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Editorial - Russell's Editorial Archive

I'm pleased to announce that the questions and answer slides for our near-legendary ELT Charity Quizzes have been posted online on our new Facebook page. If you think you know a thing or two about ELT then take a look and compare your scores to industry stalwart Steve King from Pearson Longman and award-winning author (for Whodunit?) Marcos Benevides.

Teaching English in Japan: ELTNEWS.com Facebook Page

Our Facebook page was set up on October 21st this year and has already attracted nearly 600 users. If you use Facebook and want an easy way to be alerted to new content on ELTNEWS.com then come along and join us.


We have some very exciting things lined for ELTNEWS.com in 2011... Details in next week's newsletter.

Finally, please get in touch and let me know what you like or dislike about ELTNEWS.com or what you'd like to see us do with the site in the future.

Russell Willis
Founder, ELTNEWS.com

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It's been an eventful year. From public shocks, like the bankruptcy of GEOS, to industry shocks like the closing of David English House and the sale of the Shane English Schools and Nellies to a cram school chain. A lot has happened.

Perhaps the most alarming news of the year for teachers, school owners and publishers was the release of the Education ministry's figures showing a drop of 5 million students studying English between 2006 and 2009. If news like this interests you then you'll be sure to want to download our...

Christmas Special PDF
This includes the top news stories of 2010 and is now available for free download. It includes a great cartoon by David Namisato, whose work we hope to see more of next year. I think you'll like it.


iPad Rising
The launch of the iPad certainly caused a stir in publishing. How many schools will be buying iPhone and iPads for their students this coming April, I wonder? If your school is doing so, please let us know so we can share your experience with others.

In fact, if you're a teacher, author or publisher, and you have something you'd like to promote or share on ELTNEWS.com, please just drop me a line.

Looking Forward to 2011
ELTNEWS.com will be on holiday from Thursday until January 4th but next year will see the site move up another gear, with even more news, more interviews and more information and resources for teachers. If you'd like to join our writing team, let me know.

Have a mellifluous, mirthful and, of course, merry, Christmas!


Russell Willis
Founder, ELTNEWS.com

P.S. If you need a language-related chuckle over Christmas, take a look at our "Fun English" section -- agonizing stuff.

P.P.S. We've just put up a great interview with Raymond Murphy, author of the best-selling English Grammar in Use. Find out why Raymond isn't particularly interested in grammar!

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We're finally getting back into the swing of things after the new year holiday, and as we do I wanted to put down some initial thoughts about a few of the issues facing ELT in Japan this year. As the year progresses we will be looking at these issues in more depth through specially-commissioned articles, but for today I'd like to quickly throw out some questions and thoughts, playing Devil's Advocate in many cases.

1) Should all English teachers working in Japan should have an internationally- recognized minimum qualification?
The bankruptcy of NOVA and GEOS and other two-arms-two-legs-OK language schools provides the opportunity for a system where all foreign teachers in Japan are required to have CELTA or equivalent. We should finally get serious, do away with shallow concepts of "internationalization" and actually get down to the job of improving the effectiveness of English language teaching and learning in Japan.

(Many famous course book authors don't have specific ELT-related qualifications and many great teachers who have made their lives here don't have them. A new army of CELTA + qualified teachers in Japan wouldn't make any difference -- these qualifications are meaningless bits of paper which don't show a person's true worth.)

Why is it that in Japan, which loves tests and qualifications, can anyone, no matter how inexperienced, be put into a classroom without a relevant piece of paper to their name? And the students don't seem to mind.

(Japanese students just need conversation to activate what they learnt at school, so any "nice" native English speaker will do. Introducing such a scheme would be impractical and destroy the business models of many eikaiwa large and small as wages would have to increase due to a decrease in the supply of teachers.)

2) Should there be a system for recognition of language schools that meet certain quality requirements?
In the same way that taxi drivers in Tokyo have A and AA rankings (something I've personally benefited from), there should be something similar for English schools and an independent body should promote the benefits of attending schools that are recognized.

(That's a socialist solution that stifles creativity and progress. Many schools have learning systems and approaches that might not be "approved" but are effective. And in the end, the market will decide and the market has decided. Language schools that required qualified teachers, provided a professional atmosphere with many opportunities for professional development and offered well-thought lessons for students have all failed: the British Council Cambridge English Schools, Stanton and ILC all failed in the 90s. The Cambridge exams have no relevance here. David English House closed down.)

Yes, but the level of English in Japan has not improved and won't until we start taking ELT seriously and demand improved standards and students / consumers should have some kind of quality-control system provided for them.

3) The JET scheme should be abolished.
See (1). This is just a huge waste of money that is a fop to "internationalization". If the goal is to improve English and expand the cultural horizons of Japanese people, then spending the money to train Japanese English teachers instead is clearly the right thing to do. Whilst many JET teachers have a great time and go on to do good things, the scheme itself is ineffective.

(JET is about more than just English -- the benefits are reaped on many other levels -- and why not just provide proper training to JETs for the English part?)

4) Japanese English teachers should have an internationally-recognized minimum qualification.
The stories of JETs being used as human tape recorders have been circulating for decades. Will this change? Only if both the JETs and the Japanese teachers are on the same page about what needs to be done in the classroom. A qualification for both foreign and Japanese English teachers in Japan is required.

5) Are we any closer to finding out what works?
Are we able to draw any conclusions about what works? With all the conferences and publications and books and tests, are we any closer to a set of approaches that have been PROVEN to work than we were 20 years ago?

(There are too many variables, asking for a evidence for the effectiveness of an approach or course is naive.)

So those are some thoughts designed to stimulate some thinking on these issues -- let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

What other issues facing ELT in Japan should we cover?


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"That was a disaster. The students knew more English before your lesson than after it."

The teacher trainer looked down pityingly at the anguished trainee. Our group circled the hapless initiate, readying more feedback. But not me. A bead of sweat formed on my forehead. It was the summer of 1990 and it was now my turn to teach...


How had I got into this? Go back another 4 years: I was 17 and known as a "literary type" having published a bunch of fanzines and magazines. Philosophy, politics and literature were regularly debated with a circle of friends. One particular discussion of Wordsworth turned into a lengthy and voluble denunciation of my opponent's position so effective that the whole pub burst into spontaneous applause at its dénouement. In revenge, my Wordsworth-loving friend introduced me to a language school owner who was looking for teachers over the forthcoming summer holidays. I was a bit young, but my friend was 23 and already teaching for the school, so the owner assumed I was the same age. The interview was held in the same pub at the same table:

"What tenses are there in English?"

"Umm...past... present... future...? Err..."

"Can you give me an example of the present perfect continuous tense?"

"I'm sorry... the present perf...?"

"Do you know the song Eleanor Rigby?"

"By the Beatles! Big fan."

"You'll do."

And so it was that I became an English teacher at the age of 17, instructing groups of German teenagers barely younger than myself in tenses continuous and perfect. A copy of Thomson and Martinet's A Practical English Grammar had been thrust into my hands and I was away... Each summer holiday I would teach the tenses of the English language, demonstrating with great authority the difference between the past simple and the present perfect and copying out the cool explanatory diagrams from a a great new book by some chap called Raymond Murphy...Oh and we played Beatles songs and analyzed their meaning: apparently Eleanor Rigby was lonely.

The students loved me. I got flowers and sweets and cards and watches and letters from students years after. I was the most popular teacher. I was a *great* teacher.... Or so I thought. (Looking back now, I remind myself of one of those deluded American Idol hopefuls: ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED that they can sing because nobody has ever told them they can't...)

Your humble author had been captivating his students with questions on the past perfect continuous for about 30 minutes when this photo was taken in 1988.

Time moved on. I'd left college and wanted to travel. I knew that reputable schools in the UK and Europe required something people in the know called the RSA Cert. A four-week, massively intensive, teacher training course.

"You've got to teach in front of 6 other people-- and then they tear you apart."
"You can't go out for even one night or you'll fail."
"People who've been teaching in state schools for years take it and fail."
"That guy last year came all the way over from South Africa and had a nervous breakdown."
"It costs £700!"


Although I knew that I had never really investigated the skill of teaching seriously (I didn't have to) I was pretty sure that I would have no problems. After all, I'd been in the classroom every day for 4 summers, now. What could a grizzled veteran like me have to learn?


The trainer motioned for me to enter the class. The observers followed and sat at the back. My hands were trembling. The bead of sweat had worked its way down my nose. Be wary of Teacher Talking Time. Don't stand up all the time. Don't point at people. Don't put your back to the class. Elicit. Ask concept questions...Pair work. Group work. Information gaps. Suggestopedia. CLL. Communicative Approach. Audio-Lingual Method. Mind maps. Accuracy vs Fluency. Correction techniques. Total Physical Response...


"You mean you don't just make a long, confusing explanation, draw a dodgy diagram, tell a few jokes and then get them to fill in the gap-fill exercises before going around the class in the same order each time asking them for answers?"


The course reminded me that when I was studying linguistics at college we had two tutors -- but never knew which one would be teaching on the day. It would have been *really* good to know. The subject was the same, of course, and I believe the topic of the lesson was decided in advance. But one tutor's lesson was completely engaging: a fascinating intellectual adventure that would compel me to stay after class and bombard her with questions, comments and theories. The other teacher? Tears of boredom would well up in my eyes within the first 15 minutes and I had no choice but slip out of the lesson at the first opportunity.

Was the difference between the two tutors just a matter of charisma? No. As I was learning how to teach on the RSA Cert course, I realized the difference was *skill*. Skill that had been obtained through training and practice. Both tutors were experts in their field, but one actually knew *how to teach*. She had a lesson plan. She was prepared. She knew what she was doing and *why*. And the end result was astonishing. (That great teacher, of course, had an ELT background.)

I survived the RSA Cert -- just. It is now known as the CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) and is run by the University of Cambridge. I don't know whether it still has the army boot camp intensity, but I can tell you this:

It was without doubt the most important educational experience of my life.

I wasn't anywhere near being a perfect teacher after the course, but it gave me a frame of reference that showed me what I needed to do to become a better one. Unknown unknowns became known unknowns. And later, when I taught and was popular it was because I was teaching in ways that I believed were effective based on a good knowledge of theory and practice, not just because I could get on well with the class.

...And this all brings me back to Japan. A country where English teachers "knowing how to teach" is given scant regard. It saddens me greatly. The government sets the bar extremely low by importing JETs who (mostly) have no idea what they are doing to teach with Japanese teachers who (mostly) have no idea what they are doing. Given this, how can we blame the eikaiwa chains for low standards when they are only following the official lead?

It is my strong belief that the most effective thing that can be done to improve the standard of English in Japan is to provide proper training for teachers of English both Japanese and non-Japanese. Over the coming year, ELTNEWS.com will be looking at this issue (along with the others mentioned in the previous editorial) and will do what it can to foster positive change.

Next month: I will give more details on what I think needs to be done to bring about a teacher training revolution in Japan and why. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts on teacher training and any experiences, good or bad, you've had on training courses.

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Pearson donates $25,000, matches employee / teacher donations

Today, I heard great news from Brendan Delahunty, president of Pearson Kirihara: "The Pearson Foundation has set up a special Japan Relief Fund where every Pearson employee around the world can donate and the company will match the donation dollar for dollar. The Pearson Foundation has started the fund with a donation of US$25,000. In addition, if any teachers want to donate to the Pearson Foundation Japan Fund, Pearson will match any donations in Japan up to a value of US$10,000."

To donate and have Pearson match your donation, please send money to the following account:

当座 0268909
口座名義 カ)ピアソンキリハラ

MitsuiSumitomo Ginko
Shinjuku Nishiguchi shiten
Toza 0268909
Kozamegi: (Kabushikigaisha) Pearson Kirihara.

Wonderful news indeed, and in addition, "Pearson are going to donate 4.5 tonnes of rice, 11,000 litres of bottled water and about 500kg of pasta to the Japanese Red Cross for relief in the affected areas. This is in our warehouse now and we are looking to get it to the Red Cross sometime this week." Here's a picture of these supplies arriving at Narita.


JET organization active in fundraising
AJET, the national organization of teachers in the JET programme, is running its Man Up campaign, asking teachers to donate ¥10,000 (about $120) for disaster relief. They have a special page for Earthquake/Tsunami Relief and Fundraising Events and are very active in promoting their activities in this area on Facebook.

Housing for those in need
Shinshu JALT, as previously reported, is offering housing to those affected by the tsunami / earthquake. Those who might need a temporary place to stay and take stock should contact JALT Shinshu here.

Teaching materials proceeds to charity
Richard Graham of Genki English has decided to donate all the money received for his Teacher's Set Download Pack (and he's throwing in a $10 discount). All the money is going to the Red Cross until midnight this Friday. Worth taking a look.

David Lisgo, Mark McBennett, ACCJ, Second Harvest, HOPE
People are doing what they can. David Lisgo is going to be giving a percentage of sales from his great phonics materials to Caritas Japan, whilst many other teachers are partipating in local fund-raising events and donating food and fuel to organizations like Second Harvest and HOPE.

Japan Zone and former ELTNEWS.com editor Mark McBennett has been very active with Supporting Japan, getting much-needed bicycles to the worst-hit areas of Tohoku and I'm pleased that friend and business partner, Mike Alfant, in his role as president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan donated ¥5 million yen (about $60,000) of his own money and the ACCJ matched that donation. Nice one, Mike!

ELTBOOKS.com to donate 50 cents per message to We Love Japan
Of course, established aid organizations such as Save the Children, the Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières and others are doing a fantastic job. We're encouraging teachers to donate to these organizations, and have launched our "We Love Japan" campaign, where teachers and students around the world can send a message to people in Japan (and we're promoting those messages through our eigoTown.com and Japanese English teachers website).

Sister site ELTBOOKS.com has now decided to donate 50 cents per message published (need to be real messages) on our We Love Japan message board to Pearson's Japan Relief Fund, thus doubling the effective donation to $1 per message. ELTBOOKS.com will be doing this until we reach 2,000 messages. So please spread the word!

There are many other publishers, authors and teachers out there doing great stuff. Do let us know what you're up to.

And stay safe.

Russell Willis
Founder, ELTNEWS.com

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It's been over a month since the March 11th earthquake, and for much of that time, with tsunamis, earthquakes, radiation and the concerns of family abroad at the forefront of our minds, it has been difficult to focus on the more mundane matters of education, books and websites. But life and classes go on and for those outside of the areas most severely affected, we are now back to school...either literally or metaphorically. And it does feel like a relief.

Mike Guest criticizes Kumiko Torikai's view on English
So it's back to school, and here at ELTNEWS.com we are back providing news, views, interviews and reviews for English teachers, school owners, authors and publishers in Japan. Mike Guest, for example, takes issue with Professor Kumiko Torikai over much of what she had to say in her January interview with the Asahi Shinbun.

This is important. Professor Torikai is a well-known educator, who has sat on panels advising the government on English education in Japan. She has a direct influence on how English is taught here and it is only right that her viewpoints be subject to scrutiny and, if necessary, criticism. Professor Torikai postponed an interview with ELTNEWS.com due to the earthquake, but we hope to be meeting with her soon to discuss the points raised in Mike's article and her views in general.

Carla Wilson on boys and girls
Carla Wilson has a short article addressing how teachers treat boys and girls differently in the classroom: "While I do try and ask students who raise their hands silently, my attention was often drawn to the loud (mostly) boys. I also noticed that boys are more likely to try and answer questions that they are unsure of, while the majority of girls will only answer when they are certain they have the right answer."

Ways to start your classes
Always worth a look around this time of year is the Think Tank article on ways to start a class off right. Marc Helgeson, Peter Viney, Dorothy Zemach and the rest of the Think Tank crew have some fabulous ideas.

So, we're back. Next week: the Tim Murphey interview. Worth waiting for.

Russell Willis
Founder, ELTNEWS.com

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In a belated attempt to follow up on my article on the importance of teacher training, I thought it would be appropriate to see what research had been done into the efficacy of such training. I was looking for studies into whether trained teachers were able to facilitate more effective learning by students (however measured) than untrained teachers (with all the obvious caveats that would surround such as study). I contacted some leading lights, intimately involved with teacher training (will name names when I have time to provide the full context) and was shocked to discover that not only were they unable to identify any such studies but felt that reseach into what was effective (however defined) was doomed to failure -- "useless", in the words of one. From Cambridge ESOL, providers of the CELTA, there was only a deafening silence. Another celebrated source contended that Gaba and its ilk were justified in hiring untrained teachers as there was no evidence that trained teachers were any better, that such evidence was impossible to get, and faith in one's gut instinct is the way to go.

To say that I disagree with this would be understating it a tad. It seems perfectly sensible to design and conduct scientific trials that would test hypotheses about the effectiveness of teacher training. Yes, such studies would be difficult to design and cost money. That's normal. So why would people and organizations who sell millions of dollars of teacher training courses and materials shy away from such studies? In his recent interview on ELTNEWS.com, Tim Murphey describes the system of ranking universities in Japan as a "house of cards" due to the incompetent construction of many of the entrance exams from which the rankings are ultimately generated. Is similar academic laziness being perpetuated in teacher training?

I hope my prominent contacts are in the minority and that Cambridge ESOL's silence is merely bureaucratic delay. More on this, you can be sure.

One thing we can also be sure of is that a number of teacher training courses (not the CELTA course, to be clear) are falsely representing themselves as being accredited or being able to provide opportunities for employment otherwise unavailable. Alex Case has been doing a sterling job of exposing organizations that prey on the gullible -- quite sad that the gullible are often armed with university degrees but no critical faculties. Alex's efforts give us hope that not all of the shysters will get away with it.

On a different note, we should applaud the ELT publishers who are now working together to provide assistance to the victims of March 11. I spoke with Pearson Japan president Brendan Delahunty last week and he confirmed that the group will be looking to provide long-term aid to the areas affected, with a focus on children. One idea is to sell packages of books, donated by the publishers, with proceeds going to charity. Great stuff.

Russell Willis
Founder, ELTNEWS.com

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Nobody home?
No word from Cambridge ESOL... My previous inquiry about whether they had done any research into the efficacy of the CELTA etc. being met by a deafening silence, I was advised to send a note for the attention of a Monica Poulter, so I did, on June 8th:

Dear Ms Poulter,

I was given your name by Scott Thornbury.

I am writing an article on teacher training and I wonder whether you could provide any information on the following: "Do learners of English learn more effectively (however defined) with CELTA-qualified teachers? What studies have been done to show that they do (or don't) ?"

Best wishes,

Russell Willis
Editor, ELTNEWS.com

It's been over a month and nothing yet. Perhaps Cambridge ESOL is so traumatized by losing millions upon millions of dollars trying and failing to popularize their exams here that all messages from our stubborn island now get routed into the circular file...

A new paradigm?
The third part of our interview with Professor Kumiko Torikai is now online... and just like the first two parts, addresses issues of real importance in English education in Japan. This time round, Professor Torikai explains how our whole approach to teaching and learning English needs to change. I think it's an entertaining and stimulating read. Please take a look.

Great local talent
There's a lot of great independent talent in Japan who have decided to produce their own materials and make them available to others. David Lisgo's supplementary phonics books and games continue to be very popular as do Greg Crawford's "Fun Phonics Readers". Robert Murphy has produced a whole series of course books, "Optimal Levels" based on his studies in neuroscience whilst Laurel Kamada (a plenary speaker at this year's JALT conference in November) has produced a book on "Hybrid Identities and Adolescent Girls" which I know will be of interest to many. And, of course, Tim Murphey has had published "The Tale that Wags", his story of how university entrance exams can push people to suicide and corrupt the whole system. (I'm told the long-overdue Japanese version of this will be out "soon".)

Often great materials like these aren't commercial enough for the major publishers, but are at least as good. (Although, the design of some needs a bit of attention...) Let's support our local talent.

Debito's IN APPROPRIATE misses its mark
Japan-based teacher and activist, Arudou Debito has recently published a book "IN APPROPRIATE" with a plot centered on child abductions in Japan, and like Tim Murphey has chosen to write a novel in order to reach a wider audience. Whilst Tim's book will win no literary prizes, it is an enjoyable read with engaging characters, amusing passages and an acceptable style. It gets its point across effectively and succeeds as propaganda. Sadly, Debito's work is populated by cardboard cutouts, nearly all of whom are either downright repulsive or completely unsympathetic, from the American husband to the teenage daughter. The novel's style ranges from brief attempts at fast-paced drama to pages which seem to have been cut and pasted from Wikipedia. There are whole passages of info about Japan that are just shoved into the novel without any real (or, at least, successful) attempt to incorporate them into the story.

Don't get me wrong, the issue of the rights of parents and children when international marriages go awry is extremely important and I support the efforts that Debito has made to raise awareness of this problem. But this novel doesn't do anything to support the cause. It's not something I would give to anyone to help them become aware of the issues. It fails both as a novel and as propaganda. As I am painfully aware, writers need editors -- and a good editor would have made sure this book fulfilled its aims, at the very least.

On the bright side, the plot is well constructed and Debito should be congratulated for spotting a good story – in the hands of a Richard North Patterson a story like this could be a bestseller.

*** Update*** due to editorial reasons we won't be able to publish the planned interview with Marcos Benevides.

Russell Willis
Founder, ELTNEWS.com

P.S. Our very own Matthias Reich is looking to do volunteer work in Tohoku, from the 15th to the 19th of August. He'd like to help out a school or institution that needs either manual labour or help organizing, teaching, repairing -- whatever is needed. Matthias speaks and reads Japanese fluently and is happy to take care of his own expenses. Drop him a line through our "Contact Us" page.

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A missive from Cambridge
So I finally got a reply from Cambridge ESOL last week -- as I had suspected, my message had been lost in their automated email inquiry system. Luckily, Monica Poulter who is "involved in the production and delivery of Cambridge ESOL's teaching qualifications" came across my plea for some communicative activity and wrote a very nice response. I'll be returning to Monica and that response after a bit of a digression...

Fads and fashions...
Back in February, when I wrote the "Teachers Should Know How to Teach" editorial extolling the virtues of the CELTA (or RSA Cert as it were when I were a lad), I assumed that a qualification with the backing of Cambridge University would have been subject to some formal research into whether students learnt more quickly with teachers who had the CELTA than with those who had no training at all. I mean, my beloved CELTA couldn't be a course informed by fad and fashion, guru and grant, without any concern as to evidence for its efficacy, could it? Or could it?

It was true that I had often had discussions about ELT that felt similar, I imagined, to homeopathic practitioners discussing the most effective way to do violence to vials of water. Plenty of discussion of thumping technique but little discussion regarding research into the effect of such imaginatively and skillfully-executed thumping...

Bloodsucking leeches and Uri Geller
Of course, the making of claims unencumbered by evidence is hardly limited to ELT or homeopathy. Experts have historically asserted all sorts of dubious things based on intuition and "insight": the virtues of bloodletting with leeches for fevers and using mercury for scraped knees being just a couple of relatively recent and less barbaric examples that spring to mind. And people easily bamboozle themselves and others... I think it was after reading, back in the early 90s, the magician James Randi's expose of everything from horoscopes to levitation to spoon bending (Flim Flam!) that I realized that an insistently intuitive or emotional approach to beliefs wasn't kind of quaint (as I had previously thought) but potentially quite harmful, especially when that approach touched on issues that affected other people. Issues like health... and education.

In promoting the CELTA without any compelling evidence of its effect on learning outcomes, was I putting myself in the same camp as the proponents of homepathy, reiki, astrology and magic crystals? I felt like I was, and it wasn't a camp I wanted to be in...

Teachers in Britain and Bad Science
In his brilliant book, Bad Science, the British medical doctor and Guardian journalist, Ben Goldacre describes (amongst many other things) how British teachers have fallen for a modern snake oil called Brain Gym:

"Children are routinely taught -- by their teachers, in thousands of British state schools -- that if they wiggle their head up and down it will increase blood flow to the frontal lobes, thus improving concentration; that rubbing their fingers together in a special sciencey way will improve 'energy flow' through the body; that there is no water in processed food; and that holding water on their tongue will hydrate the brain directly through the roof of the mouth."

If teachers, schools and education authorities could be duped in this way perhaps I shouldn't take it for granted that academics in ELT knew what they were doing...

A quick flip through the index of Richards' Approaches and Methods... nothing under "research"... maybe "evidence"?... nope... How about A–Z of ELT ? ... nothing there... Hold on... Nunan and Bailey have a newish book on this... Exploring Second Language Classroom Research...

And here is where I really started to worry. Nunan and Bailey's book on research pays a substantial number of pages of lip service to formal experimental research -- you, know, the type that has led to the most astonishing improvements in the way we live. It's not long though before we see where their hearts truly lie, first noting that for researchers like Larsen-Freeman "insight rather than proof should be the standard of research" (I can feel those leeches now...) and then quoting the slightly more engaging:

"If you study grains of sand, you will find each is different. Even by handling one, it becomes different. But through studying it and others like it, you begin to learn about a beach."

Well, that is certainly one approach that will keep a lot of academics in academic activity for the rest of their tenure... You could alternatively, of course, study the way beaches behave as a whole, define representative types of beaches as samples to study, make hypotheses about how they might behave, falsify the hypothesis, renew your hypothesis, study again, and iterate until you've got something that is difficult to falsify and works in practice, that, for example, allows us to do something useful or at least build hotels, ice cream stands and piers on beaches. Of course, if studying every grain of sand on a beach can get us there too, I'm all for that, as well. Let us know when you're done.

In Bad Science, Goldacre sees the poor (often negligent) reporting of science by many journalists as a result of the media being run by "humanities graduates with little understanding of science who wear their ignorance as a badge of honour." As a non-scientist myself, I think this is too harsh -- but I was a little surprised by Nunan and Bailey feeling the necessity in a book "suited for candidates in teaching credential, master's degree, and Ph.D programs" to explain the word "hypothesis". Did they think ELT was composed of lots of anti-science humanities graduates?

In any case, it certainly doesn't seem that Nunan is in favour of doing much externally valid empirical research. In fact, Dr. Nunan has kindly written to me to say that he feels that formal experiments are "useless". Too many variables, which make them too expensive to do properly -- if, in fact, they can be done properly. How expensive? Well one estimate is around $100,000 dollars... Goodness, that is very expensive, indeed.

But now bear in mind that Cambridge University has ELT-related revenue of over $150 million dollars.

That's right. $150 million dollars. Annually. One might be confident that they had spent some of that money for some formal research into the efficacy of their courses.

Why should we care about evidence?
So, finally, I return to Cambridge ESOL and Monica. I actually care whether Cambridge ESOL are able to provide evidence that learners learn better with CELTA-trained teachers than with teachers who haven't been trained at all or have been trained by some dodgy diploma mill. (I could word that more precisely but you'd have to pay me $100,000 and I've gone on long enough already...)

And I want to show this evidence because:

1) I took the CELTA, I thought it was great and that it made me a better teacher (as defined by my students learning better), and I'd like to have my no doubt faultless insight backed up by some evidence, so I don't get accused of hypocrisy by my reiki-loving, "moon goddess" sister. Umm, bit selfish on that one...

2) There are too many people who mix up experience and expertise and believe that because they've been teaching for years they don't need to be trained -- and anyway they "know someone who never got trained and he's a brilliant teacher". (To these people, I would suggest that there are quite a few superb untrained mini-cab drivers in London but if you had to bet your house on getting to your destination, would you choose an unlicensed mini-cab at random or a licensed black cab with a driver who has done The Knowledge?)

3) When organizations like Gaba or AEON or the Japanese government consider whether they should employ trained teachers, I want to point out to them that students learn better with CELTA (or DELTA or Trinity) trained teachers. Right now these organizations feel perfectly entitled to hire untrained teachers, as there is no hard evidence that trained teachers are any better.

4) Those dodgy organizations offering training won't be able to imply: "we're just like the CELTA -- they don't have any proof and neither do we. And look we have an academic advisor!"

5) If the evidence is there, then more organizations, governments, and companies will hire trained teachers and -- most importantly, as a result, people should be able to learn English more effectively.

Monica's answer
Sadly, Monica from Cambridge ESOL doesn't seem able to help me out, polite and thoughtful as she is. In answer to my question:

"Do learners of English learn more effectively (however defined) with CELTA-qualified teachers? What studies have been done to show that they do (or don't) ?"

she answered:

"As far as I am aware, no comparative longitudinal studies with an equivalent qualification have as yet been undertaken, and given the range of variables involved in any dynamic learning-teaching environment, it is unlikely that such studies would be considered valid by the ESOL academic research community."

The ESOL academic research community. I see. Apparently unable to conceive of an acceptable study, properly controlled, properly funded, that would show, for example, that CELTA-trained teachers promote more effective learning than untrained, or dodgily-trained teachers. You know, in general. (Which would, by the way, tend to help validate a lot of the other current thoughts on methodology in ELT, given that the CELTA distills best practice and theory in its course.)

Are researchers too busy climbing academic ladders publishing articles about those grains of sand on the beach? Perhaps, but if "academic ESOL" (whatever that is) and Cambridge ESOL don't want to be accused of having houses built on sand, they should get their research houses in order, and start doing more studies that have practical value in the real world -- for learners, teachers, language schools and policy makers alike.

Russell Willis
Founder, ELTNEWS.com

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Getting ready for Kyoto
At the stately mansion from which ELTNEWS.com operates we are running around in a rather unrefined manner in preparation for this weekend's Extensive Reading World Congress at Kyoto Sangyo University (you can register upon arrival -- full details here).

I'll be giving a presentation on the Monday at 3:30 pm, taking a look at how extensive reading and listening can be implemented on the iPhone and iPad and other devices. I'll be drawing from my experience working on the smartphone versions of the Oxford Bookworms Library (which are being properly launched next week but some of which are available now) and taking a look at how the proper use of computers and software can help writers, editors and publishers create even better extensive reading titles. I hope you'll be able to come along and keep me company -- each member of the audience will get a free iPhone / iPad extensive reader title to try out. (iPhones and iPads not included, unfortunately!)

Of course, I'm worried about the attendance for my presentation as there are so many interesting speakers at the conference. In fact it has been agonizingly difficult to choose which presentations to go to as there are so many interesting ones -- but to give you a flavour of the conference here's a PDF of the presentations I'll be trying to attend. And don't forget you can download a PDF of the full conference program here.

Tell us about your teaching experience and win a free iPod touch
ELT Services Japan is the company, headed up by Matthias Reich, which runs ELTNEWS.com, ELTBOOKS.com and Eigo Kyoiku News. It also offers IT and marketing support for publishers and teaching organizations. Right now we have a client that operates a number of schools around the world and is interested in hiring teachers. As part of that we are running a competition to find out more about teachers' attitudes towards teaching here in Japan and in other countries. The prize is an iPod Touch which will be given out at the beginning of October. In order to enter, please click here.

Hiring? Hunting?
Speaking of services, teachers looking for jobs will be interested in our Jobs section, and school owners will be interested to know that they can place job ads for free on our jobs section, as long as they are customers of ELTBOOKS.com. Take a look.

That's all for this week. Don't forget to join our Facebook page for regular updates on what's going on in the world of ELT in Japan.

Russell Willis
Founder, ELTNEWS.com

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It was good to see one of the Extensive Reading World Congress plenary speakers, William Grabe, end his presentation with a call for more research. In opposition to the previously quoted nonsense about research from Nunan (formal experimental research in ELT is "useless") and Larsen-Freeman ("insight rather than proof should be the standard of research"), Grabe recognized that if Extensive Reading (ER) is to be brought further into the mainstream then what is needed is proper experimental research providing hard evidence of ER's efficacy.

But such calls are not enough. Ben Goldacre in his brilliant book, Bad Science, notes that the phrase "There is need for more research" has been banned by the British Medical Journal for many years on the grounds that it adds nothing. Instead, academics need to get specific -- what research is missing, on whom, how, measuring what, funded by whom, to what timetable etc.

So this moment should not be lost. If the case for ER is "inescapable" then let's make it unassailable. Specific proposals for research should be detailed and funding applied for.

What funding? Well, a remark I heard at the final plenary revealed a possible benefactor. Apparently, Pearson generates more cash from graded readers in Japan than from any other ELT source. This sounds likely, and in any case, readers are big business for publishers. Should they not be donating money to organizations (perhaps like the Extensive Reading Foundation) to oversee research into the efficacy of ER?

Such research, providing hard evidence of the effectiveness of ER, would be a win for teachers, students and publishers alike.

Russell Willis
Founder, ELTNEWS

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People are often amazed at the amount of content available on ELTNEWS.com. Having been around for over 10 years, it shouldn't be surprising that we have built up a fair bit of content but it's always hard with websites to get a full sense of what they contain. With a book or magazine, you can take its heft as a guide, but a website (or CD-ROM, or smartphone app) is much harder to judge.

So let's take a look around...

We have a veritable "Who's Who?" of ELT interviewed with the likes of Henry Widdowson, Mario Rinvolucri, Michael Swan, Catherine Walter, David Crystal and Raymond Murphy talking about their careers and their views on ELT.

Check out the full list of interviews here.

Our jobs section is free for schools in Japan who use the ELTBOOKS.com online book service, and the section is visited by thousands each week. If you're looking for a job, or you're a school looking to find a teacher, then this is the place for you.

Check out the Jobs section here.

Book Reviews
Our book reviews column is currently looking for a new reviewer (get in touch if you're interested) but has dozens of reviews of some of the most important books in ELT.

Check out our Book Reviews section here.

Mike Guest
Our most popular, entertaining and controversial columnist, Mike is a superb writer who goes where angels fear to tread in his column, The Uni-Files. If you haven't been keeping up with Mike's views on the world of ELT, then you're missing out, plain and simple.

Check out Mike Guest's column here.

News Archives
We have a searchable archive of the daily news going back to 2002. Diving in, it's interesting how the same news topics come around again and again...

Check out the News Archives here.

And that's just scratching the surface. Here's a quick overview of the other sections of the site:

Writings on ELT from current and former ELTNEWS.com columnists such as Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto (author of Let's Go), David Lisgo, Mike Guest and Greg Crawford.

The Think Tank | Guide to Japan and Teaching in Japan | Fun English | Games Reviews | Japan Book Reviews | Kids' World | Teaching Ideas | Special Features

And of course, for those who are interested in buying English-language magazines and newspapers, there is our Japan Store.

So that's ELTNEWS.com. Remember you can also keep up to date on news through our Facebook Page, and if you would like to contribute to ELTNEWS.com then please get in touch. We're interested in news about your project, school or company and are always looking for good columnists who can write on a regular basis. If you don't want to write on a regular basis but have something important to say then, if we agree that others would like to hear it, we'll publish what you have to say in our Guest Column.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Russell Willis
Founder, ELTNEWS.com

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I was reminded this week of how readily we assume our knowledge of English to be perfect, especially when in the presence of non-native speakers. One of my Japanese friends was set to rights about a particular phrase by an American teacher recently. "Thank you for your custom" she was told, is not proper English. The teacher objected to the use of the word "custom" and suggested "business" as a replacement.

In fact, the phrase is correct but the friend was nonetheless guilty of using British English.

Many years ago I remember being bemused by a Japanese friend's frequent use of "Later!" when signing off in an email or saying goodbye in person. Was this some strange Japlish I was hearing? A barbaric contraction of "See you later!"? I set her to rights... but in fact the friend was only using the common corruption she had learnt on a homestay in America when she was young and impressionable. I blamed the parents.

Through TV and films, Brits like me are more familar with American usage than vice versa of course, but I still hesitate to judge when I hear strange phrases coming out of the mouths or pens of normally fluent practitioners. If you're in the same position, do what I do and use Google as a corpus to see whether the phrase is being used (and by whom). You might end up exclaiming, as Larry David often does in Curb Your Enthusiasm: "Who knew?!"

The Week in English Language Teaching
We're now updating our news page weekly and putting more frequent updates on our Facebook page. On the main site we'll summarize notable events in ELT here in Japan and around the world. If you or your organization would like to be considered for inclusion just drop us a line.

Jobs on ELTNEWS.com
Our jobs board is now free for all schools and publishers in Japan, so if you're looking to hire teachers or other staff, this is the place to do it. And, of course, if you're looking for a job, then the ELT News Jobs is the place for you.

Until next time.

Russell Willis

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The new year brings my last post for ELTNEWS.com. Other commitments have meant that I haven't had time for the site, and we haven't been able to find a suitable editor in Japan who's available.

So what to do? Well, necessity being the mother of invention, we've decided to take the site global and have news and features on the whole world of English language teaching. We'll be looking for an editor and hope to get going in May. I won't be involved but Matthias Reich who runs ELT Services Limited (the owner of ELTNEWS.com) will be organising things. So if you're interested in becoming the editor of ELTNEWS.com, or writing for it, get in touch with him.

I set up ELTNEWS.com as a service for teachers in Japan back in 1998. Hard to believe it's been nearly 15 years... Over the years the site has had its highs and lows but I'd like to thank all of our editors and contributors over the years who have helped build ELTNEWS.com into a respected part of the ELT community.

Whilst waiting for the new global version of ELTNEWS.com to get off the ground, why not take a look at the following archives:

English Teaching News Archives (going back to 2002!).

English Teaching Article Archives (some GREAT stuff here).

We'll also keep you up-to-date with what's happening on the ELTNEWS.com Facebook page and don't forget, for the best English-teaching book service in Japan, visit ELTBOOKS.com:


Russell Willis
Founder, ELTNEWS.com

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