Course Introduction
Unit 1: Defining English
Unit 2: Using English
Unit 3: Learning English
Unit 4: Teaching English
Unit 5: Changing English
End of Course

1.2.3 Advantages and disadvantages of ‘Standard English’ for ELT

Activity

Make a list of advantages and disadvantages of using ‘Standard English’ as the only model in ELT classrooms around the world (later we’ll look at the particular context(s) in which you operate or with which you are most familiar).

Reflection 1.1

In some ways, the norms of ‘Standard English’ are just the linguistic equivalent of a dress code or rules for table etiquette. Reflect on this comparison and share your thoughts in the discussion section at the bottom of the page.

20 Comments
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Fajarudin Akbar 25/03/2024 at 9:53 am

Advantages:

1. Clear Communication: Learning Standard English gives a consistent way for people to communicate, making it easier to understand each other.
2. Global Connection: Knowing Standard English helps people talk with others from different places, which is useful for jobs and making friends around the world.
3. Access to Learning: Many educational materials and job opportunities are in Standard English, so learning it opens up more chances to learn and work.
4. Better Job Opportunities: Being good at Standard English can help people get better jobs and move up in their careers.
5. Cultural Insight: Learning Standard English also helps people understand the culture of English-speaking countries better.

Disadvantages:

1. Cultural Dominance: Pushing Standard English as the main way to speak may make people from other cultures feel less valued.
2. Language Diversity: English has many different ways of speaking, but only focusing on Standard English ignores that diversity.
3. Authenticity Issues: Some people may find Standard English doesn’t fit their everyday life or the way they talk with friends and family.
4. Learning Challenges: For people whose first language is very different from Standard English, learning it can be hard and make it tougher to understand and speak.
5. Cultural Respect: Only teaching Standard English might not show respect for other cultures and how they use language.

In my work teaching English, I make sure to teach Standard English while also respecting other ways of speaking. I believe in embracing all the different kinds of English to create a welcoming and inclusive learning environment.

Sopuruchi Christian Aboh 05/04/2024 at 11:24 pm

I could not agree more.

I agree on the other points you made except the one about learning challenges. If we take a Finnish learner as an example. We only have one s-sound in Finnish but there are several in English. If you want to be understood in English, you have to learn them fairly well if you want to be understood correctly (she vs. sea). It doesn’t really matter whether you are learning ‘standard English’ or some other version, it is still difficult but important to learn the correct pronunciation.

I agree completely! While Standard English is a great foundation for learning different English varieties, it’s important to remember everyone has their own accent and way of speaking. This personal touch, like a fingerprint, is what makes our English authentic. Just like Standard English, all languages are constantly evolving codes shaped by the people who use them, both native and non-native speakers, reflecting the social situations they’re used in.

“the linguistic equivalent of a dress code or rules for table etiquette” — Yes! I agree! Wholeheartedly!
And so I guess that’s why we have to teach some form of Standardised English to all those people who want to join us at the table. But it’s so damn boring. And is ultimately the very thing which excludes us all from that high table.
I once read that some linguists speak of Thames English to describe contemporary English as it is spoken in and around London (but I can’t find the reference). This conjures up images of oil slicks on dirty water, rusty shopping trolleys half submerged in mud flats, and drowned cats in hessian bags. It also epitomises the irreversible decline of a soggy little island which once ruled the world and today is left with just the tattered remnants of its dreams of a BREXIT-inspired renewal of its long-lost cultural hegemony. 🙂

Issy Shackleton 01/04/2024 at 12:12 pm

I quite like the analogy between Standard English and dress code or table etiquette rules. There are different dress codes we use on different occasions and in different situations, and SE can have its place in language use, like a suit is used at certain times but not always. Also, thinking of table etiquette, there certainly isn’t just one etiquette everyone around the world follows. Different cultures have different expectations of table behaviour; while slurping one’s soup might be regarded as rude in western cultures, in eastern cultures it’s a sign of enjoyment of the meal. All this to say, language is the same, it’s not uniform and it takes the shape of the culture it lives in, and the individuals that it lives in.

I like one particular TED Talk in which intercultural communication expert Marianna Pascal says that “English is not an art to be mastered. It’s a tool to get results”. I completely agree, and we all use that tool differently.

By the way, Marianna Pascal has an interesting short Toastmasters speech on Local English & Standard English that can be found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQmNIqdwVMw. I’m interested to hear some thoughts on it! I agree with some points she makes but not so much or not fully) with other ones.

Thomas Le Seelleur 03/04/2024 at 10:48 am

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtL-t_cxfLQ David Crystal speaks about about how standard English could be used if appropriate to a situation or context or a local English dialect if it is more appropriate especially if the situation changes. David suggests only 5% of people use ‘standard Englis’ due to regional variations both nationally and internationally. Language is about identity, culture and where is is used, by who and why. There is of course the different between spoken and written Englishes. More from https://www.davidcrystal.com/Files/BooksAndArticles/-4008.pdf

I really agree with the analogy that Standard English is like a dress code or table etiquette. On the one hand, it is about establishing the terms of communication. But, like these conventions, if you can demonstrate that you clearly ‘belong’, then you have much more leeway to depart from those rules without being told that you are doing it wrong or that, after all, you don’t belong.

I agree with the previous posts and the analogy. There is uniformity in learning the language because of Standard English, which could provide a good sample for both teachers and students. However, it also brings disadvantages because it emphasises the ‘system’, rather than the main function of language, ‘communication’. In real life, students may not be prepared to have more exposure to colloquial and informal languages. For being a non-native English teacher, the alienation and career competition are higher than for the native English teachers.

Despite of differences in accents, Standard English as what we know of today, has enabled non-native speakers and native speakers from around the world to communicate with each other more effectively.

Therefore, using ‘Standard English’ in the classrooms as well as in workplaces have proven to be highly beneficial for native speakers as well as for non-native speakers.

Tiina Asikainen 27/05/2024 at 11:36 am

I agree. And teaching `Standard English´doesn’t mean you couldn’t include different variants of Englishes in your teaching. For many learners, it is a relief that there’s a standard to lean on. It makes learning a foreign language simpler. It is a good starting point, even though it is also crucial to widen the perspective of the learners. To make them realise there’s more than one way of using English. Whether using `Standard English´or not, language users make mistakes every now and then, both native and non-native speakers, which is why we need to emphasize the “getting your message through” part of using any language.

Johan Sandberg McGuinne 12/04/2024 at 1:48 pm

By approaching Standard English as a dress code, rather than as a clear-cut rule, we accommodate the multitude of Englishes our students may encounter in their everyday lives.

By virtue of being a global language, it is almost impossible to advocate for a uniform Standard English, without risking the reproduction of a colonial mindset where the only “proper” English, or indeed, the only standard form of English that is seen as neutral enough to be taught in a classroom, still carries with it problematic ideas, formed by classist, racist and misogynistic notions of class, race, ethnicity, and gender.

As a teacher of English I focus on teaching Standard English since I believe that there should be a kind of a unified code that all the learners of English could understand. Otherwise, communication might get very complicated. Standard English will not be achieved by many learners because of the influence of their mother tongues, so I think certain deviations are acceptable if the communication reaches its purpose – people will understand each other correctly.

Yes. Agreed. Dress the part. In Sweden there is a requirement on students to adapt to the situation, purpose and audience when speaking or writing in English. This does not fully concern this question but I see it in a similar fashion. Standard English is used in specific situations and requires the user to know how to adapt. If the dress code is formal the language used needs its level of formality.

Yes, absolutely. The use of standard English at this point is comparable to a dress code. When it is required, it is used in educational contexts or during formal situations. However, in my country, it could also be seen as an indicator of how ‘educated’ one is. If you are able to fluently use the standard English, you could be considered as you are from a higher social class. This could be due to the accent/usage of proper grammar/complex vocabulary, that make it so.

I agree particularly with your last comment “In my work teaching English, I make sure to teach Standard English while also respecting other ways of speaking. I believe in embracing all the different kinds of English to create a welcoming and inclusive learning environment.”

As I commented in the last section, my adult learners need to be exposed to speakers with many different accents and dialects, and I have always done this by using videos and podcasts, and the occasional classroom visitor. They are not taking an exam, so complete accuracy isn’t as important as fluency and confidence.

David Leal Cobos 06/05/2024 at 7:07 am

I agree with the idea of a dress code. In my lessons, I have a mix of students, some of whom want to sit international exams. Nevertheless, as a teacher, I have to prepare them for the real world, so I expose them to different Englishes. Sometimes, they get struck at some of those Englishes, but what we do is reflect on what is going on, identify the differences and work to see if communication is affected or not. In most cases, they feel comfortable with these detachments from Standard English and see no problems with it. In brief, as long as the communicative act is effective, they do not really mind difference and see it as natural.

Advantages:
1. Easier communication with people from several countries.
2. Easier for students to understand academic or scientific texts.
3. More opportunities to participate in industries such as fashion, gaming, politics, culture, etc.
4. More access to information coming from TV, radio, or the Internet.

Disadvantages:
1. Lack of acknowledgment of local or regional variations of the language.
2. Fewer opportunities to get close to folk culture or stories from regional variations.
3. Difficulty understanding locals in conversations or written interactions.
4. Views of colonization within language use become widespread.

Shukrullah Amiri 24/05/2024 at 2:54 pm

Advantages:

Some dialect and accent
Easily communication with native speakers
Maybe self-confidence.

Disadvantages:

Difficulties in communication with outer English speakers.
Isolation from other way of learning.
Limited knowledge about other varieties.

I think that having a standard variant of English is a positive, it enables learners to have a base form of the language to lean on and it gives them a goal if they wish to reach that level of proficiency. I couldn’t imagine starting to learn a language only to be told that it is inconsistent and has no right or wrong variants.

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