E is for English in the world

24 05 2015
soccer tavern

Photo: Christopher Collins

I’ve just completed a hugely enjoyable but challenging semester as instructor on a course I designed for The New School online MA in TESOL. It’s called English in the World, and replaces an earlier version of the course that was a casualty of some curriculum restructuring a few years back Here is the official description of the new course:

Throughout today’s postmodern, globalized and highly mobile world there are millions of students, both young and not so young, studying the English language. This phenomenon raises many questions, not only about the educational implications of teaching English as an International Language (EIL) – such as standardization – but also about economic, political and ethical considerations. In order to address these questions, this course will introduce basic concepts of sociolinguistics, including societal multilingualism and language contact and conflict, in order to contextualize the spread of English and its consequences. The relationship between language and culture, and language and identity, will also be explored, especially insofar as these issues impact on the fostering of intercultural communication. And, in response to charges of linguistic imperialism and the commodification of English, proposals for a socially-sensitive pedagogy will be explored, along with an examination of how English teaching might better serve the needs of societies in development.

Topics covered include:

  • Language variation and standardization
  • Multilingualism
  • The history of English
  • World Englishes
  • English as a lingua franca
  • Language and culture
  • Cross-cultural communication
  • Language and identity
  • The ideology of English in the world
  • A pedagogy for English in the world
  • English and development
vote signs

Photo: Christopher Collins

Given the somewhat disparate nature of the course content, readings come from a variety of sources: names often invoked include Sandra McKay, David Graddol, Zhu Hua, Ryuko Kubota, B. Kumaravadivelu, Claire Kramsch, Adrian Holliday, Jennifer Jenkins, Sureish Canagarajah, John Gray and David Block, and many others. Thankfully, the connections between these scholars, and their relevance to the topic of English in the World seemed to cohere. One student wrote (in his reflective journal) ‘Everything we learned in this class was interconnected.’ And he added, ‘Luckily this course wasn’t just theory. It gave us very specific answers on how to apply this theory into practice.’ Some other comments (from students’ journals):

‘My mind is a lot more open than it was just three months ago.’ ‘Throughout the roughly four months spent on this course I have undergone a transformative period of growth and self-evaluation.’ ‘The course … has challenged my preconceived ideas and philosophies about language and teaching.’+

One student homed in on this quote, which to her captured the essence of what the course was about:

“The broader social, cultural, political, and economic contexts in which [English language programs] occur have major implications for what occurs in the classroom, and what occurs in the classroom has great significance for the outside world […]  ELT is a controversial activity, and its implementation in any context is shaped by, and shapes, cultural politics at multiple levels” (Appleby, et al. 2002: 343).

Coursework included regular online discussions on such topics as ‘native speakerism’, cultural stereotyping, code-switching, the ELT global ‘industry’, standard English, and one on English in the linguistic landscape. To give you a flavor, here is my video feedback on this discussion:   Reference Appleby, R., Copley, K., Sithirajvongsa, S., & Pennycook, A. (2002) ‘Language in development constrained: three contexts.’ TESOL Quarterly, 36 (3).

Thanks to MA TESOL alumnus Christopher Collins for the photos.



12 responses

24 05 2015
Marjorie Vai

Bravo for bringing the course back to its origins!

27 05 2015
Stephanie Fuccio

Oh, feels like there is much packed into the parentheses (inverted commas) around that word industry. We started to debate the meaning of your “industry” on Twitter, and would like to know what your intentions were by highlighting that word. Thanks in advance.
Twitter: @stephfuccio

28 05 2015
Scott Thornbury

Re “industry”: someone else has recently blogged on the use of the term “ELT industry”, taking a critical stance on it, but I can’t for the life of me remember who it was. Anyone out there know?

28 05 2015
Stephanie Fuccio

Yes, saw that. But wondering if you would unpack your meaning when you used it in this post.

28 05 2015
28 05 2015
Scott Thornbury

Ah yes, of course – thank you, Jessica! Adam writes: “…. the point of this post is not to call for a dismantling of the ‘industry‘ and the toppling of big name publishers in order to distribute the wealth. What I would simply advise is this; stop using the word ‘industry’ among ourselves. Stop using it in conversations, conferences, blog posts and books. Instead, replace it with the word, profession.…”

30 05 2015
J.J. Almagro

far-fetching ‘ecological’, too?

30 05 2015
Carolyn Flores

This sounds like a course that would be well received in our academic and non credit ESL programs here in Canada! (both for teachers and our students).
Good luck with it and hope to see some version of it in print! I’d be more than happy to promote it on my blog too.

1 06 2015

You were lucky you didn’t get robbed doing that video!

24 10 2015
Elizabeth Bekes

On the topic of “native speakerism”, I found Penny Ur’s presentation on “English as an international language: implications for classroom teaching and teaching materials” most enlightening. For years, I struggled to prove (to myself in the first place) that NNESTs (non-native English speaker teachers) can be as good and, in certain areas, even better than native English speaker teachers (NESTs) – see the work of my compatriot, P Medgyes. I gave up the struggle several years ago (even though I haven’t given up learning English), and I am trying to convince my colleagues (as their teacher trainer) that they should do the same.

Penny Ur explains why instead of the elusive notion of the native speaker we should focus on achieving full proficiency (whether we are native or non-native speakers of English). The reason is that non-native speakers can never become native speakers and, therefore, achieving native speaker proficiency should not even be set as a goal. Her measured delivery and clear arguments make her talk very enjoyable including her remarks as a native speaker of British English with all that this status entails.

P.S. I think ELT is a huge industry and I am not even going to put the offensive word in inverted commas. I can see it first hand in Ecuador where I teach. Right now I am in the process of reviewing and evaluating new course materials by one of the big players. Even though some of the sample materials are somewhat depressing for their age-old grammar focus in a new cloak, I am sure there will be millions of clients for the new course book and students will still learn English somehow, anyhow.

15 02 2017

I wish I could take this course! The topics in the course description seem to be not only intellectually challenging but also ethically challenging. You mention “socially sensitive pedagogy” which is something that teachers are not always aware of. Every classroom should have socially sensitive pedagogy to some degree but when it comes to teaching EFL the sensitivity should be turned up a notch. I find this is most important with elementary school students who get very frustrated with English lessons and frequently complain that they don’t have to study English since it’s not the language spoken in their country. Many times teachers have to explain to their students why learning English is important which obviously leads to a discussion about the children’s future. Many children are not aware that learning English can help them out a lot in the future and some don’t come from homes where the children see how knowing English is helpful.

21 07 2017

The video about the graffiti made me think about English-language tattoos here in Korea. Tattoos, until quite recently a taboo, have become very popular for young people, men and women alike. Sometimes they refer to them as “accessories”, as if they were a piece of jewelry or a scarf. A lot of the students at my university have them, and many of their tattoos are words, phrases or quotes in English. The funny thing is that, even though Koreans often have a tough time reading cursive, many of the tattoos that I see are in fact in cursive.

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