Karen Stanley, editor
Over the years, different people have proposed that English language teaching (ELT) carries with it imperialistic influences. At times this has been in relation to the imposition of an outside language on native languages, resulting in their allocation to a secondary status along with the cultures they represent. At other times, the teaching of English was seen as a tool to propagate the economic, cultural or religious values of dominant world powers. Counter to this have been other studies, research and theories which propose either that such imperialism was or is not at the heart of ELT, or that the relationship between language, politics and economics has evolved into something different than it once was. Yet others have held that the English language classroom serves as the ideal arena in which such possibilities can be examined by students and teacher alike.
This topic is discussed below in posts from September-October, 2001. While most posts came from the TESL-L email list for English language pedagogy, a few were private posts and one was a post to the TEFLChina list. Contributors welcome comments from readers.
Elizabeth Edwards, Masters of Education (TESOL) student, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
I am currently doing research for an assignment on lingusitic imperialism and would appreciate any comments from other native speakers about their perceptions of themselves as TESOL teachers. I for one and maybe naively thought that what I was teaching was fairly neutral as English is now considered a global language. [-1-]
I went overseas with the idea that yes I was Australian and I would teach about my country and culture when asked, but that when I taught the English language that was what I was teaching, the language. I used examples of British, American and Australian English and explained the similarities and differences, especially when a student had to learn one specific type (usually for exam purposes).
I therefore did not consider myself a lingusitic Imperialist but rather an Australian teacher who taught English as a second language. Other thoughts, feelings, and self perceptions would be appreciated.
I teach ESL in the US, both at the elementary school level and at the college level. I also teach Spanish to the same populations.
Unless you are teaching ... that English is somehow a superior language or that a particular English-speaking country is superior to other nations, I fail to see how teaching ESOL could be considered linguistic imperialism. We teach a skill, and a subject, just like any other skill and subject.
Here in NJ it is required that students who test below a certain functional level of English be provided with a certain number of hours of ESL instruction. And yes, we do serve as cultural informants to students as they try to get their bearings in a new country. They want to know what's going on and why, so they can make their own choices about how to fit it. This is a service, not imperialism.
At the college level, the students have opted to take the course on their own. Here's where many on this list might disagree with me, but once we get discussing issues in class, I do spout my views - actually our society's views - on individuals who enjoy taxpayer-funded benefits while avoiding paying income tax themselves. As a US taxpayer, I don't think it's imperialism to expect those who come here to share in the responsibility as well as the benefits. Specifically, don't apply for free lunch for your kids, Medicaid, housing assistance, food stamps, etc. while you're lying about your under-the-table tax-free income. They tell me their views and I tell them mine. It's a learning experience for both of us.
As for Spanish, I include cultural information and experiences as well when I teach that language. It's interesting to the students, and it puts the language in context. So why wouldn't the same thing apply to ESOL? [-2-]
Maria Spelleri, Literacy Council of Sarasota, Florida, USA
I agree that when teaching a language, one teaches more than just a code of communication. I think language and culture are inextricably tied, and I also think that anyone who uses authentic materials or texts emulating authentic materials in the class is exposing students to subtle (or sometimes blatant) cultural messages and values.
However, I find the word "imperialism" inappropriate for this situation. Meaning "pertaining to an empire", and an empire defined as "a sovereign state whose possessions have been extended by military or economic conquest, colonization or federation" (Webster's New Lexicon), the word "imperialism" rings of ownership and conquest.
Even if one could argue that the world's major English speaking nations have an economic power that strongly influences other nations, no Coca Cola plant, no BP highrise, no golden arches ever appeared over Tashkent or Casablanca without endorsement or approval of some local authority or popular voices.
I don't agree that this is the insidious origins of imperialism. If a nation wants what another nation has to offer, and then sees it also wants to learn new skills to take full advantage of the options open to its people, this is ESL on request, not by force. It is not the teacher's fault if the nature of language also includes culture- as long as the teacher does his/her best not to ram non-native cultural values down the students' throats.
David O'Reilly, Canadian International College
I am assuming that "imperialism" is being used here in the derogatory sense (!) I have also heard talk about "the hegemony of the English language" and "its" complicity in spearheading "globalization."
The implication here is that we are somehow agents of a covert intention to dominate the culture and language of the unfortunate foreign learner by imposing western values and beliefs through the medium of the English language.
I for one do not believe that language can be taught without teaching culture. (In fact, it is probably more correct to call TESOL the teaching of "language/culture." ) But does the teaching of language necessitate the subjection of the learner to the dominance of the teacher's language/culture? Of course not! [-3-]
Karen Stanley, Central Piedmont Community College, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
I have studied French, Spanish, and modern Greek to one degree of real fluency or another. I have taken one semester of Japanese, not to any degree of fluency. In the course of these classes, I have studied various aspects of the cultures in which they are spoken. (In most cases, as with English, there is not a *single* culture attached to the language.)
Never, in any class, did I feel that the language teacher was in any way conveying linguistic imperialism.
If people look on English differently, is it perhaps only because so many people want to learn it (for a variety of reasons) that it has been perceived as having a power that it imposes, rather than an influence which the learner chooses to grant it?
Adrian Jones, Senior Education Officer - Curriculum, Brisbane Catholic Education
When Robert Phillipson (1993) formally introduced the term "linguistic imperialism" in his book of that name, he was talking about the way in which ELT policy and strategy had developed in post colonial countries, heavily influenced by government funded agencies like the British Council. He also talked about the way elites in different countries may have encouraged education in English as a means of overcoming perceived problems arising from linguistic pluralism, but also to consolidate their own advantage through privileging a language (English) that they were already good at themselves. He also used the term "linguicism" to refer to the privileging of one language (eg English or French) at the expense of others, usually indigenous languages. He was talking about ELT in countries where English is not a native language.
Since Phillipson's book there has been considerable discussion about the potential for English teaching to be used as a vehicle for western capitalist hegemony, but there is also greater awareness that students have ways of resisting this. Hence, the teaching of English can never be entirely neutral - English is simply too powerful a language for that - but its dominating tendencies are not necessarily intentional or mechanistic. What English teachers teach is processed by students and appropriated by them in ways that suit their needs. Control over the policy and management of ELT in EFL countries is also increasingly in the hands of local governments and entrepreneurs. Alistair Pennycook, James Tollefson and Suresh Canagarajah have all made substantial contributions to the discussion and their work should be available in university or specialist libraries.
It would be interesting to hear the views of English teachers who are not native speakers of English. [-4-]
Satoko Iwasaki, Toita Women's College, Tokyo, Japan
According to the 1996 statistics, Chinese is spoken by 999 million people, English 487, Hindustani 457, Spanish 401, and Russian 280. Thus, as you can see, English seems to be just one of the many spoken languages. In Japan where I teach, English is a language children should learn at junior and senior high school, but they can choose whichever language they like to learn in higher learning.
However, as far as information technology goes, there is no denying that English is indispensable as a tool of communication, which does not necessarily mean linguistic imperialism, does it?
It may be next to impossible to separate language from culture. People of each nation are proud of their own culture and language. Should any English teachers act with patriotic fervor in the classroom, it may sound a little imperialistic. I don't know for sure as I'm a non-native teacher of English, although I have read a paper regarding "how relations of power affect interaction between language learners and target language speakers" written by Bonny Norton Peirce.
Diane Pecorari, University of Birmingham
The point needs to be made that English is *not* other languages. English-language television, films and pop music are common around the world; French, Spanish and modern Greek television programs are *not* common in the English speaking world. Academics around the world must publish in English; if they publish in a local language, their work is marginalized and not available to the international academic community. These are just a couple of examples of the unique role English plays in the world, and they illustrate that for many people, learning English is not a choice, it is a necessity.
A Taiwanese student of mine told me he had hoped to study math at university but couldn't because the test he needed to pass in order to do so included questions on the Imperial measure system, a relic of Britain's influence in the region. So because he couldn't remember how many pints there were in a gallon, he couldn't go on to study math. [-5-]
The influence of the US and Britain on the rest of the world, past and present, cannot be denied, and we can't separate the English language from that baggage simply by stating that it's not our intention to impose our culture on anyone else. That's a good intention, but language is never a neutral vehicle for communication; the context comes with it, like it or not.
Does that mean that teaching English is an act of linguistic imperialism? Of course not. Many learners do *not* perceive English to be an oppressive force, and those who do may still feel the need to pursue it for instrumental reasons, and they have the right to choose. But those who perceive English as a force of linguistic and cultural imperialism have a lot of weight behind their view, and they deserve at least to have it acknowledged and respected.
Randall Jones, Lanna International School Thailand
This is an interesting and difficult topic. I teach ESL in an English-medium international school in Thailand and I think I am fairly sensitive to issues of linguistic and cultural imperialism. However, I have often heard English-speaking teachers (who generally are in-country for a relatively short time) suggest that they think more critically than locally educated teachers. In a master's level class for teachers of EFL at a Thai university, I once actually heard an American teacher tell her students that they should pay close attention so that they could come to think as she did. (The students felt quite insulted, but, of course, said nothing.)
I suspect this is often how "imperialism" sneaks into ELT--the teacher (perhaps without reflection) assumes she has a superior form of thought (and expression). I think this often happens under the banner of "teaching critical thinking" to those "whose culture doesn't encourage questioning or creativity", or "who just copy", etc.
I think an emphasis on "individual work" and "individual accountability" is another area where culturally suspect practices may turn up, and, of course in an emphasis on "individual creativity."
Perhaps a course in the history of thought and consciousness would be a good addition to the training of English language teachers. I find myself everyday appreciating more how situated my consciousness is and
how limited is the range of my possible thought. [-6-]
Geoffrey Vitale, Quebec, Canada
Linguistic imperialism? Forget about McDo and Coca-cola- thats just GER (gastroesophageal reflux) imperialism. I believe I heard the notion well encapsulated when I was working at a Portugese university. A student (more in sorrow than in anger?) wondered aloud: Why do you expect us to learn your language but can't be bothered to learn ours?. I also remember a suggestion at a conference on language and politics, just before the oil producing countries really got their act together, when the roving ambassador from Morocco at the time suggested that perhaps insisting that oil would only be negotiated and sold in Arabic might be beneficial to all parties' linguistic and cultural improvement. If you really wish to understand that language equals power, come live in Quebec!
John Harbord, CEU, Hungary
Elizabeth Edwards asks for "other thoughts, feelings and self perceptions" on the question of whether teaching English makes one an agent of linguistic imperialism.
I work in an international English language medium university where 95% of the students do not have English as their first language. I often have the feeling that many faculty (most of whom are Hungarian) regard English as an unavoidable evil stemming from the fact that most of the student body does not speak Hungarian. The students, however, do not see it like this. They see English as a valuable supplementary skill that they gain as well as an MA in, say, History. For them it is a further asset in the competitive job market that will give them the edge. This is not to say, of course, that the high value of English on the globalised, capitalist-oriented, Anglocentric market is necessarily a good thing: it is, however, indisputably there, and the students want it, just as their - perhaps less educated (perhaps not) - compatriots want hamburgers and English pop music. The question of 'good' or 'evil' is independent of whether or not they want it, though; it is the question - to return to Phillipson - of whether their own language, as a repository of culture, thought and identity, will be weakened by their studying in English.
I would like to think that we can avoid the evils of linguistic imperialism if everywhere primary and secondary education, and perhaps also the first stage of tertiary education (BA degrees) are taught in the local language. During this period, the students are receiving rather than giving, and there is no need for them to receive information in a foreign language. In (post)graduate education, however, students are increasingly giving as well as receiving, in the sense that more and more they are doing research, the results of which the field wants to hear. Not being able to communicate in the language of the international academic community impoverishes not only them and their countries/ethnic groups (because they have no voice) but us because we do not hear their voice and therefore cannot become wiser. [-7-]
Gail Shuck, Boise State University, Boise, Idaho, USA
Diane Pecorari :
The context comes with it, like it or not.
And Adrian Jones also writes:
The teaching of English can never be entirely neutral - English is simply too powerful a language for that - but its dominating tendencies are not necessarily intentional or mechanistic.
I'd like to thank both of these teachers for their views in this important dialogue.
There's no question that many students want to learn English. There's no question that teachers want to each them. What we must think about, however, is the implications of the whole system that values English over other languages (its value worldwide was not innocently brought about). We must also think about the local, administrative implications: what happens, for example, when a Singaporean like Catherine Lim comes to my university and is told that she must take an ESL course before taking English 101? The English she has spoken and written most of her life is suddenly devalued in relation to the English that I've spoken and written.
I study linguistic ideologies, sets of beliefs that people have about language--beliefs that necessarily classify people within a social world (for example, we create Us and Them categories a lot based on "Our" attitudes toward "Their" language). Anthropologists have studied linguistic ideologies for over 2 decades now, and those of us directly involved with language as a profession should learn from them. Teachers, because of the power that comes with their positions, must continually be aware of the extent to which they are participating in such classification processes as they teach and as they assess others' language use.
Who's "us"? Who's "them"? Is a non-native English-speaking teacher an "us" or a "them"? And who's doing the defining? Proficiency doesn't always matter, as we know from U.S. university students' complaints about their international instructors. They almost invariably use the expression "couldn't understand a word he/she/they said" as part of such complaints--an expression that has become so formulaic that people will use it regardless of a speaker's proficiency. "Foreignness" seems to be all that's needed in order for such complaints to arise. Our teaching and research efforts should address such responses, for they have the power to effect changes in public discourse and policy. Linguistic ideologies are necessarily bound up in practices associated with English as a global language. [-8-]
Don Weiss, Okazaki, Japan
There's another element to this issue of linguistic imperialism. It has to do with cultural aspects of the language that are, in some senses, separate from considerations of grammar, vocabulary, or syntax. For example, students in Japanese public schools are taught that when they speak English they must look directly at the person they're speaking with. This is, however, not the mode of communication of all native speakers of English. Asian-Americans and Mexican-Americans, for example, have a cultural bias against looking some people, particularly teachers, directly in the eye when they speak.
Or, to take another example, there's the whole question of names. In many ESL classrooms it's standard to call adult second language learners by their first names and to encourage students to call the teachers by their first names as well. This is a cultural bias that is true only of parts of the English speaking world. It's in this teaching of the cultural matrix of the language that I believe ESL teachers sometimes practice linguistic imperialism.
Joel Boyd, Language Specialist, CELCIS - Western Michigan University
It has been really fascinating to read all of the comments about the concern that many of us share about coming across like missionaries because we teach English as a Second/Foreign Language. I tend to agree more with those who say that for many of our students learning English is seen as a necessity. Although most would readily agree that they have chosen to learn it, they seem to have the feeling like the world has conspired to force them into that choice. This is especially true among the young adults I teach here in our IEP. Several Japanese and Korean students have even complained that it was unfair that Americans have learned English since they were very young. Sometimes they even envy the speakers of other European languages who have the advantage of cognates and other similarities.
To me the crux of the matter is what a teacher does to combat this perception, if it concerns them at all. In the classes I teach, I make a point of discussing this matter at a level appropriate to the students. I also feel it is the responsibility of teachers in our situation to respect the first languages of our students and to make that respect obvious at every possible occasion. If this is an issue which is important to you, you can let students know how you feel by teaching as though the language you are teaching is one among equals. Many of our students know that the rest of the world may not see it that way, yet we can still make the learning environment more palatable by allowing them to feel comfortable with who they are and the language/culture they were raised in. [-9-]
David O'Reilly, Canadian International College
I really do not see any argument in Don Weiss' post that supports the idea that ESL teachers practice cultural/linguistic imperialism. What he may be observing is just poor teaching practices.
When teaching aspects of culture, teachers need to emphasize not only the *behaviours* they describe, but also the *reasons* (beliefs, attitudes, values) manifest in these behaviours. Usually, we are talking about a "mainstream" behaviour observable in a culture. We try to explain that *in general* people *tend to* behave this way for these reasons. In Canadian culture (where I live) or American culture (I live close to the border) or Irish culture (where I'm from) it is *customary* for people to make eye contact when they speak to each other. Is this always the case? No, of course not! Does it have to be sustained eye-contact? Not always. However, in "mainstream" settings eye-contact is usually expected and valued.
In mainstream settings, people from different ethnic backgrounds tend to conform to the cultural expectations of the mainstream. Does this mean that they are being dominated? I don't think so. They are merely switching their style to suit the cultural environment they are in.
When visiting Japan, I conform to Japanese cultural expectations in my dealings with my Japanese in-laws and my work colleagues. I merely switch my style to conform to the linguistic mode and social expectations. Do I feel dominated? Of course not! But I do feel uncomfortable some times just as non-native English speakers must sometimes feel uncomfortable in Canada.
Don Weiss said that "In many ESL classrooms it's standard to call adult second language learners by their first names and to encourage students to call the teachers by their first names as well. This is a cultural bias that is true only of parts of the English speaking world."
In an ESL setting, it would be ludicrous to teach this cultural behaviour if it is not applicable to the part of the English speaking world that the classroom and the student is in. In EFL settings, students need to know that there are no absolutes, in addition, perhaps teachers need to spend more time explaining the *why* of cultural behaviour instead of focusing just on the *how*. [-10-]
Ewa M. Seiler, Peacham Elementary School Peacham, Vermont
My first reaction to the notion of ESL and Linguistic Imperialism was a rejection. No! No! ESL is not linguistic imperialism. We simply teach English to children who need it. Imperialism connotes many different ideas such as oppression, subjugation, or dominance. This is not what we do when WE teach ESL. I teach ESL (English as a Second Language), and of course nothing that I do looks or smells like Linguistic Imperialism.
Is there any way that ESL can become Linguistic Imperialism. Perhaps. When we consider some practices that were done (and are still done) when immigrant children are taught English, we can perhaps think of it as Linguistic Imperialism SPEAK ENGLISH!!! You are here to learn English. Do not speak your language! Advice that some teachers give to parents, SPEAK ENGLISH AT HOME! This is when neither parents nor children speak English.. When teaching culture as a necessary ingredient when learning language, are all cultures treated equally? Are all cultures valued and cherished the same? I'm sure that many of us can think of many different examples when ESL IS Linguistic Imperialism.
J Bismoko, ILCIC, Sanata Dharma University
Quoting Adrian Jones:
"It would be interesting to hear the views of English teachers who are not native speakers of English."
I am an English NNS, having been teaching it for more than thirty years, and now in charge of Indonesian NNS programs in my university, never once been accused of becoming an agent of linguistic imperialism. It is normal, however, to see people who have acquired new skills to over-act. Therefore, now and then, I feel the need of reminding our students and young colleagues that the purpose of learning English is not for us to "speak and act" like an English person (Australian/American), but to "speak English" as an educated Indonesian. In addition, although unique attributes are inevitable, stereotyping, be it racial, cultural, or linguistic has long passsed, and would not help real learning.
Benjamin Davis, New Haven Adult School, Union City, California
Do (many) students desperately want to learn English as a tool for success? Of course. Do (most) teachers come to the classroom with any intention to teach that English-speaking culture is somehow superior? Of course they don't. So why is imperialism an issue in TESOL? [-11-]
As people have said in other posts, English plays a special role in the world, thanks to large powerful systems that tell us, either explicitly or implicitly, that English is necessary and that blondes have more fun. From Hollywood and Britney Spears to academia and the Internet, there is no denying that English is rapidly increasing in reach and power.
Is this because Hollywood movies are fun, Britney Spears is sexy, and the Internet as developed in the U.S. is fascinating? Of course. But are there other reasons that each of these institutions have the power they do? Did other people's ideas get squelched so that these could gain prominence? Also of course.
But imperialism is a big scary word and I don't like controversy in my classroom. If my students aren't worried about it, why should I be?
I think this response is very revealing about how we as teachers do propagate linguistic imperialism -- by not taking a stand and by not engaging our students in this discussion. I think it's very American (but I'm not conflating American and English-speaking) to want to avoid controversy in the classroom, to see politics as something "outside."
Teaching abroad in Mexico, I found that on the surface all students agreed that English is important to success, but underneath many felt resentment towards the U.S. and so to English (for a lot of reasons, from encroaching cultural imperialism to current and past events).
It's a confusing issue, because students need to learn English, and I need a paycheck. But many students are ambivalent about how immersed in English-speaking culture they want to be, in the long term. The teacher and the students need to have an honest conversation about that, in today's "globalizing" world. To do otherwise is to promote linguistic imperialism, exactly by not teaching about its existence.
Nikki Jordan, Boston, Massachusetts
English is a double-edged sword, so to speak. There is an element of cultural imperialism, given that -- even if one doesn't teach culture, per se -- culture is still nonetheless encoded in language in a very real sense. On the other hand, the student either needs, wants or is required to learn English, and therefore learning English has some perceived benefit for the student.
So, as English language teachers, are we cultural imperialists or are we merely helping people who need/want what we have to teach? Maybe we're both. Perhaps we just have to learn to live with this ambiguity, and ought to figure out how to ameliorate the negative aspect of our imperialistic behavior as much as possible. [-12-]
Ted Riordan, Debrecen, Hungary
I hate to admit it, but in the 26 years that I have taught ESL/EFL I have been a linguistic imperialist. Not all the time mind you, not even most of the time, but I have accepted jobs that have in their methods, reading choices, and control of the teachers a purposeful aspect of English linguistic imperialism.
What do I mean by that? It means that the educational organization that I was working for, and many hundreds of my teaching colleagues at the time, had the express goal of using the English language to modify the culture! This included the integrated series of texts adopted from the States, the set practice of teaching in the classroom, the method of regular supervision, the use of the audio-lingual system completely centered on the teacher, a fixed series of tests given each friday, a lockstep of movement through the series of texts based on the test/quiz results, a required teacher training program of 6 weeks duration that instilled the fixed and regulated teaching classroom process, a series of readings that extolled the virtues of the USA and the western culture ( in some cases virtues that were inimical to the culture and religion of the local culture), a student body that was assigned to the school and were ordered to complete the course in a fixed amount of time, discipline in the class was backed with the possibilty of time in jail, weekly failure of course work just meant that the students were put back into the following class and had to do that week over again, etc. In short, a nightmare...but the pay and benefits were excellent. Where was this? Iran..the Shah's Iran. I worked for the Imperial Iranian Air Force Language Training Command. You may say that this experience was special, that the students were volunteers to the military. No...I'm afraid I have to disabuse you...military service was required. The material and system used in the Imperial Air Force came from the US Air Force's Language Training Command located in Lackland, Texas. The reason for this purchase,adaptation and adoption of this language training system was because the Iranian airforce structure, inventory system, pilot training, aircraft, radar, electronics, weapons, all came from the USA.
The US Airforce structure and its language training system were adapted by the Iranian government to "westernize" the COUNTRY. This was a basic element in the Shah's White Revolution. To carry this out, hundred's of English teachers were hired from English speaking countries. In the end almost 40,000 Americans were employed in Iran to carry out the various elements of the White Revolution. Did we know at the time what we were being hired for? No. Where did I find out about this job? The TESOL Job Placement service.
A footnote to this linguistic imperialism; one of the first military sites to rise up in revolution against the Shah in 1979 was the main school and command center of the Language Training Command in Tehran at Doshan Tappeh Air Base. Cadets and students from this base were the first group of military personnel who met with Ayatollah Khomeini and vowed support to the revolution. And a sad note, one of the best and kindest English teachers at the school was killed in the fighting in Tehran at that time.
What's to be learned from this? Be careful who you work for. Do some investigation as to the history and goals of the school you hope to work with. And finally, linguistic imperialism is well and thriving in the world today. [-13-]
Yeonjoo Kim, NY, USA
I have learnt English in a EFL environment for over ten years. And now I am pursuing MA in TESOL at NYU. I still feel that I have to learn English continuously in order to teach it. Maybe I am learning English in ESL environment now.
What was interesting in Joel Boyd's posting was that his Japanese and Korean students envied Americans and Europeans because of the advantages they had in learning English. It reminded me of my experience. I had an opportunity to stay in California for one year when I was a 7th grader, and after that the choice of staying in the US or going back to my country was given to me. At that time I chose to go back because I was a shy person and because I didn't feel comfortable with the language and culture.
When I went to the university in my country, I often asked myself if it was a right choice then. English sometimes seemed to be regarded or treated as the more important language than my native language. I think that is because for our own language, we already know or control it well enough to manage our needs and for English we do not. We, people tend to take what we already have for granted and do not appreciate; and envy others for what they have and we do not have. Or is it just me? However, I often imagined what it would have been like if I had chosen to stay in the US back then. It doesn't mean that I envied native speakers for fluency and accuracy in their own language. Well, I have fluency and accuracy in my own language. It's just because English was and is a must-learn language and it takes more time to learn it in EFL situation.
As Joel Boyd pointed out, I think, it is teachers' job to open students' mind to appreciate and respect their own languages before they learn English.
Richard Morgan, English Language Teaching Division, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK
The Linguistic Imperialism thread seems set to run and run, and no surprises there; it isn't easy to question the moral validity of what you do for a living. For what it's worth, I think the whole concept is up way past its bedtime. I recently read that there are now more non-native speakers of English than there are natives. So that's that. English no longer belongs to anyone (least of all the English!) - it has just become a truly global language, and its Standard Usage and Received Pronunciation are now more likely to be heard out of the mouth of Ricky Martin than The Queen of England or some other paragon of Anglo culture. [-14-]
That said, there is no doubt that English is only in this position because of previous and, in economic terms, on-going imperialism from (for want of a better descriptor) the Western world. The question is - does it matter any more? If "global" English is breaking loose of its cultural and political moorings, and if it's to become a badge of international citizenship, ALONGSIDE whatever first language the citizen in question grew up with, who cares where it came from? I'd suggest that the only people who do care (and I have met a few of them) are those who feel that THEIR language, and not English, should be the dominant global linguistic force. And then of course, we're back to gooooooood old national/cultural chauvinism.
The truth is that English is a useful tool for international communication - potentially a tool for great good in the global future. It got that way through (extremely bloody) historical accident. Pride of place could just as easily have gone to Spanish, French, Arabic or Mandarin Chinese, depending on where history chose to veer off. But it didn't. That's where we are now. Perhaps a more useful term for describing the situation would be linguistic Darwinism - this term manages to encompass the brutal fashion in which English came to the fore, without getting into the (essentially pointless) historical recriminations of who did what to whom and how horrible they were. The term also allows us to focus our attention on a rather more important related issue - that of minority languages going extinct. Practical protection of these languages through sponsored development needs to be our priority, rather than soul searching about our promotion of a useful international medium of communication.
Beatriz Chelle, Montevideo, Uruguay
I'm a [Uruguayan] NN EFL teacher. I teach K7,K8 and K12 in Uruguay, South America.
My students know it's important to study English to get a good job here and also if they want to study, not only abroad, but even here because there are many books, journals, articles which can be drawn from the internet, etc , etc, written in English. Also, listening comprehension and speaking are important skills to develop if they have to give speeches or attend conferences or meet foreigners (and not just people coming from the US, UK, or Australia).
They are also aware that when one learns a language one also needs to learn its culture, and I think it is very important to make it clear that it is not because they are better or more powerful, but because it is necessary to understand other people (their lifestyles, beliefs, attitudes) if we want to foster communication, tolerance and solidarity. [-15-]
However, the word "imperialism", even if sometimes in a subtle way, may be present... but I believe it is not due to the English class, but to a broader context which results from social, economical, political and even historical reasons of the country in which English is taught (or where students come from).
In my opinion, the language is associated with a country (or countries) and the way people feel about it may reflect the idea of imperialism the students have. For example, when referring to my mother tongue: Spanish, I bet Americans think of Mexico, and maybe English think of Spain ... and the connotations related to the language may be different in both cases. I'm not a sociologist so please, what do you think? What can we do to avoid prejudice?
Sheila Dawson Caputo, Richmond, VA
The question of whether teaching ESL can be considered linguistic imperialism is a valid one. By acknowledging its validity, I'm not saying that ESL teachers are going out into the world with the goal of dominating other cultures, but it is something to which we must be sensitive and take the time to consider.
When we use the term "linguistic imperialism," we don't use the word in its denotative sense, but rather in a more figurative sense. We're not dominating or conquering, but the fact is, the English language and consequently its culture is spreading, forming an "empire" if you will. As one responder pointed out, this is most often by choice, for people do realize the benefits of learning English in today' society. Unfortunately, it will eventually also cause a blending of cultures into a much more homogenous mass than it is today. This is an issue with which I definitely struggle as an ESL teacher who greatly values different languages and cultures.
People want the language skills; often they need them in order to benefit themselves and their families, and ESL teachers provide a valuable service in that respect. Of course, learning aspects of the culture is inevitable when learning the language. Throughout this process, however, it is of utmost importance to show appreciation and respect for our students' first languages and cultures. Perhaps it should even be a topic of discussion in class: "Learning another language and culture: How it can be used to gain an appreciation for our own language and culture." And of course, a valuable discussion in any language class: "What are the students' goals in learning a foreign language and what is the role that foreign language will play in the students' lives?"
In short, ESL teachers should take the time to consider the question you raise about linguistic imperialism. Our actions have consequences; as we teach our language and culture, they grow. Therefore it is important that both teachers and students embrace the value of both target and native languages and cultures, and that we understand the roles they play in our lives. [-16-]
Ryoko Sato, Kanagawa University, Japan
I will address ... the view, 'Are ESL/EFL students expected to conform to cultural norms in the target language? '
I consider English as being an international language now that the number of non-native speakers exceeds that of native speakers. Such English is used not only for communication between natives and non-natives but also among non-natives worldwide. Furthermore, English represents behaviors, values, beliefs and customs of a particular culture the speakers belong to.
Many of the students I have taught and observed seem to have difficulty reaching advanced levels, especially when it comes to productive skills such as speaking. Except for some returnee students who spent many years in native English-speaking countries during their young days, the behavior and the ways of thinking of the majority of the students, especially in the beginning level, seem to be transmitted from their native culture even when they speak English. One of the reasons may be due to the linguistic difficulty they face: they are struggling with word order, pronunciation, vocabulary, to name but a few. Another reason may be that they lack confidence. Under such circumstances, the students cannot easily follow the behavior and the modes of thinking, regardless of whether or not the target language teacher expects them to do so.
Patience and understanding for these students is necessary because it may take years and a lot of practice for non-native learners to adopt behavior and mode of thinking in the target culture. With this in mind, I wonder to what extent non-native learners are expected to meet such cultural expectations, given that English is considered as an international language. One of my senior Japanese students said to me, "We are told that we should think like people in the target language while learning it. But I cannot do that because I have been living my life as a Japanese for nearly seventy years: I cannot help but think in the Japanese way even when I speak English."
Being aware of cultural differences is one thing, and following foreign cultural expectations is another. If the latter has a connotation of linguistic imperialism, we need further discussion. [-17-]
Dick Tibbetts, Macau, China
Being aware of cultural differences is one thing, and following foreign cultural expectations is another. If the latter has a connotation of linguistic imperialism, we need further discussion.
I think it may depend on the type of cultural expectation the second language learner is being asked to follow. A common form of greeting and starting a conversation in Chinese is to ask if you have had breakfast. This would go against English native speaker cultural expectations and I'd feel quite justified in telling a learner that it was not appropriate.
But this type of cultural behaviour is not too difficult to modify and most Chinese would not feel that keeping quiet about breakfast and commenting on the weather instead did not detract from their Chinese-ness. When it comes to more subtle expectations I think the degree to which the second language user needs to accept the cultural conventions of the target language depends on the situation. The Chinese style of presenting an opinion or argument is often less direct than that of an English native speaker. A Chinese speaker of English may decide to comply with native speaker norms and try and be direct in order to form a bond with the person they are speaking with or they might decide their purposes may be better served by emphasising their Chinese background. In neither case are they submitting to linguistic imperialism. They are manipulating language and cultural expectations as best they can to their own advantage.
Being aware of cultural differences enables you to try and use such differences in your dealings with others. We do much the same in our exchanges with others who share our culture.
I am currently working in Japan on a very small island off the coast of Nagasaki as an Assistant Language Teacher on the JET programme...there are currently 6,000 JETs here and probably around 90% of us have no certification.
I was trained by ... historiographers, so I spend a lot of time wandering around thinking about who took what thought from whom (or where or what) and what they did with it and how that thought was influenced by other thoughts, and then what happened to all those thoughts and who did what with them and what did they think and so on and so forth and so on. [-18-]
I came to ... *Resisting Linguistic Imerialism in English Teaching* by a man the name of *A. Suresh Canarajah.* (Oxford University Press, 1999) ... after I arrived in Japan because the attitude of some JETs toward Japanese students, educators, and of course the Japanese in general didn't jive very well with my learning. Not only do I know the Japanese people and culture quite well, but also, in an earlier part of my life, I spent some time learning about the Canadian government's policy of forced assimilation toward the native indian population, the role the Catholic church had to play in this monstrous aspect of Canadian history and the effect (still so visible) on indigenous culture in Canada.
When the politics get heated over here (which is often) all sorts of values are ascribed to EFL in order to justify JETs positions in the schools. I turned to this book in the hopes of achieving a balanced perspective on the whole thing.
It is wholistic; its intention is to cut through the "debilitating monolingual/monocultural bias, [which] reveals itself in the insistence on 'standard ' English as the norm, the refusal to grant an active role to the students' first language in the learning and acquisition of English, the marginalization of non-native English teachers and the insensitive negativity shown by the pedagogies and discourses towards the indigenous cultural traditions."
"The inquiry is controversial because contemporary education as a whole (not only ELT) is considerably influenced by the knowledge produced, disseminated and defined by the materially-developed center communities"
Karen Stanley, Central Piedmont Community College, Charlotte, NC, USA
A number of people have brought up the idea that English is now spoken in many communities for many purposes. Could it be that this makes it more (rather than less) difficult to label the teaching of English as imperialistic? In other words, we get to the point of asking:
Whose English? (Canadian, British, Malaysian, Indian, Australian, Nigerian, US, etc?) Attached to which culture? (A professional academic discipline's culture? An English-as-administrative-but-not-national-language culture? A business-between-non-native-speakers culture?)
Is it possible, as more people claim "ownership" of different varieties of English, that the capacity to be imperialistic as relates to the teaching of the language decreases?
In this situation, do we see some individual teachers as perhaps being arrogant with regard to their personal variety or personal culture rather than the act of teaching English as a second/foreign language as being imperialistic? Does the imperialism migrate (if we accept its reality, and if it was ever anywhere else) to various business/entertainment/media/political arenas rather than being a product of the language classroom?
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