Awakening to Global Englishes

Global English

Xue Wang, University of Hong Kong
Fan Fang, Shantou University

NS ideology

With English becoming a lingua franca on a global scale, the number of so-called non-native English speakers has surpassed the number who speak English as a mother tongue. Often, in English as a lingua franca (ELF) communication encounters, English users participate in conversations with interlocutors from diverse lingua-cultural backgrounds, which suggests that the traditional “native English” standard in English language teaching (ELT) no longer suffices to reflect today’s linguistic landscape (Jenkins, 2015).

However, and notwithstanding education researchers’ advocacy for raising students’ awareness of global Englishes (e.g., Fang & Ren, 2018; Galloway & Rose, 2015), the native speaker (NS) ideology still prevails in many ELT contexts, particularly in many expanding circle settings, such as China.

GE and identity

Apart from the diversity of today’s English users’ backgrounds, which calls for the recognition of global Englishes, identity is also a factor worth considering, as language learning not only changes how people perceive the world but it also has an impact on how they present themselves to others.

Although it seems that many English learners aspire to attain a native-like accent, particularly the American or British ones in the context of China, it is not always the case with English users engaged in ELF communication encounters. Sung’s (2016) study shows that some Hong Kong university students do not have an NS accent preference, because they are proud to present themselves as Hong Kong people when speaking English to people from other backgrounds.

The case is not rare. When Xue was in Ireland for an exchange programme, she realised that identity could be crucial to the accent preferences of non-native English users in an English-speaking country. A French teacher who had been living in Ireland for decades but still retained a French accent in English indicated that she was proud that she was from France and she wanted people to notice it the moment she started talking, which echoes the Hong Kong students’ accent preference in Sung’s study, as aforementioned.

Xue also determined that global Englishes (GE) could bridge different cultures in its unique way. There were many Japanese international students who spoke English with a Japanese accent and some influence from Japanese language patterns. Their English did not resemble any native English norms, and it did not impede effective intercultural communication. In fact, they were popular among both international and Irish students, who were intrigued to learn more about the culture behind that accent.

GE in ELT

Xue is currently pursuing her MA in TESOL at a university in Hong Kong. When she was sharing these anecdotes with her course mates, they admitted that never before did they realise the legitimacy of the Englishes around the globe, the identity issue in the ELT field, or the pedagogical implications of the emergence of GE.

These future English teachers’ lack of a recognition of GE suggests that we still have a long way to go to re-envisage the “native standard” in ELT and promote education in GE. Curriculums focused on GE should not only be targeted to language learners but should also be introduced to TESOL and TEFL programmes.

Concerns about GE in ELT might revolve around the potential breakdowns in communication between users of different English varieties. However, a GE-oriented pedagogy does not aim to celebrate different English varieties separately but rather attempts to help students develop flexible communicative strategies in authentic intercultural communication, where they often encounter speakers of various lingua-cultural backgrounds rather than NS speakers.

Thus, implementing GE in ELT would not likely hinder communication-oriented language learning, but it could promote the development of intercultural communicative competence. Nevertheless, actual ELT practices are often “native-speaker oriented” to the extent that many learners attempt to eliminate all their L1 features when using English, which might not be conducive to L2 development. Take accents for example; considering the fact that most EFL learners will be unable to attain a native-like accent, blindly pursuing a so-called NS accent might have a negative impact on learners’ self-efficacy, motivation, and attitude towards English learning.

The mismatch between the current linguistic landscape and ELT practices presents a need for practitioners to incorporate GE into classrooms to awaken students to its cultural and linguistic implications. Despite the potential difficulties, it is worth putting effort into implementing GE in ELT, with empirical evidence suggesting the effectiveness of GE-related courses in raising students’ awareness of GE, enhancing their understanding of the current linguistic landscape, and improving learners’ self-efficacy (e.g., Fang & Ren, 2018; Galloway & Rose, 2018).

Food for thought

English is not a rigid system but is dynamic and ever-changing across time and space. Even the highly coveted NS norms never stop evolving – the British accent in BBC programmes a century ago is highly different from what it sounds like today. In today’s rapidly developing world, interactions between countries are happening at lightning speed. Cultures and languages are encountering each other on a deep level that has never been seen in history.

It is an inevitable and irreversible trend that languages, not only English, are becoming increasingly “hybrid”. Every year, Oxford English Dictionary (OED) recognises a few English expressions coined in expanding circle contexts (e.g., the recently added English expression add oil originated in Hong Kong English, according to the OED). This trend is blurring the boundaries between so-called NS and NNS English norms and opening up an arena for GE.

References

  • Fang, F., & Ren, W. (2018). Developing students’ awareness of global Englishes. ELT Journal, 72(4), 384-394.
  • Galloway, N., & Rose, H. (2015). Introducing Global Englishes. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Galloway, N., & Rose, H. (2018). Incorporating global Englishes into the ELT classroom. ELT Journal, 72(1), 3-14.
  • Jenkins, J. (2015). Global Englishes. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Sung, C. C. M. (2016). Does accent matter? Investigating the relationship between accent and identity in
  • English as a lingua franca communication. System, 60, 55-65.

 

Fan (Gabriel) Fang obtained his PhD from the Centre for Global Englishes, the University of Southampton, UK. He is Associate Professor in Applied Linguistics at the College of Liberal Arts, Shantou University, China. His research interests include Global Englishes, language attitude and identity, intercultural communication, and ELT.