4.2 Changing Versions of English

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In Depth

As part of the research underpinning this course, one of us explored some of the ideas presented here with early-career English teachers trained at the Islamic University of Gaza, Palestine. The series of discussions, conducted using an online chat tool, was moderated by the teachers’ former university tutor, Khawla Badwan. The following extract is from early in the first chat session, when we introduced the plurilithic view that learners mentally construct their own version of English, rather than internalise a monolithic system which comes uniquely from textbooks, teachers and tests.

    Chris: […] Do you as a teacher think there’s one correct version of English that all students should learn or can you help them learn their own version, which might be different from the one in the textbooks? Nida: it depends on the part of the language they are learning.
    Chris: Tell me more!
    Nida: of course there is one correct version for the grammar of that language // still, we have to take into consideration the slang variety.
    […]
    Nida: I don’t mind having my students learn their own version // this would enrich their language and give them further practise.
    Chris: That’s interesting Nida. Can you tell me more about this idea? Do you agree, Ayah?
    Nida: But I should guide them to the right sources and encourage them to share it with me and their classmates Ayah: yes of course this will give self-esteem for [our students]
    Nida: the classroom is not enough
    Khawla: So is teaching English similar to teaching maths for instance? Does it have a certain form/standard? Nida thinks that she can help her students form their own version. What does that indicate?
    Ayah: I think yes especially in grammar points
    Nida: It indicates that there is much more space for students of languages than that available for them in other subjects // but still I believe that it has to be dealth with as a subject sometimes
    […]
    Chris: What kind of space, Nida?
    Nida: The space to learn it on their own.
    Chris: OK, I see!
    Nida: provided that they learn it from the right sources.

    Key: [...] = irrelevant words/turns omitted; // = two successive turns combined

Activity

What are the main issues that are important for Nida and Ayah? How do their ideas compare with your own?

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In the Learning English unit, two important points were made about grammar:

    ● The systems of grammatical rules that actually guide individuals’ language use are constructed by their users on the basis of their exposure to, and participation in, meaningful communicative events around them. This is true for both L1 and L2 English.
    ● Descriptions of grammatical rules that are deliberately taught and learned in an educational context are a kind of partial ‘knowledge about’ language systems, but having this knowledge doesn’t mean learners have the systems themselves to guide their usage.

Activity

In the light of these two points, how would you respond to the assertion (made by Nida and Ayah above) that there is one system of English grammar which should be studied as a school subject, as in traditional mathematics classes?

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Nida and Ayah suggest that learners should be encouraged to share their emerging learning and use of English with their teachers and peers. As we have seen, many (perhaps most) learners of English now use or encounter Englishes outside the English classroom. Often, they compensate for gaps in their English knowledge with content knowledge and expertise, as well as enthusiasm and/or curiosity.

Activity

Try to come up with some possible strategies that teachers could use to encourage students to bridge the experiences they have learning and using English inside and outside the classroom. (Maybe you already do this: learner-centred approaches are a familiar idea for many teachers—although recall our caveats in section 3.8 of the previous Unit—and the use of realia is a well-established practice in ELT.

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