Understanding Racialized Expectations in the ELT Profession

This month we are publishing Race and Ethnicity in English Language Teaching by Christopher Joseph Jenks. In this post the author discusses where racialized expectations come from and how they shape language teaching and learning.

Expectations are everything; they help us make decisions and make sense of existing life experiences. Our expectations shape decisions to seek out particular food items, holiday destinations and places of residence, and influence the extent to which we are satisfied with them. For instance, the satisfaction that I receive from eating a kale salad is not tied to my expectation that this particular food item tastes good. This would, without saying, be a foolish expectation. Rather, consuming a kale salad brings me satisfaction because of my expectations that it will result in good health and allow me to align myself with the all-important hipster community. Of course, the belief that kale is a food item of both a health-conscious individual and an advanced human being is the result of many years of cultural conditioning, which materializes in my decision to seek out particular foods and shop at grocery stores that will remain unnamed.

The decision to enrol in a particular school taught by an instructor that looks a certain way and speaks a specific language variety is also shaped by an existing set of expectations. My book, which examines race and racism in English language teaching and learning, is essentially about understanding where racialized expectations come from, and how they shape our understanding of, and actions pertaining to, the profession. That is to say, a preference for hiring White instructors from so-called Western countries does not materialize in a vacuum – a key observation in my book – but this ideology is rather rooted in a history of cultural conditioning that informs individuals what they should expect to see and hear in the language classroom.

What discourses and ideologies are responsible for such expectations? The expectation that English is a language (best) spoken, and therefore taught, by a small group of countries comes from a number of discourses and ideologies, and indeed varies from one region of the world to another, including colonial and imperial histories; in a place like South Korea, English is often associated with North America because of the role the United States has in military, political, and economic affairs.

My interest in writing this book comes from the many unanswered questions that exist regarding how such expectations become racialized in and through the discourses that are circulated within the English language teaching profession. For instance, I was motivated to understand how neoliberal forces shape the expectations one has when thinking about what English course to take. Although I am not interested in criticizing neoliberalism as an economic theory necessarily, I was motivated to show that the commodification of English facilitates the creation and circulation of racialized expectations. The book was also written because I was very much interested in examining how expectations are formulated from the point of view of privilege, such as White instructors from places like the United States. I show in my book, for example, that racial privilege creates the expectation among White instructors that they are in the best position to facilitate language learning, and this in turn influences how said teachers orient themselves within the profession; I refer to this expectation as White saviorism.

Although this project is ultimately about understanding where racialized expectations come from and how they shape language teaching and learning, the book also explores what needs to be done in the profession to create new discourses and ideologies that attend to the racial diversity that exists within the workforce. Like my desire to eat kale salads, I attempt to show that racial discrimination and privilege are misplaced expectations that come from years of cultural conditioning. This is no easy task, as racism is tied to decades of complex political and cultural struggles; yet I will be happy if my book makes even the smallest of contributions to the eradication of racism in the profession.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you enjoyed this, you might also be interested in Why English? edited by Pauline Bunce, Robert Phillipson, Vaughan Rapatahana and Ruanni Tupas.

Language and China’s Rise: The Confucius Institute Project

This month we published Soft Power and the Worldwide Promotion of Chinese Language Learning by Jeffrey Gil. In this post the author reveals the inspiration behind the book and discusses China’s controversial Confucius Institute project.

I first became interested in China’s promotion of Chinese language learning when I was a PhD student in the early 2000s. While writing a thesis chapter about the use and status of the Chinese language in the world, I came across a news report describing plans to open a Chinese language and culture centre, called the Confucius Institute, in Kenya. It struck me as a sign that language was an important part of China’s rise, and as a topic worth exploring in more detail in the future. This book is the eventual result.

Confucius Institutes are established through partnerships between China’s Office of Chinese Language Council International (known as Hanban), a Chinese university and a foreign university. Their main function is teaching Chinese language and culture. Confucius Classrooms operate along similar lines in primary and secondary schools. Associated with these are the posting of volunteer and state-sponsored Chinese language teachers overseas, and the international Chinese Bridge Chinese language competitions. I refer to these collectively as the Confucius Institute project. This is part of China’s use of soft power, or attraction, to accomplish its goals in world politics. Language learning is an important aspect of this because there is already widespread interest in learning Chinese, and China views the Chinese language as a vehicle for conveying knowledge and understanding of China, including its culture, history and politics.

The Confucius Institute in Kenya which sparked my interest was one of the earliest; the first was opened in Seoul, South Korea, in November 2004. Since then, the scope and scale of the Confucius Institute project has expanded considerably. It has also garnered much attention from the public, the media, academics and governments, and created quite some controversy in the process. It seemed to me an appropriate time for a work which would map and evaluate the Confucius Institute project from a global perspective. In particular, I wanted to explore the dimensions of the Confucius Institute project across the globe; the impact of the Confucius Institute project at the political and societal levels; and the ways the Confucius Institute project could be modified in the future.

In this book I describe the geographical coverage, volume of activities and pace of development of the Confucius Institute project. I also analyse its influence on the policies and actions of foreign governments, on Chinese language teaching and learning, and on attitudes towards China. My conclusions may be surprising: outside the domain of Chinese language teaching and learning where its impact has been mainly positive, the Confucius Institute project has had little impact on improving China’s standing in world politics. On this basis I make several suggestions regarding what China, schools and universities, governments and researchers can do to improve the outcomes of the Confucius Institute project.

I’m sure this book won’t be the last word on the Confucius Institute project, but I hope I’ve succeeded in highlighting how language is intertwined with China’s rise.

Jeffrey Gil, Flinders University

jeffrey.gil@flinders.edu.au

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy Studies in Second Language Acquisition of Chinese edited by ZhaoHong Han.