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Thursday, 8 October 2009

Enter the native speaker ...

Thanks to everyone for a great session today! It's wonderful that you are so engaged, willing and so very able to discuss ideas and points of view! It's also extremely valuable to have your experiences from so many different countries around the world.

Please continue to do the assigned reading in all future sessions - to ensure our discussions are informed by the research literature.

And so we broached the exulted, fabled native speaker in applied linguistics ...

The discussion was very interesting and lively. It left me pondering over the issues you raised - like what might happen in a few decades' time if English loses its 'essence' (the assumed centrality of native speaker English) as a result of the emergence of diverse Englishes.

Of course we mustn't forget that native speaker English varies greatly - consider 'RP' and Geordie variations, for example. L1 English, at least in the spoken form, is multivaried, and everyone consciously or subconsciously modifies and adapts their language according to the setting and interlocutor.

Some of you seem to want to see ELF as a variety or language in its own right. As I argue in my 'Lingua Franca Factor' paper, I am not at all convinced of this viewpoint and I think the evidence, currently, is against it. Perhaps ELF 'styles' emerge in certain settings where certain activities are being performed repeatedly (like buying goods or taking orders by telephone - and we need research on this), but this does not lead to the conclusion the ELF in general is a code of its own, with its own rules and norms.

I was also interested in the question of what would teachers of EFL/ESL teach in terms of language models, if one really is to fully embrace the fact that English is the world's lingua franca par excellence. Until now, the only model in town is the Native Speaker 'standard' variety of American or English English. But can this really, justifiably, continue? Syllabuses and teaching materials surely have to adapt and also reflect the 'lingua franca' character of English. This does not mean we drop the native speaker models though, just that we add models to the teaching syllabus. One question here is how do we adapt the teaching materials to reflect the global/LF status of English?

I'll ponder more on whether ELF has a 'heart' in the affective sense ... maybe it's all in the eye of the beholder? (To mess around with my metaphors ...)

Is anyone reading this blog? I'm keen to hear your reactions to the above, and/or hear your views on the class today - so by all means send a comment to the blog (write in the box below)!


  1. *I don't know what happened to my original comments. I was just trying to edit it.

    I always feel English is a still "Foreign Language" for many young learners in Japan. More and more emphasis has been laid on enhancement of communicative skills in English teaching for the last decade, but this tendency seems to be resulting in producing more admireres of "native-like" English speakers. My students have far more opportunities to hear and talk to "native" Egnlish speakers than I did, but "native" English they are familiar to is either American or British English. So, when they come across a different variation of native Englsih, they won't easily accept it becuase it is not a "standard" English they believe. So I strongly believe teaching materials should include some features reflecting LF status. I can see some textbooks are trying to do so, but they look somewhat cheesy.

    How do we adapt the teaching materials to reflect the global/LF status of English? - I've been thinking about the answer for this question for years, but I haven't reached any realistic answer yet. I hope this class will stimulate my thought on this question.

  2. One of the things that I found interesting in this week's class was the idea of adding another classification of English users between the outer and expanding circles. I've spent 4 of the last 5 years living, working, and traveling around East Asia. This was followed up by a 3-week visit to Denmark and Norway.

    I was struck by how willing people (the Danes in particular) were to use English. The ease with which people transitioned from Danish to English was astonishing.

    I anticipated many Danes would be more proficient in English than their Korean counterparts due to the greater similarity between the two languages. What I didn't expect however was how comfortable and relaxed they'd be using English.

    In S. Korea and Japan it seemed as if those using English were much more self-conscious and afraid of making mistakes. (the main exception to this being those who'd lived abroad for a significant period of time, and those who were old enough to be respected regardless of what errors they made).

    I'm willing to wager that the S.Koreans spend far more per capita on English education than the Danes. Yet, the average convenience store clerk in S. Korea is unable to respond to "Hello. How are you?" after 6 years of English education.

    This is an area I think I'd like to look at further. What are the Danes doing differently from the S. Koreans? What cultural issues come into play? What can TESOL educators learn from this and how can we apply it in the S. Korean or Japanese context?

    Does the average Dane (or those who set English educational policy) view English as a Lingua Franca? What about the S. Koreans or the Japanese?

    I agree with Mamiko's assessment that for most Japanese students, English is viewed as a foreign language.

    The S. Koreans talk like the want to use English as a Lingua Franca. There's a lot of talk about building communicative competence and a great deal of money has been spent on creating opportunities for their citizens to experience an "authentic" English immersion environment with out leaving the country. Yet, in the heart of most people, English remains a Foreign Language that is a mandatory subject.

    Is that what sets those in the new grouping, such as Denmark, apart from those in the Expanding Circle? ELF vs EFL?

    Any thoughts anyone?

  3. The best way to become proficient in English is through English immersion programs where the student is taught in English. The US experiment with bilingual education has been a failure and it appears that it is a failure.You are right when you say that the best way to learn a language is through immersion. As a result, most English Quebecers are perfectly bilingual, and French Quebecers are stuck speaking only one language.The English language is comprised of mostly Latin and Greek. Many of the rules, as we know them, stem from Latin. We have made changes over the centuries to accommodate our own styles of writing, listening, and speaking.