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Learning English as a Second Language: ESL Teachers use the Beatles, Obama, and More

Kaplan International has recently conducted a study revealing the most successful and most used materials to teach English as a Second Language.

They surveyed 503 ESL teachers from the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Russia, India, South Korea, Turkey, Georgia, Germany, Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, Greece, Vietnam, Spain, Cuba, France, Taiwan, Thailand, Azerbajan, Pakistan, Tunisia, Mexico, Iran, Ukraine, Jamaica, Malaysia, Romania, Poland, Argentina, Czech Republic, Latvia, Uganda, Malta, Singapore and Chile.

The results are interesting, and sometimes surprising.

How To Teach English Infographic

Music: Strange Choices?

86% of teachers used music. The artists most used are The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Elvis, and One Direction.

The Beatles actually were ahead by a large margin, with 40% of ESL teachers using their music. The most popular Beatles songs used were Hey Jude, Love Me Do, and A Hard Day’s Night.

Those are, in fact, some pretty poor choices, I think. “Love Me Do” and “A Hard Day’s Night” are not commonly spoken English phrases. But, I guess because of the Beatles the phrases are well known.

The Beatles were miles ahead of the 2nd most popular artist: Michael Jackson, who was used by 6% of ESL teachers. 5% used Bob Marley, and Elvis was used by 4% of teachers. The newcomer of the group, One Direction, was used by 3% of teachers.

In looking at the list, Bob Marley is the weirdest choice, because he speaks the Jamaican dialect, which is very far from standard English. But in 2012, Marley was actually the top musical artist used by ESL teachers to help their students learn. One wonders who these ESL teachers really are!


Celebrities: Not always the most articulate people

Celebrities were also used. The number one “celebrity” was Barack Obama. The UK Royal Family was second, followed by David Beckham, Lady GaGa, and Justin Bieber.

I suppose for people totally unfamiliar with the language, these might be good examples to use to get people used to the sounds of the English language.

As to being good examples of how to express oneself through language, I think Beckham, Lady GaGa, and Justin Bieber are poor examples!

Movies: Better Choices

The choice of movies appears a little better:

Harry Potter is the first choice, followed by Wallace and Gromit, James Bond, Twilight, and Lord of the Rings.

Suprisingly, only 76% of teachers used movies, though. This should be used much more, I think. The examples are much better, and you get to see the English language more in context.

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Oh, well. Not everyone agrees apparently.

Other Sources

Next on the list is newspapers, with 75% of ESL teachers using them to help their students. The number one newspaper is the New York Times, followed by The Times (London), The Guardian, The Metro (UK), and The Daily Mail.

(I think this probably also says a lot about the political leanings of ESL teachers as well!)

60% have used TV programmes. Surprisingly, the number one choice is Mr. Bean – a man who does not speak.

The other sources used, which you can see from the chart, are Radio, Comics, and Computer Games.

Going through the details here is fascinating. And at times, perplexing!

But for anyone teaching English, or learning English, this should give you some ideas to try out.

Learning English should be both fun and relevant, and these materials certainly help to make it so.


Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on March 14, 2015:

Second Language . . .this is a great piece of writing. Powerful and very educational. What a high I.Q. you must have and how you are using your gift to help others. Voted up and all the choices.

Keep up the wonderful work.

Your New Friend and Follower,


Anita Rai (author) on May 01, 2013:

Thanks for pointing out my sloppy use of language! I have now tightened it, and I think it is fixed. These are materials, not methods, so I have changed the words accordingly.

Great feedback.

Jasmine on May 01, 2013:

Great info about the Kaplan International Survey. Love the Infographic! I'm wondering whether they actually named the examples you've listed in the poll as methods - because that would be completely wrong. Methods cannot be named with simple words and terms such as "The Beatles" :) There's a list of foreign language teaching methods on Wikipedia to get a better understanding of these. It's important to be open to use a vast variety of them. As for the examples in your poll - these are teaching materials used for teaching techniques under a certain teaching method. It's extremely important not to mix these terms. Nevertheless, I find the information you've shared interesting because teachers like to know what other teachers use in class :)

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