The English language needs and priorities of young adults in the European Union: student and teacher perceptions

Graham Hall, Guy Cook

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

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The rapidly changing communicative landscape presents challenges to ELT professionals and students. In the European Union (EU), as elsewhere, increased mobility, migration, and integration, combined with developments in online communication, have led to substantial changes in English language use and practices. Young-adult learners are inevitably most receptive to and arguably most affected by such changes, with potential implications for English language teaching. This paper reports on the project The English language needs and priorities of young adults in the EU: student and teacher perceptions, an investigation into the contemporary English language needs of 18–24 year olds in a context of increasing English language use, emergent forms of English, and increasing use of new technologies for communication. The project involved the collection of both quantitative survey data gathered through a Europe-wide questionnaire for teachers and students, and qualitative interview and focus-group data from three specific EU contexts: Germany (a founder member), Romania (a later acceding member) and Turkey (a candidate member). The body of this report draws mainly upon the qualitative data, using it to exemplify and add depth to the quantitative findings, which are presented in the appendices. The findings offer clear evidence that young-adult students and their teachers in the three contexts share generally similar attitudes towards English. They accept both different native English language varieties and non-native English as a lingua franca for communication; they recognise the need for English language proficiency for employment and study; and they emphasise the importance of English in online communication – perhaps the most notable use of English in young adults’ current non-academic and personal lives – while also noting evident differences between ‘classroom English’ and ‘online’ or social English. Consequently, young adults and their teachers identify a tension between learning English for real-life use, and teaching/learning English to pass a test, for further study or for future employment. Two possible resolutions to this tension were suggested by participants. In contexts in which students had fewer opportunities for communication in English outside the classroom, whether face-to-face or online, the preferred solution was to focus more on communication than form in class. However, in those contexts where young adults often communicate in English outside class (for example, online) and may be more familiar with emergent and non-standard aspects of the language, the best use of classroom time may be to provide more formal language instruction in areas where young-adult students are less competent than their teachers, to reduce attempts to reproduce contemporary, informal communication in materials and activities and instead to draw on students’ own knowledge of these aspects of English language use. In this way, the ELT classroom would become a two-way exchange in which students and teachers bring together complementary sources of English language knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBritish Council
Number of pages53
ISBN (Print)9780863557682
Publication statusPublished - May 2015


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