This blog post was originally published on Diverse Educators blog on 25th April 2022, but I thought it was worth sharing it here, too.
I imagine for some of you reading this, you may have no idea what ELT is. Or EFL, ESP, EAL, EAP, ESL, ESOL … the acronyms are endless. I prefer to use ELT (English Language Teaching) to describe what I’ve been teaching and creating materials for over the last twenty years. For the other acronyms, I’ll put a small glossary at the end.
Yes, ELT has enabled many of us in the profession to travel the world and see different countries and cultures – usually on a minuscule pay packet, too. However, I’d like to see ELT on a par with ‘regular’ teaching and materials so that we can benefit from all our experiences and expertise together.
Like mainstream education, the ELT industry is working hard to become more inclusive and representative in its materials, not to mention its teams within publishing and teaching. Although I’m mainly focusing on materials here, I feel it’s worth mentioning that native speakerism is, unfortunately, still prevalent in the industry. Advertisements which specify for native English speakers are discriminating against the teachers who have gone through the process of learning and mastering another language. Invaluable experience, if you ask me. For an interesting (and successful) story, see Rachel Tsateri’s blog post on native speakerism and her personal experience.
Take an ELT coursebook published in the last twenty years and look through it, if you can. See how we represented people to learners of English. White, heteronormative, ‘Western’ (UK & US), non-disabled, middle class, neurotypical, stereotypically gendered and aged, slim … I could go on. One particular activities book, published in 2001, looks at ‘controversial’ issues, with ‘Gays and jobs’ being one unit. I discuss this in a blog post – Queerience: I am neither a taboo nor an issue. OK, so it’s twenty years old, but did we really think that was acceptable even then?
As a gay (queer) cis man, I’m determined to make a difference to help represent the LGBTQ* community in ELT materials. Out of the protected characteristics, it will probably be the last one to be addressed in ELT. Some of the biggest ELT markets are also those that criminalise LGBTQ*. According to the Human Dignity Trust, 71 jurisdictions criminalise private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity. Almost half of these are in the Commonwealth. Therefore, one of the biggest issues for me is how can we represent marginalised communities in countries where the very essence of the identity is forbidden? How do we reach those people in those countries who identify as part of the forbidden community? If people don’t see themselves represented, then they may believe that their very being is wrong. That’s what growing up in Section 28 did for me.
Things are changing for the LGBTQ* community in ELT. The commitment by publishers to incorporate DEI initiatives in their daily working life is encouraging. I worked on in-house guidelines for a major ELT publisher. Freelancers like me are producing their own inclusive materials. But there is still a long way to go. Do publishers go fully inclusive with an LGBTQ* family and risk losing a large portion of their income? Or does a publisher go fully inclusive with an LGBTQ* family and lead the way in representing the reality of the world? I know which one I’d prefer.
I said I’d help with a little glossary:
EFL – English as a foreign language (TEFL = teaching …)
ESP – English for specific purposes
EAL – English as an additional language
EAP – English for academic purposes
ESL – English as a second language
ESOL – English for speakers of other languages