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

1.6 Reflect and discuss

In this unit, we introduced the following concepts:

  • English is more like a galaxy than a rock
  • Many people have a monolithic concept of English and other languages
  • Most linguists believe that monolithic concepts of language(s) are idealisations
  • Monolithic concepts of English are associated with the rise of ‘Standard English
  • Monolithic concepts of English have developed for both social and cognitive reasons
  • Rules can be seen as ‘regulations’ dictating ‘correct’ usage.
  • Rules can also be seen as ‘regularities’ describing ‘actual’ usage
  • Monolithic concepts of English can be challenged on at least four levels: ontological, ethical, socio-economic, and pedagogical

Reflection 1.3

Reflect in greater depth on one or more of these concepts and then take part in discussion with other course users in the discussion section at the bottom of this page, replying to one or more previous posts.

Note: Please complete this exercise in order to be eligible for the Course Certificate.

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Fajarudin Akbar 25/03/2024 at 10:36 am

I’m fascinated by the idea of English being more like a galaxy than a rock, and it really reflects how I teach English. This analogy shows how vast and complex English is—it’s always changing and growing, like a dynamic universe, not staying the same like a rock.

When we think of English as a galaxy, we see all the different ways people speak it, from different places and communities. Just like stars in a galaxy, each type of English has its own special qualities and cultural influences, making global communication diverse and interesting.

Maison Lockwood 03/05/2024 at 11:40 am

I fully agree with this. I’m always thinking about how amazing it is that I (UK born and raised native English speaker) have been exposed to so many different types of English not only within the UK but also in other English speaking countries. When I watch, for example, American or Australian TV, of course I understand 99% of it off the bat but there’s always some particular region specific words that make me take pause, but I understand the next time I hear it but it’s funny how I’ve been using English as my main language for decades and there are still new things for me to learn. And there’s always new slang appearing online, which is fascinating. One day I’ll see a word being used in a context I’ve never seen it before, and then it’ll keep appearing everywhere, and we all just adopt this new usage of a word. We’re watching English change in real time right in front of our eyes while new pieces of language are created to fill the gaps we find we have.

It would be foolish to think that English is a rigid set of rules and predefined words when language was created to express and describe and share.

It is an interesting thought process. It really puts into perspective how fast and expansive a language can be when compared to a galaxy, especially when that galaxy is compared to something as simple as a rock.

Nicola Whitaker 14/06/2024 at 12:06 am

I also agree, I do find the analogy of comparing language to a galaxy. Just like a galaxy, language is limitless and continuously expanding and growing as it evolves overtime into different stars, moons and planets. Whilst a rock, is formed yet deteriorates over time which definitely does not suit the expansion of language in my opinion – too simple for the complicated aspect of language.

Issy Shackleton 01/04/2024 at 12:14 pm

In terms of how sustainable monolithic ideas about English are, I can confidently now say that in our globalized world they are not sustainable. It is unrealistic to expect that in a classroom in which the teacher is a “non-native” speaker and their students are Chinese, Mexican, Saudi Arabian, German, Dutch, French etc. everyone’s English will be the same, uniform and “standard”. And it would be quite boring if it were, wouldn’t it?

It is still a struggle in classrooms in the US or the UK for instance, or in South Korea or China as well (some years ago schools in these countries were requiring that English teachers applying to teach there have a passport from an “English-speaking country” like US, UK, Australia etc. They might still be requiring this), because I think that even if one tried to teach a standardized form on English, it would not ‘come out’ as such in the majority of learners, but it still expected, especially in a highly academic context. And because teachers want their students to get into a US or UK university, they will teach the English needed for them to do so. I suppose one must always adapt to their context.

With the ELT industry being so profitable, it is hard to imagine English varieties being totally accepted and taught in schools and universities, but I do hope that with the high number of NNS teachers and also different student needs, that this will change in time. Hard to imagine the big proficiency tests accommodating for local varieties though…thoughts on this?

I suppose there could be a competency test for advanced speakers of English that allowed them to demonstrate their understanding of different Englishes appropriate to different contexts! That would be interesting.

This would be a great idea in some contexts where English is deemed as an ESL. As an English teacher, i have noticed that many learners can benefit from a test that assesses their abilities, however, the IELTS is a national ‘norm’ to advance in education.

Sigita Kalvaitiene 26/04/2024 at 6:37 am

Absolutely true. Most academic exams check the knowledge the students don’t need in real life. I’d rather all exams focused on real life situations: how to order sth, how to negotiate, how to purcase etc.

Sigita Kalvaitiene 26/04/2024 at 6:31 am

Amazing idea. The language is evolving so much that sometimes native speakers don’t know the word non-natives do.

Kevin Keysy Mendieta Miranda 01/04/2024 at 9:46 pm

In my opinion, the idea that rules can be viewed both as ‘regulations’ dictating ‘correct’ usage and as ‘regularities’ describing ‘actual’ usage is thought-provoking. This dual perspective acknowledges the prescriptive and descriptive aspects of language rules, highlighting the tension between standardized norms and the dynamic nature of language in everyday usage. Additionally, challenging monolithic concepts of English on ontological, ethical, socio-economic, and pedagogical levels offers a comprehensive approach to understanding and addressing linguistic diversity. It encourages critical reflection on the nature of language, its social implications, and the role of education in promoting linguistic inclusivity.

Johan Sandberg McGuinne 13/04/2024 at 10:58 pm

I agree, approaching the so-called rules of a language as regularities, rather than as regulations is exciting for many reasons, not the least because it changes how most people within and outwith a classroom talk about language, in a way that is beneficial to both learners and native speakers alike.

I believe that our role as teachers is to help our students become effective communicators, and this includes exposing them to diverse ways of speaking and writing English.

Nicola Whitaker 02/04/2024 at 9:36 pm

The monolithic mindset and how it perceives English not only restricts the freedom in linguistic creativity but the freedom of communication. It is more than reasonable to suggest that the monolithic view is the ideal universal level for the English language, however, it is to be criticised as to why it has been established when most native speakers do not even use the standardised rules and structures yet still have their messages come across perfectly fine. If the entirety of the English-speaking population spoke in standardised English, people will come across as ‘robotic’ as slang and words that do not exist in the standard version of language are heavily connected to cultural identity and social backgrounds.

In my opinion, the analogy of the English language resembling a galaxy in the pluralithic sense is far more suiting than the rock analogy, it shows an open-minded idea of the complicated aspects of how a language has developed. The variations of English are developed in the same way as to how English developed from Germanic roots, which leads to the question as to why some linguists choose to stop the freedom of development now?

This is important — as is the fact that we don’t expect the most “advanced users” of the language to adhere to monolithic forms, such as poets deliberately employing ambiguous language and academics coining new terms. There is definitely a double standard involving who gets to chart new areas of the galaxy and who is expected to stay on the rock!

Thomas Le Seelleur 03/04/2024 at 11:47 am

I prefer to think of English as an iceberg than a galaxy. There are parts of a language that need to be learned – grammar, vocabulary and how they work together in order to communicate and this is what you see above the water. Below the water line lies the varieties, dialects, identities, contexts in which learners of any language (including English) possess. There are also the reasons why learners want to develop linguistic competence and whether the teacher can help these people reach their goals given that each learner carries a suitcase of experiences of learning. A monolithic approach is still appropriate depending on the course objectives – who is learning, who is teaching and where they hope to arrive on their journey. Teaching ESOL in London will be very different to teaching English in a Ugandan school. Most teaching situations around the world will vary and continue to evolve.

David Leal Cobos 06/05/2024 at 10:05 am

I like your idea of the iceberg. Actually, we might need some rules to have a minimum of consistency on where to start and develop at the beginning. The underwater ice mass would include all the ideas you have mentioned (and probably more). Now, how can we deal with so many Englishes in the classroom is an extremely challenging task. In our current world, students and their families push teachers to get them ready for exams and “forget” about the essential element: communication. Managing these expectations is problematic on many occasions. Maybe, international exams should be modified as to cater for all these Englishes and reflect the real world.

Shukrullah Amiri 24/05/2024 at 3:04 pm

“Taching ESOL in London will be very different to teaching English in a Ugandan school”
Of course it is. Beacuse the teaching motives and objectives are different.

The emphasis on prescriptiveness must in part come from learning English in a classroom setting, through teaching, rather than through listening/use/immersion, as we learn to talk as infants. So, I wonder if an appreciation of plurilithic English opens up much more fun ways of learning and teaching – though potentially more difficult or more time-consuming?

Sopuruchi Christian Aboh 06/04/2024 at 12:04 am

Yes, I think the whole ‘standard’ ideology is perpetuated in classroom settings. I understand that it might be more consuming, but what we can start doing is to teach the white listener subjects that other varieties of English are also legitimate.

Sopuruchi Christian Aboh 06/04/2024 at 12:01 am

I have never thought about rules in language as either being regulation or regularity. The dominant sense of rule in language teaching textbooks and classroom contexts has been that there is ‘standard’ or ‘correct’ language out there, which all English language learners need to aspire to. Deviations from this ‘standard’ form are often met with all forms of discrimination and bias. Highlighting that rules can also be seen as ‘regularities’ would encourage people to see language use as plurilithic. In every ‘disorder’ one might think there is in a language use, there is also an ‘order’ or regularity in that language use. Such understanding will help address the raciolinguistic ideologies about English language use.

Ezekiel O. Aladegoroye 08/04/2024 at 5:09 pm

Through teaching we will be able to learn and understand more about the ‘rules’ and also show the dynamism of English as a language.

Tanja Galipovic 09/04/2024 at 10:00 am

Rules can be seen not only as “regularities” describing “actual” usage, but as a logic to apply in different contexts. Learners need a logical approach and this is where the rules become important, not only to make the language necessarily correct.
Personally, I always make sure I know what the students’ purpose is (an exam, business communication, travelling ecc) and then I adapt my courses to their actual needs.

I teach English on high school level in Finland. Our main goal is to prepare students so that they can communicate in English in their further studies, working life and also in the free time. Our students consume a lot of media in English, play online games in English etc. At school we basically teach ‘standard English’, which is required in the national exam in English, but we (both teachers and students) are also very aware that the English they use in their free time is often very far form that as they communicate with both native and non-native speakers.
So the plurilithic idea of the language is present in class.

I would prefer to see English continues to remain like one huge monolith rock with its mostly intelligible rules and forms of Standard English remains mostly unchanged.

Correction *

I would prefer to see English continues to remain like one huge monolith rock with its mostly intelligible rules
and forms of Standard English remain* mostly

I would join you and would like to have some framework to be followed. I can understand and support the idea of many Englishes as a non-native speaker but at the moment as a teacher I think about assessment for instance. How should students be assessed?

Mustapha Mourchid 02/05/2024 at 12:50 am

It is hard to talk about assessment for the time being. However, I guess all you can do is at least warn your learners of the existence of other varieties of English speech and encourage them to bring in their own English varieties in their creative writings.

Why would you prefer that?

It’s interesting that you felt the need to comment again because you made the tiniest typo, which would not prevent anyone from understanding you.

Tiina Asikainen 27/05/2024 at 3:18 pm

Even though this would be easier for teachers, maybe for most EFL learners as well, this is and actually never has been the case. Every language evolves as its users learn something new. The vocabulary changes, and so does pronunciation and even grammar. Rules quite often make us feel safe: we might think that following rules ensures that we are understood. Yet we all have experienced how wrong people might interpret each other, no matter how precise and correct they try to be in their expression.

However, I do feel that we need a `standard´ as a starting point. Once we have learned the basics that are `common knowledge´, we are able to take in information about different varieties and how they might differ from `ours´.

As a non-native speaker, I always check ‘correct’ usage in the dictionary and grammar books, depending a lot on codification. However, with the help of the Internet, it is easier to get access to more discussions and forums initiated by different English speakers around the world, learning exceptions and varieties. Because of being exposed to a variety of English languages helps me realise ‘regularities’ rather than ‘regulations’, highlighting communicative competence as the priority of the language.
It is also groundbreaking to notice, react, and reflect through different lenses such as ontological, ethical, socio-economic, and pedagogical perspectives.

Mustapha Mourchid 02/05/2024 at 12:47 am

It is true that English is no longer one standard variety that should be used by all people around the world in the same way. English is now a global language that is spoken in a wide range of different variations and it is thus necessary to take this diversification in the language into account.

Viewing English as a galaxy, not a rock, inspires me to appreciate its vastness and diversity. This metaphor ignites my curiosity, prompting me to explore its endless possibilities and embrace its dynamic nature with open-mindedness and wonder.

Focusing on the concepts of monolithic thinking, I can understand why this mindset is common. England – English. France – French. Spain – Spanish. China – Chinese (which is a group of languages, not a language itself). Korea – Korean. But sometimes this idea that language belongs to a location might be more apparent with other languages like Korean or Mandarin. In Korean to construct the word ‘Spanish’ you combine country + suffix -> 스페인 (Spain) + 어 = 스페인어 (Spanish). This is similar to Mandarin. I’m not sure how to word what I’m trying to express but I think you understand what I’m trying to express.

Additionally, in some workplaces, employees will wear nametags and on these nametags are flags that represent the languages the employee speaks. You might see the French flag to represent the French language, but this representation is flawed. What if Hong Kong’s flag is on there, what language(s) does the employee speak? And this theme of flags representing languages can be seen in peoples’ social media profiles such as “I speak: [insert emojis here cause I can’t do them on a laptop]”. Even small things we don’t realise we are doing reinforces the notion that language is monolithic.

The first unit of the course has been very helpful. And it provides a context for understanding a lot of what is wrong in ELT. Languages are dynamic and complex systems, and this is what I love about them. Recently I started learning Filipino/Tagalog which has very little in common with European languages. I have Filipino friends which is one reason for my interest in the language, but more than that, I am fascinated and love the way in which Filipino and English are used in the country. Educators in the Philippines are embracing multi-lingual approaches to teaching English in schools. An approach which is so much more interesting and exciting than the tired old Eurocentric/Anglosphere-centric/monolithic belief in the exceptionalism of European languages.

Elin Borgström 18/06/2024 at 8:15 am

Whan an interesting approach: teaching English in a native language style as mentioned they do in the Phillipines. I understand how you, a native speaker interested in broadening your view, would find it inspiring learning English in this style. However, somehow I do believe it is easier to communicate with some common base, acknowledging a Second Language Learner would somewhere use English incorrectly: communication would still be possible. In order for non-native users to communicate with less misunderstandings I find some common ground in basic English would be helpful – noting, that I do believe language is truly meant for communication and therefore should not be limited and confined within boarders; on the contrary, language is ever evolving.
Thinking of language as a communication basis, it is to me thrilling to understand your willingness to learn Filipino: hence, understanding the culture and the world from their perspective.

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