Implications for educators on fostering student success

Belgin Elmas
A woman teaching in front of a laptop with a noteboard behind her
Reading time: 5 minutes

Pearson’s recent report, “How English empowers your tomorrow,” carries significant implications for educators. It underlines that increased English proficiency correlates with improved economic and social outcomes. Educational institutions play a crucial role in preparing students for professional success, employing various pedagogical approaches and teaching methods to meet the diverse needs of learners across universities, colleges and schools. However, the main unfortunate result of the report for educators is the argument that learners are leaving formal education without the essential skills required to achieve these better outcomes.

Furthermore, as stated in the report, many of them are not lucky enough to be adequately equipped for the demands of their professional roles as they continue their careers. This emphasizes educators’ underlying responsibility to critically evaluate their teaching and assessment methods to ensure their students are effectively prepared for real-world challenges, especially as they transition into higher education where the stakes for academic and professional success are significantly elevated.

The data of the report comes from five countries, and while Turkey is not one of them, many of the findings are still relevant to the English language education system in Turkey. Given the significant investment of time and effort, with foreign language education starting in the second grade for the majority of students in the Ministry of National Education schools, better outcomes would be expected in mastering the global language.

Numerous reasons contributing to this failure could be listed but I would put the perception of how language is defined, taught and assessed within the education system in first place. English language classes are generally approached as “subjects to be taught” at schools, and rather than focusing on finding ways of improving learners’ skills in the foreign language, the curriculum includes “topics to be covered” with a heavy focus on grammar and vocabulary.

This, of course, extends to assessment practices, and the cycle continues primarily with teaching and assessing grammar and vocabulary proficiency. Participants in Pearson’s report claim the heavy emphasis on teaching grammar and vocabulary, and not having enough opportunities to practice the language both inside and outside the classroom, as the three primary factors contributing to their lack of communication skills. If this was asked to Turkish learners, it’s highly likely that we would get the exact same three top reasons. The implication for educators here is very explicit: we must first revisit the definition of what “knowing a language is” and align our definition with our teaching and assessment methodology. What use is knowing a language without being able to communicate with it?

New opportunities needed for practice

Another clear implication for learners’ lack of opportunities to use the target language both in and outside the classroom is evident; teachers must refrain from dominating classroom discourse and instead create opportunities for learners to actively engage with the language. Recognizing common learning barriers in this context is crucial, as these barriers can significantly hinder students' ability to practice language skills effectively in corporate settings, professional development, and adult learning environments. Especially in a foreign language context, like in Turkey, this would gain even more importance for the students who lack opportunities to practice their target language in their daily lives.

Understanding different learning styles is essential in this process, as it allows teachers to design engagement strategies that accommodate visual, kinaesthetic, or auditory learning preferences, thus addressing the limitations and specific needs of individual learners. Teachers, who are reported to dominate 80% of class time with their own talk, have the primary responsibility for this issue. These teachers, which refers to the majority, should monitor themselves to ensure they are creating opportunities for active participation and language practice for their students.

Encouraging the learning process as an everyday habit

Students seem to need guidance for practicing the language not only inside but also outside the classroom to improve their proficiency, where external factors such as limited access to resources and environmental distractions can significantly hinder their ability to learn. Integrating technology into education and guiding students to continue their learning beyond classroom settings would undoubtedly be valuable advice. Language learning apps and especially social media can empower students to engage with the language in creative and meaningful ways, addressing extrinsic barriers by providing access to resources and support that overcome the lack of support from teachers or peers and environmental distractions.

Being able to function in a foreign language, such as negotiating, giving opinions, and making suggestions, were indicated as areas where the gap exists between what is needed and what students possess in language skills. Such a result would again require a shift towards more communicative and task-based language teaching approaches, giving opportunities for students to exercise these skills not only in professional but also in academic and social contexts.

Raising awareness among students about the benefits of language proficiency can be suggested as another implication that will also inspire them. Aligning educational curricula with real-life needs and raising awareness of both students and teachers about the rationale behind it is crucial for helping students set their own goals more accurately while their teachers guide them with realistic expectations.

Understanding motivational learning barriers

"I didn’t feel as if I was making progress" was one of the barriers participants indicated was stopping them from achieving greater proficiency, highlighting an emotional learning barrier that stems from internal challenges such as peer pressure and resistance to change. This gives another implication for assisting students to recognize and appreciate how much they have achieved in their learning process and how much more there is to achieve. Additionally, motivational barriers play a significant role, as they reflect the obstacles that arise from losing curiosity and desire for learning, leading to students missing classes or refusing to take courses. The Global Scale of English (GSE) is definitely a valuable tool to track learner progress by providing a concrete framework and by improving their confidence, thereby helping to overcome both emotional and motivational barriers.

In conclusion, while the list of implications for educators might be enhanced, the most significant suggestion lies in reconsidering our perception of language learning and proficiency. This shift in perspective will have a great impact on all aspects of language education, particularly teaching and assessment methodologies. Embracing this new understanding of language teaching will not only enhance the effectiveness of language education but also better prepare learners for real-world language use and interaction and better life conditions.

About the author

Prof. Dr. Belgin Elmas, Head of the Department of Foreign Languages at TED University Faculty of Education, has been elected as Pearson GSE Ambassador for Turkey. The Global Scale of English (GSE), developed by Pearson to contribute to English language education, aims to measure the level of English in reading, writing, speaking and listening skills, and shows what learners should learn in each skill according to their level. GSE is a guide for program and material developers, measurement, and evaluators as well as students and teachers. Developed with the input of more than 6,000 academics and teachers from over 50 countries around the world, the GSE is now available in French, Italian, Spanish and German in addition to English.

Pearson has selected ambassadors from different countries to support its work in introducing the purpose of GSE to a global audience. Ambassadors will guide teachers and students, and share their own experiences in using the GSE. Prof. Dr. Belgin Elmas has been supporting the GSE for many years in Turkey and has now been officially selected as the GSE Ambassador for Turkey.

More blogs from Pearson

  • How to make the most of AI in the classroom

    By Pearson Languages
    Reading time: 5 minutes

    Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no longer a futuristic concept confined to science fiction. It has become an integral part of various sectors, including education. As educators, integrating AI into your classroom practices can enhance teaching and learning experiences, making them more personalized, efficient and engaging. Here’s how you can make the most of AI in your classroom.

  • A woman walking around outdoors with a camera

    The benefits of taking part in foreign exchange programs

    By Charlotte Guest
    Reading time: 4 minutes

    If you are a student or one considering a gap year, the option of foreign exchange programs may have crossed your mind or been mentioned to you. More and more young people are taking advantage of exchange programs and reaping the transformative benefits that come with it.

    Let's have a look at some of the reasons why taking part in an exchange program can be a life-changing experience and how it can help you more than you think.

    What is a foreign exchange program?

    A foreign exchange program is an educational initiative where students have the opportunity to study abroad and immerse themselves in a different culture for a specified period, typically ranging from a few weeks to an entire academic year. These programs facilitate cultural exchange by allowing students to attend foreign schools or universities, live with host families or in dormitories, and engage in activities that foster intercultural understanding and personal growth.

    The primary aim of a foreign exchange program is to provide students with a global perspective, enhance their language skills, and expose them to different educational systems and cultural practices. By stepping out of their comfort zones, students can develop independence, adaptability and a deeper appreciation for diversity.

    What are the benefits of a foreign exchange program?

    1. Cultural immersion and global perspective

    Embracing diversity

    One of the most immediate benefits of an exchange program is the opportunity to immerse yourself in a different culture. Experiencing new customs, traditions and ways of life firsthand fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation of global diversity. This cultural immersion helps break down stereotypes and broadens your worldview, making you more open-minded and adaptable.

    Develop cultural understanding

    Living in a foreign country teaches you how to navigate and respect different cultural norms and practices. This cultural competence is increasingly valued in our interconnected world, enhancing your ability to work effectively in diverse environments and making you a more attractive candidate in the global job market.

    2. Language proficiency

    Enhanced language skills

    For language learners, an exchange program is an opportunity to achieve fluency. Experiencing a language firsthand is one of the best ways to learn a new language. Being surrounded by fluent speakers provides constant practice and exposure, accelerating your language acquisition in ways that classroom learning alone cannot match. You'll develop better pronunciation, expand your vocabulary and gain confidence in your speaking abilities.

    Real-world communication

    Using a new language in everyday situations—whether it's ordering food, asking for directions, or making new friends—helps solidify your language skills in a practical context. This real-world communication practice is invaluable, ensuring that your language proficiency extends beyond textbooks and exams to actual, meaningful interactions.

    3. Academic and professional growth

    Academic enrichment

    Exchange programs often provide access to unique academic resources and teaching methods that differ from those in your home country. Exposure to new perspectives and approaches can deepen your understanding of your field of study and inspire new areas of interest. Additionally, studying abroad can enhance your academic credentials, making your CV stand out to future employers or academic institutions.

    Career opportunities

    Experience abroad signals to employers that you possess qualities like independence, adaptability and cross-cultural communication skills. These attributes are highly sought after in today’s job market. Moreover, the networking opportunities during your exchange can open doors to international internships, job placements and collaborations that might not have been available otherwise.

    4. Personal development

    Building independence and resilience

    Living away from home in a completely new environment challenges you to become more self-reliant and adaptable. You'll develop problem-solving skills, resilience and the ability to thrive outside of your comfort zone. These experiences build character and prepare you for future challenges, both personally and professionally.

    Forming lifelong connections

    The friendships and connections you make during your exchange program can last a lifetime. You'll meet people from various backgrounds, creating a global network of peers and mentors. These relationships can provide support, inspiration and opportunities long after your exchange program ends.

    Boosting confidence

    Successfully navigating life in a foreign country, mastering a new language, and achieving academic success abroad can significantly boost your confidence. This newfound self-assurance can positively impact all areas of your life, giving you the courage to pursue further opportunities and take on new challenges.

    5. Engaging with the local community

    Volunteer and community projects

    Many exchange programs encourage participants to engage with their host communities through volunteer work or community projects. This engagement allows you to give back to your host country, gain a deeper understanding of local issues, and develop a sense of global citizenship. It's a rewarding experience that fosters empathy and reinforces the importance of contributing to the wider world.

    Gaining valuable work experience

    Participating in volunteer and community projects during your exchange program can provide significant work experience that is highly attractive to future employers. These projects often involve teamwork, problem-solving and project management, all of which are essential skills in any professional setting.

    By contributing to local initiatives, you can demonstrate your ability to adapt to new environments, work with diverse teams, and handle responsibility. Furthermore, these experiences can fill gaps in your CV, showcasing your proactive approach to skill-building and community involvement. Engaging in meaningful projects not only supports your personal growth but also highlights your commitment to making a positive impact, a quality greatly valued in any career field.

    Where can I sign up for exchange programs?

    There are many organizations and programs that offer exchange opportunities for students and language learners. Some popular options include:

    • Study abroad programs through universities or colleges, which often have partnerships with foreign institutions. Check with your institution.
    • Government-sponsored programs such as Fulbright or Erasmus, (depending on your location).
    • Check non-profit organizations in your country, they may also offer exchange programs.

    Conclusion

    Taking part in an exchange program is a life-changing adventure that offers myriad benefits for students and language learners alike. From enhancing language proficiency and cultural awareness to boosting academic and career prospects, the experiences gained through an exchange program are invaluable. By stepping out of your comfort zone and into a new world, you open yourself up to endless possibilities, personal growth and a broader, more inclusive perspective on life.

    If you're a student or language learner considering an exchange program, seize the opportunity. The world awaits, and the benefits are boundless.

  • Friends studying together around one big table

    8 things you should try to avoid when learning English

    By Charlotte Guest
    Reading time: 4 minutes

    Learning a new language is an exciting and rewarding journey, but it can also come with its fair share of challenges. As English learners, it's important to recognize and overcome the common pitfalls that could hinder your progress. Here, we provide advice and guidance on what not to do to make your English learning experience as smooth and successful as possible.