Today we are living in a "Global Village". As the Internet explosively grows, ever more people are becoming aware of this "Global Village" on a personal level. People correspond with others from around the globe on a regular basis, products are bought and sold with increasing ease from all over the word and "real time" coverage of major news events is taken for granted. English plays a central role in this "globalization" and it has become the de facto language of choice for communication between the various peoples of the Earth.
Many People Speak English!
Here are some important statistics:
- English Next 2006
- How Many People Learn English Globally?
- How large is the English learning market worldwide?
Many English speakers do not speak English as their first language. In fact, they often use English as a lingua franca in order to communicate with other people who also speak English as a foreign language. At this point students often wonder what kind of English they are learning. Are they learning English as it spoken in Britain? Or, are they learning English as it is spoken in the United States, or Australia? One of the most important questions is left out. Do all students really need to learn English as it is spoken in any one country? Would it not be better to strive towards a global English? Let me put this into perspective. If a business person from China wants to close a deal with a business person from Germany, what difference does it make if they speak either US or UK English? In this situation, it does not matter whether they are familiar with UK or US idiomatic usage.
Communication enabled by the Internet is even less tied to standard forms of English as communication in English is exchanged between partners in both English speaking and non English speaking countries. I feel that two important ramifications of this trend are as follows:
- Teachers need to evaluate just how important learning "standard" and/or idiomatic usage is for their students.
- Native speakers need to become more tolerant and perceptive when communicating with non-native speakers of English.
Teachers need to carefully take into consideration the needs of their students when deciding on a syllabus. They need to ask themselves questions such as: Do my students need to read about US or UK cultural traditions? Does this serve their objectives for learning English? Should idiomatic usage be included in my lesson plan? What are my students going to do with their English? And, with whom are my students going to be communicating in English?
Help Deciding on a Syllabus
- Principled Eclecticism - The art of picking and choosing your approach based on a student needs analysis. Includes an analysis of two example classes.
- How to Choose a Course book - Finding the right coursebook is one of the most important tasks a teacher needs to undertake.
A more difficult problem is that of raising the awareness of native speakers. Native speakers tend to feel that if a person speaks their language they automatically understand the native speaker's culture and expectations. This is often known as "linguistic imperialism" and can have very negative effects on meaningful communication between two speakers of English who come from different cultural backgrounds. I think that the Internet is currently doing quite a bit to help sensitize native speakers to this problem.
As teachers, we can help by reviewing our teaching policies. Obviously, if we are teaching students English as a second language in order for them to integrate into an English speaking culture specific types of English and idiomatic usage should be taught. However, these teaching objectives should not be taken for granted.