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English Language Teaching in Latin America

November, 2019

Number 16

In addition to the 41 articles already in the library, this 16th number of ELTinLA online magazine offers you two new ones. The first reports on the experience of team teaching a course in the BA in ELT at the University of Guanajuato, and the second follows on from an article last month about teaching PRONI in primary schools with a consideration of teaching PRONI at the following school level.

Team teaching in a BA in ELT course, and in general  

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What should PRONI teachers really do in lower secondary school?

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So far, 13 outside authors (including co-authors) have contributed 10 articles to ELTinLA, and I really want to publish more articles by outside contributors – in fact, as soon as possible, only articles by them. 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.

The two English teachers in the HOME page illustration this month, November, are Catrina Calavera (1927-2005) and myself (b.1939). We waited a very long time for a bus for English-speakers going to the university, but Catrina was in no hurry, and I was fascinated by her very correct, old-fashioned English. She told me about her experiences teaching English in secondary school, mostly in two public schools, a large urban one and a small rural one, between 1951 and 1986. Most of what she said was familiar for me. We agreed that a lot had changed and lot hadn’t. Then we got onto ELT and culture.

What is culture, at least in relation to language? Well, Catrina and I agreed that it’s a set of basic knowledge, beliefs and behaviours shared by a community. An interesting example is Halloween/Día de Muertos, originally belonging to two distinct cultures and now shared to some extent in both cultures and competing internationally. Halloween dominates massively on the international scene, both as business (Halloween products, movies, etc.) and as celebration, especially among children and teenagers. Día de Muertos, however, has got into some international films – e.g. Once upon a Time in Mexico (2003, with Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Johnny Depp and Willem Dafoe) and Spectre (2015, with Daniel Craig as James Bond) – and is the theme of a film, Coco, that grossed in dollars a bit more than Spectre and much more than Once upon a Time in Mexico, and there’s also some business in Día de Muertos themed products.

Catrina and I even got into matters such as how Halloween attracts some Mexicans and annoys others, how some Mexicans still go to their family graves in cemeteries on Día de Muertos and others virtually ignore the day, and how Día de Muertos is a time of remembrance and offerings and Halloween a time of “trick or treat” (a sort of infant Mafia protection racket). We agreed that Halloween has no place in most ELT, except perhaps as a topic for discussion in higher level courses – and explaining Día de Muertos to English-speaking foreigners might be preferable to that.

Then I started arguing that non-native users of English today shouldn’t bother much with native speaker culture and trying to speak and behave like native speakers (unless they’re spies, of course), and instead they should use English as themselves and for their own purposes. I lost Catrina a bit when I wondered aloud whether Latin American learners of English should aim at monolingual Donald Trump as a model English speaker, or at English-Spanish bilingual Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or at classical Greek and Latin speaking Boris Johnson, or at Jeremy Corbyn, who speaks fairly fluent Spanish, or at Paul McCartney from Liverpool, or at Dolly Parton from Tennessee, or at Rihanna, or…? I was being facetious, of course, but when I explained about some of those people and what’s been going on in the USA, the UK and elsewhere in the world in recent years, Catrina was horrified! “It is even worse than when I was alive!” she said. “That’s life,” I said. Catrina grinned – well, she was grinning all the time, really, perhaps at our human comedy, or farce, or worse.