ConceptEnglish is learned in many different contexts, resulting inevitably in different Englishes
Teachers taking this course are helping learners to learn English in many different contexts. The scenario we depicted at the beginning of this unit (the German school with its regimented timetable) is one such context, which has traditionally been labelled English as a Foreign Language (EFL). As we saw in Unit 2, Kachru’s model of World Englishes distinguishes EFL from English as a Native Language (ENL) and English as a Second Language (ESL). According to Kachru, the distinction depends on the source of the norms (essentially, rules as ‘regulations’) learned and used by speakers in the three contexts. In this model, it is assumed that speakers in the ESL contexts of the Outer Circle are developing their own norms, whereas learners in the EFL contexts of the Expanding Circle look to the Inner Circle for ENL norms.
In reality, this view captures only a small part of the global diversity of English learning. Although it’s true that many postcolonial learners and users in the Outer Circle are learning national varieties of English which don’t match Inner Circle norms, and although many learners are learning a version of ‘British’ or ‘American’ English in the Expanding Circle, we also need to consider other contexts, including the following:
• There are many learners and users of L2 English in the Inner Circle. With increasing mobility over the past several decades, these learners and users are growing in numbers. They include:
o Adult migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and asylees for whom English is not their first language. They study English at the same time as working or seeking legal status (in many cases while also experiencing considerable hardships), often in evening classes. The term English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) is used for this learning context in the UK and some other countries.
o Children and young adults from homes where English is not the main language. They usually (further) develop their English language skills in mainstream education, sometimes with separate language support from ‘native’ English-speaking students. In the UK the term English as an Additional Language (EAL) is used for this context. The official term for such students in the USA is Limited English Proficiency (LEP), but this stresses students’ deficit, so the term preferred by practitioners is simply English Language Learner (ELL).
In both these contexts, learners will be learning English in English-dominant societies, but many will also be members of local communities where the home language is shared by members of the community, or where many home languages are used. Such contexts will be characterised by lots of translanguaging and ELF usage.
• In the Outer Circle, there are many learners of ENL (‘Standard English’) in educational contexts, albeit spoken with regional accents, despite the emergence of local (more or less standardised) varieties for grammar and vocabulary.
• Conversely, in the Expanding Circle, many people learn and use local Englishes, despite official policies which determine ENL as the model and target in schools. Examples include Euro English (which will certainly survive Brexit, as Modiano, 2017 and this blog posting point out) and China English (Xu et al., 2017).
• Finally, learner mobility and access to mobile technologies means that the geographical factors underpinning Kachru’s Circles model are becoming increasingly irrelevant, at least for some learners and users (see Blommaert, 2010).
ActivityApart from norm (in)dependence and the local presence or dominance of English, there are many other factors which define the diverse contexts of English learning which will affect the kinds of Englishes learned. How many can you think of? Which factors determine the context you teach in or have taught in before? If you learned English as an L2, what was the context in which you learned it?
FeedbackPerhaps the most fundamental factor in learning contexts is whether the learning happened in a classroom or not. Many people learn English without teachers, either through persistent interaction with English speakers (often in Inner Circle countries) or through self-study (much of it these days using online apps). But given that this is a course for teachers, the following factors are more relevant:
o The kind of educational institution where the learning/teaching happens. Is it public or private? This distinction can have an impact on the following factors:
o Teacher and learner motivation: Young learners may not have much choice in learning English at government-run schools, for example, whereas adults paying for their courses in private schools often need English for their careers. Teachers in government-run schools might have more job security than those in hourly-paid private language schools, and this might affect their commitment to their students.
o Availability and quality of resources: Public schools in many parts of the world can be woefully under-funded, whereas private institutions in some of the same countries may charge high fees to wealthy clients and therefore have the money to spend on books, IT, trained teachers, and state-of-the-art facilities.
o Class size: Following the previous point, private institutions may be able to afford more teachers, and therefore smaller class sizes.
o Teaching goals and method: Government-run schools often suffer from the inertia inherent in bureaucracies, resulting in conservatism in curriculum and neglect of teacher development; governments also have vested interests in maintaining and promoting ‘standard language’ ideologies.
o Learning outcomes: In the public education sector, outcomes are often driven by state-mandated tests, which are required for university entrance and/or graduation. These tests tend to be oriented towards knowledge of ‘Standard English’ (i.e. accuracy), rather than communicative effectiveness.
In many countries, there is also a similar distinction between public schools in rural areas (underfunded and often neglected) and urban areas (receiving more support and often attracting the more educated, better-trained teachers).
• This leads on to teacher attributes, including the following:
o Level of training: From zero in the case of some native speakers employed outside the Inner Circle just on the basis of their native speaker status, to those with an MA TESOL or a high-level professional qualification such as the Cambridge Assessment English DELTA.
Qualifications are not, of course, guarantees of openness to plurilithic thinking!
o Native speaker status: A massive amount has been written about the advantages, disadvantages, unfairness, and/or irrelevance of this factor (see Wicaksono, 2020, for a review).
o Degree of bi-/multilingualism: Related to the previous factor, if the teacher is monolingual, it’s much harder (but not impossible) to use translanguaging as a resource (although it’s not impossible: see this web series); also, the more multilingual the teacher, the more they will be able to identify with the task confronting their students. Clearly also the degree of cultural openness and multiculturalism will affect a teacher’s approach to their teaching and their students’ learning.
o Personality, motivation, teaching style, etc.: Many successful English learners attribute their success to a particular teacher or teachers, who have inspired them or provided them with opportunities that other teachers in the same contexts have not.
o Educational philosophy: Many teachers are guided by educational philosophies which are part of broader national or regional cultures, and these will shape students’ expectations about learning and teaching too. For example, in many cultures the teacher is positioned as an authoritative transmitter of knowledge rather than a facilitator of learning. This is equivalent to the distinction between ‘teacher-centred’ vs. ‘learner-centred’ classrooms: see Schweisfurth, 2011 for a review (and this magazine article for a critique from the perspective of a Burma-based teacher). In either case, however, the learning/teaching goal tends to be conceived in terms of the ‘regularities’ of ‘Standard English’, as the previous section on Models and targets stressed.
o Awareness of Global Englishes: The one this course is all about!
• Finally, the type of student group will affect the Englishes learned and the way they are taught. Two of the major factors are:
o Age: Younger children are less likely to have been socially conditioned by ‘standard language’ ideologies, and will thus be more open to plurilithic views of English. On the other hand, older learners will perhaps be more open to reflection and logical, evidence-based arguments.
o Shared or different L1s: Both possibilities offer rich translanguaging resources for English learning, with the latter (more common in Inner Circle contexts) also accompanied by cross-cultural experiences.