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Which English? Whose English?

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Introduction

ENGLISH AS AN INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE: Which English? Whose English? "Language is a system of arbitrary, vocal symbols which permit all people in a given culture, or other people who have learned the system of that culture, to communicate and to interact" (Widdowson 1971, p. 3). Due to the complex nature of language and its intricate connection with its socio-cultural context (Hymes 1971, 1986, Halliday 1991), English must reflect the cultural values inherently present in those context. It follows then that as the usage of English increase around the world and the variety of contexts in which it is applied expands, then the variety of cultures it reflects will also continue to diversify. For more than two decades, the 'ownership' of English globally has been a topic of lively debates, as English has been increasingly used as a tool for international and intranatioanl communication. Due to the ongoing nature of the development of language and the diversification of English worldwide, it will be argued that English is 'owned' by its current users, and both native speakers and non-native speakers should be free to apply and develop the language as a means to their own purposes. However, in order for users to be in a position to take advantage of their usage of English, they need to be aware of the social implications of language use in context, to make informed language choices in order to achieve their goals. This has wide ranging implications for educators and learners in ESL/EFL classrooms in terms of the language itself, linguistic theory and social empowerment. THE DIVERSIFICATION OF ENGLISH The emergence of English as an international language has largely been a consequence of two significant historical circumstances: British imperialism, in nineteenth century; and the economic dominance of the USA, in the twentieth century (Brumfit 1982, p. 1). Although 'world English' has been developing for more than 400 years, the extent of the geographical spread, and the speed of this spread, especially in the last four decades, has been unprecedented (Crystal 1995, p. ...read more.

Middle

Language use reflects culture. Therefore when English is being used for purposes of international communication, then more than one culture will be involved, that of the context and those of the interlocutors. This means that the task of international communication necessarily involves intercultural communication. Crozet & Liddicoat (1999) state that "Intercultural Language Teaching (ILT)... has shifted the aim of language learning from communicative competence to intercultural competence" and suggest that learners need to find a 'cultural position', 'a third place', which facilitates communication between these cultures. The following definition by Byram (1995) of an intercultural speaker gives an indication of the complexity of the task of international communication: An intercultural speaker is someone who can operate their linguistic competence and their sociolinguistic awareness of the relationship between language and the context in which it is used, in order to manage interaction across cultural boundaries, to anticipate misunderstandings caused by difference in values, meanings and beliefs, and thirdly, to cope with the affective as well as cognitive demands of engagements with otherness. (cited in Crozet & Liddicoat 1999, pp. 113-114) It is clear that lexico-grammatical knowledge of a language is far from enough to be able to use it effectively as a global communication tool. Knowledge of linguistic theory that models the relationship between language and culture would also be highly desirable. This would assist the speaker in the prediction and analysis of responses received during communicative events with a view to responding in ways that permit the negotiation of an outcome that is satisfactory to the speakers. This, I believe, non-native speakers of English as intercultural speakers. In relation to the teaching of English for international communication, if the general aim is providing learning opportunities that may help to empower language learners in their efforts to become effective intercultural speakers, then this has many pedagogical implications for English language education. However, when considering teaching English as an international language, the diversity in varieties of English, the local context and/or the target context, the complexity ...read more.

Conclusion

Pennycook (1994, p. 313) argues for a critical approach in language education pedagogy that starts with the concerns of the learner and ends with them possessing a "voice" so that they may speak-back, read-back and listen-back effectively in English. However, as societies are inherently political and power distributed unevenly within them, learners will also need to acknowledge this situation and make informed decisions about when and where to apply their "voice". In this EAP module, the teacher is placed in as awkward situation, between the dominant discourse styles and alternative "voices". In their studies in Australia, the learners necessarily need to be aware of the dominant academic discourse styles and essentially to conform to those in order to be successful. However, even though the learners may, in reality, have little choice but to participate in discourse in dominant styles, the teacher can highlight assumptions and power relations underlying these discourse patterns, and make the distinction between participation and adoption, where the former may be necessary, the later is not. Gee (1986, p. 745) makes the point that new discourse styles, with their underlying world view, may be in conflict with the learner's identity. Awareness of such conflicts may assist learners in their management of language use. CONCLUSION As English continues to spread around the world, reflecting a diverse range of cultures in its many varieties, it is applied in new ways, takes on new forms and projects new voices from its widening user base. The global use of English for international communication has lead to critical discussion with regard to its 'ownership' and its relationships with culture and power. This has resulted in calls for critical examination in the fields of applied linguistic and English education, as the impacts of English as a world language are far teaching. If English is to bring social empowerment to the majority of the user, as many educators and learners of English believe, then further research and changes in professional practice will be needed in this area. ...read more.

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