particular the things under the label of TEFL) has been at the margin of such discussions. Not only of Critical Pedagogy, but other relevant social theories like poststructuralism, feminism, queer theory, etc.
    These have become stronger in academia, but they rarely manage to reach the practitioner. And perhaps one of the main reasons is that they don’t have the performative power of the technical-rational model. You can’t take critical pedagogy and put it in a framework with levels, right? You can’t package it in a global coursebook, etc.
    It’s got to be ‘home-grown’, organic, and it takes an awful lot of time. It’s easier to go to McDonalds 😉

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