Beauty and Power of Multilingualism

Shyam Sharma

Shyam Sharma

During the past year, I came across a lot of news items (including some based on scientific studies) about the benefits of multilingualism. There was so much on this issue that I sometimes wondered if the scientific and sociological studies were essentially a part of rather political responses to the ongoing redistribution of economic and geopolitical power around the world (especially in relation to the global status of the US vis-a-vis other countries like China, India, and the rest of BRICK nations). Perhaps immigration, increased global connections (virtually and otherwise), and development in other areas are contributing to it. In any case, the range of research, arguments, and perspectives on the subject was quite rich and diverse, with some reports going as far as saying that multilingualism may delay severe mental disorders in old age to others indicating that it is simply business-smart for companies to make their websites more multilingual. Living in the US, a society where monolingual policies and assumptions are (understandably) prevalent in most walks of life, I was pleased to see the emerging appreciation of multilingualism because I think this will only have positive outcomes on local and global levels.

However, every time I read the news about this issue, I was sad. I was sad that, back home in Nepal, where learning and using multiple languages is a fundamental reality of life and society, formal education is increasingly adopting the mind-boggling “subtractive” approach in relation to multilingualism (excluding/destroying some languages to improve others), in the name of education, economic opportunity, and globalization. Instead of focusing on the real challenges of education, schools and parents and experts alike are buying into the idea that simply switching to English-Only medium of instruction for all subjects and at all levels will magically improve education — when, in our special context, the opposite is far more true. Let me return to this concern after sharing a quick summary of the new studies and reports mentioned above. I will conclude by sharing some fun activities for the classroom, just so I don’t spread too many sadness bugs to you as a reader.

If you have the time and can browse through the annotated bibliography linked to this page on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, this site provides the most exhaustive list of studies documenting the benefits of being multilingual. Since even the annotations are rather overwhelming in amount, here is a brief list if you don’t have too much time. The studies show that proficiency in multiple languages:

  • supports academic success by helping individuals use critical language awareness and sensitivity to nuances of meaning, read and understand texts better for any purpose, perform better in standardized tests/exams, reinforce the learning of new languages required in school especially through two-way immersion, fine-tune the ability to hear and pay attention, better hypothesize in learning science, bolsters success in higher education in general;
  • enhances cognitive ability by helping individuals use more divergent thinking, go higher on the level of critical thinking, draw on different perspectives and think outside the box, employ greater cognitive flexibility, think better non-verbally, acquire greater metalinguistic awareness and creativity, utilize an improved working memory, deploy “more advanced processing of verbal material, more discriminating perceptual distinctions, more propensity to search for structure in perceptual situations, and more capacity to reorganize their perceptions in response to feedback,” offset age-related loss of memory and even diseases, use an apparently increased IQ;
  • improves interpersonal, social, economic, and professional opportunities for individuals by helping them boost their social skills and confidence, connect them to more people and increasing their opportunities to learn and grow, strengthen emotional and personal relationships with others who may feel strongly about linguistic and cultural bonds, give them unique skills and abilities, allow them to travel and work more successfully.

For anyone interested to learn even more about the benefits of multilingualism, here is another compilation of news, issues, and debates on a university website. Some of the sources include an article titled “Bilinguals are Smarter” on New York Times, a Wired Magazine article about bilinguals making more rational and less biased decisions, and a Ted talk by Patricia Ryan, a long time English teacher in the Middle East, who points out a number of problems, including the problem of gatekeeping in the name of educational quality. A fun-to-read article in The Huffington Post includes these benefits: better understanding cultural references, better navigate the social and professional worlds, better notice things that are lost in translation, feel better connected to one’s heritage/family and history, have deeper conversations with people across borders, make self-expression multidimensional as if one can use multiple personalities as needed.

As I indicated above, the more I read news and reports about the benefits of multilingualism, the more I wondered if, back home, educators and policy makers, schools and parents will begin to change the increasingly dominating discourse and practice of English-Only instruction. Where are we on the issue of multilingualism and what, if anything, will make us change direction? Are well-informed educators doomed to passively watch the simplemindedness of those who create and implement wrong-headed language policy (or rather don’t do anything, because they seem to have no clue) forever? What can we do if we are teachers in English-only medium schools? Should those of us who have started discussing multilingualism be worried about offending our colleagues in private schools who have a stake in English medium education, fellow parents who may misunderstand what we mean, and the people whose business depends on the mythology of “English medium = quality education”? What about those of us who are studying or working abroad (especially in an English speaking country)? Frankly, I think it is intellectually and socially irresponsible to be silent on this subject. But I could be unrealistic. The facts in favor of promoting multilingualism through education are crystal clear, but power and politics much more complicated.

Of course, English is everything its proponents say it is, and it does most of what they say. The problem is with “only” English in a society where most teachers and learners do not use it outside school, where few teachers speak it fluently and few students can master nuance even after being forced to use it for ten or fifteen years, and where there is insufficient resource to implement what schools have doggedly tried and most of them have miserably failed for decades. Contradictory as it may sound, except in a handful of good private schools in a handful of cities, English education itself will dramatically improve if teachers and students are first allowed to teach fluently and learn effectively — not to mention education in all other subjects. Now, why are Nepali-medium schools not “automatically” better? The answer is: they would be much worse (as they are going to be) by replacing Nepali and local language as the medium of all instruction. When English is imposed on teachers who can’t speak well and students who don’t have the opportunity to develop the competence needed, anyone can predict the results. English proficiency as an educational objective is absolutely necessary and we must do whatever we can to improve it; we owe it to our children to teach this “global” language. English language as an “only” medium for all subjects in our particular context at this time is a “snake oil.” What we need is freedom to use what works best at different levels of education, types of schools, subjects and teachers and students and so on. What we need is a general recognition that proficiency in English and quality education are two completely different things and we should expose the myths and lies on which the monolingual moves are based.

I am reminded of a book titled Buying into English in which the author, Catherine Prendergast, illustrates the failed promise of English in Slovakia. What made a positive difference for those who could benefit from English was not the language itself but instead their privilege or achievement in economic, social, political, and other forms. Nepal’s case may be unique in some ways, but the same dynamics apply. If students coming out of our private schools are more successful in higher education and the professions, it is because they had the privilege of schools with better resources, better teachers, richer and/or more educated parents, homes and communities with more favorable environments, networks of educated and resourceful family members, etc, etc, etc. For these reasons, I find it absurd when our educators ignore the big picture, disregard shocking numbers of failure (including failures due to English medium), and continue to sell or support the logically broken idea that English medium in itself will improve education. One should be ashamed to promote an educational situation based on and perpetuating shocking inequalities in education. English medium is a “false cause” of success before it starts becoming a real one for the minority; for the rest of the nation, when this medium is made mandatory, it makes teaching less fluent and learning less effective, and it undermines success and opportunity instead of enhancing them. Thus, for educators themselves to use the “success stories” of a minority when the majority does not have all the other privileges that go along with English medium is disingenuous, if not dishonest.

Yes, if all the other conditions of education described above are better, English can add to the ultimate outcome. But even then—and let me go one step further than I have before—students will benefit if they are taught in more languages than one, if they are fluent in more languages than one, if they can access knowledge and connect to people and think by using and . . . . Just think about adding all of the benefits of multilingualism that I summarized above to the previous sentence! That is the power of multilingualism when compared to monolingual education. That is what would happen if our private schools (and public ones that are adopting the same mythology) were to let teachers use multiple languages in the classroom. Future generations of students would be able to communicate complex and diverse ideas in more than one language, improving their learning and increasing opportunities in different walks of life and for a lifetime!

Now, as I promised at the outset, just to move away from the shock and disgust about our systematic destruction of multilingualism (because too many of us have somehow bought into, help advance, or tolerate this amazing, grand lie that using “English Only” improves education), let me share a few fun activities and conversations you can use in your classroom.

Ask students to translate the word “beauty” into Nepali (and/or other languages they speak). In the case of Nepali, hoping the English-only madness hasn’t completely destroyed this language among all students in class, someone will say “sundar.” Ask students if that word is associated with females or males in Nepali. The answer, in Nepali, is male, right? In English, it is typically used to describe females, with the adjective “beautiful.” What is “beautiful” in Nepali? “Sundari?” Probably not! Well, yeah, some students will say. Then ask the class to translate the word “sundari” back into English, or imagine what image“beautiful” conjures up in their minds. Again, if at least some of them have a good sense of the connotations in Nepali, they might say things like “nakkali” or someone “who tries hard to look pretty.” In any case, the connotations in Nepali are not positive—unlike in English, generally speaking. Guess what, if any of your students are good in Nepali, they will also tell you that “sundari” means a female monkey. And so the conversation will continue, just using one key word and two languages, showing you the beauty and power of multilingualism. Good luck with the rest of the conversation, whichever way you want to wrap it up.

Let us take another case of hard-to-translate words in different languages. Here is one of the many websites that provide lists of such words from languages spoken around the world. Take any number of these words to class (or pull them up and show the accompanying images on the screen if that is possible), and then ask students to write words from their home or other languages that they don’t think have accurate translation in English. This activity will also help your students refine their translingual skills, taking one more step in the direction of achieving many of the benefits of multilingualism described above. What does a word and especially its connotations say about the society (context, culture, lifestyle), about changes over time, about worldviews, etc? What are the personal, social, and professional benefits of continuously developing vocabulary, range of syntax and idiom, and sociolinguistic competency in more than one language?

To keep this post short, let me sign off with a link to a blog post that I wrote for a professional group named Transnational Writing here in the US. In this two-part essay, I have discussed some of the practical/classroom strategies and activities for engaging students in translingual communication (a hot button topic here in the US these days).

I look forward to reading your thoughts and ideas in the comments.

The author:  Dr. Sharma is currently working in the capacity of an assistant professor of writing and rhetoric at Stony Brook University, New York in the USA

Interaction in English language classrooms to enhance students’ language learning

Chura Bahadur Thapa & Angel M. Y. Lin *

Introduction

EFL contexts like Nepal seldom provide students with opportunities for authentic communication in English. Therefore, deliberate ‘interaction in the classrooms’ is emerging as one of the leading conventions to enhance the students’ linguistic resources as well as equipping them with appropriate skills for communication. The major intent of this entry is to share a teacher’s insider experiences of developing interactions in an ESL classroom in Hong Kong while fully recognizing that the contextual differences between Hong Kong and Nepal will necessitate teachers’ own creative adaptation or re-invention of whatever tips shared from elsewhere. We shall, first of all, present the concept of interaction from sociocultural perspectives and discuss various challenges for the front-line EFL teachers to plan and implement lessons that incorporate interactions in ESL or EFL classrooms. Then, insider experiences of the first author of this entry in overcoming those challenges are shared. Assuming that the textbooks and teaching materials play a vital role to promote and facilitate the interactions in classrooms, a sample activity designed for the Secondary Two (Class 8) ESL students in Hong Kong is also included and discussed.

Interaction in language classrooms

Classroom interaction has been considered one of the most important pedagogical research topics in language classrooms in recent decades, mostly due to the influence of the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Vygotskian sociocultural theory (Hall & Walsh, 2002) views the act of language learning as a social activity in which children build their knowledge through the help and scaffolding of more knowledgeable peers or teachers. Interactions in language classrooms are important social activities for students through which they not only construct knowledge, but also build confidence and identity as competent language users (Luk & Lin, 2007). In an in-depth ethnographic study of teacher-student interactions in Hong Kong, Luk and Lin (2007) found out that students develop multiple identities through their classroom interactions with their language teachers. Although the study took place in an ESL classroom where native English language teachers are available, Luk and Lin (2007:188) present a telling story about how students negotiate identity and cultural resources, which are “translated into non-institutionally sanctioned language practices and identities”. Perhaps, the social knowledge students bring into the classrooms might be those “non-institutional language practices”, which schools and teachers are supposed to build on in order to enhance their learning.

Interaction in the classroom refers to the conversation between teachers and students, as well as among the students, in which active participation and learning of the students becomes vital. Conversations are part of the sociocultural activities through which students construct knowledge collaboratively. Conversations between and among various parties in the classroom have been referred to as educational talk (Mercer and Dawes, 2008) or “exploratory talk” and “presentational talk” (Barnes, 2008:5). Presentational talk is the one-way lecture conducted by the teachers in the classroom, mostly featured in Nepalese EFL contexts, which contributes little to encouraging and engaging students in a communicative dialogue. Exploratory talk is a purposeful conversation, often deliberately designed by teachers, which provide opportunities to students to engage in “hesitant, broken, and full of deadend” conversations enabling them to “try out new ideas, to hear how they sound, to see what others make of them, to arrange information and ideas into different patterns” (Barnes, 2008:5). Given the limited linguistic resources the EFL students possess in their school years in EFL contexts like Nepal, these hesitant, broken and deadend conversations could be developed into spontaneous conversational skills. When students engage in interactions, they produce “symmetric dialogic context” (Mercer & Dawes, 2008:66) where everyone can participate, get respected and get the decisions made jointly. Students’ participation in interactions, therefore, can help them enrich their linguistic resources and build their confidence to communicate with others in English.

Designing interaction: challenges and ways ahead

When I started teaching English in a Hong Kong school, I noticed that students in Hong Kong like to talk a lot. These talks are often characterized as responses to the multiple stimuli such as various gadgets and social media. To realize the importance of students’ talks in their knowledge building was a paradigm shift in me, as my high school days in Nepal still remind me of the very quiet classrooms where often only the teachers talked. The process of designing lessons with meaningful interactions in my ESL classroom in Hong Kong posed several challenges such as incorporating various forms of interactions, achieving the lesson goals through such interactions, participation of students in meaningful interactions, and making sure that all the students engage in conversations and learn from the teachers as well as from themselves.

Secondly, of course students’ varying language abilities, topics that generated the conversations among them and matched their abilities presented a micro level challenges in managing interactions. Students in my class came from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and I believed that they brought with them their own unique knowledge base. Their varying English language ability might sound simple to some or unnoticeable to others, but addressing them in the classroom would very much influence how they view themselves and others (Luk & Lin, 2007) and make them feel how their cultural and linguistic knowledge base could be important in furthering their academic journey.

To overcome the underlined challenges, I took a closer look at other teachers’ practices and suggestions by researchers (Jong & Hawley, 1995). I found Jong and Hawley’s (1995) suggestions particularly setting up group roles, teacher monitoring and evaluation, peer evaluation, appropriate group size and configuration quite useful. Assigning group roles and group configurations could be thought during the planning stage. Teacher monitoring should be conducted at the while-teaching stage, and teacher and peer evaluations are elements to be incorporated at the post-teaching stage. I often incorporated three stages of interactions in my lessons.

  1. Interaction of the students with the teacher (Teacher Student Whole-Class Interaction): I often asked students to respond to a certain question related to a emerging topic or a topic that was already taught as part of the whole-class interactions. For the responses, students were randomly selected based on their ability, seating arrangements, gender and cultural groups to make sure that they all get represented in the interaction process.
  2. Pair Interaction (Interaction with their peers sitting together or next to them): This interaction often took place during the pre-teaching stage, for example to activate their schema on a topic. As part of assigning group roles, students were usually asked to interact with their partners on a topic given by the teacher and present it to the whole class.
  3. Group Interaction (Groups of 4-5 students): This form of interaction often took place during the while-teaching stage. After students read a text, for example in a reading lesson, they could pick up a concept for discussion. Their discussion could dwell on expanding the practical meaning of the concept, finding solution to a problem or bring up a creative issue out of the topic. Based on Jong and Hawley’s (1995) suggestions, students’ roles were often divided based on the nature of the topic such as a note taker, a facilitator, a presenter, and so on. Assigning these roles was crucial to prevent the students to digress from discussion their topics or and contribute meaningfully in the whole learning process.

The idea of teacher monitoring took place during the process of pair or group interactions. Teachers could evaluate the extent and forms of interactions students conducted during the process, and at the same time, provide feedback and support to the weaker students. I often walked around the class and monitored the students’ interactions to make sure that they are up to the tasks and are supported when in need.

Timing the interactions was another important aspect handling the students’ conversations purposefully and meaningfully. I often gave the students 5-10 minutes to interact among themselves and prepare a presentation poster or speech. The timing depended on the topic’s extent of difficulty and students’ ability as well.

Students were often asked to present the outcome of their interaction to the whole class in poster or speech forms. In order to ensure every students’ participation, they were trained and assigned with roles to make contributions individually even during group presentations. This was at this stage that the teacher and peer evaluation took place. I often adopted a range of techniques to evaluate students’ performances such as asking students to fill in an evaluation rubric or asking students about their peers’ performances and grade them on the board. Sometimes this process generated heated debates and quarreling, friendly though; among the students because they thought that some of their peers were not evaluating them fairly.

Last, but not the least, I also created teaching materials and worksheets conducive to the diversity of the students particularly in order to scaffold on their linguistic and cultural resources. Textbooks nowadays are found incorporating activities for some forms of interactions, but they often become irrelevant in the classrooms because these textbooks cannot address the range of students’ ability levels, skill levels and their cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Most textbooks in Hong Kong, for example, incorporate elements of Chinese and Christian festivals and ask the students to interact on that. However, students from Nepal, Pakistan, India, or Sri-Lanka in Hong Kong would not be able to use their cultural resources and construct knowledge from the interactions. Although English language textbooks in Hong Kong are considered to be the most advanced resources for ESL students, modifications often needed to suit to my students’ needs. These changes sometimes also needed to address the students’ willingness and skills to spontaneously engage in interactions. For example, some students in my class were very poor in English and found it hard to even properly construct questions to ask their friends, while others were at a native English speaker’ level.

Taking these questions into consideration, we present an activity (Activity 1) that can potentially be used to promote pair interactions in an EFL classroom. This activity is a modified activity from a secondary two (Class 8) English language textbook in Hong Kong, which is believed to suit students with moderate English ability. The moderate language ability in this context is the students’ ability to use connectives and quantifiers in authentic situations. This activity incorporates multicultural elements in the context of Nepal as it contains pictures of various Nepali festivals as well as Western festivals such as Christmas. Students can ask their peers about their likes or dislikes and jot down their answers to present to the class. Phrases given in the boxes are meant to cater for learner diversity. For higher proficiency students, this activity can be presented in a different way to suit their levels.

___________________________________________________________________________

Activity 1:

Worksheet A

1. Study the pictures in the boxes in pairs. Ask questions to your friend about items that he/she prefers or doesn’t prefer more (or less) and why. Write your friend’s responses in the checklist at the bottom.

You may begin like this: Which festivals do you like more/less/most/least? Why?

 Publication1………………………………………………………………………..

Check List

2. Write your friend’s answers below. You may need to present it to the class.

* My friend likes ___________________________ more, because ______________

* My friend likes __________________________less, because _________________

______________________________________________________________________

* He/She likes ___________________________ the most, because _____________

______________________________________________________________________

* My friend likes ___________ the least, because __________________________

Conclusion

This entry presented the concept of interaction from a sociocultural perspective sharing the first author’s teaching experiences in a Hong Kong school. The sharing included the challenges as well as possible strategies a teacher might adopt to devise, implement and evaluate interactions in an EFL classroom. The sharing could present a model for EFL teachers to choose from many other pedagogical options in order to enhance the students’ English language learning. The activity presented in this entry is only one example of hundreds of such possible activities. The original activity might not be suitable to adopt exactly in Nepalese EFL classes, as there are diversities in terms of language, culture, students’ abilities as well as available resources based on geography, developmental level and proximity to urban life. Teachers need to bear in mind that they understand their students the best and they need to know how students can best interact and learn the language in the classroom.

*About the Authors:

1- Mr. Chura Bahadur Thapa is a PhD Student in the Faculty of Education at The University of Hong Kong. He was an English language teacher in a local college in Hong Kong for almost 7 years before joining HKU as a postgraduate student. He is currently researching the language learning and motivation of ethnic minority students in Hong Kong. His other research interests include- education of ethnic minorities, linguistic and cultural identity, intercultural communication and citizenship education. He can be reached at chura@hku.hk

2- Dr. Angel Lin received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, Canada. She is an Associate Professor of English Language Education at the University of Hong Kong.  Well-respected for her versatile interdisciplinary scholarship in language and identity studies, bilingual education and youth cultural studies. she has published six research books and over eighty research articles. She can be reached at angellin@hku.hk.

REFERENCES

Barnes, D. (2008). Exploratory talk for learning. Exploring talk in schools. Los Angeles, London, New Delhi: SAGE, 1-15.

Hall, J.K. & Walsh, M. (2002). Teacher-student interaction and language learning. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 22, 186-203.

Jong, C.D. & Hawley, J. (1995). Making cooperative learning groups work. Middle School Journal, 26 (4), 45-48.

Luk, J.C.M. & Lin, A.M.Y. (2007). Classroom interactions as cross-cultural encounters. Native speakers in EFL classrooms. Mahwah, New Jersey, London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Mercer, N. & Dawes, L. (2008). The value of exploratory talk. In Mercer, N. & Hodgkinson, S. (Eds.). Exploring talk in schools. Los Angeles, London, New Delhi: SAGE, 55-72.

Translanguaging to teach English in Nepal

Ofelia García*

 

Introduction

            English language teaching throughout the world has suffered from a monoglossic bias; that is, the view that English could only be taught in isolation and separated from the languages spoken by students. This was, of course, the pedagogical tradition that emerged from the West, and especially from North American and British scholars in particular, who saw the teaching of the English language as a monolingual imperialist enterprise. But in the 21st century, English teaching has gone global, no longer in the hands of colonial masters, but taught throughout the world by many who share language and culture with students. And yet, our pedagogies have remained as monolingual as ever, robbing students of opportunities to use their home languages to make sense of the complex use of English that is demanded in the world today.

            I argue here that we need to adopt a translanguaging lens, a lens which allows us to think about language, bilingualism and learning from the perspective of emergent bilingual students themselves. I start by considering the concept of translanguaging.  Using the translanguaging lens, I then provide counterarguments to some of the constructions about English language speakers, English language acquisition and learning, bilingualism, and language education that have been responsible for much failure in the teaching of English to students throughout the world.

Translanguaging

The term translanguaging was coined in Welsh (trawsieithu) by Cen Williams. In its original use, it referred to a pedagogical practice where students are asked to alternate languages for receptive or productive use; for example, students might be asked to read in English and write in Welsh and vice-versa. Since then, the term has been extended by many scholars (e.g. Blackledge & Creese 2010, Canagarajah 2011, García 2009; García & Sylvan 2011, Hornberger & Link 2012). I have used the term to refer to the flexible use of linguistic resources by bilinguals in order to make sense of their worlds, and I have applied it mostly to classrooms because of its potential in liberating the voices of language minoritized students.

I use translanguaging here to refer not to the use of two separate languages or even the shift of one language or code to the other (for simple Questions and Answers on translanguaging for educators see my introduction to Celic and Seltzer, 2012). Rather, translanguaging is rooted on the principle that emergent bilingual students select language features from a repertoire and “soft assemble” their language practices in ways that fit their communicative situations. Translanguaging in education can be defined as a process by which students and teachers engage in complex discursive practices that include ALL the language practices of students in order to develop new language practices and sustain old ones, communicate and appropriate knowledge, and give voice to new sociopolitical realities by interrogating linguistic inequality. In today’s globalized world what is needed is the ability to engage in fluid language practices and to soft-assemble features that can “travel” across geographic spaces so as to enable us to participate fully as global citizens.

Counter-narratives about English, its speakers, learning English, bilingualism, and teaching English

            The education of emergent bilinguals suffers from five major misconstructions about English, its speakers, the learning of English, bilingualism, and the teaching of English that can be counter-narrated through a translanguaging lens as follows:

  1. English is not a system of structures.
  2. “Native” English speakers are neither the norm nor objective fact.
  3. Learning English is not linear.
  4. Bilinguals are not simply speakers of a first and a second language.
  5. The teaching of English cannot be enacted in total separation from other language practices.

I will develop these counter-narratives to deconstruct some of the myths with which we have been operating in educating emergent bilinguals.

English is not a system of structures

English forms and meaning are not auto-sufficient, but arise in and through social practice, as linguistic practices get used repeatedly in local contexts for meaning-making. Language is a series of social practices and actions that are embedded in a web of social relations and that orient and manipulate social domains of interactions.  Pennycook (2010: 9) explains:

A focus on language practices moves the focus from language as an autonomous system that preexists its use, and competence as an internal capacity that accounts for language production, towards an understanding of language as a product of the embodied social practices that bring it about (my italics).

English is not a system of language structures; rather, languaging through what is called English is practicing a new way of being in the world.  This understanding of what English is and is not has enormous implications for our conceptualization of English speakers, the next counter-narrative that I propose.

“Native” English speakers are neither the norm nor objective fact

It is important to recognize that monolinguals are not the norm in the world. Although estimates are difficult to make, well over half of the world’s population is bilingual or monolingual. In the second language acquisition literature, the “native” speaker is always held as the ideal. But the notion of who is a “native” speaker has been questioned in the fluidity of today’s global world. Often “native” has become indexical of being white. The ideology of the existence of a monolithic “native” English creates an order of indexicality (Blommaert, 2010) that favors the language practices of white prestigious monolingual speakers. Thus, the other “native” practices are reduced to being “corrupted,” “stigmatized,” “deficient,” “needing remediation.” As many have argued, there is no “native English standard.” Being a “native English speaker” is not simply being monolingual or speaking a certain way. At the same time, learning English does not happen in a vacuum, and is not linear. This is the misconstruction addressed by the counter-narrative in the next section.

Learning English does not proceed from scratch, is not linear

The learning of English has often focused on an end point, the ultimate attainment of a “native English standard.”  When students haven’t achieved this, they are said to have a “fossilized interlanguage”; that is, their language system is said to be permanently deficient. Rarely has the learning of English paid attention to the resources students bring and to the dynamic process through which language practices emerge. But students are much more than just blank slates that are subsequently filled with English structures. They bring to classrooms knowledge, imagination, and sophisticated language practices. In addition, they do not forget what they know in order to take up English. These students are emergent bilinguals with full capacities. Their new language practices do not surface from scratch, but emerge in interrelationship with old language practices.

If the English language is not, as we have seen, simply a system of structures, then it follows that it is not possible just to add up structures in linear fashion in order to learn. Instead, English learning emerges as a flexible continuum, as students take up practices in interrelationship with others. The result is never an end point at which students “have” English. Rather, emergent bilinguals “do” language, languaging in ways that include practices identified as “English” in order to negotiate communicative situations and meet academic expectations. Emergent bilinguals are not simply in a stage of “incomplete acquisition.” The next section questions the misconstructions about bilingualism held by schools that have served to alienate the complex language practices of emergent bilingual students from English learning and provides an alternative narrative.

Bilinguals are not simply speakers of a first and a second language

Bilingualism in schools is often understood as being additive. Additive bilingualism refers to the idea that a “second language” can be added to a “first language,” resulting in a person who is a balanced bilingual. The views about languaging that I have been developing here lead us to reject the idea of “first” and “second” language, as well as balanced bilingualism.

Although most bilinguals may be able to identify which language they learned “first” and which language they learned “second,” the assignment of a “first” and “second” language to bilinguals is as much a theoretical impossibility as is the concept of being a balanced bilingual.  New language practices emerge in interrelationship with old ones, and these language practices are always dynamically enacted.

I have argued that bilingualism can be better seen as dynamic.  In contrasting dynamic bilingualism to an additive perspective, I go beyond simply the perspective of language systems and refer to the multiple and complex way in which the language practices of bilinguals interact and form a complex language repertoire. I have used the image of a banyan tree to suggest that language practices emerge and develop in intertwined ways.

As bilingualism emerges, the identification of language practices belonging to one or another “language” has to be questioned. Bilinguals translanguage, disrupting conventional ideas of what languages are or of the languages that bilinguals have. Bilinguals are clearly not two monolinguals in one. They use their complex language repertoire to fulfill the communicative needs that emerge from the different landscapes and speakers through which they shuttle back and forth. I have used the image of the All Terrain Vehicle to suggest that bilinguals use their complex language practices selectively as they adapt to the ridges and craters of communication in different languagescapes.

Traditionally, bilingual use has been understood as following a diglossic compartmentalization, with one language spoken at home, another one in school. But the translanguaging lens we have adopted makes clear that the language practices of bilinguals are transglossic, and that their full repertoire of practices is used in homes, and often “invisibly” in schools. The structures of language and education programs and their pedagogies have to respond to greater fluidity. This is the misconstruction addressed in the next counter-narrative.

The teaching of English cannot be enacted in total separation from other language practices

Traditionally, the teaching of English has taken place in English only. But as the complex translanguaging practices of bilinguals are made more evident, structures and pedagogies that separate languages artificially have to be abandoned. The language separation approach that is often used has to be abandoned.

All teachers must adopt translanguaging strategies in teaching.  It would be important for English teachers to leverage the children’s entire language repertoire in making meaning and to develop the children’s metacognition and sense of self-regulation as they translanguage.

Oral discussions that include all students’ language practices enable their class participation, deep and reflexive thinking, and rigorous cognitive engagement with texts. The reading of difficult text is facilitated when students can access background material about the content of the text in other languages. Engagement with writing English texts is also facilitated when students can discuss, read and write first drafts that may include other language practices besides those that are in English.  Translanguaging is an important tool.

A translanguaging lens enables us to understand the teaching of English to emergent bilinguals in new ways. Focusing on translanguaging practices enables us to shed notions of system structures that can be linearly taught, of the proper usage of natives, of the value of monolingualism, of bilingualism as simply double monolingualism, of the teaching of English without considering the entire language and semiotic repertoire of students.

References

Blackledge, A. and Creese, A. (2010) .Multilingualism. London: Continuum.

Blommaert, J. (2010). The Sociolinguistics of globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Canagarajah, A.S. (2011). Codemeshing in academic writing: Identifying teachable strategies of translanguaging. The Modern Language Journal 95(iii), 401-417.

Celic, C. and Seltzer, K. (2012). Translanguaging: A CUNY-NYSIEB Guide for Educators. New York: CUNY-NYSIEB. Online document: http://www.nysieb.ws.gc.cuny.edu/publicationsresources/

García, O. (2009). Bilingual education in the 21st Century: A Global perspective. Malden, MA and Oxford: Wiley/Blackwell.

García, O. and Sylvan, C. (2011). Pedagogies and practices in multilingual classrooms: Singularities in Pluralities. Modern Language Journal 95(iii), 385-400.

Hornberger, N. and H. Link. (2012). Translanguaging and transnational literacies in multilingual classrooms: A bilingual lens. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 15(3): 261-278.

Pennycook, A. (2010). Language as a local practice. London and New York: Routledge.

*Ofelia García is Professor in the Ph.D. program of Urban Education and of Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Languages at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.   She has published many book chapters, articles, and books. She is the Associate General Editor of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language.

Creative Writing for Students and Teachers

Alan Maley

U.K.

Why is it that most institutional systems of education develop such narrow and unadventurous teaching procedures?  How is it that joyful learning somehow gets overwhelmed by institutional rituals: the worship of the syllabus, the obsession with ‘covering’ the textbook, the manic preoccupation with the exam, the compulsion to conform?  It seems that only in rare cases, through the determination of individual teachers, is joyful learning achieved.  In most other cases, the language is reduced to drumming in material as if it were a set of mathematical formulae in preparation for the exam, after which it can safely be discarded.  Small wonder that many students simply switch off  and develop a lifelong aversion to the language in question.  What they learn is neither enjoyable nor perceived as useful in the ‘real’ world outside the classroom.

This applies to much English language teaching too: all too often, it lacks a creative spark.  John McRae goes so far as to say,

“In future years, the absence of imaginative content in language teaching will be considered to have marked a primitive stage of the discipline: the use of purely referential materials limits the learner’s imaginative involvement with the target language, and leads to a one-dimensional learning achievement.  Representational materials make an appeal to the learner’s imagination…”  (McRae 1991:vii)

In this article I shall be arguing for the need to develop more creative approaches to writing as a way of enriching the learning experiences of both teachers and learners.

 

What is Creative Writing?

Creative writing is often contrasted with Expository writing.  I have summarized the principle differences between them in the following table:

   Expository Writing   Creative Writing

 

     Instrumental

 

     Facts

 

     External control

 

     Conventions

 

     Logical

 

     Analytical

 

     Impersonal

 

     Thinking mode

 

    Appeal to the intellect

 

    Avoidance of ambiguity

 

    Aesthetic

 

    Imagination

 

    Internal discipline

 

    Stretching rules

 

    Intuitive

 

    Associative

 

    Personal

 

    Feeling mode (plus thinking!)

 

    Appeal to the senses

 

    Creation of multiple meanings

When writing an expository text we are essentially instrumentally motivated. We have a quantum of facts, ideas and opinions to put across.  Expository writing rests on a framework of externally imposed rules and conventions.  These range from grammatical and lexical accuracy and appropriacy to specific genre constraints.  The aim of expository writing is to be logical, consistent and impersonal and to convey the content as unambiguously as possible to the reader.

Creative writing, by contrast, is aesthetically motivated.  It deals less in facts than in the imaginative representation of emotions, events, characters and experience.  Contrary to what many believe, creative writing is not about license.  It is a highly disciplined activity.  But the discipline is self-imposed: ‘the fascination of what’s difficult’ (Yeats).  In this it stands in contrast to expository writing, which imposes constraints from without.  It often proceeds by stretching the rules of the language to breaking point, testing how far it can go before the language breaks down under the strain of innovation.  Creative writing is a personal activity, involving feeling. This is not to say that thought is absent – far from it.  The ingenuity of a plot, or the intricate structure of a poem are not the products of an unthinking mind: they require a unique combination of thought and feeling – part of what Donald Davie (1994) calls ‘articulate energy.’  An important quality of creative writing however is the way it can evoke sensations.  And, unlike expository writing, it can be read on many different levels and is open to multiple interpretations.

The Case for Creative Writing.

 

It is reasonable to ask however, how we can justify the inclusion of creative writing, in addition to aesthetic reading, in our language teaching practices.  A recent small-scale survey (unpublished data) I conducted among some 50 leading ELT professionals, especially teachers of writing, yielded the following reasons:

1.  Creative writing aids language development at all levels: grammar, vocabulary, phonology and discourse. As learners manipulate the language in interesting and demanding ways, attempting to express uniquely personal meanings (as they do in creative writing), they necessarily engage with the language at a deeper level of processing than with expository texts (Craik and Lockhart 1972).  The gains in grammatical accuracy,  appropriacy and originality of lexical choice, and sensitivity to rhythm, rhyme, stress and intonation are significant.

2. Creative writing also fosters ‘playfulness’.  In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the role of play in language acquisition. (Cook 2000, Crystal 1998)  In some ways the ‘communicative movement’ has done a disservice to language teaching by its insistence on the exclusively communicative role played by language.  The proponents of play point out, rightly, that in L1 acquisition, much of the language used by children is almost exclusively concerned with play: rhythmical chants and rhymes, word games, jokes and the like.  Furthermore, such playfulness survives into adulthood, so that many social encounters are characterized by language play (puns, jokes, ‘funny voices’, metathesis, and so on) rather than by the direct communication of messages. In creative writing, learners are encouraged to do precisely this: to play creatively with the language in a guilt-free environment.  As Crystal states, ‘Reading and writing do not have to be a prison house.  Release is possible.  And maybe language play can provide the key.’ (Crystal 1998:217)

3. This playful element encourages learners to take risks with the language, to explore it without fear of reproof.  By manipulating the language in this way, they also begin to discover things not only about the language but about themselves.  They effectively begin to develop a ‘second language personality’.

4.  Much of the teaching we do draws and focuses on the left side of the brain, where our logical faculties are said to reside.  Creative writing puts the emphasis on the right side of the brain, with a focus on feelings, physical sensations, intuition, and the like.  This is a healthy restoration of balance between the logical and the intuitive faculties.  It also allows scope for learners whose hemisphere preference or dominance may not be left-brain, and who, in the usual course of teaching, are therefore at a disadvantage.

5.  The dramatic increase in self-confidence and self-esteem which creative writing tends to develop among learners leads to a corresponding increase in motivation.  Dornyei (2001), among others, has pointed to evidence that suggests that among the key  conditions for promoting motivation are:

‘5. Create a pleasant and supportive atmosphere in the classroom

6.  Promote the development of group cohesiveness.

13. Increase the students’ expectancy of success in particular tasks and in learning in

general.

17. Make learning more stimulating and enjoyable by breaking the monotony of

classroom events.

18. Make learning stimulating and enjoyable for the learner by increasing the

attractiveness of tasks.

19. Make learning stimulating and enjoyable for the learners by enlisting them as active

task participants.

20. Present and administer tasks in a motivating way.

23. Provide students with regular experiences of success.

24. Build your learners’ confidence by providing regular encouragement.

28. Increase student motivation by promoting cooperation among the learners.

29. Increase student motivation by actively promoting learner autonomy.

33. Increase learner satisfaction.

34. Offer rewards in a motivational manner.’(Dornyei 2001: 138-144)

All these conditions are met in a well-run creative writing class.  This increase in motivation is certainly supported by my own experience in teaching creative writing.  Learners suddenly realize that they can write something in the foreign language which no one else has ever written before.  And they experience not only a pride in their own products but a joy in the process.

6. Creative writing also feeds into more creative reading.  It is as if, by getting inside the process of creating the text, learners come to intuitively understand how such texts work, and this makes them easier to read.  Likewise, the development of aesthetic reading skills provides the learner with a better understanding of textual construction, and this feeds into their writing.  There is only one thing better than reading a lot for developing writing ~ and that is writing a lot too!

7. Finally, the respondents to the questionnaire survey were almost unanimous in agreeing that creative writing helps to improve expository writing too. In fact, by helping learners to develop an individual voice, it makes their factual writing more genuinely expressive.

All of the above factors were mentioned by the respondents to the questionnaire.  Respondents noted that students who become engaged in CW tasks demonstrate a robust sense of self-esteem and are consequently better motivated (Dornyei 2001).  They also become more aware both of the language and of themselves as learners. The virtuous cycle of success breeding more success is evident with such students.  As they become more self-confident, so they are prepared to invest more of themselves in these creative writing tasks.  Above all, students derive not just ‘fun’ but a deeper sense of enjoyment from their writing.

References

Arnold, Jane.  (1999).  Affect in Language Learning.  Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.

Boden, Margaret.  (1998)  The Creative Mind.  London: Abacus.

Carter, Ronald.  (2004)  Language and Creativity: the art of common talk.  London: Routledge.

Cook, Guy.  (2000)  Language Play: Language Learning.  Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

Craik, F.I.M. and R.S. Lockhart (1972)  ‘Levels of processing: a framework for memory research.’  Journal for verbal learning and Verbal Behaviour II: 617-84.

Crystal, David. (1998)  Language Play.  London: Penguin.

Davie, Donald (1994)  Purity of Diction in English Verse and Articulate Energy.  London: Carcanet.

Day, Richard and Julian Bamford.  (1998)  Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom.  Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press

Dornyei ,Zoltan  (2001) Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom.  Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.

Gardner,  Howard. (1985)  Frames of Mind.  London: Paladin Books

Gleick, James. (1988)  Chaos.  London: Sphere Books

Koch, Kenneth. (1990) Rose, where did you get that red?  New York: Vintage Books.

Krashen, Stephen  (2004 second edition) The Power of Reading.  PortsmouthNH: Heinemann

Maley, Alan (ed) (2007 a)) Asian Short Stories for Young Readers.  Vol. 4.  Petaling Jaya: Pearson/Longman Malaysia

Maley, Alan (ed)  (2007 b))  Asian Poems for Young Readers. Vol.5. Petaling Jaya:Pearson/Longman Malaysia.

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan.  (eds) (2005 a))  Asian Stories for Young Readers, Vol 1   Petaling Jaya: Pearson/Longman Malaysia.

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan  (eds)  (2005 b))  Asian Stories for Young Learners. Vol. 2  Petaling Jaya: Pearson Malaysia

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan (eds) (2005 c) Asian Poems for Young Readers.Vol. 3.   Petaling Jaya: Pearson/Longman.

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan (eds) (2011a)) Asian Short Stories for Young Readers.  Petaling Jaya: Pearson Malaysia

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan (eds)  (2011 b)) Asian Poems for Young Readers. Petaling Jaya: Pearson Malaysia.

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan (2011 c))  Writing Poems: a resource book for teachers of English.  Petaling Jaya: Pearson Malaysia

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan (2011 d))  Writing Stories; a resource book for teachers of English.  Petaling Jaya: Pearson Mal.aysia

McRae, John  (1991) Literature with a Small ‘l’.  Oxford.: Macmillan.

Matthews, Paul. 1994. Sing Me the Creation.  Stroud:Hawthorn Press.

Mukundan, Jayakaran.  (ed)  (2006) Creative Writing in EFL/ESL Classrooms II.  Petaling Jaya: Pearson Longman Malaysia

Rubdy, Rani and Mario Saraceni (eds) (2006) English in the World: Global Rules, Global Roles.  London/New York: Continuum.

Schmidt, Richard (1990).  ‘The role of  consciousness in second language learning’.  Applied Linguistics. Vol. 11, No. 2 129-158.  Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

Schumacher, E.F.  (1974).  Small is Beautiful.  London: Abacus/Sphere Books

Spiro, Jane  (2004)  Creative Poetry Writing.  Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

Spiro, Jane.  (2006)  Creative Story-building.  Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

Tan, Bee Tin (ed) (2004). Creative Writing in EFL/ESL Classrooms I  Serdang: UPM Press.

Tomlinson, Brian  (1998). ‘Seeing what they mean: helping L2 learners to visualise.’  In B.Tomlinson (ed). Materials Development in Language Teaching.  Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.  265-78

Tomlinson, Brian (2001) ‘The inner voice: a critical factor in language learning’  Journal of the Imagination in L2 learning.  VI, 123-154.

Wright, Andrew and David Hill. (2008)  Writing Stories.  Innsbruck: Helbling Languages.

Key Speaker Dr. Richard Smith’s Key Speech and Plenary

Transformations in ELT: Contexts, Agents and Opportunity- Key Speech

Professor Richard Smith began his talk with a brief historical overview of western language teaching methods and their export, highlighting the needs revealed by this history for teaching methodology to be appropriate in context. Moving on to agents, he stressed that the main agents of change in ELT are teachers, and he argued for the idea that the genuine transformations only tend to happen gradually, from within existing affordances. Finally, then, he laid emphasis on some practical and realistic opportunities for teacher development and teacher research which have the potential, at least, to bring about lasting change. For his presentation slides/materials, please click here Transformations in ELT: Contexts, Agents and Opportunity

Teaching Large Classes: Plenary

Referring to cases of good practice from recent research in developing country contexts, he has shared the findings on how  some teachers and learners have addressed difficult circumstances including large class size, lack of resources and heterogeneous groupings. On this basis, he mapped out some directions for future  teacher development and research work, drawing particular attention to the activities of the Teaching English in Large Classes network. For Dr. Smith’s plenary talk on teaching large classes, please click the link Teaching Large Classes 

 Teaching and Researching Large Classes: Workshop

Building on his plenary  ‘Teaching Large Classes’, Dr. Smith encouraged the participants to share their own recent teaching successes. He also mediated further ideas from teachers elsewhere, and he showed how they can show themselves do research into the problems they face without too much added burden, indeed actually lightening their load.

Key Speaker Dr. JoAnn (Jody) Crandall’s Key Speech and Plenary

Preparing Global Citizens for the 21st Century: The Role of Content-Based Language Instruction – Key Speech

Content based language instruction has a valuable role to play in preparing global citizens in an increasingly interconnected world. It builds content knowledge and offers the possibility of integrating the “21st century skills” of critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration. It also fosters authentic use of language, with real purposes and audiences, in a range print and digital literacy and in contexts that promote authentic and often intercultural communication. These skills can begin to be introduced to young learners in language programs and ne expanded as students move through secondary school and the university to achieve more advanced language, literacy and content knowledge and skills. For her key speech, please click the link here Prepari_Global_Citizens-Role_of_CBI_CLILNepalfnl

The Expanding World of the ELT Professional: Opportunities and Challenges – Plenary

A number of factors have come together to make the world of English language teaching one of increasing opportunities. These factors include the globalization of English, the introduction of English in early grades, the increasing use of English as a medium of instruction at some level of education (especially higher education), the increasing reliance upon digital technologies, and the rapid creation of new knowledges, which if met, enable us to continue to grow and perhaps, reverse the tendency to “burn out” or become less motivated by the profession we have chosen. Dr. Crandall’s talk focused on the opportunities and challenges that are presented to us in the new life cycle of an ELT professional. Please go through her presentation in the plenary by clicking the link ExpandingWorldofTESOLProfessionalNepalfnl

Culture as Content in the ELT Classroom: Helping Learners Develop Intercultural Competence – Plenary

The language classroom has long been seen as a natural context for the teaching of both explicit and implicit culture. We include cultural practices and institutions, customs and traditions, verbal and nonverbal communication and many more cultural topics in our classes (Datesman, Crandall & Kearny, 2005) In many English classes, we also include both target (where the language is widely spoken) and source (the students’ own) culture, since one goal of the language class is to help students better understand their own culture. But the role of the culture in the English classroom is more complex and the goal of intercultural competence even more critical, as English is used internationally to communicate across cultures. Thus, those of us who teach English as foreign or additional language (EFL/EIL classes need to take responsibility to build students’ intercultural communication skills in order to prepare them to be effective users of English in global contexts. An important step is to build a “sphere of interculturality  ” (Kramsch 1993) in the EFL classroom that promotes a healthy process of learning about cultural difference through reflection on one’s own culture. That can be followed by the use of a number of activities to promote intercultural awareness, knowledge, tolerance/respect, and behavour and to help learners develop increasing “intercultural sensitivity” (Bennet 1993) and intercultural competence.  Please click the link Culture as Content in EFL-EIL- Helping Learners to fnl for the materials/slides presented in the plenary.

Take-away of this year’s NELTA Conference Key Speeches

Ganga Gautam

NELTA Member

This year’s NELTA conference began with the two powerful key speeches;

1)      Dr. Richard Smith – Transformations in ELT – Contexts, Agents and Opportunities

2)      Prof. Dr. Jodi Crandal–Preparing Global Citizens: The Role of Content-BasedLanguage Instruction (for English language instruction at all levels)

Dr. Smith in his presentation talked about how ELT has undergone massive transformation and he highlighted the key milestones of the shitfs in the ELT paradigms. One of the important messages that Dr. Smith brought in his presentation was the shift in the teaching methodology. He made endeavors  to communicate that talking about the single generalized method of teaching would be irrelevant at present context because it is the teachers who invent and create the methods by themselves based on the local contexts and the need of the learners at the local level. Rather than just following the approaches and methods from the BANA countries, it would be wise for the teachers to look at those methods and see how they can judiciously use them with the modifications and changes to suit their learners and the local context. Collaboration among the teachers from different settings would thus, produces appropriate methodology for the teachers. The methodological inventions are, therefore, bottom-up and they are led by the teachers rather than top-down as it was in the past. He concluded the session with a thoughtful question

“How can you bring about appropriate transformations in your ELT practice, in your own context, as an agent – at least partially — of your own destiny, and what opportunities do you see for supporting your students’ as well as your own development?”

The second key speech, which was given by Dr. Crandal, highlighted the role of content integration in the EFL/ESL materials. She shared that the global citizens of the current world need the 21st century skills and the EFL/ESL classes should include the materials from the wide array of disciplines so that the language teaching becomes not only lively and meaningful for the learners but also expose the students to the materials they will encounter in their real world after graduation. She also presented how language and content can be integrated together and shared some examples of the collaborative efforts made by language and content teachers to implement content integrated language teaching and learning in class.

So the take-away of the conference from these sessions is that it is the teacher who is responsible to make the methodological decisions in the local context to suit the learners’ need, interest, culture, their native language and so on. Collaboration with other teachers at the local, regional, national and international level will promote mutual learning building upon the successes in different countries and enhance professional harmony among the practitioners. Similarly, the integration of language with the content area subjects will promote thinking skills among the learners and the learning will be authentic for our students.

Monolingual Policies in Multilingual States: Implications for Language Teaching

Madhav Kafle

Penn State University, USA

In this brief post, I share my rumination over the concept of ‘a language’ and concept of correctness in language teaching and learning. Historically, neither did human beings claim a language by the virtue of belonging to a place nor did they police communicative endeavors of the learners as we do in many academic and non-academic spaces today. So when did we begin to have the concept of a language from that of the Language? By the Language, I mean the semiotic affordances our predecessors exploited to communicate with each other. We might first be shocked to realize that languages such as English, Nepali, Hindi, Chinese and so forth as we conceptualize them today as bounded entities belonging to a certain group of people were invented at some point in the past. Today, as we know, in most parts of the world, languages are taught as if they always existed as self-contained systems with discrete borders. If we mix words or chunks of so-called language “X” to that of a language “Y” in academic discourse, then we are often seen as a language learner who has yet to master the language fully rather than a member of an elite family. Despite being pervasively prevalent in everyday interactions, mixing is seen as one of the seven sins, if you will, in the academia.

And you might be saying, well you can do that in speaking but not in writing; writing is formal and is set in stone whereas speaking is ephemeral and assisted by multiple channels of meaning including gestures and facial expressions. To speak only of English (as ‘a language’) in Nepalese context, we expect our students at all levels to be able to show the mastery of certain national goals and objectives stipulated by the policy makers. Needless to say, the objectives of the language education are monolingual; therefore, teaching materials and resources all are only in English and the medium of instruction is also assumed to be English only (Let’s not get distracted right now by caring to talk about the reality). The pedagogy in most cases is test-driven. Therefore, instead of assessing the effectiveness of the utterance to the local context, we dwell up on the global binary of right and wrong.

Let’s talk about issue of normativity for a while. Modern society judges all human experiences by putting them through the parameters of ‘normalcy’ whereas this very concept has been shown as a matter of social and historical construction rather than a condition of human nature. According to Lennard J. Davis, as he recounts in his essay “Constructing Normalcy” in The Disability Studies Reader, the word ‘normal’ as ‘constituting, conforming to, not deviating or different from the common type or standard, regular, usual’ only enters the English language around 1840. The boundaries and strictures of normalcy, which we think of as ‘natural’ givens now, were constructed just one and a half century ago, at least in the western intellectual history. Likewise, according to Davis,

the word ‘norm’ in the modern sense, has only been in use since around 1855, and ‘normality’ and ‘normalcy’ appeared in 1849 and 1857, respectively. If the lexicographical information is relevant, it is possible to date the coming into consciousness in English of an idea of ‘the norm’ over the period 1840-1860. (10)

Further, Davis  goes onto say that before the construction of the concept of the norm, there was the concept of ‘ideal’, which also dates only from the seventeenth century. However, since the ideal was linked to the world of the divine, it was simply impossible to be achieved by mortals. Within such a schema of the ‘ideal’ there could be no room for the notion of deviance. Disability, for example, did not mean deviance but a part of the ideal. After the construction of ‘norms’ around the mid-nineteenth century, rules and regulations were created in each and every domains of human experience. This historic account of norms might sound a little simplistic; however, the purpose should be clear: norms are social constructions as are languages. As an aside, let me say this to you, I had to resort to western literature to elucidate this point, I wish I was able to find some relevant sources from our local multilingual archives .

Now, once constructed, do the norms last forever? An example from The New York Times example might be insightful. According to the article, the current association of baby clothes, which are often sorted by gender and color lines, pink for girls and blue for boys, were once just the other way around. Before the World War I, boys were pink and the girls were blue. This indicates that the norms can change according to the needs of the new times (or even for some mysterious reason).

If you permit me to continue this philosophical rambling, to have a historical understanding of the language standards, how about we travel a little back to the pre-colonial times? Would not it be interesting to explore what kinds of language norms were exercised during gurukul education system?  Maybe,  our tendency of seeing ourselves as authorities and our language  policing in  language and literacy teaching, has some kind of legacy to gurukul system as well. Again, unfortunately, the literature covering that time is relatively sparse and we are raised in a culture of looking to the West.

Consciously or unconsciously, we seem to be unable to conceive of other ways besides following the mono-normative pedagogy by default. We take for granted that skills such as reading and writing once learnt are going to be useful for ages while that is in fact not the case. If we talk about professional development, rarely is the case where teacher training programs do capitalize on local (multilingual) pedagogy. Similarly, well-meaning literacy sponsors such as British Council and US Embassy and other funding agencies would not probably commend our proposal of mixing different languages for academic purposes. This is not to say we do not have local conventions, but we often tend to discredit them as incorrect or substandard. We do not often look for hidden legacies we might have. To put it a little differently, we have yet to create the knowledge base that validates our centuries long practices.

On a more positive note, there are some signs that we are going to regain the multilingual history at some point in near future, if not soon. European Union today is a case in point. However, I am aware of the fact that while economic prospect of multilingualism is now visible in developed countries, English is still getting an unjustly superior position in many developing countries like ours. Therefore, to envision a future where we can follow the middle path by striking the balance between the indigenous and dominant languages, whether they be English or Nepali, we need to start acting today. We can’t outright negate the ‘a language’ discourse as it is rather deep, but we can at least start destabilizing the concept. The recent discussion on speaking English (only) in and out of the classrooms in NELTA yahoo group can be taken as one of the examples of possible steps forward.  Through such intellectually engaging discussions, we will be able to reinvigorate and build on our past pedagogies.  Yes, we won’t reach to conclusions easily, but the fire of criticality will keep us guiding to a better future. I hope we soon realize that erasing tribal languages in the name of validating economically advantageous languages in academia is neither fair nor foresighted. So, what kind of pedagogy would be more socially sensitive and culturally appropriate? Let’s keep the discussion going on!

Teach English, Speak English, Why? The Importance of Conversations on Choutari

Dr. Shyam Sharma
Stony Brook University, New York

Choutari is now in the hands of a brilliant new group of NELTA scholars, and I am excited about that. The old and new teams who were working together for a while in order to make this conversation under the shade of this forum even better had to go through a somewhat difficult time during the month of January—it’s a story that may be worth telling someday, perhaps years from now, and it’s a good one—but we also had a wonderful opportunity to further realize the tremendous value of promoting professional conversation in this great community. With the talent and enthusiasm of the new team, I am sure that we are going to see in the years to come great strides in the work of welcoming, encouraging, urging, prodding us to give back in the form of ideas and inspiration to our society. This work of building our scholarship from the ground up is extremely important to us as educators in a struggling nation right now and it will be, for different reasons, for generations to come.

Among the reasons we started this blog, one was to make our professional conversations serve as useful resource by making them open and accessible. And that’s what I want to write about in this reflection today.

Since I promised the editor of this month, my friend Bal Ram Adhikari, that I would contribute an entry for the issue, I’ve been trying to write about something that has kept me professionally “awake,” so to say, since I started teaching in a primary school in Butwal almost 20 years ago, something that I continued to ask for the next 12 years in grade schools and eventually at TU and then when I decided to switch from English to Writing Studies. And that something is a whole range of questions, which used to often discourage me while I taught at home: Why am I teaching what I am teaching? Does teaching grammar help students learn language? Why are we asking students to speak in English only? The teaching of literature seems to contribute to students’ personal development quite a bit, but how far does it contribute to their social and professional lives and the society at large? Why do we do little more than giving lecture in the name of “covering” the content of the course and helping students prepare for the exam—and what if there are better ways to achieve these same goals and also make education more worthwhile? What do we mean by “English education”?

When we started Choutari, I was happy because this platform allowed us to ask questions like the above as part of a broader professional conversation among hundreds of other scholars and teachers who may have similar questions, different perspectives, better answers. In this post, I want to build on a recent conversation that took place (and at the time of this writing is still ongoing) inside NELTA’s Yahoo mailing list that many of us are subscribed to. I responded briefly there, as it fit that medium, and I want to explore the issue further here, from broader educational, professional, and social perspectives. I request you, dear colleagues, to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

A fellow NELTA member, Umesh Shrestha, asked in the mailing list recently whether we, as English teachers, should communicate in English beyond the classroom and school (because, the writer seemed to imply, we don’t practice what we preach). This was a very thought-provoking question (and among other colleagues, Suman Laudari has responded with some great ideas on the list). Let me get into the relaxing mood of choutari and share some thoughts—for the beauty and fresh air of early spring is returning to the hillsides and I am truly excited by the arrival of a whole group of gaunles under the shady tree.

The question of whether we, even teachers of English, should speak English everywhere, as well as require our students to do so in school and encourage to do so outside is not new. And I happen to have strong views not only about whether even our students (forget about us) must be required to speak English at all times in school (if not beyond it!) but also about whether we should use English as a medium of instruction and for what purposes, if at all.

Let me take a step back and ask a more basic question: “Why” is it that English is the increasingly dominant, increasingly popular, increasingly unquestioned medium of instruction in Nepal? Is there a straightforward “ELT” answer to this question? Does the use of English as “the” medium of instruction raise the standard of our education overall? Does it make classroom teaching and classroom learning more effective?

First, if the answer to questions like the above is more of a “no” than “yes,” then should we make it our professional lives’ priority to make the answer “yes”? Or, should we instead pause and think why the answer is “no”? That is, if using English rather than Nepali and/or other languages of instruction—at least in certain subjects, grade levels, regions, etc—does not have an “ELT” answer (which I presume it doesn’t), then why are we insisting that “English Only” must be the medium of instruction? If imposing English as the only medium of instruction does not raise the standard of our students’ education, then how have we come to embrace the delusion (sorry, but that’s what I think it largely is) that English “is” education (as in the phrase “English education”)? Is there, in the world of reality, such a thing as “English” education (one that is of a different order of intellectual significance than education acquired “in”? another language?)– or have we just created a feel good phrase to describe “English language education/learning” by dropping the key word in the middle?

To stay on the yes/no questions above, I would readily say NO, there is absolutely no doubt that IF requiring only English as the medium of instruction, communication, and jus being in school had ZERO SIDE EFFECTS, then the benefits are so many, so significant, so long term, so attractive… that we wouldn’t need to have this conversation. I would whole-heartedly support the use of English as the “only” medium in/throughout school. I’m not joking about this, but IF our students were to come out of high school speaking fluent English while ALSO writing effectively (whether that’s in English or not, please note), demonstrating critical thinking skills at par with their peers in other nations, being able to pursue and generate new ideas on their own, excelling in math and science and technology, etc, and IF the “medium” of English was a significant reason for our students’ elevated standards in all the above areas, then NO we would not have this conversation either. We would just call the adoption of English as the “only” medium of instruction as a straightforward, non-political, purely pedagogical decision. But that’s not the case. We know for fact—and we have been in denial for a few decades now—that the English medium that we have imposed in the name of improving the “quality” of education has VISIBLY affected the effectiveness of just too many teachers’ teaching, thereby their students’ learning, the teaching and learning of math and science and social studies and economics and environmental studies and agriculture and you name it. The English medium is certainly justified for teaching the English language—although even in this case, I have a hard time understanding why we teach it for 12-16 years and our students’ English is not as good as the Nepali proficiency of my Christian missionary friend who has been in Nepal for less than a year. Yes, our students’ English proficiency—and indeed our own as English teachers—may be too low. And it is for us as teachers (plus scholars) to develop solutions by having serious curricular, pedagogical, and educational discussions. But our good intentions to solve a problem don’t justify just “any” means. For instance, it would be terribly absurd for us as English teachers to tell our colleagues teaching social studies and math and physics and chemistry and their students who are solving algebra problems or playing khopi or eating samosa in the canteen that they must use English because— oh, wait, I forgot what I was about to say! English, you know, English, and like English education. Like globalized world. Opportunities. The internet. Facebook…. Okay, I can’t think anymore. Let me do something different. Let me tell you a story.

I have a nonnative English speaking (Chinese) student named Bao in my “intermediate college writing” class (here at the State University of New York). During the first class meeting in a one month long intensive writing workshop, while I was describing one of the assignments, a “rhetorical analysis” of a text that students would choose, Bao raised his hand, with his face looking like he was terrified of something, and said: “Professor, I don’t have the ‘professionalism’ to criticize the author’s writing style….” Bao’s English language “speaking” proficiency was so low that I couldn’t help thinking how many of the international students (15 out of 20, from 6 different countries, with different extents of exposure to “native” English speaking communities) were going to pass. Bao’s case was particularly striking: he not only struggled to express himself in English, as a student who had just come from a sociocultural background that doesn’t value “challenging” or even “analyzing” the ideas and expressions of established writers and scholars, he was saying that he neither could nor would like to “criticize” how a scholarly article was written. I gave a short answer and invited Bao to my office for further discussion. During the first discussion I realized that Bao was “confusing” his low proficiency in English with his lack of “knowledge” about what “rhetorical analysis” means; so I gave him a text (an excerpt from Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech), a sample rhetorical analysis that he and I found online, and a long list of questions with which I broke down the assignment (as supplement to the assignment description). Long story short, the rhetorical analysis that Bao wrote within the first week of class (before the class moved to another project) was in many ways better than the writing of most other students in class, including the native English speaking students (some of whom, by the way, implemented what they had already learned in high school and turned in their papers, and their papers showed little new learning). One of the things that Bao had done was to copy, adapt, and echo the rhetorical analysis “moves” made by other writers in the many samples that he had gone on to find: he deliberately avoided looking at rhetorical analyses of the text he was analyzing so he was not plagiarizing. When he submitted the finalized analysis, I had to start by asking whether and to what extent someone else had helped him write the paper and/or he had copied from another writer’s analysis of the same text. He had not, as I found out that he had done what I just described.

So, it was not because Bao mastered the “medium” (indeed, it was “in spite of” the medium that still lagged significantly) but because he was engaged with ideas (a highly thought-provoking text), because he had an unyielding commitment, because he learned how to learn, because of his commitment and motivation that Bao was able to do what seemed so impossible. Even as he imitated and echoed and adapted and ventriloquized sentence structures and phrases and worlds from the samples that he gathered from all kinds of sources, Bao learned a whole new “discourse,” indeed a new language, in his incredible one-week long learning journey, thereby tremendously improving his overall English language skills (including skills for critical thinking, analytical reading, and composition). When I read Bao’s final draft, I questioned some of the conventional teaching wisdom that only rare situations like this make me ask, only situations like this can so beautifully blow up in the air.

Reading the question about how great it might be if we too were speaking English all the time, I was almost depressed to think about the state of our education—I mean about the learning part, the part where the nature and content of education matters, the part where our students are being prepared (or not) to become intellectually and professional capable of navigating (and indeed competing in) the complex, connected, global world that they live in and need to be even better prepared for.

Let us (of course) develop practical solutions for practical problems. But let us do so without being so naive as to think that we can be more effective at doing so by eschewing the larger context of education–motivation, rationale, fairness, etc–in the name of being practical. Let us not allow the politics of denial (or the claim that one is not being political in order to stay above the discussion when the issue is politically significant) to justify an active forgetting and overlooking of the larger purpose of teaching English, or social studies or science for that matter. It is only within the larger social context that our problem-solving of any ELT issues—the questions we ask, the answers we seek—will make sense.

And to connect that to what I was saying about the importance of joining and promoting such conversations like this in choutaris like this, I have the same old, humble request for you. Dear colleague, after you read a post, or two, maybe all, please do not forget to add a line, or two, or many lines, sharing your idea, experience, feedback… as encouragement to the writers and good example for other readers.

Symbolic Dominance Vs Transformation in Relation to World Englishes

 Surendra Raj Adhikari

(MEd, MA,  MPhil, English)

Rainbow International College

This paper I provide a conceptual discussion on how symbolic dominance of a specific language such as British English is imposed by inner circle countries on outer and expanding circle countries, how the cultural arbitrary is reproduced in dominated groups, requirement of critical perspectives for transformation and thereby validation of multiple varieties of English along with the perspectives of some Nepalese academia.

These days, hot debate is going on regarding the world Englishes. Different academia in different countries are found advocating for ownership building of English. Perspective to look at the spread of English and its position in different social settings has geared the debate of power balance among different varieties of English throughout the world. During colonial period, the voices against colonist and their language remained suppressed and awareness of colonized group towards imperial language such as English became either futile as the demand of circumstance. However, colonizers had already been aware of this fact that they were creating hierarchy among them and ‘others’ – colonized group. This kind of ‘otherness’ expanded in such a way that the colonized group could not properly maintain their cultural and linguistic identity in particular. On the other hand, colonizers – to be specific British and American imperialists– accelerated their influence along with linguistic imperialism. With the advent of globalization and neo-liberalism, English started getting commoditized and those countries which were not colonized also formed the policy of promoting English through formal education system. In post-colonial period, English linguistic imperialism got mixed responses from the colonized groups. The group of academia who do not recognize any kind of imperialism created by ‘the inner circle countries to outer and expanding circle countries’ (Kachru,1996) accept the linguistic legitimacy in the name of standard English as taken for granted and are reluctant to go for the alternative of local variety of English. On the contrary, voices against legitimate standard English are leading nowhere in the country like Nepal. Let me discuss about how symbolic dominance may help for linguistic legitimacy.

Symbolic resources, such as money, scholarship, and so on boost up symbolic dominance. As said by Bourdieu (1991), jobs and educational settings create symbolic market. Having learnt English, people expect to get job. In case of Nepal, parents invest so much amount of money for educating their children in English medium schools with the expectation that their children may find better jobs, scholarship in foreign countries, etc. In this symbolic market, people want to get material resources such as money. This ultimately leads to symbolic dominance of a particular language. This symbolic dominance supports for linguistic legitimacy so that certain norm is created of particular language such as standard British or American English and others have to follow it. The speakers of the particular language such as English hold the ability to control over others. In this regard, influenced by Bourdieu (1977), Heller (1995:373) says, “The ability of certain social groups to maintain control over others by establishing their view of reality and their cultural practices as the most valued and , perhaps more importantly, as the norm.” This creates imbalance of power and there starts resistance. When speakers of other language realize that certain hierarchy is created among native speakers of the particular language (English) they seek for transformation. For instance, some Nepalese academia are raising the voice of Nepali English. However, I have found some academia who are playing the role of skeptical duality – they call for Nepali English but they themselves speak standard English. In this pretext, is it possible for transformation?

Dominated group requires empowerment for transformation. Outer and expanding circle countries which are forced to follow standard variety of English are dominated groups. The idea of transformation opposes with Bourdieu’s concept of a constraint and reproduction of social structures, including inborn cultural capital (habitus), hierarchical socio-cultural status, and advantaged ethnicity. In this regard, while teaching English, learner’s mother tongue can also be used not only to facilitate their learning but also to oppose learning English in the culture of inner circle countries. Supporting this idea, Rivera (1999) who suggested that in educational process, the use of learner’s native language “not only as an aid to learning English but also as a terrain of knowledge and a field of possibilities that linked students’ experiences to collective action” (p. 485). However complete use of mother tongue in English class may create problem in some cases, such as translating everything into mother tongue may not be possible. It may create unintelligibility while talking to the speakers of other varieties of English. Mainly cultural issues that may make dominated group inferior require to be discarded. This shows that to be transformed, one has to go out of the box and start thinking. It is very important for inner circle group to accept multiple realities, too. Not only dominated groups but also dominant groups require to be transformed for maintaining balance of linguistic capital.

Varieties of English in different countries are emerging and English learners are embodied with their own habitus, which may not match with standard variety of English; imposing them to learn in standard variety of  English and their cultural capital may not be justifiable. Though Nepali English has not been emerged as its own existence, its relevancy, need for its existence and its recognition in international level may be another part of research. In this regard, I tried to understand the perspectives of some Nepalese academia.

In Nepal, English language is used as a foreign language in academic institution. As far as my experience shows almost all of the people are in favour of standard varieties of English. However, a few academia are found advocating for Nepali English. I know that the large number of academia is very radical supporter of standard British variety of English and advocates for teaching and learning strategies in the same line. Similarly, the English curriculum is also designed in the same way, which aims at producing the students as native like competence. English curriculum at the Faculty of Education, Tribhuvan University, the greatest and oldest university of Nepal, which produces teachers, lays more emphasis on correctness in English based on Received Pronunciation (RP), grammar, linguistics and English language teaching. British English is given more preference in academic sector than American one though the latter is not rejected. Based on this, in an informal talking with me (on 2nd June, 2012), Kamal Pandey (pseudonym), the strong supporter of standard British English and experienced campus level English teacher of T. U., contended:

“English is not ours [……] I think that ownership building is narrow-mindedness. [….] If different countries make different kinds of English, communication may be broken when we happen to communicate in international level. We started learning English as spoken in England, were asked to follow Oxford advanced learners’ dictionary and have been asked to teach our students in standard way, however, we have not been teaching students properly.  If we use the same dictionary properly, communication with native speakers can be effective but making English of different kind is foolishness and it may not help our children, when they go to international locality. This is the reason why our students are feeling regret – it is the biggest problem in Nepal now.”

Mr Pandey’s opinion shows how ‘symbolic dominance’ (Bourdieu, 1991) is affecting reproduction of cultural arbitrary. Regarding Nepali English he said a bit emotionally:

‘We never make English! If they don’t have their words, they may borrow our words. We may fail if we start speaking English in our own way.”

Mr. Pandey’s opinion seems to be very positivist. He claims on single reality of standard English but hesitant to accept multiple realities of socio linguistic situation of the world. Furthermore, his statement such as, “Nepalese can also speak like native English speakers, can’t they?”shows how ‘reproduction of cultural arbitrariness’ (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977) imposed by inner circle countries is reflected.

Mr Kumar Dahal (pseudonym), the English lecturer of Tribhuvan University and supporter of world Englishes said:

“I prefer to make Nepali English and respect world Englishes. English is getting its popularity along different communities of the world with ownership building. English speaking countries are trying to colonize us mentally. We can speak English in our own way but it should be based on the communication purpose. I mean it should be understandable throughout the world. Making Nepali English does not mean that it should not be understood by other people of the world” (25th March, 2012).

Mr Dahal’s idea seems to be in favour of resistance of power imposed on outer and expanding circle countries by inner circle countries – it further supports argument against symbolic dominance; he is aware of Western chauvinism to avoid so- called standard English which is supposed to be an exclusive vehicle.

Concluding Remarks: My perspective regarding varieties of English aligns with multiple realities and emancipation from the oppression of  so called legitimate Standard English , the exclusive vehicle, which carries symbolic violence implicit ‘in the hierarchies of language’ (Thompon, 1984), whereby I neither favour Western chauvinism in the form of linguistic imperialism produced by ‘misrecognized cultural arbitrary’ (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977) nor breaking the structural integrity in the name of different varieties of English, such as Nepali English which may be unintelligible in international community.

Intolerance of many possibilities by inner circle countries and ranking standard British or American English at higher level whereas other varieties such as the varieties spoken in the countries of outer and expanding circles as inferior may have a threat to  ‘individual prestige and status’ (Tsuda, 1997), that being so, I would stress on celebration of world Englishes regardless of legitimate and illegitimate varieties ; transformation of  speakers of all varieties of  World Englishes by stressing ‘the WE-ness among the users of English’ (Karchu, 1996: 135) is required – native speakers of standard varieties may be respected if they are able to tolerate many possibilities getting rid of linguistic imperialism and those speakers of other varieties of English, breaking the taken for granted cultural capital imposed by inner circle countries, through critical literacy, need to celebrate their own identities reflecting socio-linguistic reality with autonomous structural linguistics without breaking structural integrity among different varieties of English of the world. In case of Nepal, as English is not used as native variety, being critically aware, following any variety of English such as British or American  or any other or our own if it is intelligible in the international community might emancipate us from western centred linguistic imperialism.

References

Bourdieu, P. (1977). The economics of linguistic exchanges. Social science information16(6), 645-68.

Bourdieu, P. & Passeron, J. C. (1977). Reproduction in education, society and culture (R. Nice, Trans.) London: Sage.

Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and symbolic power. (G. Ramond & M. Adamson, Trans.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

Heller, M. (1995). Language choice, social institutions, and symbolic domination. Language in Society, 24, 373-405.

Kachru, B. B. (1996) World Englishes: agony and ecstasy. Journal of Aesthetic Education. 30 (2), 135-55.

Rivera, K. M. (1999). Popular research and social transformation: A community-based approach to critical pedagogy. TESOL Quarterly, 33(3), 485- 500.

Thompson, J. B. (1984). Studies in the theory of ideology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Tsuda, Y. (1997) Hegemony of English vs ecology of language: Building equality in international communication. In L. E. Smith & M. L. Forman (Eds), World Englishes 2000 (pp. 21-31). Honolulu: University of Hawaii.

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