It is common knowledge that Colombian Nobel prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said, “English is not the universal language, badly spoken English is.” Half-jokingly, half-seriously, the truth is that around the world people express themselves in English in a vast variety of ways. Colombians who have learned English in Colombia have their own accent of course, which varies depending on what region of the country that person is from originally. For example, you could tell the difference between the accents of someone from the “paisa” region and “someone from the coast”; something similar to what happens with the local Spanish accents across the different regions of the country. Now if the person learned English abroad, surely other aspects influence such as the country or countries where the person learned and the time of exposure to those type of settings.
From the beginning of this new century, and in the middle of the globalization process in which we are immerse, it became increasingly clear in Colombia that English is the predominant language for communication among the world’s peoples and its nations. It is also common knowledge that it offers numerous competitive advantages and opportunities in academic, culture and economic terms among other aspects of life. The Colombian educational system created and implemented the National Bilingualism Program initially projected from the year 2004 to 2019, throughout time the program has changed its name and aims in different occasions. During the years, 2005 and 2006 the National Government through the Ministry of Education worked on the development of the basic standards for English language competency. At the end of 2006, these standards were published under the title “Guía N° 22 Formar en lenguas extranjeras: ¡el reto! Lo que necesitamos saber y saber hacer”, and during the next two years they carried out a socialization process aim to adapt those standards throughout the country, highlighting at the same time the importance of strengthening our own mother tongue and preserve Colombia’s indigenous languages.
Since then the Educational Communities in Colombia have adopted the new quality policies, as well as the inclusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to enhance the learning processes. They set up short, middle and long range national and regional goals and regulated all English language schools by registering and accrediting their programs of education for on the job and human development skills. The program included a strategy called Plan for the Strengthening and development of competencies in Foreign Language (2010-2014). By the year, 2013 diagnostics and statistics were able to show that only six percent of those students around the country enrolled in the eleventh grade (11th) reached a level of near pre-intermediate (B1+). Fourteen percent (14%) of Colombian professionals were graduating with a pre-intermediate level (B1), only eight percent (8%) at intermediate level (B2). Less than half of English teachers in Colombia averaged this same Intermediate level (B2). This same year the National Government issued the National Law -1651, of Bilingualism.
Sources: Ministerio de Educación Nacional
Gobernación de Risaralda
The work conducted by the Ministry of Education, public and private Universities, local Governments, Language Centers, Private Industry, and the Learning Communities have generated numerous teaching and learning initiatives across the country benefiting many Colombians involved in education and production activities. They have implemented programs aimed at developing communicative and pedagogic skills among students and teachers. Academic and cultural discussion has increased and grown in physical and virtual spaces, and a great number of successful experiences have been published. The current Colombian Bilingualism Plan is called “National English Program “Colombia Very Well” (2015-2025). It aims to continue supporting teacher’s professional developing programs, the gradual implementation into the educational system of the Colombian pedagogical model “English Please”, as well as the provision of technology and infrastructure support necessary, and after school program initiatives that allow learning to go beyond the formal and traditional classroom setting. It also supports the continuance of the English Teaching Fellowship Program (ETF).
With the interest of learning how this type of programs impact those people who are a part of the benefited learning communities, our colleague Wilson Valencia Rivas, who along with other 17 English language teachers is enrolled in a Master’s Program at the University of Caldas, had the chance to speak to one of his program’s classmates. Lida Valencia an English language teacher from Quinchía, Risaralda who kindly shared with us her experience and perspective as a candidate of this master’s program that she is undertaking with the total financial support of the Government of Risaralda and the National Royalties System - SGR. This is what she shared with us. (Listen to the interview below)
Interview: WR: Wilson Rivas - LV: Lida Valencia
WR: Welcome to Colombian Accents. Today from Universidad de Caldas, we are with Lida Valencia. Lida, welcome to Colombian Accents.
LV: Thank you Wilson.
WR: Lida, Where are you from?
LV: I’m from Quinchía, Risaralda.
WR: What do you do, what is your profession?
LD: I am an English teacher in Quinchía Risaralda, in the educative institution, Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, I am a modern languages graduated, in this moment I am a candidate in a master’s program in English Didactics in the University of Caldas.
WR: Gobernación de Risaralda offered you and other teachers from Risaralda a scholarship to study English didactics, what were your expectations at the begging of the program?
LV: Well I had so many expectations; one of them was to improve my performance with my students in the classroom. I wanted to learn many things about approaches or methods, but also didactics, I mean activities and different things I can or could make with my students in the classroom every class.
WR: What are those impacts; you feel your classes have had since you are participating in the program?
LV: I am so aware of the process of teaching and the process of learning. I’m taking into account the interests of my students and thinking more about the way they learn, their learning styles and I think I am improving so much in my performance with them, and I can observe the behavior of their interest is being improved.
WR: How is the experience of teaching boys and girls in a town like Quinchía?
LV: Well, I’m working in Quinchía since 2010, at the beginning I found this, very ah, so challenging, because students didn’t like English. When I arrived to the high school, the High school is supposed to have an emphasis in English. In tenth and eleventh grade we have six hours per week, and the high school didn’t have anything in English, I mean, for example the secretary didn’t have the name in English, the library or the dependences of the high school didn’t have anything in English, so I implemented that. I made the decisions with my coworkers, with Natalia and Fanny, to mark all the places of the high school.
WR: Would you advice other teachers to study in a master’s program, and why?
LV: Yes, of course, I would advise my coworkers of or other teachers to study a master’s program, especially this one. Why? Because I consider that is a great opportunity for us as teacher to improve our performance and to give our students varied opportunities of learning a second language.
WR: What about your English skills, do you feel your English is better now after being in this master’s program?
LV: Yes of course. I was scared about studying a master’s program because I was in the program “Todos a Aprender” from the Ministry of Education, so I past two years teaching Spanish and mathematics to primary school teachers. So it was two years that I didn’t practice any English, so I was scared about that, but I feel I’ve improved a lot, on my skills.
WR: If you could make a contrast between your expectations and what you have lived in the program, what differences do you find?
LV: Yes, I find differences of course. The master’s is about English didactics and until now we have learned many things about approaches, theories and methods, but we are not learning things about activities to be implemented in the courses we guide in our schools. So one of the things I would want to learn, is how to for example, how to teach speaking or how to teach reading, but with different activities, activities that motivate our students to learn English.
WR: What do you advise to students from all Risaralda in order to improve their English skills?
LV: Well the advice is to go beyond the classroom context. I mean teachers do what we have to do in our classes, we bring materials, we teach, we explain, but students should do more work outside the classroom. They should develop self-study skills and go beyond, I mean listening to songs, watching movies, watching videos but in English, in order to train their ears, their senses to learn English in a real life, in a real way.
WR: Well, just to finish. What are those methods, those approaches that you advise to your coworkers, to English teachers in Risaralda to use, to apply?
LV: I apply in my classes task based learning. Why? Because with task based, we achieve so many goals with our students, not only in content, because you are going to work content, but also in developing them some skills such as self-study and autonomy, and they really begin to like English.
WR: Okay Lida, thank you very much for your time, thanks for being here and giving us your opinions about English teaching.
LV: Thanks to you for having in mind to make me this interview, thank you very much.
WR: Thank you
Special thanks go to Wilson Valencia Rivas for his contribution to this article, Wilson is a professional English teacher, a specialist in educational computing and a candidate to a Master's Degree in Didactics.
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