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Teaching to a New Generation of English Learners in Azerbaijan

AA: I'm Avi Arditti and this week on WORDMASTER: we get the inside story on English teaching in Azerbaijan.

RAGSANA MAMMADOVA: "I'm Ragsana Mammadova from Azerbaijan. I am executive director of the Azerbaijan English Teachers Association."

AA: "How many members does your group have?"

RAGSANA MAMMADOVA: "So far we have more than seven hundred members for eight thousand English teachers all over the country. So it means ten percent of the English teachers are the members of our association."

AA: "What kinds of activities does your group do?"

RAGSANA MAMMADOVA: "Well, actually, the main mission of our association is to bring the new ideas, initiatives in the field of English language teaching to Azerbaijan. And we do our mission, we implement our mission through teacher training mainly and annual conferences where we invite internationally recognized celebrities, as well as we organize regional conferences for the teachers from the rural areas who cannot afford our international conferences."

AA: "What are some of the challenges that English teachers in Azerbaijan face?"

RAGSANA MAMMADOVA: "Well, because that is a newly independent country, and this is why the teachers mainly do not have skills for teaching English communicatively. So that is number one issue, that they need to be trained properly to teach the newly designed textbooks, which are communicative textbooks. To teach them really communicatively, because many teachers still teach these communicative textbooks using their grammar traditional method."

AA: "The grammar translation -- just learning grammar, learning translation. And today, though, that's kind of old fashioned to do it that way, isn't it?"

RAGSANA MAMMADOVA: "Of course it is too old fashioned to do that, because the learners, they are a new generation, they have more access to Internet and also to -- I don't know, they sometimes have satellite TV at home. so they can watch BBC, CNN channels and they find the information provided by their teachers obsolete already."

AA: "Right, when they've got obsolete textbooks, when let's say you've got Facebook and Twitter and other social media. Let's talk a little bit about the social media and the new Web sites that are out there. Are teachers using that in the classrooms in Azerbaijan or encouraging their students to use social media as a way to learn English?"

RAGSANA MAMMADOVA: "Well, actually the thing is that the teachers, many of them do not have access to computers and many of them do not have computer skills. Their students have better skills because they go to Internet cafes. They are young, they have more time. The teachers, sometimes, because maybe it is sometimes the culture, so they do not go. But they do encourage the students to use that sort of Web site links, so that they can improve their English in many ways."

AA: "And how many years have you taught English?"

RAGSANA MAMMADOVA: "Since nineteen ninety."

AA: "So twenty years. And what developments have you seen in methodology that you are either very happy or that you're not so happy about to see how things have changed over the last twenty years."

RAGSANA MAMMADOVA: "What I'm happy about is that now not only English teachers but other subject teachers, they also can understand communicative teaching, because before they would mind and they would always criticize English teachers for noisy classes. They would not accept that this noise is working noise. That is improving and they are trying to learn from English teachers and to organize their classes where it is student-centered and not teacher-centered.

"But one bad thing is about the students, I think they lose their responsibilities a bit. In the Soviet time I don't know whether education was stronger, because it was free for everybody and also compulsory, and now it requires lots of investment from the people in their own education. But I think they also need to be taught about it ... that investment into education is the best investment."

AA: That was Ragsana Mammadova, executive director of the Azerbaijan English Teachers Association. I spoke to her earlier this year in Denver, Colorado, at the convention of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

You can find other interviews with English teachers from around the world at our Web site, You can also subscribe to our new weekly podcast. And that's WORDMASTER for this week. I'm Avi Arditti.