3.4 Learning Contexts

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Concept

English 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.

Adult ESOL class image
Figure 3.19: An adult ESOL class in Georgia, USA

[Source: Christopher Connell]



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).
(For a useful glossary of acronyms used to label English learners and learning contexts, visit this page.)

Activity

Apart 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?

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Discussion point 3.2

There will, of course, be many other factors which shape the learning of English around the world, and the Englishes thus learned: please post any that you thought of here.

Reflection 3.2

Reflect on the educational philosophies or ‘learning/teaching cultures’ of the country/countries you’re familiar with.

What features of these cultures and the ways they are manifested might help or hinder the development of plurilithic approaches to English in public and private education there? Share your thoughts here.