Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Views: Whose Language (is English)?

Dear All,

Whose English is the world going to use in the future?

This question is becoming more relevant as the world begins to accept and use English as the lingua franca or the language of worldwide communication.

With globalisation and the widespread use of English, the native speakers will find that they will be in the minority.

Besides that, will English develop and evolve into new expressions and structures; quite different than what the native speakers had in mind?

This thought-provoking article offers some possibilities about the future of English.

Comments welcomed!

Best regards,

Rodney Tan

Whose language?

By Michael Skapinker

Published: November 8 2007 19:55

Chung Dong-young, a former television anchorman and candidate to be president of South Korea, may be behind in the opinion polls but one of his campaign commitments is eye-catching. If elected, he promises a vast increase in English teaching so that young Koreans do not have to go abroad to learn the language. The country needed to “solve the problem of families separated for English learning”, the Korea Times reported him saying.

In China, Yu Minhong has turned New Oriental, the company he founded, into the country’s biggest provider of private education, with more than 1m students over the past financial year, the overwhelming majority learning English. In Chile, the government has said it wants its population to be bilingual in English and Spanish within a generation.

No one is certain how many people are learning English. Ten years ago, the British Council thought it was around 1bn. A report, English Next, published by the council last year, forecast that the number of English learners would probably peak at around 2bn in 10-15 years.

How many people already speak English? David Crystal, one of the world’s leading experts on the language and author of more than 100 books on the subject, estimates that 1.5bn people – around one-quarter of the world’s population – can communicate reasonably well in English.

Latin was once the shared language over a vast area, but that was only in Europe and North Africa. Never in recorded history has a language been as widely spoken as English is today. The reason millions are learning it is simple: it is the language of international business and therefore the key to prosperity. It is not just that Microsoft, Google and Vodafone conduct their business in English; it is the language in which Chinese speak to Brazilians and Germans to Indonesians.

David Graddol, the author of English Next, says it is tempting to view the story of English as a triumph for its native speakers in North America, the British Isles and Australasia – but that would be a mistake. Global English has entered a more complex phase, changing in ways that the older English-speaking countries cannot control and might not like.

Commentators on global English ask three principal questions. First, is English likely to be challenged by other fast-growing languages such as Mandarin, Spanish or Arabic? Second, as English spreads and is influenced by local languages, could it fragment, as Latin did into Italian and French – or might it survive but spawn new languages, as German did with Dutch and Swedish? Third, if English does retain a standard character that allows it to continue being understood everywhere, will the standard be that of the old English-speaking world or something new and different?

Mr Graddol says the idea of English being supplanted as the world language is not fanciful. About 50 years ago, English had more native speakers than any language except Mandarin. Today both Spanish and Hindi-Urdu have as many native speakers as English does. By the middle of this century, English could fall into fifth place behind Arabic in the numbers who speak it as a first language.

Some believe English will survive because it has a natural advantage: it is easy to learn. Apart from a pesky “s” at the end of the present tense third person singular (“she runs”), verbs remain unchanged no matter who you are talking about. (I run, you run, they run; we ran, he ran, they ran.) Definite and indefinite articles are unaffected by gender (the actor, the actress; a bull, a cow.) There is no need to remember whether a table is masculine or feminine.

There is, however, plenty that is difficult about English. Try explaining its phrasal verbs – the difference, for example, between “I stood up to him” and “I stood him up”. Mr Crystal dismisses the idea that English has become the world’s language because it is easy. In an essay published last year, he said Latin’s grammatical complexity did not hamper its spread. “A language becomes a world language for extrinsic reasons only, and these all relate to the power of the people who speak it,” he wrote. The British empire carried English to all those countries on which the sun never set; American economic and cultural clout en­sured English’s dominance after the British empire had faded.

So could China’s rise see Mandarin becoming the world’s language? It may happen. “Thinking back a thousand years, who would have predicted the demise of Latin?” Mr Crystal asks. But at the moment there is little sign of it, he says. The Chinese are rushing to learn English.

Mr Graddol agrees that we are unlikely to see English challenged in our lifetime. Once a lingua franca is established, it takes a long time to shift. Latin may be disappearing but it remained the language of science for generations and was used by the Roman Catholic church well into the 20th century.

As for English fragmenting, Mr Graddol argues it has already happened. “There are many Englishes that you and I wouldn’t understand,” he says. World Englishes, a recent book by Andy Kirkpatrick, professor at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, gives some examples. An Indian teenager’s journal contains this entry: “Two rival groups are out to have fun . . . you know generally indulge in dhamal [a type of dance] and pass time. So, what do they do? Pick on a bechaara bakra [poor goat] who has entered college.” Prof Kirkpatrick also provides this sample of Nigerian pidgin English: “Monkey de work, baboon dey chop” (Monkeys work, baboons eat).

It is unlikely, however, that this fragmentation will lead to the disappearance of English as a language understood around the world. It is common for speakers of English to switch from one or other variant to a use of language more appropriate for work, school or international communication. Mr Crystal says modern communication through television, film and the internet means the world is likely to hold on to an English that is widely understood.

The issue is: whose English will it be? Non-native speakers now outnumber native English-speakers by three to one. As hundreds of millions more learn the language, that imbalance will grow. Mr Graddol says the majority of encounters in English today take place between non-native speakers. Indeed, he adds, many business meetings held in English appear to run more smoothly when there are no native English-speakers present.

Native speakers are often poor at ensuring that they are understood in international discussions. They tend to think they need to avoid longer words, when comprehension problems are more often caused by their use of colloquial and metaphorical English.

Barbara Seidlhofer, professor of English and applied linguistics at the University of Vienna, says relief at the absence of native speakers is common. “When we talk to people (often professionals) about international communication, this observation is made very often indeed. We haven’t conducted a systematic study of this yet, so what I say is anecdotal for the moment, but there seems to be very widespread agreement about it,” she says. She quotes an Austrian banker as saying: “I always find it easier to do business [in English] with partners from Greece or Russia or Denmark. But when the Irish call, it gets complicated and taxing.”

On another occasion, at an international student conference in Amsterdam, conducted in English, the lone British representative was asked to be “less English” so that the others could understand her.

Prof Seidlhofer is also founding director of the Vienna-Oxford International Corpus of English (Voice), which is recording and transcribing spoken English interactions between speakers of the language around the world. She says her team has noticed that non-native speakers are varying standard English grammar in several ways. Even the most competent sometimes leave the “s” off the third person singular. It is also common for non-native speakers to use “which” for humans and “who” for non- humans (“things who” and “people which”).

Prof Seidlhofer adds that many non-native speakers leave out definite and indefinite articles where they are required in standard English or put them in where standard English does not use them. Examples are “they have a respect for all” or “he is very good person”. Nouns that are not plural in native-speaker English are used as plurals by non-native speakers (“informations”, “knowledges”, “advices”). Other variations include “make a discussion”, “discuss about something” or “phone to somebody”.

Many native English speakers will have a ready riposte: these are not variations, they are mistakes. “Knowledges” and “phone to somebody” are plain wrong. Many non-native speakers who teach English around the world would agree. But language changes, and so do notions of grammatical correctness. Mr Crystal points out that plurals such as “informations” were once regarded as correct and were used by Samuel Johnson.

Those who insist on standard English grammar remain in a powerful position. Scientists and academics who want their work published in international journals have to adhere to the grammatical rules followed by the native English-speaking elites.

But spoken English is another matter. Why should non-native speakers bother with what native speakers regard as correct? Their main aim, after all, is to be understood by one another. As Mr Graddol says, in most cases there is no native speaker present.

Prof Seidlhofer says that the English spoken by non-native speakers “is a natural language, and natural languages are difficult to control by ‘legislation’.

“I think rather than a new international standard, what we are looking at is the emergence of a new ‘international attitude’, the recognition and awareness that in many international contexts interlocutors do not need to speak like native speakers, to compare themselves to them and thus always end up ‘less good’ – a new international assertiveness, so to speak.”

When native speakers work in an international organisation, some report their language changing. Mr Crystal has written: “On several occasions, I have encountered English-as-a-first-language politicians, diplomats and civil servants working in Brussels commenting on how they have felt their own English being pulled in the direction of these foreign-language patterns . . . These people are not ‘talking down’ to their colleagues or consciously adopting simpler expressions, for the English of their interlocutors may be as fluent as their own. It is a natural process of accommodation, which in due course could lead to new standardised forms.”

Perhaps written English will eventually make these accommodations too. Today, having an article published in the Harvard Business Review or the British Medical Journal represents a substantial professional accomplishment for a business academic from China or a medical researcher from Thailand. But it is possible to imagine a time when a pan-Asian journal, for example, becomes equally, or more, prestigious and imposes its own “Globish” grammatical standards on writers – its editors changing “the patient feels” to “the patient feel”.

Native English speakers may wince but are an ever-shrinking minority.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007


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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dear All,

Nowadays, our students are no more being "kids or teenagers" because their study and life is very much programmed & regimented. They don't get the opportunity to grow up naturally as kids/teenagers.

To make matters worst, some schools are hiring of all things--Recess Coaches.

Imagine, even the students' recess or rest time is not spared from play.

Read about this latest strange action that is occuring in the US.


Rodney Tan


March 27, 2010
Op-Ed Contributor

Playtime Is Over

Medford, Mass.

RECESS is no longer child’s play. Schools around the country, concerned about bullying and arguments over the use of the equipment, are increasingly hiring “recess coaches” to oversee students’ free time. Playworks, a nonprofit training company that has placed coaches at 170 schools from Boston to Los Angeles, is now expanding thanks to an $18 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Critics have suggested that such coaching is yet another example of the over-scheduling and over-programming of our children. And, as someone whose scholarly work has consistently reinforced the idea that young people need unstructured imagination time, I’d probably have been opposed to recess coaches in the past. But childhood has changed so radically in recent years that I think the trend makes sense, at least at some schools and with some students.

Children today are growing up in a world vastly different from the one their parents knew. As the writer Richard Louv has persuasively chronicled, our young people are more aware of threats to the global environment than they are of the natural world in their own backyards.

A Nielsen study last year found that children aged 6 to 11 spent more than 28 hours a week using computers, cellphones, televisions and other electronic devices. A University of Michigan study found that from 1979 to 1999, children on the whole lost 12 hours of free time a week, including eight hours of unstructured play and outdoor activities. One can only assume that the figure has increased over the last decade, as many schools have eliminated recess in favor of more time for academics.

One consequence of these changes is the disappearance of what child-development experts call “the culture of childhood.” This culture, which is to be found all over the world, was best documented in its English-language form by the British folklorists Peter and Iona Opie in the 1950s. They cataloged the songs, riddles, jibes and incantations (“step on a crack, break your mother’s back”) that were passed on by oral tradition. Games like marbles, hopscotch and hide and seek date back hundreds of years. The children of each generation adapted these games to their own circumstances.

Yet this culture has disappeared almost overnight, and not just in America. For example, in the 1970s a Japanese photographer, Keiki Haginoya, undertook what was to be a lifelong project to compile a photo documentary of children’s play on the streets of Tokyo. He gave up the project in 1996, noting that the spontaneous play and laughter that once filled the city’s streets, alleys and vacant lots had utterly vanished.

For children in past eras, participating in the culture of childhood was a socializing process. They learned to settle their own quarrels, to make and break their own rules, and to respect the rights of others. They learned that friends could be mean as well as kind, and that life was not always fair.

Now that most children no longer participate in this free-form experience — play dates arranged by parents are no substitute — their peer socialization has suffered. One tangible result of this lack of socialization is the increase in bullying, teasing and discrimination that we see in all too many of our schools.

Bullying has always been with us, but it did not become prevalent enough to catch the attention of researchers until the 1970s, just as TV and then computers were moving childhood indoors. It is now recognized as a serious problem in all the advanced countries. The National Education Association estimates that in the United States, 160,000 children miss school every day because they fear attacks or intimidation by other students. Massachusetts is considering anti-bullying legislation.

While correlation is not necessarily causation, it seems clear that there is a link among the rise of television and computer games, the decline in peer-to-peer socialization and the increase of bullying in our schools. I am not a Luddite — I think that the way in which computers have made our students much more aware of the everyday lives of children in other countries is wonderful, and that they will revolutionize education as the new, tech-savvy generation of teachers moves into the schools. But we should also recognize what is being lost.

We have to adapt to childhood as it is today, not as we knew it or would like it to be. The question isn’t whether recess coaches are good or bad — they seem to be with us to stay — but whether they help students form the age-old bonds of childhood. To the extent that the coaches focus on play, give children freedom of choice about what they want to do, and stay out of the way as much as possible, they are likely a good influence.

In any case, recess coaching is a vastly better solution than eliminating recess in favor of more academics. Not only does recess aid personal development, but studies have found that children who are most physically fit tend to score highest on tests of reading, math and science.

Friedrich Fröbel, the inventor of kindergarten, said that children need to “learn the language of things” before they learn the language of words. Today we might paraphrase that axiom to say that children need to learn the real social world before they learn the virtual one.

David Elkind is a professor emeritus of child development at Tufts University.

Source: NYTimes

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Creative Teachers in Challenging Situations

Dear All,

Below is an article from the Phillipines written by a well-known ELT personality whom I met at the AsiaTEFL Conference in KL some years ago.

It's an inspiring write-up on how teachers cope and thrive eventhough the situation was challenging & less than ideal.

I hope the ideas will spur us to think outside the box to solve problems and constraints in our particular locale.

As the saying goes' "necessity is the mother of invention".

What do you think?

Rodney Tan

Agenda For Hope -- Maria Luz C. Vilches

Creative teaching in public schools
Every teacher’s wish is to engage students in a class discussion or have them atleast listen with interest and show in their faces a promise of insight. Making students want to learn can be an onerous task. But, it can be done -- even in adverse conditions.

I observed how things work in practice in six public school English classrooms in Quezon City, and two teachers are featured here. Let’s look at the teachers’ creativity in pushing beyond the limits of their teaching situation and engaging their students in fun and meaningful learning experiences. While popular opinion harps on what is perceived as a deteriorating quality of Philippine education, there are teachers who are not discouraged by the bad press but, instead, continue to do their best to make a difference in the lives of their students and take pride in what they are able to achieve.


Gina was teaching the grammar structure of asking and answering questions when I observed her class. Her classroom, with 42 first year high school students, was under a staircase on the ground floor, tucked into a corner of an old school building close to the fence beyond which are residential houses. Noise was coming from different directions and humidity enveloped the room.

To be able to manage the class in these challenging conditions, Gina had to decongest the center space by seating the students around the room -- two rows on each side facing the front so that the students faced each other during the discussion. The seating arrangement also freed up the space in the middle for better mobility by both students and teacher during group work.

Gina’s lesson springboard was a local daily’s news item, copied onto Manila paper and tacked on the board. She read it first and then asked the students to read it in unison. In groups, using the news item, some students asked questions while others answered. Later, Gina asked for samples of the students’ questions. She praised those who did well and corrected those who needed improvement.

Because Gina’s friendly disposition created spontaneity in the way teacher and students related to each other, error correction became a collaborative effort. When a student asked "How did it happened?" another student repeatedly uttered "happen, happen," to which Gina directed the attention of the class.

Gina also knew how to spring a surprise question at an appropriate occasion that would break the routine of the exercise. When a student asked, "What did the protesters do?" instead of moving ahead to the next question, Gina asked, "Yes, what did they do?" The student answered, "They protested!" Laughter ensued, and Gina gave the class clown an endearing smile. She went on to explain that "What did they do?" also meant "How did they protest?"

Finally, on the question, "Who did protest?" Gina did not point out the inaccuracy outright. Instead she asked for other ways of improving it, so the students came up eventually with: "Who did the protest?" and "Who protested?"

Ordinarily, that grammar exercise would have been a boring one, but clearly, the experienced teacher in Gina knew how to use any emergent matter as a learning opportunity for students. She showed genuine interest in her students’ contributions. She kept them attentive and involved despite the humidity in that cramped and dark classroom. They took the cue from her enthusiasm and energy in animating the grammar lesson through her varied activities. Her strong support and non-threatening demeanor encouraged even the most timid in the class to attempt to give an answer.


I observed Grace’s literature lesson for a third year class with two sets of students inside one classroom: 32 regular students occupying two-thirds of the room and 19 physically challenged (deaf-mute SPED students) occupying one-third. The latter had a teacher interpreter for Grace’s explanations, instructions, questions, and other aspects of classroom work. In effect, there were two teachers in front of the class. Grace conducted her lesson without a need to slow down her speech, treating everyone like a regular student.

It was amazing how the SPED students were very participative. During group presentations, the two teachers were simultaneously processing the activities in the presence of two sets of students whose interactions seemed seamless -- smooth and lively -- despite the competing noise of incessant corridor talk of students passing by and the continuous hammering in a nearby construction area.

Grace’s lesson on characterization, made the story in focus jump out of the page to engage the students’ imagination. For introducing vocabulary, she used photos; students matched words with descriptions of the people in the photos. She introduced categories of character descriptions (physical, emotional, etc.) and using flash cards, engaged the students in a contest of fill- in-the-appropriate-category-slots on posters on the board. She also integrated vocabulary building with character analysis through a group game where each group, lined up at the back of the class, picked out a representative who ran to the front of the class to identify which of the adjectives on the posters on the board matched the descriptions of character excerpted from the story and read by the teacher. That game animated the entire class. It embedded a fun way of learning words and the appropriate uses of these words in the context of character analysis and story interpretation.

Although Grace seemed to be effortless in drawing the interest of the students and their use of imagination and creativity, she confessed to having exerted so much effort in doing so. She holds on to the principle that because every class is different, a teacher should not take things for granted. The performance of her good students always brings a smile to her face. The struggles of the underachievers, on the other hand, challenge her to become a better teacher.


Observing classrooms brought home a clear point: teachers’ imaginative, adaptable, and resilient temperament enabled them to pursue their responsibility of good teaching that encouraged active learning despite the sometimes insurmountable limitations of their contexts.

Four areas can help shed light on this disposition. First, the teachers came prepared with their visual aids -- simple and often improvised but complete with trimmings and artistry. Second, their well-planned lessons used a variety of learning opportunities that maximized student-teacher as well as group work interactions. Third, they chose teaching material that was relevant to the students’ lives and interests and challenged their creativity, imagination, and value judgments. Lastly, more than well-prepared and enthusiastic, the teachers were also attentive to the dynamics of interpersonal exchange, as well as caring, supportive, and creatively responsive to opportunities that encouraged and sustained student learning beyond good English grammar.

What does it take to have more of such types of teachers in the public schools? The Quezon City division supervisor is convinced that one of the main secrets of a teacher’s success is a pro-active principal who can uplift morale in the work environment and support the teachers in discharging their duties creatively, in bending backwards to engage their students, and in not giving up the goal to do better always. By their example, they hold the power to influence the youth to value and cultivate imaginative thinking, adaptability, and resilience.

If the youth are the hope of the fatherland, it is their teachers who mold them to be that hope. It is heartening to discover, as I have discovered, that in public school classrooms where uncertainties often prevail, this hope not just lives, it thrives!

Dr. Maria Luz C. Vilches is the dean of the School of Humanities at Ateneo de Manila University. She has played key roles in English teacher development in the public schools under the auspices of the Department of Education, the British Council, and the Ateneo Center for English Language Teaching.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Contest: British Council & UK Premier League 2010

Dear All,

This contest is opened to anyone above 12 and interested in the UK Premier League Football.

Details below.

Rodney Tan



Dear ELTeCS members -

You might like to alert your students to the following competition which involves learners producing a short video clip or Powerpoint presentation with audio.

Check out the following for teachers, too:
- the Premier Connections Teachers area -
- Premier Skills Schools Pack too -

Best wishes -

Premier Skills project team


Deadline 10 May 2010

For learners of English of 12 years and over

Be a guest of the Premier League at a Barclays Premier League game and win the football shirt of the team you support.

The Premier Connections competition -
gives learners of English aged 12 and over from anywhere in the world the chance to win fantastic prizes.

The competition is part of the Premier Skills project -
and involves finding connections between the places learners were born and a town or city where a Premier League club is based, and creating a short video or Powerpoint presentation with audio to illustrate these connections.

As it possible for an entry to come from two people working together, the competition lends itself to a classroom activity, but it can also be done individually.

There are sample entries, and online and downloadable guides for learners on the competition pages, and a special Premier Connections Teachers area -
with suggestions for how the competition could be used as a classroom activity.

Posters (in colour and black and white) advertising the competition are attached to this message and can also be downloaded from the website.

You will also find a Premier Skills Schools Pack -
on the site with downloadable classroom posters, worksheets, lesson plans, and learner training tips.

If you have any questions about the project or the competition please contact Michael Houten -

Michael Houten
British Council Premier Skills team


ELTeCS connects you with other ELT professionals all over the world.
Please keep sharing and caring!