Development that Works
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    This blog highlights effective ideas in the fight against poverty and exclusion, and analyzes the impact of development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Opening the English world for native Spanish speakers



    Have you ever tried to learn to speak a foreign language? Did it make you nervous the first time you had to speak it? Imagine having to teach it.

    hispanohablantes ingles

    Image: iStock

    English is the most widely spoken language in the world. It is spoken by one quarter of the world’s population and is the most published language. More people are learning English today than any other language.

    English is the language of commerce, diplomacy, computers, and half of the internet. Unfortunately in Latin America, few students graduate from school with a command of the English language, limiting their opportunities to participate in a globalized economy.

    Some of these countries are making changes to improve English education. Mexico recently reformed public schools, introducing English in preschool and primary education and increasing study time in English by an additional 50% in secondary education.

    One of the key challenges is finding teachers who are up to the task. In some states in Mexico, many English teachers in public schools are not trained in English. In spite of their advanced grammar knowledge, most teachers struggle to speak and understand spoken English. As a result, teachers struggle with classes that allow students to acquire the competence to be fluent in English.

    A light at the end of the tunnel

    The good news is that Worldfund and Dartmouth College’s Inter-American Partnership for Education Program (IAPE) is training a network of educators to provide teachers with the tools to learn and teach English efficiently. Using the Rassias method® students are immersed in fast-paced classes focused on speaking while using theatric techniques.

    The Rassias methodology seeks to substitute the “you learn, then you do” with “you do, then you learn” (check the video).

    There was a desire to know if the IAPE program was having an impact in classrooms. The IAPE program was evaluated with a randomized control trial (RCT) in public secondary schools in the Mexican states of Puebla and Tlaxcala.

    The study found that the students of teachers trained by IAPE in Rassias method improved their listening, reading, writing, and speaking in the English language. The study also explored the mechanisms that led to such changes.

    Welcoming English teachers opened their classroom doors and allowed us to film their classes. Teachers and students were assessed by a standardized English test that included speaking and listening components.

    IAPE improved the English levels of teachers, or subject knowledge as experts say, and the way they approached teaching (pedagogical knowledge).

    These changes led to improved classroom practices. IAPE teachers replaced students’ passive role in work, like seated writing and reading their notes or textbooks, to a more active role involving dynamic activities and using didactic materials.

    Students spent more time practicing listening and conversation. IAPE teachers spent more time speaking English. Students not only improved their English but also their motivation to learn English on their own and future expectations.

    Impact Evaluation of the Inter-American Partnership for Education Program (IAPE)

    The right recipe must be used to get results

    Effective teacher training is a very difficult cake to bake. The right recipe must be used to get results.

    In order for teacher training to be effective, it must be pragmatic. Furthermore, intensive enough and continuous enough to be remembered thus ensuring long term gains.

    Training on teaching English must result in giving students an active role into the learning process, which tends to be challenging. Teachers must be recognized for improving. If teacher incentives are ignored, then the effects of training are mitigated.

    Most teachers that participated in the study spent out of pocket money to improve their English skills. Teachers that received training decreased their out of pocket expenditure by 54%.


    As a result, gains by teachers trained in Rassias method compared to those who did not receive the training are understated because teachers without the training did not reduce their own out-of-pocket investment to improve their English skills.

    Some cornerstone results are evident in teachers’ confidence and command of English which increases by 9% and the fact that their students spend 17 more minutes studying English on their own.

    Much work remains to be done to improve English in Latin America. Many other teachers and students are seeking a path to enter a globalized economy, and the IAPE program is an example of a good start.

     These are some of the posts of the series:

    – Using job training to prevent teen pregnancy in the Dominican Republic

     Improving the quality of life of senior citizens

    –  Short-term triggers of agricultural productivity in Bolivia

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