Unit 1: Defining English
This unit introduces the idea of alternative monolithic and plurilithic conceptions of English.
- 1.0 Introduction
- 1.1 Monolithic vs Plurilithic Concepts
- 1.1.1 Monolithic Concepts of Language
- 1.1.2 Plurilithic Concepts of Language
- 1.2 ‘Standard English’
- 1.2.1 ‘Standard English’: History
- 1.2.2 ‘Standard English’: Beliefs
- 1.2.3 Advantages and Disadvantages of ‘Standard English’ for ELT
- 1.3 Rules of English
- 1.3.1 The ambiguity of the word rule
- 1.3.2 Rules of English: The Monolithic View
- 1.3.3 Rules of English: The Plurilithic View
- 1.4 Four Dimensions of Monolithism
- 1.5 Check Your Understanding
- 1.6 Reflect and Discuss
Unit 2: Using English
This unit explores the plurilithic usage of English in diverse global settings.
- Unit 2: Using English
- 2.1 Introducing Lingua Franca Usage
- 2.2.1 Native speaker Variation
- 2.2.2 Native speakers: Accommodation
- 2.3 Englishes in the British Isles
- 2.4 World Englishes
- 2.4.1 Englishes in Your Part of The World
- 2.4.2 Owning a language (Part 1)
- 2.5 ELF
- 2.5.1 Intelligibility
- 2.5.2 ELF in Your Part of The World
- 2.6 Translanguaging with English
- 2.7 Check Your Understanding
- 2.8 Reflect and Discuss
Unit 3: Learning English
This unit discusses how English is learned as a first or additional language.
- Unit 3: Learning English
- 3.1 First Language Acquisition
- 3.2 Back to Rules
- 3.2.1 Rules as Patterns in the Mind (Part 1)
- 3.2.2 Rules as Social Markers
- 3.2.3 Rules as Mental Representations
- 3.2.4 Rules in Schools
- 3.2.5 Rules as Patterns in the Mind (2)
- 3.3 Models and Targets
- 3.4 Learning Contexts
- 3.5 Owning a Language (Part 2)
- 3.6 Learners and Users
- 3.7 Check Your Understanding
- 3.8 Reflect and Discuss
Unit 4: Teaching English
This unit examines the teaching implications of plurilithic conceptions of English.
Unit 5: Changing English
This unit suggests ways to share your learning on the course with others.
- Unit 5: Changing English
- 5.1 The Challenge
- 5.2 Changing Learners’ Beliefs About English
- 5.3 Changing Teaching Colleagues’ Beliefs About English
- 5.4 Changing Policy-Makers’ Beliefs About English
- 5.5 Changing the Public’s Beliefs About English
- 5.6 Check Your Understanding
- 5.7 Reflect and Discuss
- Course Finish
4.2 Changing Versions of English
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.
What are the main issues that are important for Nida and Ayah? How do their ideas compare with your own?
Nida and Ayah are very receptive to the idea that learners can construct their own version of English, on the basis of experiences with the language inside and outside the classroom (the classroom is ‘not enough’). They recognize several advantages of giving learners ‘space’ for autonomous learning. Specifically, it will:
- ● give them opportunities to use (‘practise’) the language
- ● enrich their language resources
- ● enhance their self esteem
- ● make them familiar with colloquial (‘slang’) usage
They suggest also that learners should be encouraged to share their Englishes with the teacher and their peers—again suggesting a merging of learning and use, through classroom interaction which is not driven uniquely by the teacher modelling a single variety.
But at the same time they believe that:
- ● Grammatical knowledge needs to be studied like a school subject.
- ● Teachers need to guide students to the ‘right’ sources outside the classroom.
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.
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?
Nida’s and Ayah’s beliefs are quite understandable, and perhaps reflect the mindset of most members of the profession. For many purposes, accuracy in the rules of ‘Standard English’ is an appropriate learning objective, as we pointed out at the end of the previous unit. But even in such contexts, knowing the rules is not the same as using them fluently and effectively (where automatisation and ownership are vital).
And in any case, as we have seen, learners will inevitably construct their own systems, despite our teaching efforts. Indeed, almost all will end up not as replica native speakers, but as more or less confident and effective users of their own L2 English systems. This is an undisputable fact, and suggests that teachers need to reconsider their role as models of, and guides to, a uniquely correct, formal, monolithic system.
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.
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.
One strategy that has been quite well worked out from a plurilithic perspective, and which concentrates on second language literacy, but can be adapted to other ELT contexts, is Thorne and Reinhardt’s (2008) idea of Bridging Activities, which taps into students’ participation in online activities where English is a medium, such as:
- ● blogging
- ● collaborative writing in wikis, Google Documents, etc.
- ● fanfiction and creative ‘remixing’
- ● instant messaging on computer
- ● multiplayer online gaming
- ● social networking (e.g. Facebook)
- ● text messaging on mobile phones
Students bring in online texts in English which are relevant to their current interests and future plans, and, with the help of the teacher, try to understand how and why the use of English in these texts is both similar to and different from the ‘Standard English’ models used in the classroom. In the words of Thorne and Reinhardt (p. 562):
- The bridging activities model involves incorporating and seriously analysing student-selected texts within the advanced foreign language curriculum. This represents a move that, under ideal conditions, provides vivid, context-situated, and temporally immediate interaction with “living” language use. Bridging activities are not intended to be a replacement for standard texts or reference grammars. Rather, they are meant to provide a realia counterweight to the prescriptivist versions of grammar, style, and vocabulary in foreign language texts that typically are not based upon actual language use […].
This is just one way in which learning and use, the classroom and the world, can be usefully bridged so that learners understand the plurilithic nature of English and can develop their own repertoire of resources for the Englishes they will need.