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ELT PRACTICE IN TURKEY: A BRIEF LOOK INTO CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS TO AMEND THE ELT PRACTICE
Zeynep Erdil-Moody, Tampa, Florida, USA

English language teaching (ELT) in Turkey has increasingly posed a challenge for educators as a result of the increasing demand for higher quality in both ELT pedagogy and student proficiency outcomes, in addition to the rising EFL student population in all grade levels. Despite many reforms the Ministry of National Education (MNE) administers on the ELT profession toward more student-centered teaching pedagogy, and a universal acknowledgment among Turkish people that English language proficiency is critical to thrive in today’s international community, there still exists a huge gap between what is planned and what actually takes place in classrooms. For the country to excel in teaching English as a foreign language, it will need to take a holistic approach to reforming current ELT practices.

ELT Policy in Turkey

Turkish is the official language and the medium of instruction. Compulsory education in Turkey comprises 4 years each of primary, middle, and high school, or 12 years of education in total. As in the United States and many other countries, Turkey’s educational system consists of both public and private schools. The country recognizes that being able to speak English is vital to success in a global economy; therefore, both types of schools include compulsory English language curriculum. Besides vocational and general public high schools, there are high-standard schools with more stringent requirements, such as competitive entrance exams and more weighted English curricula.

The biggest difference between private and public schools is how much weight their curriculum puts on teaching English. For instance, English is taught approximately 10–12 hours a week in every grade level starting with fewer hours in kindergarten in private schools, while English education in public schools starts in the second grade for 2 hours a week, increasing up to 3 hours a week at the fifth and sixth and 4 at the seventh and eighth grades. Turkish EFL students nowadays have every opportunity to expose themselves to authentic English language materials and get familiar with World Englishes. For instance, Netflix is now available in Turkey, and those with high motivation to improve their English and become familiar with the target language community and culture might have already started watching any of the original series offered on the streaming service.

Government Policies and Efforts to Amend and Standardize ELT in the Country

Despite its outward intention to improve English language teaching to align with the world’s monolingual to bi/multilingual shift, the Turkish government has changed its policies drastically over the decades, abandoning some that theoretically were conducive to better language learning. For instance, the government used to send teachers abroad to improve their fluency and accuracy before teaching English in public schools. Additionally, high-standard high schools with an entrance exam were English medium until 2002, but this policy was also abolished, ostensibly to ensure standard quality of content knowledge proficiency across all high schools. Yearlong intensive English preparatory classes in these schools were also abandoned in favor of an increase in weekly English hours. These policies could improve language teaching if they were better administered rather than being abandoned. For instance, Koru and Akesson (2011) suggest that new English teachers should be sent abroad so that they can collaborate with international colleagues, acquire current pedagogical knowledge and skills, and improve their linguistic competence.

A growing population and increasing English hours have brought about the need for more English teachers. To fill the gap, the Turkish government has appointed education majors from disciplines outside language teaching and graduates of English medium universities to teach English in public schools, provided that they had pedagogy certificates or English proficiency. This policy to meet the increasing need for English teachers has been found as one of the reasons for low proficiency and inefficient pedagogical practices in ELT in public schools (e.g., Akyuz, 1999; Seferoglu, 2004). Applied linguistics and TESOL practitioners agree that having a language proficiency of any level does not necessarily mean that one has the capacity and the necessary pedagogical background to teach that language. Seferoglu (2004) reports a detailed analysis of preservice language teachers’ and academicians’ reactions to this policy. These questionable policies of the Ministry of National Education have, maybe unknowingly, added to the already existing challenges in ELT in the country.

With educational reforms to enhance ELT practice in the country, the Ministry of National Education has mandated active learning, communicative language teaching approaches, and student-centered pedagogies. In practice, however, these reconceptualized ELT practices have been restricted to mostly high-quality entrance-exam-based schools, private schools, and English medium universities, while a more traditional grammar-based teaching approach that is mostly grounded in rote memorization still dominates English teaching in most public schools. The traditional grammar-based teaching approach was reported as the first of many factors causing the low English proficiency of students in K-12, also negatively affecting language performance in higher education (British Council & The Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, 2013). This is because pedagogical background and English proficiency among teachers in public schools vary within and between institutions. The result has an adverse effect on the quality of language teaching, making it possibly the biggest challenge today. Likewise, studies also show that other factors leading to students’ failure to achieve high English proficiency in most public schools include teacher/textbook-centered teaching, low student motivation, lack of current teaching techniques tailored to meet the needs and skills of young learners, lack of parental and administrative support, and overwhelming focus on traditional paper-pen based testing rather than process-oriented evaluation and assessment of students’ comprehension and skills using new techniques such as portfolios and performance evaluation (e.g., British Council & The Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, 2013; Haznedar, 2010).

Government and nongovernmental associations, like the British and American Councils, as well as globally known publishers such as Longman, Cambridge, Macmillan, and Heinemann offer teacher-training opportunities to English teachers at all levels. These opportunities are mainly available in big cities and strongly recommended to private school teachers and paid by their administrations. Nevertheless, most of these professional opportunities do not have the nationwide potential to improve the ELT practice because of limited access and lack of awareness. The government offers annual professional development training for in-service teachers in public schools but it fails to meet teachers’ expectations. Haznedar (2010) reported that only 8.2 percent of teachers find them useful and one third of the teachers think they are completely useless, which calls for amendment for in-service teacher development services.

Facing These Challenges and Amending the ELT Practice in Turkey

Although much attention is given to ELT, the low level of English proficiency, especially in productive language skills, has been a challenge. Unsolicited feedback received from English teachers, the results of a collaborative report (British Council & The Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, 2013), and my personal experiences as an EFL teacher in Turkey for 9 years indicate that the ELT curriculum and particularly its implementation still calls for an amendment. A shift from more grammar-based traditional teaching practices toward a more student-driven and collaborative teaching approach, taking into account issues of interculturality and pragmatic proficiency in English language teaching, is inevitable.

In 2013, the British Council and The Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) conducted a collaborative project called “Turkey National Needs Assessment of State School English Language Teaching” to investigate the current state of ELT in state schools in Turkey via surveys from 20,000 students, parents, and English teachers. The report indicates “despite efforts to address gaps in education provision through the introduction of the 4+4+4 system, the reality is that very few students are able to achieve even basic communicative competency even after about 1,000 hours of English lessons” (British Council & TEPAV, 2013, p. 83). Lack of motivation among students to improve their English proficiency, low English proficiency of state school teachers, and traditional teaching practices in state schools were reported as the main reasons for students’ low English language skills.

In summary, even though the early onset of second language learning—at the second grade—will have a positive long-term impact on students’ language development, in my view, it is hard to achieve permanent improvement in the proficiency outcomes, unless the following changes take place:

  1. ELT pedagogy of teachers should continuously be enhanced with current methods, techniques, and authentic materials that engage students.

  2. The assessment system should be reconceptualized to incorporate more critical thinking, comprehension, analysis, and evaluation-based assessment techniques with a more process-focused evaluation approach than a traditional product-focused approach.

  3. Administrations and parents should fully comprehend the importance and breadth and depth of learning a foreign language.

  4. Preservice language teacher education should include specific training on how to improve students’ attitudes and motivation toward learning English and foreign languages.

  5. Integration of technology in language teaching should be enhanced to align with the current needs and policies and increase student motivation.

These are among many other improvements that could amend the ELT practice in Turkey.

If Turkey wants to reach its potential in the global arena and have citizens with global citizenship identities, the English language teaching policies should change, the infrastructure should be overhauled, and English teachers should be provided with better nationwide preservice and in-service professional development opportunities. The entire country, policymakers, educators, and parents should collaborate to elevate second language teaching and English competency within the country to the global standards as part of the international community. It is remarkable that English language teaching in Turkey seems to transcend political barriers in that the realization of the significance of high English proficiency is one of the rare issues both sides of political perspectives (supporters and opponents of the current government) unanimously agree upon. This brings the question to mind: Does English as the lingua franca have a mediating factor to resolve political conflicts not only between nations but also within nations?

References

Akyüz, Y. (1999). Türkiye'de öğretmen yetiştirmenin başlangıcı ve öğretmenin toplumdaki imajı. Panel: Cıımlıııriyet’in yetmişbeşinci yılında öğretmen yetiştirme. Ankara: Milli Eğitim Basım Evi.

British Council & The Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey. (2013). Turkey National Needs Assessment of State School English Language Teaching. Ankara, Turkey: Mattek Matbaacilik Basim Yayin Tanitim.

Haznedar, B. (2010). Türkiye'de Ingilizce eğitimi: Reformlar, yönelimler ve öğretmenlerimiz. International Conference on New Trends in Education and their Implications, 11-13 October 2010, Antalya, 747-755.

Koru, S. & Akesson, J. (2011). Türkiye’nin İngilizce açığı. TEPAV Raporu.

Seferoglu, G. (2004). Two Different Perspectives on Alternative English Teacher Certification Practices. Education and Science, 29(132), 58-66.


Zeynep Erdil-Moody is an applied linguist who recently completed her PhD in second language acquisition and instructional technology at the University of South Florida. Her primary research interests involve foreign/second language acquisition, L2 teaching pedagogy, individual differences in SLA, and L2 teacher education. Examples of her research can be found in journals such as the International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, TESL–EJ, and Qualitative Research.

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