Which English to Teach?
August 2009 Issue
The English language has established itself as the most influential global language of communication in different countries around the world. It is one of the major languages taught in schools and universities. Most countries have adopted either the British or the North American variety of English as a target for teaching and learning purposes. But research studies have shown that there are new and legitimate varieties of Englishes in countries like Singapore, India, South Africa and the Philippines, and they too are governed by linguistic and sociolinguistic rules of use and usage. In addition, most people use English in order to communicate with the people belonging to different linguistic backgrounds in order to carry out real world communicative tasks in events like business transactions, conferences, transnational negotiations, etc.
The notion that few center countries own English as their sole property has been questioned due to its expanding role worldwide. Due to its global spread and emergence of new varieties when it has come in contact with other languages and cultures, no one nation or group of nations can claim the sole ownership. The obvious claim is that the people who employ English for communication must have a sense of ownership and agency over it. Therefore, the pedagogical policies and practices must inform the learners that they are learning English that belongs to them and that they can find their identity with it. So English is no more ‘foreign’ or ‘alien’ to the learners. Closely connected to the question of ownership is the traditional dichotomy between native and non-native speakers. The native speaker construct on genetic or ethnic ground is unjustifiable, and to assume that there are idealized native speakers of English is a myth. Native speakerness is not a fixed identity but is socially-culturally constructed identity. Other more neutral terms related to affiliation or proficiency like more/less proficient, expert/novice user might replace the NS/NNS dichotomy. Vivian Cook, for example, prefers to use the term ‘successful second language learner’ for the more proficient user of language. This discussion and debate questions the fundamental goal of traditional English language teaching: To make the learners able to communicate with the native speakers of English which is unattainable or irrelevant target. Since there exist no idealized native speakers or since everybody can be a native speaker of English if s/he has mastery over it (See Davies, 2003), then there is a need to redefine the goal of language teaching.
Against this backdrop, Aya Matsuda provides a case study of Japan (where American English is an ideal target for curricular goals) in the article entitled “Incorporating World Englishes in Teaching English as an International Language” published in TESOL Quarterly in 2003. She analyzes the textbooks used in the Japanese public schools and justifies the need to incorporate other outer circle countries’ English speaking characters and dialogues in the course books. She also points out that we can bring in the fluent speakers of English from other parts of world rather than only from the center English speaking countries. I have quoted the main highlights of her argument in the following bullets:
- The international scope of learners’ English learning agenda should logically be matched by pedagogical approaches that teach English as an international language (EIL), in part through inclusion of varieties of World Englishes (p.719).
- Teaching inner-circle English in Japan neglects the real linguistic needs of the learners, eclipses their education about the history and politics of English, and fails to empower them with ownership of English (p. 721).
- Teachers themselves must be aware of the current landscape of the English language. Teacher education programs for pre-service EFL teachers need to focus on both the inner circle and the outer circle varieties of English (p. 725).
- Incorporating World Englishes does not mean removing native varieties from English classes or replacing them with less-perfect ones; rather, they add to the current repertoire and thus enrich the curriculum (p. 726).
She concludes her argument as:
“Presenting the complexity of the sociolinguistic reality of English is needed to prepare learners for their future use of English that may involve both NNSs and NSs and that may take place in any part of the world. The understanding of World Englishes does not consist of a set of discrete items or topics that can be tucked in at the beginning of the semester, between formal chapters, or during the first 5 minutes of every lesson and then be forgotten. It is, rather, a different way of looking at the language, which is more inclusive, pluralistic, and accepting than the traditional, monolithic view of English in which there is one correct, standard way of using English that all speakers must strive for. In a sense, incorporating World Englishes is like putting on a new pair of glasses— the detail and complexity of the world we suddenly see may initially be overwhelming, but in the long run, we would have a better view and understanding of English as an international language (EIL)” (p. 727).
Though the arguments and examples come from the Japanese EFL context, they have implications for Nepal too, and we English teachers can draw insights and develop our awareness of the plurality of English. Please find the attached article in the neltamail and provide your comments via the ‘comment’ link below.