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|Volume 26, No. 3||Summer/Fall 2003|
With increases in the number of speakers of English, the number of countries in which English has official status, and the number of people who are studying English for personal, academic, or professional reasons, there is also an increase in variation in the sound systems, grammars, and vocabularies of English as it is used around the world. This diversity of Englishes is evident: We see the Nobel Prize for Literature being awarded to authors who write in different English varieties, we watch television programs and movies in which diverse Englishes are used, and we hear a wide range of Englishes employed by broadcast journalists on CNN and other networks.
Among the estimated 1.5 billion speakers of English, only 350 to 450 million speak English as a first language. An equivalent number speak English as a second language, many of them in countries where their variety of English has official status. An even greater number of people speak English as a foreign language, using English as a language of international communication (Crystal 1995, 1997). To capture this diversity of Englishes and the global spread of English, Braj Kachru (1988, 1992) has proposed three concentric circles representing traditions of English use:
The Inner Circle, or “the traditional cultural and linguistic bases of English” (1988, p. 1), including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States
The Outer Circle, where nonnative varieties of English that developed during colonization have become institutionalized as second languages in education, government, or commerce, but are rarely the first language of the citizens (with some 60 countries, including India, Jamaica, Kenya, Nigeria, and Singapore)
The Expanding Circle, where English is learned as a foreign or international language and functions as a lingua franca for people speaking different languages in countries such as China, Egypt, Indonesia, Korea, and Zimbabwe
The term World Englishes, then, recognizes the global spread of English and the maintenance of different local or national varieties of English, especially among individuals in the Outer Circle countries.
In many ESOL classrooms in the United States, diverse Englishes are neither accepted nor understood. The view that there is one appropriate English for use in school is all too common. Immigrant students who arrive in the United States speaking English may face judgment of their English variety as “odd” or “bad.” A student from Ghana said, “So when I came here, they were laughing at me, and I’m like, why are they laughing at me for, because I didn’t talk with their accent.” Many speakers of World Englishes report being told by students and teachers alike that they were “not speaking proper English.” Even teachers are not immune to these comments. An English teacher from Trinidad reported that a student once asked her, “How can you teach English when you don’t even speak it?”
Speakers of World Englishes represent a significant community of immigrant students in some U.S. schools, but their special needs are often not adequately addressed either in programs of special support or in the mainstream classroom. Because the variety of English they speak can differ substantially from varieties of American English, these students may not even be considered English speakers. At the same time, because they speak a variety of English, they are not considered to be English language learners as traditionally defined. For those with low literacy due to limited or interrupted schooling, neither traditional placement with a reading resource specialist nor placement with English language learners in an ESOL literacy class is likely to be appropriate. For students with substantial schooling and literacy skills, neither a mainstream English class nor an advanced ESOL reading and writing class may be appropriate. When there are sufficient numbers of World English speakers in one school or district, it is possible to provide special courses for them. When that is not possible, schools may rely on the ESOL teacher to assess the student’s English language and literacy and propose an instructional program. While ESOL teachers have an important role to play, few of them were given the opportunity to learn about the status and nature of Englishes around the world in their teacher preparation programs (see Brown, 2002). The same is true for most mainstream teachers as well.
Several years ago, I worked closely with a large, diverse school district in which World English speakers from the Caribbean and West Africa were the second-fastest growing population of immigrant students. Many of these students had limited formal schooling or English literacy. There was considerable concern about the education these students were receiving, especially the older students with limited literacy. This prompted the school district and the M.A. TESOL program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, to design and offer a graduate course, World Englishes and Their Speakers, to help participants better understand these students and offer appropriate instructional programs for them. The objectives of the course were to
Participants in the course included teachers, administrators, testing specialists, and graduate students in the M.A. TESOL program. It was taught by district and university faculty and a staff member from the Center for Applied Linguistics, assisted by a group of students who were World English speakers and by key adult members of their communities.
Each course participant interacted weekly with a World-English-speaking student through a dialogue journal (a notebook in which they wrote to each other) and provided one-to-one tutoring focused on helping that student acquire academic English and literacy. They reviewed materials about the student’s country and developed an annotated bibliography for distribution to the class. They also conducted a case study of the student’s background, educational experiences and expectations, future plans, and language, using the weekly tutoring sessions or dialogue journals as an opportunity to learn more about the student. In addition, they audiotaped and transcribed a sample of the student’s speech, collected and analyzed the student’s writings, and discussed the effects of various instructional strategies they used in working with the student.
In the initial class meetings, the class discussed language varieties and World Englishes, drawing on readings by Crystal (1995, 1997) on the spread of English; Kachru (1988, 1992) on the Inner, Outer, and Expanding Circles of English; McArthur (1998) on the nature of standard languages; and Winer (1993), Romaine (1988), and Nero (1997) on Creoles and creolization relevant to the countries of the students they were working with. The class focused on one country each week. During that week, students from that country and key members of the immigrant community were invited to class to talk about the community, the educational experiences in the home country, and their experiences in U.S. schools. This gave students in the class the opportunity to listen to a range of English varieties spoken by adolescents and adults and also to hear firsthand what it feels like to be a speaker of an “other” English. They developed a sense of the similarities among the various Caribbean and West African Englishes and compared these varieties to African American Vernacular English, which was widely spoken in the school district.
In their discussions, writings, and interviews, course participants reported that they learned about the range and systematic nature of English varieties and dialects, the ways in which linguistic diversity can be a resource, the need for an explicit district policy governing language expectations in their classes, and strategies to foster respect for World English speakers in school.
In looking back at attitudes they had brought to the class, a number of
teachers reported that they had been quite “condescending” toward
these students, believing their languages were “less-developed forms
of expression.” Learning
about World Englishes from educated speakers helped them to understand
that there are many standard varieties of English around the world, as
well as many
nonstandard varieties, all of which need to be viewed as a resource. Working
through their attitudes toward multiple varieties of English helped the
teachers see the importance of developing clear policies regarding language
and use in their classes.
For example, one teacher suggested that oral and written assignments might warrant different policies. As she explained, students engaged in “a discussion of marriage customs around the world” might use their indigenous varieties but be expected to switch to Standard American English in written assignments. Another teacher wrote that “Teachers in the United States must be aware of the language used in their [students’] communities or homes as being different from that used in the school” and that rather than trying to eliminate that variety, they should teach students to code-switch.
In describing the steps she was going to use to help build an atmosphere of respect for English language varieties in her classes, another teacher summed up much of what the course had hoped to achieve. She said that she would
Through readings, discussions with a range of educators and community members, and personal experiences, class members identified a number of strategies that could help create a more supportive educational environment for World English speakers and assist them in their transition to U.S. schools and their acquisition of Standard American English. These strategies, as well as those that have been discussed more recently by other educators (Adger, 1997; Crandall, 1995; Crandall & Greenblatt, 1999; Nero, 1997; Sewell, 1997; Sewell, in press) are summarized here. They are especially relevant for English and ESOL teachers but could be applied by any teacher. They are of critical importance for middle and high school students, but students at all educational levels would benefit from them.
Foster an atmosphere of respect for students’ English varieties.
Build on the English varieties that students bring to class.
Focus on developing written Standard American English.
Be explicit about the major differences between the students’ Englishes and Standard American English.
Use thematic units that integrate academic content (mathematics, science, social studies) from several disciplines and offer substantial academic language and literacy demands.
Be cautious in interpreting the results of standardized tests of English.
For students with limited literacy or prior schooling, develop special instructional programs.
As linguistic and cultural diversity becomes the norm in U.S. schools, all teachers and school staff need preparation and professional development to better understand diverse students, their English varieties, and the relationship of these varieties to Standard American English. Appropriate professional development will help teachers learn how to foster greater respect for English varieties in the school and to adapt instruction so that World English speakers can develop the academic English expected in American schools while also retaining pride in their own variety of English and in the culture and identity that that variety represents. They DO speak English!
Adger, C. (1997). Issues and implications of English dialects for teaching English as a second language (TESOL Professional Papers No. 3). Alexandria, VA: TESOL.
Brown, K. (2002). Ideology and context: World Englishes and EFL teacher training. World Englishes, 21(3), 59-73.
Crandall, J. A. (1995). Reinventing (America’s) schools: The role of the applied linguist. In James E. Alatis (Ed.), Linguistics and the education of language teachers: Ethnolinguistic, psycholinguistic, and sociolinguistic aspects (pp. 412-427). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
Crandall, J. A., & Greenblatt, L. (1999). Teaching beyond the middle: Meeting the needs of underschooled and high-achieving immigrant students. In M. Basterra (Ed.), Excellence and equity in education for language minority students: Critical issues and promising practices (pp. 43-80). Chevy Chase, MD: The Mid-Atlantic Equity Center.
Crystal, D. (1995). The Cambridge encyclopedia of the English language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Crystal, D. (1997). English as a global language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kachru, B. B. (1988). Teaching world Englishes. ERIC/CLL News Bulletin, 12(1), 1,3-4,8.
Kachru, B. B. (1992, January). World Englishes: Approaches, issues and resources. Language Teaching: The International Abstracting Journal for Language Teachers and Applied Linguists, 1-14.
Lowenberg, P. (2002). Assessing English in the expanding circle. World Englishes, 21(3), 431-435.
McArthur, T. (1998). The English languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nero, S. J. (1997). ESL or ESD? Teaching English to Caribbean English speakers. TESOL Journal, 7(2), 6-10.
Romaine, S. (1988). Pidgin and Creole languages. New York: Longman.
Sewell, D. (1997, June/July). World English speakers in ESL classes: Not a perfect match. TESOL Matters, 7(3), 1, 22.
Sewell, D. (in press). World English-speakers: Moving from the outer to inner circle. WATESOL Newsletter.
Winer, L. (1993). Teaching speakers of Caribbean English Creoles in North
American classrooms. In A. W. Glowka & D. M. Lance (Eds.), Language
variation in North American English: Research and teaching (pp.
191-198). New York: Modern
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