Photo by Andrew Nicodem / ITeams

Language Teaching and Integrated Community Transformation (part 2)

May 24, 2016
Kathy Baxter
Kathy Baxter

This article is part 2 of 2 in a series by Kathy Baxter, Language Teaching Specialist with ITeams.

In the first part of this article, we discussed how language teaching can impact integrated community transformation (ICT) through empowering individuals and communities with new skills and opportunities. We looked at two informal, highly relational models of teaching: individual tutoring and relationship-based small groups. In this second part, we will look at more organized classes that can reach more students and put a public face on our ICT efforts.

Diagram of Language Teaching Spectrum

3. Organized, but informal, classes

At a church where I worked in London, women from Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu faiths are welcomed each week into English classes. Most have never been into a church before. They come because their language needs are met better at the church than at the local community college or community centre.

Teachers, who are volunteers with some TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) training, prepare organized, structured lessons that might cover different ability levels. A little bit of training goes a long way when combined with cross-cultural sensitivity, a heart for people, and a desire to meet felt needs. These classes can focus on practical language needs of the student, rather than an external curriculum.

Different course books were tried at our church, but it was decided that creating our own materials allowed maximum flexibility to adapt to students’ needs. Several dedicated teachers developed their own approach for teaching reading and writing to illiterate learners. The material they created was simple yet effective.

A “Coffee and Conversation” model has worked at other church- or community-based classes. A conversation theme with relevant vocabulary, idioms and phrases provide the foundation for the lesson, followed by open-ended questions to draw out the students' own ideas and opinions.

These types of courses may or may not charge a small fee, depending on the situation. Sometimes students value the course more if they paid a token fee for the term. At the London church, students paid the equivalent of $7 for 10 weeks.

  • Who benefits: open to the public, might be attractive to people who are not as comfortable in a formal class educational setting
  • Location: a public, non-business space such as a church or community center
  • How it affects ICT: builds relationships between learners, allows for adapting curriculum to the needs of students. Provides benefit to community that is very public and visible as a community service, potentially creating further community connections.
  • Resources needed: one or more teachers with informal training on teaching methods; materials relevant to needs of students, usually topic-based or thematic materials relevant to needs of students; grammar or other reference books and basic supplies.

4.  A formal language school

At one language school I helped to run in an eastern European city, our team had the opportunity to rub shoulders with leaders who had a direct impact on the future of their fledgling democracy. Our reputation for an interesting and modern approach to learning, as opposed to memorizing grammar, meant that we rarely had to advertise to fill classes to capacity. Several businesses and government departments asked us to design customized business English courses.

This approach works for serving a business community or the “influencers” of a society, as they will value the professionalism of a formal program. In this school, every student, from the least to the greatest, was treated with the same respect and dignity. Our business practices, our professionalism, and our interactions with people set an example for these leaders, prompting further conversations about our beliefs about grace, justice, freedom and forgiveness.

This approach can work for serving a business community or the “influencers” of a society, as they will value the professionalism of a formal program. It can benefit a community by offering a wide array of instruction at various language levels, providing a way for students to achieve a high degree of proficiency.

With such a professional approach, teachers must have an official teaching qualification that stands up to the scrutiny of external accreditation or visa-granting authorities. There is also a need for business savvy in running the school. Renting appropriate space, managing accounts, having proper equipment and teaching supplies, will all require management. Usually these courses require professional level fees to be charged, appropriate to the local context. This type of school could benefit the community through income generation, by hiring local, qualified language teachers as well as local support staff.

Instead of running an independent school, partnership with another organization might provide a way to serve the community. Community organizations often want to expand the services they offer, and language classes might be one option. There is great benefit potential in this type of partnership, as other organizations bring an established sphere of influence that may help future ICT projects. 

  • Who benefits: wider public attracted by language study, staff employed by the school
  • Location: a formal classroom and office space
  • How it affects ICT: empowers learners with a new skill in the target language, can generate income for local employees, becomes a place known for treating people with dignity and providing quality instruction.
  • Resources needed: at least 2 teachers with formal qualifications, admin staff; course books, resource library for teachers, appropriate office space.


There are other models of language teaching not covered here that are used around the world, in various effective (and some not-so-effective) ways. My focus has been on the models that most directly facilitate ICT.

It is vital to remember that speaking a language does not qualify a person to teach it. Even a small amount of training goes a long way toward making teaching efforts credible and effective for the community. Minimum training might include a few days’ seminar or a short course, face-to-face or online. A basic awareness of teaching methods will make a huge difference in the impact of any teaching in a community.

Whatever the approach, the most important factors in teaching are effectiveness and integrity. Whatever you do in language teaching, do it well, ensuring that you deliver what you promise.

Be honest about who you are, why you are teaching, and what your goals are. In addition, it is essential to treat learners with dignity and respect. Meet their felt (language) needs first, respecting the reason they came to you. This commitment to effectiveness and integrity will create trust, which opens the door to further conversations and insights about food, freedom and forgiveness.

I’d love to hear your stories of language teaching or your questions about how to get started. Maybe you would like to try something new in your community, or you would like resources to develop your work further. Get in touch with me to start a conversation about using language teaching in your community.

Some short training courses I recommend (I know these groups personally, but there are other respectable organizations as well):

For full, accredited TESOL certificates, try:

  • Wheaton Graduate School, IL
  • Biola University, CA
  • Azusa Pacific Unversity, CA, either online or on campus
  • Cambridge University’s Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) or the Trinity College Certificate in TESOL (CertTESOL) are often short, intensive courses widely recognized in Europe and beyond. Many places offer them in person or online. Search for providers here or here.

Further resources: (Disclaimer: I have connections to all of these training organizations)