The Future of Foreign Language Education in a Global World: Exploring Motivation and Autonomy

Part 1: The Future of English Motivation in a Global World

The International Symposium held at the University of Toyama on February 19th 2017 was an event which brought together not only many prestigious speakers, but also attendees whose own research has made a valuable contribution to the area. As such, the conference was both accessible and yet well-informed and insightful, with many lively and active discussions both during and between sessions.

In particular, the morning session saw a special seminar with Ema Ushioda, entitled The Future of English Motivation in a Global World, in which she talked through many of the issues that are addressed in a forthcoming issue of the Modern Language Journal, co-edited by Ema and Zoltan Dornyei and due to be published in 2017: 101(3). In particular, this special issue looks at the motivation to learn languages other than English. Ema’s special seminar sought to examine the role of English in a multilingual world, which began by drawing and expanding on Graddol’s book English Next (2006). Graddol talks about the ‘new orthodoxy’ of English, which implies the disappearance of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) as English becomes more and more a ‘life skill’. Instead of EFL, English instruction will become more integrated into educational systems around the world, particularly in the form of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) and English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI). English becomes part of the curriculum, not as a foreign language but as a method of instruction in and of itself. In other words, the ‘new orthodoxy’. Graddol’s book is well-known now, having been published just over ten years ago, and already there is much evidence that his predictions are coming to light. However, (as Ema says, there is always a ‘but’), there is also a very visible multilingual turn in Applied Linguistics, which perhaps rode on the waves of the social turn. In other words, a move away from psycholinguistic, cognitive and monolingual approaches to language. Much of early Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research focused on what has often been termed the ‘deficit’ view of L2 learning. Such a view posits that our L2 will never be as good as our L1, and thus implies that L1 users are ‘better’, which leads to the adoption of native-like norms for setting the ‘standard’. Such a view has been criticised in many different ways, not only because the reality of a native-speaker is based on a myth (Davies, 2003), but also because it leads to a range of practices within ELT that disadvantage the majority of English speaker/users in the world (Braine, 2010; Holliday, 2005; Lowe & Pinner, 2016; Medgyes, 1994; Reves & Medgyes, 1994; Swann, Aboshiha, & Holliday, 2015).

Ema also discussed the fact that the mounting pressure to learn English has actually been shown to damage the motivation to learn other languages (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2011). This is deeply entwined with an ‘instrumentalist view’ of language education. In other words, we learn English for the purposes of acquiring greater access to social and cultural capital. We need it, want it, know it will make our lives better. And yet, as this places great pressure on us to learn the language, it de-emphasises other languages and ‘non-standard’ varieties, and it may also inhibit personal autonomy to learn English. At this point in her seminar, I wanted to raise my hand and tell Ema that you could almost say that English becomes a ‘disembodied language’, a point I have often made when examining the idea of Global English in relation to authenticity (Pinner, 2016). In fact, in her talk Ema was mainly talking about motivation and autonomy, yet for me I felt there was a great deal of overlap here with the concept of authenticity as well. As I have discussed in my doctoral research, authenticity, autonomy and motivation seem to form a dynamic triad (Pinner, 2017). Of course, Ema knows all about this, as she is my supervisor, but her talk was already very ‘meta’ and mapping the complexities and intricacies of the global position of English as a ‘world auxiliary language’ (Lo Bianco, 2014) to her own, much more personal, individual and contextually-based approach to motivation and autonomy (Ushioda, 2011a, 2011b, 2015, 2016).

Ema pointed out that such an instrumentalist view of learning is not, in fact, unique to languages but a worrying trend that can be seen throughout education. Ema talked about the new Teaching Excellence Review to be put in place in the UK next year, in which one of the assessment criteria are graduate employment rates. This highlights the fact that education is often seen as a means to an end; there is a utilitarian focus which downplays the humanitarian role of education. Fostering individuals with the capacity for critical thought is not the role of education as the government (and hence many institutions reliant on funding) see it. However, this view is more likely to be held by those who work as teachers. In other words, Ema’s special seminar highlighted the global dynamics, mixed-messages and socio-political agendas around English language education. She drew heavily on Lo Bianco (2014) notion of ‘domesticating the foreign’ to show how local and global policies entwine in the language classroom.

Fundamentally, Ema’s main point was that reaching native-like proficiency was not a realistic or meaningful goal for many learners in global contexts. The affordance of English for gaining social capital is important, but similarly with the world moving more toward super-diversity, English educational models would be better served if they were to highlight a multiple competencies approach to learning. Another aspect is that learning should be made personally meaningful, and people should learn to speak as themselves.

Although I fundamentally agree that the native-speaker model is a serious problem for English language instruction and that it has led to the disadvantaging of the majority of English speakers, it may also lead to other forms of discrimination as a result of the entangled ideologies at work in the world. In many ways, it boils down to social and cultural capital. People make judgements about us based on how we speak; and thus it may be disadvantageous for students to focus on learning English that could be seen as deviant, especially if this makes them hard to comprehend. This argument has been made many times; it is the crux of the Kachru-Quirk argument, and also the central justifications between Jenkins’ Lingua Franca core (2000). Also, the issue of language tests (which are based on ‘standard’ notions of the language) are another obstacle.

However, I don’t think that Ema was advocating that we encourage learners to speak in a way which is incomprehensible (although this argument was voiced during the Q&A). I think rather that Ema was promoting the same idea that she put forward in her persons-in-context relational view of motivation (Ushioda, 2009), which resonates with van Lier (1996) call for awareness, autonomy and authenticity as part of the interactions in the language classroom, both of which imply sociocultural approaches to learning and ecological perspectives to language. The key is that a person does not need perfect English, and it is important for students to have realistic goals about themselves and the levels of proficiency they actually need. This has been discussed in very interesting studies by Matsuda (2011) and Kubota (2013), both of whom found that Japanese learners might do well to assess their own goals in relation to what they need to achieve with the language, rather than aspiring to be simply ‘like native speakers’.

Overall, the talk was fascinating and gave me a lot of food for thought. In the next post, I will discuss Ema’s Keynote speech which discussed whether teachers should see themselves as motivators.



Braine, G. (2010). Nonnative Speaker English Teachers: Research, Pedagogy, and Professional Growth. London: Routledge.

Davies, A. (2003). The Native Speaker: Myth and reality (2nd ed.). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Dörnyei, Z., & Ushioda, E. (2011). Teaching and researching: Motivation (2nd ed.). Harlow: Longman Pearson.

Graddol, D. (2006). English next : why global English may mean the end of ‘English as a foreign language’. London: British Council.

Holliday, A. (2005). The struggle to teach English as an international language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an international language: New models, new norms, new goals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kubota, R. (2013). ‘Language is only a tool’: Japanese expatriates working in China and implications for language teaching. Multilingual Education, 3(1), 1-20.

Lo Bianco, J. (2014). Domesticating the Foreign: Globalization’s Effects on the Place/s of Languages. The Modern Language Journal, 98(1), 312-325.

Lowe, R., & Pinner, R. (2016). Finding the Connections Between Native-speakerism and Authenticity. Applied Linguistics Review, 7(1), 27-52. doi:10.1515/applirev-2016-0002

Matsuda, A. (2011). ‘Not everyone can be a star’: Student’s and Teacher’s beliefs about English teaching in Japan. In P. Seargeant (Ed.), English in Japan in the era of globalization (pp. 38-59). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Medgyes, P. (1994). The non-native teacher (Revised ed.). London: Macmillan.

Pinner, R. S. (2016). Reconceptualising Authenticity for English as a Global Language. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Pinner, R. S. (2017). Social Authentication and the synergies between teacher and student motivation: an Autoethnographic inquiry into the interaction between authenticity and motivation in English language teaching at a Japanese university. (PhD Doctoral Thesis), University of Warwick, Warwick.

Reves, T., & Medgyes, P. (1994). The non-native English speaking EFL/ESL teacher’s self-image: An international survey. System, 22(3), 353-367.

Swann, A., Aboshiha, P., & Holliday, A. (Eds.). (2015). (En)Countering Native-Speakerism: Global Perspectives. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ushioda, E. (2009). A person-in-context relational view of emergent motivation, self and identity. In E. Ushioda & Z. Dörnyei (Eds.), Motivation, language identity and the L2 self (pp. 215-228). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Ushioda, E. (2011a). Language learning motivation, self and identity: current theoretical perspectives. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 24(3), 199-210. doi:10.1080/09588221.2010.538701

Ushioda, E. (2011b). Motivating learners to speak as themselves. In G. Murray, X. Gao, & T. E. Lamb (Eds.), Identity, motivation and autonomy in language learning (pp. 11 – 25). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Ushioda, E. (2015). Context and complex dynamic systems theory. In Z. Dörnyei, P. MacIntyre, & A. Henry (Eds.), Motivational dynamics in language learning (pp. 47 – 54). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Ushioda, E. (2016). Language learning motivation through a small lens: A research agenda. Language Teaching, 49(4), 564-577. doi:10.1017/S0261444816000173

van Lier, L. (1996). Interaction in the language curriculum: Awareness, autonomy and authenticity. London: Longman.


International Symposium on Language, Autonomy and Motivation in Toyama

The Future of Foreign Language Education in a Global World: Exploring Motivation and Autonomy

Dr Ema Ushioda will be in Toyama, Japan in February giving a keynote speech on motivation and autonomy. Other plenaries include Lorna Carson, Yoshiyuki Nakata and Luxin Yang.

The free event takes place at Toyama University, Sunday 19th February 2017.

The smart way to use Smartphones in the language classroom

Originally Published as The smart way to use Smartphones in the language classroom. Modern English teacher, 25(3), 2016.


Smartphones and mobile communication technology are continuously evolving, becoming more and more a part of everyday life. Love them or hate them (and for many it may be a bit of both) smartphones are incredibly versatile pieces of technology. At any one time, we can carry around in our pockets a digital library of ebooks, audio and visual files, not to mention apps for education, entertainment or work. My smartphone is not the newest model but on there I have had skype conversations with my family 6,000 miles away from the park where I am walking my dog, I have proof-read articles and replied to urgent emails from colleagues and students, I have even composed early drafts for articles. I have also played games which help me to remember Japanese kanji, and used the Japanese dictionary to help me to maintain a conversation about difficult topics I am not used to speaking about in a language I am still learning. Of course, I have also spent (or wasted) less productive hours on my phone reading posts on Facebook or watching YouTube videos that make me laugh. The fact of the matter is that a smartphone is a powerful, personalised communication tool which allows connections between people and information, and this can be harnessed in the language classroom, if the right approach is applied.

Initially when smartphones started to appear in students hands in my classroom, I (like many teachers) found them to be extremely irritating. It was obvious that Student X at the back of the classroom was not paying attention to the instructions about the task I was setting up, they were paying more attention to their crotch area, where the smartphone was nestled. It is always obvious when a person checks their phone in secret, and as teachers we are naturally aware of our students in a way that they often do not give us credit for. The same is true of other social situations; it is generally seen as bad etiquette to ignore a person who you are face-to-face with in favour of your phone. There are several articles already about how phones are ruining face-to-face conversations (Drago, 2015), and from my own personal experience this is not hard to see why. When I worked in a language school in London I often had to resort to taking students’ phones away from them in order to keep them focused on the class. My friends who are teachers in High Schools in both Japan and England have also reported this, with one friend telling me that her school collects all the students’ phones in a box before the lesson can even begin! However, if used in the right way, smartphones can be a very useful tool to support and extend language learning opportunities, precisely because they are designed as communication tools.

There are simply thousands of apps for education, and a large proportion of these are dedicated to learners who use multiple languages. If you are not sure which of these to use, why not turn that into a task for the class and have the students try them out and present their reviews to the class. The students could put it to the vote after their research presentations, the chosen app might then be used for homework assignments. It would not only be very informative for everybody, but also empowering for the students to have a direct input on the way the class is taught or the choice of materials to use for class. This is also a good way for teachers who feel less tech-savvy to take further steps towards a blended classroom environment, in which technology has a comfortable and supportive supplementary role.

One of the most obvious and effective ways of using smartphones in the class that I have had enormous success with, is to use them to allow students to go on a mini-webquest when I am introducing something or activating schemata about a topic. For example, I might ask my class “have you ever heard of David Bowie?” and right there and then, using their smartphones the students can quickly do a search for the great late Starman and find out enough about him to move into the next stage of the task. Students who already know about the topic can still benefit from this by checking certain facts, and then of course the group discussion can take place as usual with smartphones safely back in the students’ bags. I have had unexpected benefits from this approach, for example in a class for the English Literature department where I work, I asked the students to learn something about Raymond Carver (the American short-story writer) and one student learned that it would have been his birthday on that day. These serendipitous moments add what Freda Mishan (2005) calls ‘currency’ to the tasks; an element of authenticity which is dependent on time-relevance. Of course, this achieves nothing which could not already be done in a CALL room, but here the smartphones are simply a handy tool rather than the computers being the central medium in-which to conduct the class. These schematising mini-webquests can also be more flexible than CALL room time as they require almost no forward planning and can be done on the fly.

Smartphones are not only potential tools for use during the class, they can also be very useful for self-access learning and homework type activities, as I touched upon earlier. Many teachers have accounts with apps such as Quizlet, which allows the creation of vocabulary flash-cards and multiple-choice questions. Teachers can set up classes in Quizlet which their students can join. This has many advantages, such as very accurate monitoring and instant feedback. The teacher can see who has done the tasks and what their score was without having to do any marking or checking of homework with a red pen. Many leading textbooks also offer apps and media-content specific to their units, and this might be a more engaging type of out-of-class activity to set for homework than photocopying the activity book. A further advantage is that these activities can be done whilst busy students are on the move, although this may have implications for the amount of cognitive engagement they can invest and retention. Although mobile learning (mLearning) is a popular buzz-word and has some success reported in the research (Cavus & Ibrahim, 2009; Stockwell, 2007), I am still rather sceptical about how deeply we can learn something while on the move. However, having the option allows for a more flexible approach and accommodates students with different life-styles and learning preferences.

In a similar way, it might be useful to set-up a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) such as Moodle, or create a free class learning site using a service such as Weebly, edublogs or SchoolRack. If you use PowerPoint (or another presentation platform such as Prezi) then you can set up ‘remote presenting’ which allows students (either in the classroom or at home) to follow your slides on their smartphone whilst you are presenting. This could be useful for large-classes or other situations where the slides need to be made more accessible, for example if students are sight impaired (see Robert Lowe’s article in ETp for further practical suggestions for sight-impaired students). This way also can be a step towards a paper-free classroom, something the environment and future generations will thank you for (or so we are led to believe, as I will return to later).

Another useful way to use smartphones in the class is to incorporate them into information-gap tasks. Instead of preparing two versions of a handout, Partner A can simply visit one link and Partner B visits another. I have taken this further also, and put students in groups where they each watch a different video or listen to a different song, and then the group describes the video and when we watch them all back as a class, the groups have to match the other groups’ descriptions to their videos. Tasks like this would not have been possible if it were not for the students all having their own personal media-viewing device.

This brings me to one of the possible limitations with using smartphones as a whole-class activity. I have had a few classes where one or two students do not have a smartphone, and in this case it can seem rather awkward. If one student does not have the smartphone because they cannot afford one, then it could raise issues of discrimination and this might prove to be problematic. It is therefore worth checking before-hand what percentage of your class has a smartphone. Also, some students may be on limited packages and the amount of their data-usage needed for classroom tasks may also cause problems. Needless to say, many classrooms may be in areas where the reception is weak or limited as well, which would make a class based around streaming video into a quagmire of frustration. Of course, the number of smartphone users and the network facilities and packages on offer are very contextually dependant, and therefore many of these ideas will need to be tested and adapted to each country or teaching context. Where I teach in Tokyo, it does seem that in the past five years the amount of students holding smartphones with unlimited packages and with access to high-speed internet has increased to such a high percentage that if the students come to class, they are almost guaranteed to be carrying their smartphones.

Not only are smartphones becoming more ubiquitous, but also many schools in developed nations are now offering iPads and other tablets for students to use in class, and these often come with a host of apps and online tools to use both in-class and for self-access study. These are reported to be particularly beneficial to students with special needs (Ellis, 2011). Such institutions need to not only supply the hardware, but they also need to provide training and support for teachers and students alike in terms of how to get the most out of these technological tools. The institutions also need to provide a robust wireless network so all the end-users can access the internet at the same time and do the high-bandwidth-dependant tasks which educational apps usually require. Needless to say, although it is becoming more common for students to receive tablets as part of their enrolment, it is still much less common to see them being used effectively as an integrated part of the classroom. Schaffhauser (2013) has a useful article with tips about how to effectively adapt the personal iPad design so that it can be at an institution. However, at this early stage, it can often seem daunting to people to move the classroom too far away from the traditional models which require people to interact with either books or each-other. Many teachers, parents and even students are likely to ask ‘what’s the point?’ if they are looking at a screen when a piece of paper would do the same job. It is misleading to talk of the paperless classroom as an environmental initiative, when there is of course a carbon footprint attached to an iPad just as there is to a textbook (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: sources according to a Green Office Report at the University of Wageningen in Holland
Figure 1: sources according to a Green Office Report at the University of Wageningen in Holland

Whilst the iPad still comes off best according to the statistics (which are necessarily generalised and based on averages), it is important to note that many of our students will use all of the above devices, rather than just one, and so relying more on technology does not off-set the use of printed materials. Of course, smartphones are not even listed here, and so they would represent yet another large expense in terms of C02 emissions.

In summary, smartphones are certainly finding a place in the classroom practices for language teachers and learners, and they offer versatility and flexibility of tasks. They also offer a distraction from what students should be doing, but I feel that this is not particularly made worse by students. Ten years ago, I had to call out students for looking out of the window too much, and I still have students doing homework for other classes when they should be working on the task I have set. Smartphones are often given a blamed for taking away students’ attention, but this may not be entirely a new phenomenon. In my experience, smartphones are certainly something to utilise for language learning, and as technology moves forward I feel more and more language teachers will be grateful of them for the opportunities they can offer for language learning, both in the classroom and for supplementary study.


Cavus, N., & Ibrahim, D. (2009). m-Learning: An experiment in using SMS to support learning new English language words. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(1), 78-91. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2007.00801.x

Drago, E. (2015). The Effect of Technology on Face-to-Face Communication. The Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, 6(1), 13-19.

Ellis, S. (2011). Teaching the future: How iPads are being used to engage learners with special needs. Screen Education, 63, 60-64.

Green Office Wageningen University. (2014). What is the best device for reading in terms of CO2? Retrieved from

Lowe, R. (2015). Integrating blind students. English teaching professional, July(99), 16-18.

Mishan, F. (2005). Designing authenticity into language learning materials. Bristol: Intellect Books.

Schaffhauser, D. (2013). Tips for effectively managing your iPad classroom. THE Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), 40(5), 7.

Stockwell, G. (2007). Vocabulary on the move: Investigating an intelligent mobile phone-based vocabulary tutor. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 20(4), 365-383. doi:10.1080/09588220701745817

The connections between authenticity and native-speakerism: Students’ reactions to international English varieties – CELC 2016, Singapore

Presentation Summary and Resources

In this post you can find my slides, audio from the presentation and also the link to the original questionnaire which I used with my students to find their reaction to different varieties of English.

Here is the full audio file

Here is the questionnaire

Upcoming Webinar on Native-speakerism and Authenticity for TEFL Equity

Upcoming webinar for TEFL Equity Advocates. Robert Lowe and myself will be talking about Native-speakerism and authenticity on March 6th 5PM CET. Free to join, the session will also be recorded.

About the Webinar

Native-speakerism and authenticity are two subjects that have been written on extensively in the field of English language teaching, but the links between the two have yet to be explored in any great depth. In this presentation, based on our paper in Applied Linguistic Review we will outline where the connections between these two concepts, both practical and theoretical, may lie. We will first briefly introduce the concepts of Native-speakerism and authenticity separately,  and then present the theoretical framework we have developed to explain the connections between the two. Following this, we will move on to explain how these connections manifest in the ELT industry to influence the lives of ‘non-native speaker’ teachers in terms of student perceptions, self-perceptions, and professional discrimination.


Authenticity Poster, CAES Faces of English, Hong Kong

The Social and Individual Flow of Authenticity

Authenticity in the language classroom is approached from a social and existential perspective. In this poster I attempt to reconceptualise authenticity as a dynamic component of language as a complex system, which interacts with motivation, autonomy and self at multiple levels. I propose that authenticity be reconceptualised as a continuum, incorporating contextual and social dimensions. This represents an attempt to shift the focus of authenticity away from a culturally embedded definition to a more dynamic model which focuses on relevance to learners. The authenticity continuum features a stronger emphasis on society, self and identity, thereby attempting to empower learners and strengthen the link between authenticity and motivation.

Here is my poster from the CAES Faces Of English conference in Hong Kong

The Social and Individual Flow of Authenticity
The Social and Individual Flow of Authenticity

I appreciate all of your comments and questions at the poster presentation time between 1-2 on Friday 12th of June. Please see previous posts such as this one and this paper for more information about the Authenticity Continuum.


Teaching with Social Networks

Whether you find yourself addicted or at a loss when it comes to things like Facebook and twitter, more and more people are using social networks for personal and professional reasons. For example, LinkedIn has active discussions about language teaching and various professional groups of teachers and applied linguists. Many schools and institutions have Facebook pages which they use as an extension of the school’s social programme, and thousands of people stay up-to-date using information from twitter. These sites all have valuable applications for language teaching, not just in the ways described above, but as part of actual lessons as well. In this article I am going to discuss the reasons social networks can provide such rich and authentic language practise for students and explain ways to keep your own private life separate from your professional use of social media in class. I will also discuss some simple practical ideas which you could easily use in your own classroom.

Many teachers who use social networks in their personal lives may not know how they could be used for language teaching. If that is the case, what about those teachers who are not even comfortable using social networks in their personal lives, let alone in a professional context? In my work I have encountered many people who admitted they could see the value of social networks for connecting to other learners and speakers of the English. This is especially true for teachers in an EFL context where the students do not get many opportunities to interact with people outside of the classroom. Unfortunately, there are two major problems with social networks for language teaching. Firstly, many teachers may not wish to mix up their own personal lives with their professional lives (such as adding students as friends on Facebook) and secondly, teachers might feel uncomfortable about advocating for their students to make contact with strangers through a social network, especially if you teach younger age groups. A third complication could be that some teachers are unfamiliar with social networks even for personal use, and as such feel that they could not possibly recommend them to students.


These are all valid concerns. In order to avoid these problems it is important to start off with security in mind. The way social networks function is by having users enter personal information about themselves, which is then searchable by other users. All this personal information is stored in a database and much of the information provided is available for anyone to see and search. If users are not careful then it is possible to gain phone numbers, addresses, birth dates and even find out where people are going to be at a particular time. It is often possible to get all this data simply by looking at the information that comes up when you view someone’s profile. For this reason, I recommend you take one of the many quick privacy reports before even attempting to use social networks with your class. You can also view recommendations about how to improve your privacy settings there and improve your privacy rating. Once you are comfortable about your own online privacy you can turn to your students to ensure they do the same.

If you are planning to add your students as friends it is highly recommended that you make your profile as private as possible because your students and your friends will get mixed together and that could lead to issues. A possible solution is to have two accounts, or if you are uncomfortable having your students as ‘friends’ on Facebook then simply don’t accept their requests. You can still utilise social networks in your class without adding your students as friends.

Here are a few tips for teachers to remember when using social networks with your students.

  • Don’t get caught with your pants down. If you do have deeply personal content in your profile or on a site, request that it be removed or remove it yourself – this is good general practice. Alternatively, you could avoid getting into these situations in the first place, whichever is easier…
  • Test the sites are accessible from the students’ machines. If you plan a lesson involving the use of a site such as Facebook, always check that you can access the pages you intend to visit from the students’ machines, preferably using a student login otherwise your entire lesson could be ruined.
  • Keep the class together. You can create a group or page which is especially for your class, so you can keep members organised and together. If you create a group, you can also connect with students without having to add them as friends, thus ensuring privacy for you and for them. This is also how many institutions manage their students on social networks.

Each of these may require a little bit of work in terms of learning your way around whichever particular site or social network you have chosen to use, but the knowledge will help you maintain your professional image online.


For anyone unfamiliar with the term, netiquette is etiquette for the internet. Your students will hopefully have a good idea of what it means, but it never hurts to go through the list with them for good measure.


  • make contact with people you don’t know or have never had previous contact with unless there is a good reason.
  • accept connections with people who you don’t know or have never had previous contact with unless there is a good reason.
  • post offensive materials or comments which may offend other users or result in you being banned from the site


  • reply to other people’s public posts about topics which are of interest, even if you don’t know the person this is ok. For example, if you are fans of a celebrity who has a public fan page, or members of a particular group online, it is fine to chat and respond to people’s posts on these public areas because the nature of the discussion is open. This is not the same as sending a friend request to someone you don’t know.
  • check back on the site in your free time and see if someone has responded to your post.

The above rules of netiquette are by no means extensive, but if you go through them as a brainstorming activity with your students before attempting any of the following practical ideas I am sure you will compile a comprehensive list.

Some Practical Ideas

Below are a few lesson plan ideas which you may wish to use. They use a variety of different sites but hopefully the general ideas could be exploited in other ways for more variations.

Agony Aunt / Problem Page Lesson

This lesson works well if you have been learning about ’giving advice’ in class and you would like to give your students some authentic, meaningful interaction with other English speakers. Although you may need to screen the pages you use carefully, you could take your students to a site which allows people to write in with problems or ask for advice. First your students could create their own posts asking for advice (make sure they only write about something they are comfortable sharing with the class, such as the feeling that they are not learning fast enough or have no one to practice with. If they can’t think of anything they could write it on behalf of an imaginary friend). After that they should follow the thread and also try to reply to some other people who are having a problem which they think they can help with. Although it may sound risky, I have done this lesson a few times with mature classes and students always get a lot out of it. If you explain that the class will be sharing the posts then people generally do not post up anything too personal or that they are uncomfortable sharing, and my students are always respectful of other people. The real advantage of this lesson is that it goes beyond authenticity and is actual real world use of the target language. This really gives such a class the edge over any contrived language practice lessons. A lot of rich, real language also comes out of these lessons, which students can ask about and share in class later. This project can span several classes and provide a great deal of rich authentic language interaction.

Facebook Group

There are lots of groups on Facebook and other social networks which are specifically for language learning. For example, the BBC has a learning English Facebook page which allows wall comments and photos. This is a great place to get your students commenting on things and replying to posts. They could ask questions about something specific on the wall or post a link to something they found useful. Although this might not take a whole lesson, it could be treated as a homework or used as a study suggestion. Alternatively, you could have students go and post something on the wall and search other posts for something interesting to share with the class. The Facebook page is also a great way to run services such as word of the day and to promote school excursions, or to run study-buddy pairing.

Twitter Contest

If your class enjoys a bit of competition, why not ask students to create a new twitter account and to see who has the most followers after a week, who can manage the highest number of tweets in a week, and who can manage to get a famous person to follow them. There could be a running commentary of the scores going on over the course of the week and the final lesson where the winners are announced should be quite exciting. Twitter is also a great media for the consequences game, where students contribute blindly to a story and read the final result at the end.

These are just a few ideas but as you can see, there is no need for privacy to be invaded or personal space encroached on just because you are using social networks with students. The key is to try a few of these things out yourself (perhaps in a language you are learning yourself) and then get the students to have a go.

Despite the precautions needed to ensure privacy for yourself and your class, there really is a lot of scope for using social networks as part of a class. In addition, the benefits for students in terms of meeting other people to practise with and retain contact after the course is finished make using social networks a very powerful tool at the language teacher’s disposal.

 originally published in  Modern English teacher, 20(3), 37-39. 2011.

Self-Assessment and The Tao

Happy New Year for 2015!

It was a nice surprise to see that my own article had appeared on the RSS feed from Language Teaching Research as the advance online access is now available! I have had this RSS feed on my blog for several years and now finally I have a paper in this excellent journal, which is ranked 40 out of 169 journals in Language and Linguistics.

Seeing this made me take a snapshot and draw a smiley face (using a mouse hence very crudely) which I now wanted to share with everyone!

An auspicious observation to start 2015
An auspicious observation to start 2015

Here is a link to the article, which outlines my use of Self-Assessment to increase autonomy and motivation. The paper is practitioner research, using narrative inquiry and exploratory practice.

I would also like to share another article which was written by my good friend and colleague Robert Lowe which looks at the Shadow Education industry of Japan, specifically Juku or Cram Schools and their impact on ELT. The article is really interesting and I agree with his call for more research in this area. Here is the link.

39.1 TLT

Continuing the spirit of sharing, I would also like to note that the fantastic TEFLology Podcast has received a favourable review on Russell Mayne’s excellent Evidence-based EFL blog.

So, good news all round and here’s to a productive and insightful 2015!

The Authenticity Continuum: English Today

English Today (2014) 30(4).
English Today (2014) 30(4).

My article in English Today about The Authenticity Continuum is now available from Cambridge Journals

Why authenticity should be represented as a continuum in the EFL classroom

The Authenticity Continuum
The Authenticity Continuum
The authenticity continuum: Towards a definition incorporating international voices