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English Language Teaching in Latin America

February, 2020

Number 19

In addition to the 46 articles already in the library, this 19th number of ELTinLA online magazine offers you this new one, reporting research from the beautiful and historic State of Guanajuato:

 

Teachers’ perception of ELT in secondary schools in the State of Guanajuato (and Tlaxcala)

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If you’d like me to consider an article of yours, look at the box below and send me an outline of your proposal of between 150 and 250 words.

I’m especially interested in accounts of notable improvement and relative success in ELT in schools with not very favourable conditions (e.g. only 3 or 4 effective hours of class a week, and groups of 30 or more students). School is where most people who will need English as adults should get to at least a basic functional level in English, but many young adults enter higher education in Latin America with little or no English, and a lot needs to change in most school ELT in Latin America. Of course, it’s never too late to learn English, and ELT in higher education and language centres is vital for those who miss out with school ELT, want to get to a higher level in English, or want to learn the English they really need for their professional studies and work. Articles about those spheres of ELT in Latin America are also welcome.

I’ve been noticing more and more references to the EF EPI, both in ELT scholarship, supposedly academic and rigorous, and in what can be called ELT journalism, usually less academic and sometimes less rigorous. Let me explain what the EF EPI is in case you don’t already know. EF is Education First, a private international company based in Sweden specializing in language courses and associated services. The EPI is EF’s English Proficiency Index, which ranks countries’ levels of ‘English proficiency’ or ‘English skills’ on the basis of people who take the EF Standard English Test (SET). It was first published in 2011 and annual editions have been published every year since then.

On its website, EF presents the 2019 edition of its EPI as “The world's largest ranking of countries and regions by English skills. With 100 countries and regions, this year’s report is our biggest league table to date”. That seems very impressive, and many people are apparently impressed, including some ELT scholars, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. EF is quite clear about what the EPI is (a ranking of countries’ levels of ‘English skills’ on the basis of people who take the EF Standard English Test), but it may be more usefully described in terms of what it is not. It is not a ranking of countries according to the percentage of the adult population that has a functional command of English. It is not a ranking of countries according the average command of English of the adult population. And it does not include people who take the most prominent international proficiency tests (Cambridge, TOEFL, etc.), nor people who study or know English but don’t take tests, nor people who have never studied or learnt English – no, only people who have taken the EF SET.

In other words, the EF EPI isn’t really representative of anything at all interesting about English in different countries, only about the level of proficiency in English of the small percentage of people in each country (0.01%? – um, that would be about 200,000 people in Brazil, so perhaps 0.001% or less) who happen to take EF SET, and who tend to be interested in rather expensive English language courses, including package courses in English-speaking countries.

It was the post ‘Why EF EPI rankings are not what you think’ at https://jakubmarian.com/why-the-ef-epi-rankings-are-not-what-you-think/ by Jakub Marian that put me on to this. I’ve never met Jakub, but let me thank him publicly here.

If you consider yourself an ELT scholar or aspire to be one, if you consider yourself a good ELT journalist/article writer/talk giver or aspire to be one, and if you consider yourself just an ELT professional or aspire to be one, treat the EF EPI – which, incidentally, ranks Portugal’s ‘English proficiency’ (very high) above Switzerland’s (high), and Guatemala and Paraguay’s the same as France and Hong Kong’s (all moderate) – as what it is, not what you would like it to be, and what we really need.