What Makes an Effective English Language Teacher? The Life Histories of 13 Mexican University Students

  •  Nicholas Bremner    


This study examined the educational life histories of 13 students at a Mexican university in order to gather their perspectives of effective language teaching. Most previous studies on students’ perspectives of language teaching have used quantitative and deductive methods, whereas this study employed qualitative and inductive methods. The main methodological approach was the ‘life history’ approach, and the specific methods were two extended interviews and an innovative ‘timeline’ activity. In total, 77 examples of effective (and ineffective) teachers emerged from the 13 students’ life histories. The study revealed three major findings. Firstly, teachers’ language knowledge and proficiency were not mentioned as important characteristics of effective language teaching, although several students did make reference to teachers’ command of language when it was perceived to be missing. Secondly, students generally favoured more ‘modern’ approaches (engaging, active, real-life skills, immersion in the target language), as opposed to more ‘conservative’ approaches (unappealing, passive, overly theoretical, lack of immersion in the target language). Thirdly, students emphasised the importance of a positive student-teacher relationship, and greatly appreciated the teacher being there to provide them with personalised attention. Notably, the students tended not to value autonomous learning, preferring teachers to be close to them to help them with their problems in class. Two main implications for practice were suggested. Firstly, a general consensus has been reached regarding several key characteristics of effective language teaching, strengthening the argument that these characteristics should be listened to, and acted upon, by teachers and educational decision-makers. Secondly, the study makes a strong case for future research to utilise more qualitative, inductive methods when investigating students’ perspectives.

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