Why English? Confronting the Hydra

This month, we published Why English? Confronting the Hydra edited by Pauline Bunce, Robert Phillipson, Vaughan Rapatahana and Ruanni Tupas. This book brings together the voices of English language teachers, linguists and award-winning community voices in detailing a range of confronting and confrontational accounts of the powerful, yet possibly unforeseen impacts that the global English language teaching industry can have on unsuspecting, non-English-speaking communities worldwide. In this post, Pauline introduces the book.

9781783095841This is the second Hydra-themed publication in Multilingual Matters’ Linguistic Diversity and Language Rights series. It is a brand new collection of short-form, eminently readable exposés of the rarely-examined downsides of the massive, global English-language teaching (ELT) industry. It will provide considerable food-for-thought for teaching professionals, language planners and critical observers of globalisation.

In this new collection, our contributors liken the burgeoning ELT industry to the all-powerful, multi-headed monster of Greek mythology known as the Hydra. This volume further documents the threats that can be posed by this beast’s (often beguiling) “heads”, as the multiple branches of the ELT industry (e.g. textbooks, examinations, overseas teaching schemes, policy advice to governments) manage to infiltrate an ever-widening range of national and international settings.

The book’s 24 chapters span locations on every continent, including contributions from Iceland, Eastern Europe, the Pacific and the USA. The language settings range from call centres to volunteer teaching, from elementary classrooms to teacher training to language policy-making. In style, our collection includes the analytical and the deeply personal, as well as presenting several poems and a challenging response to the novel, “Mr Pip”. Many of our chapters detail a welcome pushing-back against the often deleterious effects of prioritising English language teaching in non-English-dominant societies.

The collection examines and explodes a great many widely-held myths about the efficacy of teaching English in a too-much, too-soon manner, to the detriment of children’s conceptual development and in the false belief that it will catapult its learners into positions of influence.

As editors, it must be said that we are certainly not against the English language per se, but we do fundamentally oppose its imposition over and above local and regional languages. In line with UNESCO’s principles, we believe in multilingual approaches to language education, with the English language having an additive role, rather than sitting centre-stage.

Dr Pauline Bunce, W. Australia, paulinebunce@hotmail.com

9781847697493If you found this interesting, you might also enjoy English Language as Hydra: Its Impacts on Non-English Language Cultures, also edited by Vaughan Rapatahana and Pauline Bunce (Multilingual Matters, 2012).

Can English be used for good?

This week we published Patricia Friedrich’s new book English for Diplomatic Purposes which is the first of its kind to examine the use of English in diplomacy, combining theory and practice to offer a ground-breaking volume for all those working in this field.

English for Diplomatic PurposesCan English be used for good? This question is at the center of my academic practice and was also the driving force behind the invitations I made to colleagues around the world, asking them if they would like to contribute to this book we created, English for Diplomatic Purposes. The fact that these nine researchers/practitioners and I embarked on this creative journey means that we believe it can.

English is often linked to a dramatic colonial past, and to both imperialism and the demise of minority languages at present. While these dynamics cannot be ignored, there is another side to English: that of an important lingua franca, one that brings people together, but that also changes wherever it goes, given local cultures and needs.

This is the backdrop to the book we wrote. How do we reconcile these paradoxical aspects of English and emphasize the uplifting, empowering and life-affirming purposes of the language? First of all, we teach it from an inclusive, summative perspective, and not from a deficit one. This means adding to the students’ repertoire of languages, reaffirming that the languages and varieties that they already speak are valid, functional and representative of their identities and cultures. It also means communicating to native speakers that English is manifested in many different forms. That speaking a variety other than the standard, in contexts where those varieties are called for, is actually a sign of understanding of audience, and that given such fertile variation, linguistic meaning needs to be negotiated in context.

That brings us to the very topic of the book – negotiation and English in diplomatic contexts. While we were familiar with many great pedagogical works that focused on business communication, we believe that the specifics of diplomatic communication called for special pedagogical tools as well. Noticing that those were hard to come by, we decided to start the conversation by writing chapters ourselves. Diplomatic negotiation, dialogue and agreement are special because they go much beyond deal-making, trade exchanges and business alliances. While diplomatic communication is not always synonymous with peace-seeking, we would like to see that facet of diplomacy as the ultimate goal of these exchanges. This applies to the big picture – countries, regions, economic blocks – but also, to a surprising degree, to our own individual lives.

The contributors and I invite you take this journey into the English language’s potential to bring people together in diplomatic conversation and to add your own ideas to the conversation.

For further information about the book, please see our website.

English Language Education in Iran

Following last month’s publication of English in Post-Revolutionary Iran, Jennifer Manoukian, a student of the book’s author, Maryam Borjian, tells us more about the book’s background and content.

Jennifer Manoukian, author of today's blog post
Jennifer Manoukian, author of today’s blog post

Whether at the movies or in the news, Iran has been receiving ample attention in the media in recent months. But in the coverage of Ben Affleck’s thriller Argo and the on-going debates over the Iranian nuclear program, the Iranian people themselves have been pushed into the shadows. In her forthcoming book, English in Post-Revolutionary Iran, Maryam Borjian draws the Iranian people out of the wings and onto center stage through a meticulous study of the politics of English language education in Iran since 1979.

With the 1979 Iranian Revolution came the reversal of the vast majority of policies implemented under the reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a strong ally of the United States and Great Britain. When the Pahlavi dynasty came to a decisive end and the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) replaced it, the state perception of English veered into a different direction. English was now considered suspicious—the main means through which the United States and Great Britain could exercise cultural hegemony.

Tiles from Golestan Palace Complex, 19th century, Tehran, Iran © Maryam Borjian
Tiles from Golestan Palace Complex, 19th century, Tehran, Iran. Photo courtesy of Maryam Borjian ©.

But, despite expectations that English language education would be curtailed after 1979, Borjian shows that the IRI did not reject English education, but in fact emphasized it through a process of indigenization. By producing its own teaching materials and eliminating all foreign cultural elements, the IRI created a homegrown, indigenized model of English education, free from the influence of the English-speaking countries and based entirely on the Islamic tenets of the Republic.

Yet despite the IRI’s more than three decades worth of attempts, Borjian illustrates that the existing system of English education in Iran has not been entirely indigenized. Contrary to the common perception, the educational influence of supranational forces like the World Bank, the United Nations, its various developmental agencies, and the British Council was never eliminated in post-revolutionary Iran. As a result, Iranian society has been marked by two diverging forms of English: (1) an indigenized model used by state-run education programs, and (2) an internationalized or Anglo-Americanized model used by private-run education programs in Iran. In her book, Borjian proposes a new framework to examine the process, causes and agents of these two diverging trends of indigenization and internationalization within English education.

English in Post-Revolutionary Iran
English in Post-Revolutionary Iran

English in Post-Revolutionary Iran is based in large part on data that Borjian collected during her year of fieldwork in Tehran in 2007-2008. She also makes substantial use of archival documents, and official reports, laws, and regulations in her study. To deliver a broad treatment of the role of English and English education in Iran, Borjian takes a multidisciplinary approach by blending scholarship on sociolinguistics, critical applied linguistics, comparative education, and educational policy.

In addition to its contribution to the field of linguistics and education, Borjian’s study also adds to the contemporary discussion of global Englishes. As scholar Ofelia García writes in her foreword, “what makes [Borjian’s] book so unique is precisely that it enlightens us about a context that we know so little about, and uses it to examine the many assumptions that we have had in the global English debate.”

Despite the efforts of the Islamic Republic of Iran, indigenized and Anglo-Americanized English coexist in modern Iran. The government’s large-scale attempts to eliminate any external influence that would lead to dialogue between Iranians and native English speakers have been thwarted by the digital revolution, which has reduced the IRI’s absolute control of information and created new opportunities for Iranians to look abroad to learn English. Maryam Borjian’s English in Post-Revolutionary Iran sheds light on the contentious relationship that the Iranian government has had with English over the past three decades and traces what that relationship has meant for ordinary Iranians.

About Jennifer Manoukian

Jennifer Manoukian is a graduate student in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies at Columbia University.

Native-Speakerism in Japan

Stephanie Ann Houghton and Damian J. Rivers’ book Native-Speakerism in Japan has just been published and they have taken a moment to tell us about the origins of ‘native speakerism’ and the problems it poses for language teachers.

Native-Speakerism in JapanThe term ‘native-speakerism’ was originally defined as “a pervasive ideology within ELT, characterized by the belief that ‘native-speaker’ teachers represent a ‘Western culture’ from which spring the ideals both of the English language and of English language teaching methodology” (Holliday, 2006: 385). The coining of the term essentially represented a bid to release non-native speaker teachers from the culture of deficiency that entraps them in English language teaching (ELT) worldwide. Consequently, discussions of such intergroup dynamics have also been marked by a dichotomy in which ‘native speakers’ are portrayed as the sole perpetrators of prejudice, discrimination and chauvinism, while ‘non-native speakers’ are portrayed as the only group worthy of authentic victim status, thus creating a mono-directional flow of perceived aggression and resultant backlash.

The book embraces the concept of native-speakerism, yet ultimately expands upon and replaces it in a bid to also release ‘native-speaker’ teachers from the debilitating impact of native-speakerist forms of prejudice and discrimination in ELT. Six examples of direct and indirect forms of resistance to native-speakerism are showcased in this book to illustrate how ‘native-speaker’ English language teachers in Italy and Japan, embroiled in the turmoil of workplace conflict and suffering from professional exclusion, have either resisted the impact of native-speakerism upon them either directly with their employer by making use of legal mechanisms involving collective bargaining through labour unions and/or court action, or indirectly by engaging in academic forms of protest, principled dissent or resistance.

In addition to the six examples mentioned above, and to provide contextual background, employment policies and patterns in tertiary and secondary education in Japan are also analysed through empirical research and/or informed social commentary formulated by both Japanese and non-Japanese professionals socialized in Japan. Together, they characterise native-speakerism as a very contemporary social phenomenon with deep and persistent socio-historical and socio-linguistic roots.

While Holliday’s call for the forging of a new common identity among global TESOL educators is endorsed, considerable reworking and expansion of the original definition of ‘native-speakerism’ is also insisted upon, and the main message of the books runs as follows – “It is only by actively striving to protect all the potential victims from the chauvinism of native-speakerism, regardless of language background, can mutual trust, respect and the development of a shared yet diverse professional identity be nurtured”. Therefore, and acknowledging the multidimensionality and multidirectionality of the phenomena, we offer a revised definition of native-speakerism:

Native-speakerism is prejudice, stereotyping and/or discrimination, typically by or against foreign language teachers, on the basis of either being or not being perceived and categorized as a native speaker of a particular language, which can form part of a larger complex of interconnected prejudices including ethnocentrism, racism and sexism. Its endorsement positions individuals from certain language groups as being innately superior to individuals from other language groups. Therefore native-speakerist policies and practices represent a fundamental breach of one’s basic human rights.

Our new definition positions judgments made (i.e. of who is a ‘native speaker’ and who is not a ‘native speaker’) and actions taken (i.e. the creation of employment categories and workplace roles on the basis of being, or not being, a ‘native speaker’ of a ‘foreign’ language) as infringement upon one’s universally guaranteed human rights, in line with other criteria such as race and gender.

An Interview with Elizabeth Coelho

Having just published her latest book Language and Learning in Multilingual Classrooms we caught up with author Elizabeth Coelho and asked her a few questions about her work.

How did you first become interested in immigrant and multicultural education?
I became interested in language teaching first. As a young teacher I spent a year teaching English in Bulgaria, which made me realize that simply being a teacher who spoke English was not enough; I needed to know how to teach language in a way that was engaging and effective. During that year I also experienced culture shock and other difficulties associated with being in a place where I did not speak the language or understand the cultural norms. This was the early seventies and I arrived in Bulgaria, naïvely, with a suitcase full of miniskirts… And there were many other occasions when  I misinterpreted the culture. In Bulgaria, for example, shaking the head means “Yes.'” Endless confusion when asking for help or ordering in restaurants. This experience helped me later to understand the adjustment process of the  immigrant children I worked with on my return to the UK and then, later, in Canada.

In the UK I worked in a special program for Creole speaking children from the Caribbean. We were a team of teachers placed in different schools and every Friday we met for professional development. I learned an incredible amount from my students and my peers about teaching, language, culture, and racism. A year or two later I was teaching English as a Second Language to immigrant students from all over the world in a Toronto secondary school, and taking professional courses to become better at it.

Which other researchers in your field do you most admire?
Jim Cummins is always an inspiration. Learning about the value of students’  own languages was pivotal for me. Viv Edwards at the University of Reading also helped me along the same road.

What makes your book unique compared to others published in this field?
I think I occupy a middle space between academic researchers and the teacher in the field. I am first and foremost a teacher, having spent 17 years in the classroom, mainly as an ESL teacher, and then many years in various positions working with or training teachers. I read the work of the researchers (Cummins, Krashen, and others) and talk with teachers who are doing wonderful work in the classroom, and am able to connect theory and practice. This book provides an overview of relevant theory and research and then provides many suggestions for classroom practice based on the theories.

Elizabeth Coelho

Why is it important for children from linguistic minorities to receive special attention in classrooms?
Because we are teaching them in the wrong language and must compensate for that. According to UNESCO, “It is an obvious yet not generally recognised truism that learning in a language which is not one’s own provides a double set of challenges, not only is there the challenge of learning a new language but also that of learning new knowledge contained in that language… Studies have shown that, in many cases, instruction in the mother tongue is beneficial to language competencies in the first language, achievement in other subject areas, and second language learning.” (UNESCO, 2003: p.15)

Unfortunately, providing mother-tongue or dual language instruction may not be feasible in many schools or districts, for political, practical, or philosophical reasons. Therefore we must do all we can to compensate for the fact that we are teaching in the wrong language for many of the students.We do this by providing scaffolded, differentiated instruction and assessment for students at various stages of development in the language of instruction— in all subject areas and at all grade levels. My book provides many practical, curriculum-based examples of how to do that.

What encouragement would you offer to teachers who are struggling with multilingual students in their classrooms?
The task of educating students whose linguistic and cultural backgrounds are different from your own, or from those of the school, may seem overwhelming, especially since most teachers have not received significant preparation for teaching in contexts of linguistic and cultural diversity. But, to put things into perspective, the challenges facing immigrant children and youth, and their parents, are even greater than those facing teachers. We owe it to such children to overcome the challenges that face us as educators, in order to help them meet theirs. In this way educators can help newcomer and minority students to realise their aspirations for a brighter future, and at the same time help to ensure a healthy future for the entire community. This may sound like a daunting responsibility – but most teachers didn’t choose teaching because it seemed like an easy job. Most teachers have the compassion, the imagination, and the passion for teaching that is needed in a profession where the one thing we can be sure of is constant change.

You are involved in a great cross-cultural adventure. You face many challenges, but you will also find your journey illuminating and rewarding as you learn more every day about the backgrounds and experiences of your students. Undoubtedly your view of the world will change, and your awareness of your own cultural background will be enhanced, as you learn from your students about their worlds and as you teach them about yours.

And finally, what is next for you?
At the moment I am working with colleagues at the University of Girona to adapt the book for teachers in Spain, where immigration is a relatively recent phenomenon. Through this process I continue to improve my Spanish and am gaining a new awareness of the challenge of expressing knowledge and sharing perspectives in a language I am still learning.  I am filled anew with admiration for students in elementary and secondary schools who are doing this six hours a day, five days a week, forty weeks a year.

Because I am now living in Spain most of the time I have become increasingly interested in CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning). CLIL is an increasingly popular approach to foreign language teaching in Spain and many other countries in Europe, and many teachers are providing instruction through the medium of English in subjects such as Social Studies, Arts, or Science. The learning objectives include language-learning objectives as well as the usual content objectives. I believe many of the approaches and strategies described in my book, that have been used effectively with immigrant and minority students who are learning the language of instruction, are equally useful in the CLIL context. So I am looking for opportunities to share some of this knowledge and experience with CLIL teachers and advisers.

Reference: UNESCO. (2003) Education in a Multilingual World. Paris: UNESCO. Position paper on language and education in multilingual societies. Available at: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001297/129728e.pdf