China ELT Curriculum: Danoff

From the inception of the People’s Republic of China until the 1970’s, there was an ambivalent addiction to English. Despite many opposing its influence it stayed on in China in different forms. Once China began opening its doors, the ambivalence was removed and the world’s most populous nation unequivocally and guilt-free embraced their addiction. A micro-example of the fallout of this macro trend can be seen with the Ming family.

In the early 1960's, the Chinese severed ties with their Russian political blood brothers. A college student at the time, Mr. Ming ceased his Russian studies moving to English (Mrs. Ming, personal communication, February 23, 2010). Upon graduation, he began work as an English teacher (Mrs. Ming, personal communication, February 23, 2010).

Luckily, he was in the midst of his nation's "First Renaissance" (Adamson & Morris, 1997, p. 11) in regards to the English curriculum. Pedagogically this translated as "shifting toward an amalgam of audio-lingual and grammar-translation methods-extending the focus from reading to also embrace listening, speaking, and writing" from 1960 to 1966 (Adamson & Morris, 1997, p.14). Unfortunately for Mr. Ming, the Cultural Revolution squelched the renaissance.

A period of cultural upheaval and focus inward ushered in a dark age for English education, "English was viewed as the language of the enemy" and until 1971, "virtually all English teaching programs were abolished in the school system" (Liu, 1993 as cited in G. Hu, 2004, p 7). Despite these turbulent times, Mr. Ming continued to teach, "he really wanted the students to study English and he thought that English is just a language, its a tool, its useful for students, but the students and even the leaders couldn't understand that" (Mrs. Ming, personal communication, February 23, 2010). Students even vandalized their home with signs saying, "we are Chinese. Why you force us to learn English?" (Mrs. Ming, personal communication, February 23, 2010).

In the fourth year of the revolution, English "reappear[ed] on the curriculum in some schools", and "the prevailing pedagogy involved a return to a teacher-centered grammar-translation methodology" (Adamson & Morris, 1997, p. 16). Such approaches continued at the revolution's close in 1976, as seen when Mr. Ming's daughter began studying English in junior high school.

"My first English lesson is just one slogan, it is said 'Long live Chairman Mao! And the second lesson is, 'Long live Communist party.' and the third lesson is 'Never forget the class struggle.'" (Mrs. Ming, personal communication, February 23, 2010). The style was soon to change, once Deng Xiaoping took control.

Deng was convinced that advanced science and technology held the key to China’s modernization and that China would need to access scientific and technological advances worldwide to develop the scientific knowledge base needed for national revitalization (People’s Education Press, 1986, as cited in G. Hu, 2004, p. 7)

This gave a big incentive to study English for to access current knowledge was “predicated on the availability of a large pool of personnel proficient in English, the international medium of scientific and technological information.” (G. Hu, 2004, p. 7) Despite this Mrs. Ming points out that English remained a small part of the college entrance exam, only 30 points, compared with 100 points each for Math, Science and Politics.

Following her father’s footsteps, Mrs. Ming began teaching English in 1984, entering in a continued time of great dynamism for English. As the country moved “from a centrally planned economy to a market oriented one” (People’s Education Press, 1986, as cited in G. Hu, 2004, p. 9) this development brought money in from abroad creating a “need for expanding English language education” in many areas (G. Hu, 2004, p. 10). By the early 1990’s, English was taught one hour per day, the same as English and Math (Mrs. Ming, personal communication, February 23, 2010).

Pedagogy returned to the audio-lingual approaches of the First Renaissance (Adamson & Morris, 1997, p. 20), including a sharp focus on communication as the new curriculum’s “principal aim” (Adamson & Morris, 1997, p. 22). To create textbooks for that end, the People’s Education Press, The Ministry of Education directed publish house (PEP), worked with a private foreign textbook company and the United Nations Development Program, an “unprecedented” collaboration, writing books which also delve into Western cultures (Adamson & Morris, 1997, p. 24).

The exponential growth of English continued in China into the twenty-first century. By 2001, there had been a ”353% [increase] in the number of [English] teachers from 1978” and the value of teacher training had been recognized as “more than 85% [held] qualifications that meet official requirements, as compared to less than 22% in 1986” (MOE Department of Planning (1984) & MOE Department of Development and Planning (2001), as cited by G. Hu, 2004, p. 17). That year, the government moved to introducing English as a compulsory subject in the third grade (MOE, 2001 as cited by Y. Hu, 2007 p. 1). Lianning Li, the Director-General of the Department of Basic Education at the time wrote,

Currently, economic globalization is accelerating; our country is on the verge of joining the WTO and is opening its doors wider to the outside world. … The decision to teach English in primary schools was made precisely to address the needs of opening up; it also reflects our country’s determination to accelerate the pace of opening up. (p. 1, as cited in Y. Hu, 2007, p. 103)

In addition to joining the WTO, anther factor was Beijing leading “its rivals in its rivals in the bid for the 2008 Olympic Games and was highly likely to win the bid” (Jiang, 2003; Nunan, 2003, as cited in G. Hu, 2004, p. 11).

These trends also coincided with pedagogical developments, as Lianning LI also wrote on the new curriculum moving from “subject-centeredness, textbookcenteredness, and teacher-centeredness” to “integration of technology into foreign language teaching, studentcenteredness, and task-based instruction” (p. 1, as cited in Y. Hu, 2007, p. 105). Additionally, teachers now have to study English as their major at college (Mrs. Ming, personal communication, February 28, 2010).

The students have an acute motivation for studying English, as it is now valued as highly as Chinese and Math, and more so than geography, history and politics (Mrs. Ming, personal communication, February 23, 2010). And as Mrs. Ming’s daughter, Alice, related the exam “is the ONLY criteria for you to get a class one university” (Ming, personal communication, February 27, 2010).

Learner outcomes are quite specific. After Junior High School, Mrs. Ming said that her students are expected to know/be able to do the following:
  • Recognize 2,000 or 3,000 English words.
  • Speak using simple sentences and grammar to describe things like food or films.
  • Read small articles and understand what the writer wants to tell them.
  • Write small articles within 100 English words.

For all the grades, they use a leveling system based on “language skills, language knowledge, affective attitudes, learning strategies, and cultural awareness”, and “Specifically, students are expected to attain Level 2 at the end of primary school, Level 5 at the end of junior secondary school, and Level 8 at the end of senior secondary school” (Y. Hu, 2007, p.117).

Commenting on changes since the 1993 syllabus, Mrs. Ming especially noted the “focus on much about western culture” and how “cultural communication is more important than the language itself”. This can be seen in the decision by the school she works at to recruit foreign teachers, decisions she said which make students want to attend (Mrs. Ming, personal communication, February 23, 2010).

The Ming family has studied English throughout most of twentieth century China’s fluctuating feelings for the language, from derision to adoration. Now a grandfather who was chastised by students for teaching them a foreign tongue they did not want to learn, must smile with a daughter whose risen to the top of her school’s English department and a granddaughter on the path to fluency.


I would like to thank Mrs. Ming and her daughter Alice for their time, kindness and forthright answers to all my questions as I prepared this piece.

Editor's Notes

Words in brackets were added by me. Ming and Alice are pseudonyms.

  • Adamson, Bob & Morris, Paul (1997). The English curriculum in the People’s Republic of China. Comparative Education Review, 41, 3–26.
  • Hu, Guangwei (1993). ENGLISH LANGUAGE EDUCATION IN CHINA: POLICIES, PROGRESS, AND PROBLEMS. Language Policy (2005) 4: 5–24
  • Hu, Yuanyuan (1997). China's Foreign Language Policy on Primary English Education: From Policy Rhetoric to Implementation Reality. Purdue University PhD Thesis.
  • Li, J. (2001a, March 13). Xiaoxue weihe yao kaishe yingyuke? Xiaoxue yingyu jiaoxue ruhe kaizhan? Yingyu shizi you gai ruhe jiejue? Jiaoyubu youguan fangmian fuzeren xishuo duanxiang [Why to teach English in primary schools? How to teach English in primary schools? How to solve the teacher shortage problem? Details from an official in the Ministry of Education]. Zhongguo Jiaoyubao, p. 2.
  • Liu, Yingjie (1993). Book of major educational events in China. Hangzhou: Zhejiang Jiaoyu Chubanshe.
  • People’s Education Press (1986). Jiaoyu gaige zhongyao wenxian xuanbian. [Selected important documents on educational reform.] Beijing: People’s Education Press.
  • Ministry of Education Department of Development and Planning (2001). 2000 nian zhongguo jiaoyu shiye fazhan tongji jiankuang. [Statistics on China’s educational development in 2000.] Retrieved from on December 10, 2003.
  • Ministry of Education Department of Planning (1984). Achievement of education in China 1949–1983. Beijing: People’s Education Press.
  • Ministry of Education (2001). Jiaoyubu guanyu jiji tuijin xiaoxue kaishe yingyu kecheng de zhidao yijian [The Ministry of Education guidelines for vigorously promoting the teaching of English in primary schools]. Retrieved July 15, 2005, from

Korea ELT Curriculum: Dash

I. Background
English Language Teaching (ELT) has been a part of the national curriculum in the Republic of Korea since the 1950s. The earliest implementation of ELT consisted mainly of audio-lingual and grammatical-translation methods. Over the course of time, these methods were found to be deficient in that they tended to develop one-dimensional students who, although solid in meta-linguistic awareness, reading, and listening, were deficient in communicative competence and production (Lee, 2001). In the 1990s, with the enactment of the 6th National Curriculum, the government decided to shift classroom practices to more communicative methodologies (INCA, 2010).

The changes regarding ELT were enacted as the country reacted and sought to reposition itself in regard to globalization. The goals of the new curriculum were threefold: 1) to teach communicative competence; 2) to make Korea more competitive globally (along with the belief that English was becoming the lingua francaof globalization); and 3) to promote bilingualism (Kim, 2004). Improved English skills were perceived as vital in aiding Koreans to become global citizens and giving the country a leg up in the global economy. Although these changes had great implications for reshaping Korean national identity within a global context, one of their main thrusts with immediate impact was in reforming classroom pedagogical practices, ushering in Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). Revisions in the 7th (2000) and plans for the 8th (currently still in progress) National Curricula have continued the use of CLT, although reintroducing some grammatical-translation methods and other supplementary syllabi (Kim, 2006).

II. Enactment of Curriculum
The Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) holds the ultimate power in Korea’s educational system, controlling aspects including textbook writing and options for schools, teacher roles, student activities, classroom interaction, and pre- and in-service teacher training (KICE, 2010). Despite this centralization of power, the 6th National Curriculum apportioned some control to local authorities, allowing that “school superintendants may establish further standards and content to reflect their district’s particular situation” (INCA, 2010). This clause allows for a wide variety in both classroom practices and teaching methodology, due to financial and regional differences.

Despite the high degree of local autonomy, the government did enact some overarching changes by which all districts must abide. First of all, the entry point for students into English classes was lowered to third grade. Also, the shift away from grammatical-translation coincided with a reduction in required content in classrooms. Instead of a high quantity of focused drills, classrooms were meant to engage in meaningful communicative activities (Yoon, 2004). Furthermore, the government enforced guidelines requiring three 45 minute classes for middle school students (grades 7-8), and four 45 minute classes per week in grades 9 and higher (INCA, 2010). The actual interactions within these classrooms were much less defined, although expected to encompass CLT. Following objections to strictly CLT classrooms and apprehension regarding teachers’ ability to teach effectively, the 7th National Curriculum suggested possible syllabi to aid within the classroom. These included product and process-oriented, notional-functional, procedural, and task-based syllabi, as well as re-introducing some aspects of grammatical-translation into endorsed classroom practices (Yoon, 2004). It is largely unknown the degree to which these syllabi were enforced and enacted, although many teachers voiced complaints about in-service training’s ability to meet these new demands (Shin, 2007).
The movement away from grammatical-translation methods emphasized new classroom methods geared toward communicative teaching. Drills were meant to focus less on repetition and more on meaning-based tasks. More games and audio-visual equipment were to be implemented than in the past. Also, classrooms were urged to use more authentic materials in their classrooms, including newspapers, magazines, TV programs, and radio news broadcast (Li, p. 682, 1998). Again, it is difficult to judge to what extent these practices were actually used. The shift toward CLT created many new developments, one of the most important being a disconnect between teachers (along with their preferred method of instruction and pedagogical philosophies) and the government’s emphasis on CLT and communicative competence.

III. New Developments
One of the major repercussions of the move toward communicative teaching is a generation of teachers who have used mostly grammatical-translation methodologies all their lives and new teachers brought up in classrooms that used these newly de-emphasized methods. Many teachers feel that they lack the training to implement CLT, and feel they have not attained communicative competence overall (Kang, 2007). Li (1998) offers four major areas native teachers feel they are lacking: pre- and in-service training, sociolinguistic competence, and time to find and develop materials relevant to CLT. Classes usually in excess of thirty students also provide a barrier to effective CLT in many classrooms, as many students do not have the opportunity for frequent participation or one-on-one interactions with others. The government has enacted some teacher-training programs such as the Korean Teacher Education Program (KTEP), which has sent teachers to foreign countries such as Canada to assist in gaining communicative competence. The degree to which these programs have helped for the time is dubious, however. Many of the teachers interviewed in Li’s study either had participated in this program, yet still voiced concerns (Li, 1998).

In order to meet the demands of having communicative competence within the teaching workforce, Korea has seen a massive increase in the use of native speaking teachers. To keep up with demand, teaching accreditation or experience is not necessarily required, although the pay scale for teachers reward those who have either prior teaching training or experience. This leads to a largely inequitable distribution of these teachers, as urban or wealthier schools tend to draw such teachers, due to financial reasons and the fact that many foreigners prefer to live in urban areas.

Reacting to the infusion of inexperienced native English speakers into the classroom and lack of communicative competence in NNST, many teachers have voiced concerns about CLT as a viable and necessary method of teaching in Korea’s EFL context altogether. Many native teachers decry the preference for native speakersteachers Working papers in educational linguisticsTesol QuarterlyTesol QuarteryGlocalization?”International Handbook of English Language Teaching.Asian EFL JournalNikkeirenThe Course of Study for Foreign Languages. Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology.

  • Imura, M. (2003). Nihon no Eigo Kyoiku 200 nen. [200 years of English Education in Japan]. Tokyo: Taishukan Publishing Co., Ltd.
  • Kusumoto, Y. (2008). Needs Analysis: Developing a Teacher Training Program for Elementary School Homeroom Teachers in Japan. Second Language Studies, 26(2), Spring 2008, pp. 1-44.
  • Riley, P. (2008). Reform in English Language Teaching in Japan. Man-Environment Research Association, 9, March 2008, pp. 105-111.
  • Saito, C. (2007). Nihonjin to Eigo: Mou Hitotsu no Eigo Hyakunenshi. [Japanese People and English: Another Centennial History of English]. Tokyo: Kenkyusha.
  • Yamada, Y. (2005). Nihon no Eigo Kyoiku. [English Education in Japan]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.

Japan ELT Curriculum: Hoch

Like other Asian countries, Japan sees English as part of its globalization and success. Yet being an archipelago has had much to do with Japan’s identity. When talking about ELT in Japan, it is important to know its geographical and historical background. Like other nations surrounded by the sea, it had always taken extra effort for Japan to have contacts with foreign countries before the invention of better vessels and airplanes. For well over thousand years, China and Korea had been windows to new ideas and cultures for Japan.

History of English Education in Japan
According to the recorded history, the first English speaker that landed Japan was William Adams (1564-1620, born in the same year as Shakespeare) that arrived in a Dutch commercial ship (Saito, 2007). While the Japanese people have always been fascinated with foreign commodities and ideas, they have also experienced periods of seclusion, the most famous being isolationism (1633-1858) during the Edo period. The Edo Shogunate (government ruled by samurais) viewed foreign influences dangerous to the stability to their one-family (Tokugawa) rule. During this time, Japan was mostly open to two countries for trade: China and the Netherlands even though other nations such as Russia, Portugal and England had pressured Japan to open itself. After the American Navy ships led by Commodore Matthew Perry came to Japan in 1853, Japan finally agree to opened itself, and the samurai rule ended soon after.

With the “modern” Meiji government (1868-1912), English was mostly taught at junior high school and above, yet this was when many people (especially females) did not advance to junior high school. This was also when Japan started implementing language policies nationwide as well as colonies for “standard” Japanese to replace dialects and native languages (Yamada, 2005). Yamada also says it is hard to imagine such a nation trying to embrace another language. Yet, the Meiji government sought to modernize the nation by Westernization, and English language schools were established at various locations in Japan for elites (Saito, 2007).

During World War II, English was considered “enemy” language, and common English words were replaced by Japanese words. The government also decreased the hours of English lessons at schools. Yet a few scholars claimed the usefulness of English language as it is understood throughout Asia (Saito, 2007). After World War II, the “enemy language” became a necessity as the American Forces occupied Japan, and NHK (national broadcasting similar to BBC) started airing a radio program for everyday people to learn English in 1946 (Saito, 2007). My father also remembers the theme song with a familiar tune of Japanese folksong with English lyrics.

Saito also mentions that English was still not compulsory in the secondary schools in 1947, when the new school system took effect. According to Imura (2003), a call for enhanced English education came from Nikkeiren (the Japanese Federation of Managers' Organizations) in response to the economic growth starting in the late 1950’s. They claimed that “school English” was not useful and college graduates lack proficiency needed in the real business world. Even more astonishing was Yamada (2005)’s description that English was an “elective” at junior high school level until 2002 when it “officially” became compulsory. (English was virtually compulsory prior to that, and they just made it official.)

Current English Curriculum for Compulsory Education
There have always been “anti-English” sentiments in Japan, and some are quite alarmed by imperialism and globalization of English language (Saito, 2007). English is a powerful language in the world indeed, and more people in Japan view English as a necessity to become a part of the global community. Starting next year, one 45-min English lesson a week will be compulsory in the 5th and 6th grade curriculum. In the curriculum change of 2002, English became a part of “integrated studies” (Kusumoto, 2008), and the implementation was up to each school. ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers; Daniel and Charlie have worked as ALTs in Japan.) mainly from English-speaking countries have become common, as the goals at elementary level are cultural understanding and oral communication, as described in Butler (2004). Daniel will be elaborating on elementary school, as he currently teaches in Yamanashi prefecture.

Compulsory education in Japan is up to the 9th grade, and at the lower secondary (7th-9th grade or 1st-3rd grades of junior high school) level, the overall objective posted on the MEXT’s website is “To develop students' basic practical communication abilities such as listening and speaking, deepening the understanding of language and culture, and fostering a positive attitude toward communication through foreign languages.” (The written language is not mentioned in the overall objective.) Then they describe the objectives specific to English:

To accustom and familiarize students with listening to English and to enable them to:
1. understand the speaker's intentions etc. in simple English.
2. speak about their thoughts etc. in simple English.
3. understand the writer's intentions etc. in simple English.
4. write about their thoughts etc. in simple English.

Objectives are described in further details, and all government-approved textbooks incorporate them. Unlike the elementary level, all public junior high schools must use these government-approved textbooks. Yet, each municipality can choose the publisher, and such selections can be revised every few years. Private schools are encouraged but not required to use the government-approved textbooks. (Many private schools have much more advanced English curriculum and develop their own textbooks.) Compared with when I was in junior high school, there is much more emphasis on oral language, communication and function such as situational uses and generating/transmitting one’s ideas. This is based on the statement by the MEXT in 2002 where communicative attainment targets for junior high school through college are emphasized (Riley, 2008).
Grammar was once the center of English instruction, but it is listed at the end of objectives in a smaller section.

Indication in the local contexts
There has been a shift to more communication-based approaches, yet relevance can be a problem. While some students are highly motivated, many students have no interest in learning English as one can get by without using English in most parts of Japan. In many contexts, it is difficult to establish connections to English speakers, and ALTs may be the only source of live English. In certain unusual contexts, however, English is part of a community and relevant to students.

In the school district in Kanagawa where we resided, two elementary schools are divided by a fence, one inside the US base (American school) and the other outside (Japanese public school). Interestingly, my daughter attended both of them at different times, and these schools had cultural exchange events throughout the school year. Japanese students learned English at school, and American students learned Japanese at school. The cross-cultural events made their classroom learning relevant and meaningful, as they had opportunities to share what they learned in classroom.

At secondary level, such events are also seen between American and Japanese junior high or high schools. English is a part of high school curriculum in Japan, though much more variations are seen (even at public schools) than the lower levels. At the American high school on base where my daughter attends, Japanese is offered as a foreign language, and students participate in the Japanese club where various cultural exchange events with a local Japanese public high school are scheduled throughout the school year. While students are encouraged to speak the other language, there is an interesting guideline to converse in the language in which the conversation started. Bilingual students also serve as channels as needed, and my daughter finds it truly fulfilling and rewarding.

Issues to consider in future
Japan has come a long way in its English education since the isolationism era, yet our endeavor continues into the future. Based on my readings and personal experiences, I feel the following includes what we should consider for the future:
1. Continuing reflection, evaluation and training on English curriculum on a regular basis to ensure optimal learning and teaching.
2. Keeping the balance between central government directives and the autonomy/discretion of local school districts taking into consideration their unique needs/situations.
3. ALTs and Japanese English teachers to become active parts of designing, planning, and implementing language policies and curriculum directly reflecting the classroom situations and needs of students. More rewarding work and compensation should be considered for ALTs with experience, qualification and specialization in EFL.

  • The Course of Study for Foreign Languages. Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology.
  • Imura, M. (2003). Nihon no Eigo Kyoiku 200 nen. [200 years of English Education in Japan]. Tokyo: Taishukan Publishing Co., Ltd. Kusumoto, Y. (2008). Needs Analysis: Developing a Teacher Training Program for Elementary School Homeroom Teachers in Japan. Second Language Studies , 26(2), Spring 2008, pp. 1-44.
  • Riley, P. (2008). Reform in English Language Teaching in Japan. Man-Environment Research Association , 9, March 2008, pp. 105-111.
  • Saito, C. (2007). Nihonjin to Eigo: Mou Hitotsu no Eigo Hyakunenshi . [Japanese People and English: Another Centennial History of English]. Tokyo: Kenkyusha.
  • Yamada, Y. (2005). Nihon no Eigo Kyoiku . [English Education in Japan]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.

Japan ELT Curriculum: Liu

English Language Teaching Curriculum in Japan

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has been Japan’s education governing body since its establishment in 1871, three years after the Meiji Restoration (Fujita-Round & Maher, 2008). There have been several changes on education policies over the years to meet the standard of the changing world. One of the most major language education policies must be one on English education and “internationalization.” With the rapid progress of globalization in the economy, the Japanese government realized there needed to be better English education nationwide to better prepare its children to be competitive in the globalizing, English-dominant world. With an emphasis on “internationalization,” according to Fujita-Round and Maher, the Japanese government has been looking to achieve the following goals:

1. To improve teaching methods in foreign language classes;
1. To promote international exchange in the field of education, culture and sports;
1. To promote student exchange;
1. To improve programmes for the teaching of Japanese as a foreign language;
1. To improve educational programmes both for Japanese children living overseas and for ‘returness’ (p.395)

How well the general Japanese public has adopted the idea of internationalization towards achieving the above goals remains to be seen, but there is no question that English, a language that Japanese people love and hate, is the most popular foreign language learned in Japan. Japan’s foreign language policy has gone through revisions as many as six times. Ironically, English did not become a compulsory subject until 2002 for junior high school level and 2003 for senior high school level (Fujita-Round & Maher). Moreover, at elementary school level Japan is also well behind its neighboring countries in this regard. For instance, English was officially introduced in Korean elementary school in 1997 for 3rd graders and 2002 for 3rd – 6th graders while Taiwan started in 1998 in selected areas and 2001 nationwide. Japan first introduced English in elementary school in 2002 based on individual school choice. It is still categorized as part of “Period of Integrated Study” and will not officially become a subject until 2011 school year (Butler, 2004).

English language teaching in Japan has primarily focused on the development of reading and writing skills rather than the communicative abilities through teacher centered approach. In teacher centered approach, the grammar-translation method is widely used by English teachers in schools (Riley, 2008). Teachers mainly focus on the correctness of translations and grammar, and often students’ ultimate goal of learning English is to be able to pass the entrance examinations. After 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Japanese government and private sectors came to realize the need for developing communicative English skills among Japanese people. Since then, more and more attention has been put on spoken English and the 1989 Course of Study Guidelines stated that the primary objective of English education in Japan was to increase the abilities of communicative English (Kikuchi & Browne, 2009). Communicative language teaching (CLT), the new approach to teaching English is then encouraged. However, while the majority of students still see English as a subject rather than a useful communication tool, whether or not communicative English has been emphasized more in English language teaching is another story.

At elementary school level, the primary emphasis of English language teaching is exactly the development of oral English skills (MEXT, 2001). In the Developing a strategic plan to cultivate "Japanese with English abilities" produced in 2002, MEXT further introduced the detailed plan as to how to improve English conversation activities carried out in the “Period of Integrated Study” in elementary schools . They suggested that “support is to be extended so that teaching can be conducted by foreign instructors, fluent English speakers, or junior high school teachers in one third of such sessions” (MEXT, 2002). In order to realize this goal, four practices need to be executed: 1) Increase the number of native Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) nationwide; 2) Promote the utilization of ALTs to promote internationalization and foreign language activities; 3) Promote the hiring of native English teachers as regular teachers; and 4) Promote the utilization of local human resources with native-like English abilities. As a result, since this aforementioned goal set by MEXT was only a recommendation rather than a requirement, only 50% of all public elementary schools carried out English activities in 2002 (MEXT, 2003). Up to this point, no specifically approved textbooks have been used. Local boards of education and individual schools can decide books and materials that they deem appropriate. As 2011 fast approaches, when English will become compulsory, there has been a steady increase in the number of elementary schools that incorporate English activities in their curriculum.

A change in English teaching from predominant grammar-translation method to communicative language teaching is not easy for Japanese teachers. This has caused a greater problem among elementary school teachers since the absence of formal English education means there is no trained English teacher existing in elementary schools at all. Most, if not all, of the elementary school teachers responsible for implementing this change have not yet received training to teach English adequately nor do they have sufficient English proficiency to teach English effectively (Butler, 2004). Even if some of them are proficient enough to teach basic English, they might have no confidence in their ability to instruct their students to speak English especially in front of a native speaker (ALT). It is definitely inadequate to have regular homeroom teachers who have no access to pre-service or in-service English language teaching training teach English with assistance by ALT. Moreover, the qualifications of ALTs vary greatly as some are hired by local governments and others are sent by private agencies based on various criteria. Though teaching experience or formal teacher training is encouraged, it is not required as long as the person is a native speaker of English from an English speaking country.

As an elementary school ALT for almost four years, I have experienced first-hand the changes in English education at elementary school level. My local board of education is one of the pioneers in incorporating English in the elementary school curriculum in Yamanashi prefecture when they started English activities six years ago. In theory, homeroom teachers should be ones who take charge of the lesson with possible assistance from ALTs. Over the years, however, ALT has always been the main teacher while homeroom teachers take charge of classroom management and disciplining. English is taught once a week for 45 minutes from the 1st to 6th grade. According to MEXT, at least 35 hours of English education will become mandatory for 5th and 6th graders from 2011 school year. In preparation for this change, my schools have started following the guidelines since two years ago. An increasing emphasis has been put on the 5th and 6th grades while the number of lessons for the lower grades has gradually decreased accordingly. In addition, a MEXT published textbook called English Note has been used throughout the 2009 school year. However, whether or not this textbook will be officially used throughout Japan next year remains uncertain.

Even though the local board of education has been making effort to assisting homeroom teachers in English training by sending them to various English education conferences and regular local seminars led by ALTs like myself to improve their English abilities, the task from teaching no English at all to 35 hours or more of English lessons a year is too difficult to accomplish. According to Butler’s study on how elementary schools perceive their English proficiency level, the majority of teachers perceived their English level to be lower than the minimum level they considered necessary to teach English under the current educational policies (2004). This is something that should not be taken lightly as it could well influence various aspects of their teaching including, to name a few, their confidence, pedagogical skills and students’ feedback. Therefore, MEXT suggests some possible solution to improving the current situation:

1. To improve teaching methods
2. To enhance teaching ability and teaching system (including the promotion of Japanese teachers and ALTs with experiences)
3. To conduct researches on methods of English education

(MEXT, 2003)

In conclusion, it seems like there is still a long way to go to move towards a more effective English language teaching in Japan. In order to realize the goal of making children come into contact with foreign cultures, building interest in English and improving their communicative abilities, not only does pre-service teacher training need to be improved, in-service teachers also need to be supported at both government and school level. Most importantly, more concrete, systematic research should be taken to improve the English communicative competence of all English teachers in Japan.

  • Bulter, Y. G. (2004). What level of English proficiency do elementary school teachers need to attain to teach EFL? Case studies from Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. TESOL Quarterly, 38 (2), 245-278.
  • Fujita-Round, S & Maher, J.C. (2008). Language education policy in Japan. In S. May & N. H. Hornberger. (Ed), Encyclopedia of Language and Education, 1: Language Policy and Political Issues in Education, 393–404.
  • Kikuchi, K & Browne, C. (2009). English educational policy for high schools in Japan: Ideals vs. Reality. RELC Journal, 40, 172-191.
  • Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Technology, Japan (2001). Practice handbook for elementary school English activities. Tokyo: Kaiyudo.
  • Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Technology, Japan (2002, July 12). Developing a strategic plan to cultivate "Japanese with English abilities." Retrieved February 25, 2010, from
  • Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Technology, Japan (2003). Regarding the establishment of an action plan to cultivate “Japanese with English abilities.” Retrieved February 26, 2010, from
  • Riley, P. (2008). Reform in English language teaching in Japan. Kanto Gakuin University Journal of Human and Environmental Studies, 9, 105-111.

Korea ELT Curriculum: Park

1. Introduction
The history of English language teaching in Korea has started from 1954, after Korean War. After the 1945 Liberation of Korea, even if Secondary education had been started, there was no settled National Curriculums because it was a period of transition in Korea. From 1954, National English Language Teaching curriculum had been set up, and the noticeable feature is that English education was only for Secondary level. Therefore, all students in elementary level could not receive public education of English. From 7th National curricula in 1997, ELT in elementary school has started and now, English education is processing very actively in both elementary and secondary schools. Since secondary English education has more affluent history than elementary education, there are more resources about secondary English education, especially high school education. High school English education is divided 3 dimensions

2. History of ELT in Korea (High School)

a. 1st Curriculum~3rd Curriculum (1954~1981)

The representative feature of English education in Korea can be categorized test-oriented and grammar translation methods and this particular feature started from the first curriculum. According to the resource from Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE), the goal of English education at this time was not for practical communication skills, but for approaching as acquiring knowledge about English. Moreover, the curriculum kept emphasizing on this. For a long time, School education was still focusing only for grammar, even though criticized opinions toward grammar translation methods were getting prevalent. Yoon quoted another authors’ statement about the criticism that “the 1st through 5th national English curricula for secondary schools in Korea have been criticized due to their heavy grammar-orientation” (Bae, & Han, 1994). An interesting fact of 1st curriculum is that it was mentioned that Standard English used in learning and teaching will be American English for the first time (Lee, Choi, Park, & Kim, KICE, 2007).

b. 4th Curriculum~6th Curriculum (1981~1997)
From 4th curriculum, the goal of ELT has been revised toward maximum extension of free use of English communication because many people including some educators thought that current English education had some problems in reality. In schools, the periods for English class have been increased, and skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking were emphasized equally. In 5th and 6th curriculums, the goal and the feature of English curriculum is that as raising English communication skills, students accept foreign cultures naturally and introduce Korean cultures to the world. Definitely, the policy has been changed in a quite inventive way which emphasizes more practical communication skills. Chang (2009) mentions that “The notion of a ‘communicative syllabus’ which has been adopted from the 6th national curriculum reflects this innovative atmosphere of English education policies in Korea” (Chang, 1). Especially, the special feature of 6th curriculum is emphasizing both understanding skills and expression skills so that the language function is divided into two ways, understanding functions (listening and reading) and expressing functions (Lee, Choi, Park, & Kim, KICE, 2007). However, still test-oriented and grammar translation teaching methods were scattered in ELT in Korea.

c. 7th Curriculum (1997~2007)
It seems that the 7th curriculum did not change from 6th curriculum much and it may because that there were huge change between 3th and 4th curriculum. Even though they pursued similar goals of English education, there were very slight changes which emphasizing on skills of listening, writing, reading, and speaking again and pursuing equal and integrated development of each skill (Lee, Choi, Park, & Kim, KICE, 2007). However, another slight difference is that curriculum by level has been adapted in 7th curriculum and for 1st grade in high schools, the name of English subject has been changed from ‘Common English’ to ‘High School English’.

3. History and Current ELT in Elementary schools
In case of elementary schools, ELT was introduced from 7th curriculum in 1997. At this point, third graders or older students started to learn English at school. The feature of English education is curriculum by levels and for elementary students, English was taught in proper ways according to their levels of proficiency. For example, students who have high English proficiency were provided more difficult and deepen learning materials and for students who were inferior, they got to chances to have supplementary lessons. The 7th curriculum lasted until 2007 and since then, a period of new curriculum is continued. According to the resource from KICE, the main goal of new curriculum is revising of problems of 7th curriculum and the revision has 3 characteristics; a) for student-centered curriculum, various academic opportunities considering students’ futures and abilities are provided, b) to strengthen the relationship among academic contents, the contents of English education among schools and grades are strongly connected and reinforced, and c) to improve communicative skills, the academic contents of ‘communication skills’ and ‘culture’ are reinforced and materialized (KICE, 2008).

4. Specific focuses of ELT in Korea
There are many expectations and anticipated outcomes from the learners in Korea through English Language Teaching. The general pursuit of education in Korea is to make students as a) healthy person, b) independent person, c) creative person, and d) moral person. However, in ELT, there are more specific expectations of education.

a. Focus on actual communicative skills
In the past, the ELT in Korea was focused on only grammars and solving problems in tests, so that learning and teaching were extremely limited. There were many students who can barely speak in front of native speakers, in spite of a long period of learning English. Until 6th curriculum, there were limitations and weaknesses of learning active communicative skills because of an opinion that grammar cannot be ignored completely. For the perfect proficiency of English, correctness is inevitable and it comes from grammar. Therefore, in 7th curriculum, to grow students’ actual communicative skills, certain materials, which grammar centered syllabus and concept centered syllabus were combined, were provided and various themes were also given for natural communication skills (KICE, 2007)

b. English education contributed National development and Globalization
According to Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE), the ultimate goal of learning English is not only to contribute to creation of Korean culture, but also to understand each other globally through good communication with people in the world. English is definitely an international language and through learning and teaching English, Koreans students can have abilities to understand foreign people beyond national borders and cultural differences and finally to become international leaders. National development is another expectation through English Language Teaching (ELT).

5. Open and broad qualification as English teachers in Korea/ Future ELT
In Korea, it is not easy to become an English teacher now. To become a teacher in a public school, candidates of an English teacher should pass huge competition. After 4 years of training to become a teacher in college, the candidates go for practicum to assigned schools, and practice to be a teacher. And then, they should prepare and take ‘teacher certification examination’. However, since becoming a teacher was famous, it guarantees unbelievable rate of competition.

When the new government was established in 2008, the new president of Korea, Mr. Myungbak Lee, mentioned that there should be some changes on ELT and employment of English teachers at schools. He mentioned that to strengthen public education of English, the teachers should be qualified and well-educated to provide great education to students. Moreover, he kept insisting that English teachers at school should teach and manage the classes only in English. Unfortunately, his argument could not be realized, because there are not many teachers who can teach in English. Current system of employment teachers cannot produce English teachers who can speak English fluently because present university education which produces future English teacher is not ready for preparing English teacher who can teach only in English.

For future success in ELT, it would not be helpful to select English teachers only through ‘teacher certification examination’, but needs to open and broad opportunities to become English teachers in Korea. It means that even though it is very strict to select English teachers now, it should be flexible to succeed English Language Teaching in public education.

6. Conclusion
National curricula of English in South Korea have long history and special features. However, for now, the enemy of public English education is various kinds of private education which are extremely prevalent outside of schools. It is useless to make extraordinary ELT curriculums if students are provided most of the English education from outside of the public education. The chronic problem of English curriculum in Korea is passive grammar-translation and test-oriented methods that cause difficulties of proper English acquisition. People in education keep working to solve this problem, but there are still some leftovers. To produce global leaders who have high English proficiency and equal development four skills of a language, it is very important to throw old methods away and adapt the best way to improve not only students’ communicative skills, but also accurate and fluent use of English. Throughout many revisions of ELT curriculum, Korean education has better English curriculums at school, but still, there is a long way to go not only for success in English teaching and learning but also for better education environment in general.

  • Bae, D. and J. Han. (1994). The Explications of the 6th English Curriculum. Seoul: Ministry of Education
  • Chang, M .B. (2009). English textbook analysis for developing the 8th national curriculum: Focused on discourse study using discourse completion tasks.
  • Yoon, K. E. (2004). CLT Theories and practices in EFL curricula: A case study of Korea. Asian EFL Journal, 2004
  • Lee, Chio, Park, & Kim (2007). Interpretation of High School National Curriculum (English). Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation (KICA). 1~221
  • Interpretation of Elementary School National Curriculum (English). Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation (KICA). 277~375

Thailand ELT Curriculum: Sannes

The place of English in the Kingdom of Thailand has been very important for over 150 years, as it is in many other countries that have international visitors or do international business. However, Thailand has a history as a country as one of the few countries that were never colonized; so it is very proud of its official language, Thai. As a country that has one main language, it is believed that fact brings “national stability” (Wiriyachitra, 2002).

English language teaching (ELT) can; however, be traced all the way back to around 1824, when many westerners started coming to Thailand (Foley, 2005). The King of Thailand, King Mongkut, became very interested Western culture and hired English teachers to learn the language (Sawasdee Magazine,1996). The high court officials and administrators wanted to know English to communicate. In 1921 it was mandated that English was required to be studied beyond 4th grade. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the emphasis was put on communication in English due to more international business relations (Foley, 2005).

Rote memorization was typically the method used to learn at Thai schools and for religions and cultural purposes. Any other method used to learn English than rote memorization and grammar translation, such as the audio-lingual method, usually failed badly due to what seemed to be the idea that it went against their typical way of learning (Foley, 2005). However, in the early 1980s all languages became electives because of the belief at the time that second language learning should come after first language mastery, and English fell out of popularity again. It wasn’t until 1996 that learning English in school became required from 1st grade on up, in the primary grades (1-6) (Foley, 2005).

English has been the foreign language primarily studied in school. However, in the past, listening and speaking has not been an emphasis in the English language curriculum, which has the most use when it comes to doing business or reaching out to foreign visitors. In business situations when dealing with foreign companies, usually only one business partner, or fewer, would know enough English to be able to communicate adequately, which left them in non advantageous positions. Also the technology aspect in their society has suffered due to the Thai persons’ lack of English proficiency. They have very high knowledge of technology, but because of the use of English in technology Thai people started to fall behind (Wiriyachitra, 2002).

There had been a push in the past to try to make Thailand a land of two languages, English and Thai, as they recognize the importance of English as a “world language” (Wiriyachitra, 2002, p.1); however, that idea has been knocked down time and again due to the countries’ national pride and stability being on the line. Thus the Thai peoples’ English level was said to be lower than several the other Asian countries including Singapore, Malaysia, and Philippines, but higher than Japan and North Korea, and on about the same level as those from Mongolia, according to their TOEFL scores in 2000 (Wiriyachitra, 2002).

ELT in Thailand did not prepare Thai people “for the changing world” (Wiriyachitra, 2002, p.1). They were starting to lag behind in technology, education, science, and business due to the inadequate ELT and possibly Thai education as a whole. The government realized this, a new constitution was made in 1997, and then the National Education Act was passed in 1999 (Wiriyachitra, 2002).

The National Education Act emphasized performance-based assessment, learner-centered culture along with appropriate standards and objects set to each level. This Act was to be implemented in steps between 1999 and 2007. The new English curriculum had four main concepts: culture, communities, connection, and communication, which is based on the guidelines provided by the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Schools were given more freedom in regards to “teaching methods and assessments” along with getting the materials they needed and where they used the class time (Foley, 2005, p.225). This Act called for 800-1000 English sessions of 20-30 minutes in grades 1-6 and 1200 sessions of 50 minutes in grades 7-12. University level learning was now required to have 12 credits (4 classes) of English; 2 classes of English in academic areas or for “specific purposes” and 2 basic English classes (Foley, 2005).

Based on the standards of the National Education Act, students entering university were required to pass an English proficiency test made by Ministry of University Affairs and they were placed in their English classes based on their scores from the test. While at school they are supposed to take a National University English Proficiency Test and pass it before graduation any time in those four years (Wiriyachitra, 2002).

Communicative approach was used with this new curriculum, but it also emphasized speaking and listening in order to try to be more competent in global communication. Now Thai students didn’t have to take all their English courses in their regular school, they could now also take it at a language school, or overseas, and the credits would now be easier to transfer (Wiriyachitra, 2002).

Teacher development also played a big role in the new ELT curriculum. In this Education Act teachers would have more training offered and would have to attend some form of training at least every two years. They will need to improve their English proficiency along with keeping up with new teaching methods and professional development. Since some teachers live out in the country, a Royal project provided training to them via satellite TV (Wiriyachitra, 2002). (A Royal project provides grant type funding for specific things such as free satellites, inexpensive agricultural schooling, etc., for those who can’t afford it or who are lower income. This particular Royal project provided free satellites installed out in the country near country schools).

There are still many challenges to implementing this National Education Act. Many teachers have hard teaching loads with 45-60 students in a class (Wiriyachitra, 2002). They don’t have classrooms with adequate equipment (i.e. lack of textbooks or reference books) and technology (Foley, 2005). They may not have very good English cultural knowledge or language skills and university entrance exams seem to be best passed by those who teach with rote memorization in mind (Wiriyachitra, 2002). Also the English curriculum isn’t set so that it integrates easily with other subjects (Foley, 2005).

Students also face some challenges when it comes to learning English. They aren’t often given an opportunity to use English in their everyday lives and may be too shy to practice their English even when given the opportunity. They have not been taught to take responsibility in learning, are passive when it comes to learning, and may not have teachers who are able to challenge them in their English learning. They also face a challenge because Thai is so different from English, pronunciation and syntax may be especially hard (Wiriyachitra, 2002).

English language teaching has long had a place in Thailand. English is used to communicate in business, education, and technology along with other areas. Thailand has lagged behind several other Asian countries in its English proficiency. However, the government implemented a National Education Act in 1999 that worked toward fixing any English curriculum problems before 2007. ELT still faces many challenges from inadequate supplies, too many students in a classroom or students who don’t know how to take control of their own learning. Not all the problems may be fixed, and it may take longer than they thought, but they are headed in the right direction toward better English proficiency in the Kingdom of Thailand.


Taiwan ELT Curriculum: Tsai

The history of English learning has been in the Chinese history for one hundred and fifty years. In the mid- 19th century, the Chinese government was suffering from the impact of Western technology and steel due to the Industrial Revolution. The government realized that how diplomatic talented people important were. Therefore, English education started officially from that period of time and the subject of English hold the quite important status in hundred nearly histories of education in the Chinese history (Huang,1993:79).

In 1911, Republic of China established, the government continued considering English to be a useful language of the nation’s education (Zhang, 2007). English learning in Taiwan has faced many political and economic factors. For instance, Taiwan had never been a colony of the English- speaking country, but the American aid provides Taiwan support and help of the early economic development. Moreover, in 1960s and 1970s, Taiwan’s economy developed rapidly and it led English language to be an important means of communication with the world. Tsao (2001), cited in Huang (2005),” The promotion of English in Taiwan has been driven largely by economic needs.”

The background of curriculum reform and policies in 1994 and 2000s
Since 1990, Taiwan government has conducted a comprehensive restructuring of its economy in order to meet stiff WTO requirements for acceptance as a fully developed economy (Fang & Sun, 1999). English became more important than the past years for economic areas and one of major targets for presenting social status. In 1993 and 1994, the Ministry of Education (MOE) of Taiwan proclaimed elementary schools and junior high schools’ curriculum standard for all subjects.

On April 10, 1994, educators, parents, and students asked for the revolution of education to the government. One of the 10 years educational revolution’s plans was curriculum reform. In 1997, the MOE established the Special Panel on the Development of Elementary and Junior High Schools’ Curriculum. “ In keeping with the 21st century and the global trends of educational reform, the government must engage in educational reform in order to foster national competitiveness and the overall quality of our citizens lives” (The Ministry of Education, 2003). The new curriculum called Grade 1-9 curriculum guidelines and divided all subjects into seven learning areas.

Curriculum standard (1994) V.S. Grade 1-9 curriculum guidelines (2003)
Curriculum standard: English was the main subject of junior high schools’ curriculum and taught from the first grade to the third grade in junior high schools. The time for each period should be 45 minutes for junior high schools and learning periods are 4 times per week. The textbooks had only one edition and were edited by the Ministry of Education (the Ministry of Education, 2003).

The current curriculum use in elementary schools and junior high schools are the MOE announced in 2003. English education belongs to the language art learning area. In 2005, the major difference in English education is that, English language teaching started from the third grade to the ninth grade and divided into two stages: Stage One is at Grade 3-6 and learning 1-2 hours per week (Chen, 2006); Stage Two is at Grade 7- 9 and learning 3-4 hours per week. The time for each period should be approximately 40 minutes for elementary schools and 45 minutes for junior high schools (the Ministry of Education, 2003).
The overall purpose of English education for students is to have abilities in listening, oral, reading, and writing parts. Moreover, grade 3-4 should emphasize on listening and oral parts; grade 5-9 could pay more attention on reading and writing parts. For example, students completed the stage one of English education can use at least 300 words including sight words in the oral abilities and spell correctly 180 vocabulary in the writing abilities; students completed the stage two can apply 1200 words in listening, speaking, reading, and writing abilities. For each grade has competence indicators that is providing the guidelines for teachers to follow its purpose of learning (the Ministry of Education, 2003). Furthermore, in 2011, all elementary schools and junior high schools will use the latest revision of curriculum guidelines, the MOE announced in 2008(the Ministry of Education, 2003).

Teaching materials and instructional assessment
Schools could select their own textbooks that are suitable and well designed from all of the approved versions (the Ministry of Education,2003; Chang, 2008). Be pondering students’ learning, and schools may compile alternative textbooks and teaching materials. Furthermore, the school’s Committee of School Curriculum Development will review such teaching materials that are adopted for the whole grade or school for one whole semester or more.

In Taiwan, many parents believe that the idea of the earlier the better (Tseng, 2008). Therefore, children have more benefits to compete others. When would be the best time to start learning English? It is always made big debates between the government or educators and parents. Those parents who believe that the idea of the earlier the better spent additional money for children learning English in private English learning centers, bilingual kindergartens, or native English-speaker tutors to create an all-English environment (Dolby, 2004). The issue and those learning center led the MOE of Taiwan to keep revising the curriculum of English education.

  • Chen, S. C. (2006). Simultaneous promotion of indigenisation and internationalisation: New language- in-education Policy in Taiwan. Language and Education, 20(4), 322-337.
  • Chang, Y. F. (2008). Parents’ attitude toward the English education policy in Taiwan. Asia Pacific Educational Review, 9(4), 423-435.
  • Dolby, I. (2004). The English educational system in Taiwan. Retrieved February 23, 2010, from
  • Fang, L. N., & Sun, S.W. (1999). Glocalization and identity politics reflections on globalization theories from the Taiwanese experience. Asian Journal of Communication, 9(2), 79-98.
  • Huang, S.Y. (2005). Taiwanese Students Talk About English in Taiwan and Their Lives.Languages, Communities, and Education, 45-54. Retrieved April 30, 2010, from
  • Huang, Z.L. (1993). English teaching develops new and the deepening. Taipei:Article Crane Publishing House.
  • Taiwan Elementary and Secondary Educator Community. (n.d.). Curriculum Guidelines. Retrieved February 23, 2010, from
  • Tseng, C.L. (2008). Understanding the desirability of English language education in Taiwan. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 9(1), 83-86. Retrieved February 23, 2010, from
  • Zhang, M.J. (2007). Impact of English on Chinese mainland: From historical, educational and political dimensions. US- China Education Review, 4(5), 61-66.

Saudi Arabia ELT Curriculum: Wiechart

English Language Teaching in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia holds the unique position of being one of only two Gulf States that never fell under direct colonial influence. Additionally, as the seat of Islam’s holiest shrines, religion permeates all aspects of the government and education systems. As a result of this situation, it was the Saudi government that early on took the initiative to implement English language teaching into the public educational system. With the annual influx of pilgrimage-related tourism as well as the global demands of the oil and technology industries, the English language permeates many aspects of Saudis' daily lives. English is vital in administrative, economic, science, technology, and medical sectors (Al-Abed Al-Hag & Smadi 1996). Al-Seghayer (2005) notes that English consequently performs "the instrumental function as a medium of learning at various stages in th
educational system" (p. 125).

Historically, English has been the only foreign language in KSA and is introduced at the intermediate level (ages 12-14) and is a compulsory subject throughout the secondary schooling period. As of the 2002-2003 school year, English became compulsory at the elementary levels as well(Al-Seghayer 2005). Al- Seghayer (2005) notes that despite large amounts of time spent in English classes, this system produces lower than normal proficiency levels. Much of this lag has been attributed to student motivation levels regarding language practicality and Westernization in general, as well as poor teacher preparation and a lack of adequate materials.

English has been taught in KSA since 1927, yet it was not until the 1960s that a comprehensive curriculum, entitled Living English for the Arab World, took hold (Al-Seghayer, 2005). This curriculum prevailed until 1980 when it was replaced with a program named Saudi Arabian Schools English (Field 1980 cited in Al-Seghayer 2005). In the mid-1990s English for Saudi Arabia, an objective-based joint project between the Ministry of Education and EFL specialists at King Fahad University, was launched (Al-Seghayer 2005). Al-Seghayer (2005) reports that the predominant teaching methods in use in KSA are the audiolingual method (ALM) and grammar translation method (GTM) with much of the grammar explanation being carried out in Arabic since most EFL teachers have been trained as linguists and translators rather than education experts.

The Ministry of Education recently launched a very progressive and ambitious Ten Year Plan for a complete overhaul of the Saudi primary and secondary education system with the added goal of eradicating adult illiteracy. Inherent in this restructuring is a revitalized focus on competency based English language programs which will assure that Saudi citizens can fully excel in a globalized technologically-driven world while maintaining Islamic and Saudi value systems. The English Language Development Program at Secondary Level is a four-year program that was initiated during the 2008-2009 school year. The program is a collaboration between the Ministry of Education and major American and British EFL/ESL textbook and materials publishers like Oxford University Press, Pearson Longman, Macmillan, McGraw Hill (ELDP 2005). This program aims for collaboration between Saudi teachers and educational specialists to create ELT materials which would enhance and advance Saudi religious and cultural values through English language communicative competency methods. (See Appendix for example)

Generally, ELT education has consisted of a four year program in English language and literature, applied linguistics and translation with only one course in EFL teaching methods and one semester of pre-service teaching (one or two courses consisting of four to eight hours per week) (Al-Hazmi 2003). Education colleges in KSA focus mainly on pedagogical aspects; whereas, colleges of arts focus on translation specialties (Al-Hazmi 2003). By and large, the Kingdom, like most of the region, has relied upon teachers who have come to the area looking for work. Syed (2003) cites “of the nearly 22 million people in the [Gulf] region, nearly half are expatriates—including 70% of the labor force…English is taught by Egyptians, Palestinians, Jordanians, and other Arab nationals at the K-12 level while most teachers at the tertiary level are North Americans, Britons, and Australians, with some Arab nationals”(p. 338). Al-Hazmi (2003) further notes that “the non-Saudi teachers, especially from Arab countries, are not well trained, nor do they receive in-service education upon assuming their posts at schools” (p. 342). This heavy reliance has had significant effects in quality, reliability and accountability in the ELT situation throughout the Kingdom.

Al-Hazmi (2003) states, “The ideal would be to Saudize all EFL teachers’ posts at the basic education level and have a comprehensive pre- and in-service master plan at the national level” (p. 342). The Ministry of Education TenYear Plan (2005) indeed aims for “95% Saudinization in all stages of education and jobs” (p.16). The plan also aims for a 20% increase in acceptance in teacher colleges as well as lucrative longevity and merit systems to retain high quality educators (Ministry of Education, 2005).

In particular, the ELDP Secondary Plan specifically earmarks teacher professionalism as a key focal point. Working with international trainers and content creators, local Arab teachers and supervisors would be educated in instructional design and adaption skills as well as communicative competence and content-based methodology. Internationally renown ELF programs such as CELTA, CELTYL and DELTA would be implemented for additional professional development opportunities (ELDP 2005).

One of the key challenges in the ME's 10 year plan is balancing the advancement and implementation of a more cohesive and comprehensive EFL model with materials that also honor the intricate Saudi culture. While Al-Abed al Haz and Smadi (1996) found that the majority of Saudi students in their study saw no correlation between learning the English language and becoming wholly westernized, cultural value preservation is a valid concern for teachers, administrators, and the government. Situated within the framework of the most comprehensive reform package ever and with many global stakeholders, the ELDP does seem to be making strides towards achieving this goal. With a greater focus on training local teachers who have a vested interest in the culture to be content creators instead of just content deliverers, this balance can be within reach.

Sample 6th Grade Lessons

  • Al-Abed al Haq, F. and Smadi, O. (1996). Spread of English and westernization in Saudi Arabia. World Englishes 15: 3 pp. 307-317.
  • Al-Hazmi, S. (2003). EFL Teacher preparation programs in Saudi Arabia: Trends and challenges. TESOL Quarterly, 37:2. Summer 2003, pp. 341-344. Retrieved Feb 23 from JSTOR.
  • Al-Sadan, I.A. (2000). Educational assessment in Saudi Arabian schools. Assessment in Education, 7:1 Retrieved Feb. 24 from EBSCO.
  • Al-Seghayer, K. (2005) Teaching English in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Slowly but steadily. in Teaching English to the World: History, Curriculum, and Practice. Ed. George Braine. Laurence Erlbaum Associate, Inc. Mahwah, NJ.
  • Ministry of Education of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (2005). The executive summary of the Ministry of Education ten-year plan 1425-1435H (2004-2014) Retrieved Feb 22, 2010 from
  • English Language Development Program (ELDP) at Secondary Education Retrieved Feb.19, 2010 from
  • Syed, Z. (2003). The sociocultural context of English language teaching in the gulf. TESOL Quarterly, 37:2, Summer 2003 pp. 337-344. Retrieved Feb 23 from JSTOR.

Spain ELT Curriculum: Worcester

Spain has a somewhat chaotic history with Foreign Languages. While Spanish is the major language of the country many people speak more than one language, however very few speak any Foreign Languages. Spain is divided into 17 Autonomous Communities; each of which has its own regional language, the most popular being Catalan in Catalonia, and Gallego in Galicia. These regional languages became almost extinct under the dictator, General Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain from 1936 until his death in 1975. He wanted to unite Spain under its own powers, and thus banned most communication between Spain and other countries. Even though he was a German ally during Hitler´s 3rd Reich, Spain wasn´t involved in World War II. He did however allow Hitler to test one of his bombs on a small town in Spain, known as Guernica. This event influenced Picasso´s most important painting from his exile in France, entitled simply “Guernica” which now resides in the modern art museum, the Reina Sofia, in Madrid.

As a way of keeping Spain from communicating with the outside world, Franco banned the teaching and speaking of any language other than Castellano (Spanish Spanish). The use of foreign languages came to a standstill and the regional languages almost died out, as people couldn´t speak them at home without the threat of prosecution. When Franco died in 1975 and Juan Carlos I resumed his rightful place on the Spanish throne the doors to the outside world flew open and suddenly people needed a way to communicate with the countries around them. After the Spanish Constitution was signed in 1978, Spain pushed for Foreign Languages to be taught in the schools as a way to show the world, and most importantly the European countries, that they were working toward becoming friendly with their neighbors, and hopefully join the European Union. The first big Foreign Language to be studied was French, given the obvious geographical proximity. It wasn´t until my generation that students started truly studying English in the school system.

Unfortunately, given the late start of English Language Education legislation is far behind the need. The people want to learn English, realizing that it is the most spoken language of the world, but given the fact that most teachers never had the opportunity to study it, they find it difficult to teach something that they don´t really know. This leads to the main problem in Spain. When a country wants to add something to the main curriculum of the public schools, the dictate has to essentially come from the top: the government has to decide that they want to teach it in the future, the universities then need to plan a way to teach the future teachers how to teach the subject, then it finally comes down and the schools receive the new subject area as a core class. However, Spain didn’t really dictate it as a subject for the future; instead they dictated it as a subject for the present.

Spain has no State Standards for a basis of what the students are supposed to learn. Therefore the universities don´t really know how to prepare teachers to teach it. As García and Sánchez (2002) have stated, teachers learn more about the cultures of English, including the literature and history and they are supposed to automatically take this into the classroom. “Thus, in Spanish university initial education institutions, the preparation of EFL primary and secondary school teachers has concentrated on the learning of grammar or linguistics, phonetics, culture and literature, and at the end, in a sort of Cinderella position, something called “didactics” (284). Therefore, the government isn´t really ready for this change, the universities aren´t ready for this change, so it´s only common sense that the schools aren´t prepared for it either.

In my experience student teaching in Ávila, Spain, the teachers didn´t do much planning. When I suggested that I take the books home in order to plan the next day´s or week´s lessons, the teacher just looked at me, and hesitantly said “ok.” I didn´t know what the hesitation was for until I got into the actual observations. The teacher didn´t do anything that wasn´t part of the book. Planning just meant coming and opening to the next page and seeing what they were doing next, and we worked through the page until the end of the lesson.

As García and Sánchez (2002)state, "… the view of the primary school teacher as a technician has not changed very much: “Blind faith in the textbook! You don´t need anything else!” … It seems that even when the textbook is supposed to be a source for the teacher, the teacher himself/herself has become a source for the textbook" (286). Therefore the text book is the curriculum in most schools. The textbooks change depending on the school, but most schools try to work with ESL books from England. They usually work with either the Oxford book series or the MacMillan book series. There are hundreds of books that schools choose from, but these are the most popular in the schools I researched. The teachers teach from these books because they may know the language, but very few would be qualified to teach English in the States because they teach the language based almost solely on the fact that they can speak it.

This is also causing more problems throughout Spain; the idea that you can teach a language based solely on the ability to speak it. This has caused a sudden influx in foreigners in the country teaching English. Private schools and companies hire many foreigners to teach their students and workers English. The idea is that this will improve the students´ levels of English grammar and pronunciations. Therefore the TEFL community has opened widely and English speaking foreigners have flooded the country. Many come for a year or two to enjoy living in the sun and heat of Spain, and the many long weekends where teachers can travel throughout Spain and Europe for next to nothing. They usually take a month long intensive on how to teach English as a Foreign Language, and are hired pretty quickly by private agencies, companies, academies, schools, etc.

These teachers don´t have a set curriculum either. They are taught to focus on the four areas of communication: speaking, listening, reading, writing, but many text books conveniently leave out writing and therefore most teachers don’t focus on it either. They usually don´t put any emphasis on the cultures either, so when a teacher does differ from the book, students are either amazed or confused. The textbooks are either general English or business English and focus primarily on British English as opposed to American English. The curriculum suggests that you get through at least part of the book, but no one is there looking to see what you do in class each day. All they want to know is whether you were in class or not. There are no tests to see improvement; the only thing standing between the students and their bosses is the teachers word that they are working in and out of class. So “grading,” if I can call it that, is extremely subjective and one-sided. The teachers evaluate the students by submitting an evaluation, but the students neither get to evaluate themselves nor their teachers.

Without these set curriculums and standards it´s unclear how much students are really learning. I know more Spanish after 10 years of studies than most of my students who have had 20 years of studying English. If the teacher doesn´t have more than an intermediate level of English, it´s hard for the student to achieve more than that level as well without studying outside the country, or study hard on their own time. So it´s kind of a vicious cycle, the students don´t have a very high level, therefore they become teachers without a very high level and then teach students again.

Therefore, Spain has a long way to go in English Language Education and Foreign Language Education as a whole. Reforms are in the process, through all the levels of the education system in Spain, but it will take time to see how they truly affect the system. Little by little school both private and public are becoming bilingual; universities are slowly changing their course schedule to include more student teaching experience and methods classes on FLT; and as García Laborda (2005) explains in his overview, the in-service teachers are slowly starting to take continuing education courses either through university classes, in-services, or private courses. Hopefully in the next few years we will see a huge growth in the way that English is studied and taught at every level of education throughout Spain.

  • García Laborda, J. (2005). An Overview of ELT formative ways in Spain. IATEFL The teacher Trainers and Educators SIG Newsletter, (2), 46-49.
  • García Doval, F, & Sánchez Rial, M. (2002). EFL Initial Teacher Education for Primary and Secondary Schools in Spain. CAUCE, Revista de Filología y su Didáctica//, (25), 281-298.