Reflections on Standard English in EFL classrooms
Oct 12, 2016 English as a Foreign Language (EFL) 1998 Views
Reflections on Standard English in EFL classroom
To be unable to write Standard English or to use its spoken forms in appropriate public contexts is to be disenfranchised, to be deprived of true citizenship…. Where it is appropriate to use the standard, you see it but there are many uses where other forms, or other languages, are as appropriates… It is astonishing to reflect that no linguistic theory has ever begun to pose the question of the permissible range of variation within a standard although it is obvious even from the history of English that the range is not fixed.
Languages all over the world have significant changes over the years and the English language is not an exception. Differences in patterns of sounds, vocabulary and grammar from all over a country make a distinctive way of speaking a language. The way we address to someone in different contexts, situations and places requires our speeches to vary and that also will depend on the social environment. However, “standarlization” has many properties besides its supra-local character, and these properties can hardly be said to apply to these so-called localized standards” (James Milroy n.d). Therefore, when selecting a language to use in a given situation, it is necessary to get to know its appropriateness and that usually takes time. Besides, it requires us to adjust, adapt and review what we have learned. Nevertheless, the issue of whether or not only teach Standard English is in Second/Foreign Language Acquisition is still very controversial.
This issue of Standard English in the Second/Foreign Language Acquisiiton has been examined before, however, it seems to be quite confusing for people in general to define what Standard English is, even for some linguists such term can be complicated to define. Standard English is not a language, not an accent, not a style and not a register. It can be described from a social, intellectual and cultural point of view as a dialect in the English-speaking world and it has no associated accent (Trudgill 1999). Nevertheless, for Wilkinson (1990) “the sense of Standard seems to suggest only a convention, it’s something agreed to a medium of communication which is set, but subject to change if its users agree”.
Although the term Standard English is not a new concept, this term has been described in so many ways and I am going to describe it as the form of English most accepted as clear and proper. In addition, “Standard English is not a set of prescriptive rules, the grammatical forms are not necessarily identical with those which prescriptive grammarians have concerned themselves with over the last few centuries.”( Bex and Richards 1999). Most linguists recognize that the notion of a Standard English that covers all native speakers, educated or not, would be very difficult to articulate.
English now is a world language, more and more people are using English as their second or foreign languages and how should this language be taught in the classrooms? What relevant aspects of culture and native language should be taken into consideration in this new language acquisition?
“As English becomes institutionalized in nations that do not share its Western cultural traditions, the language is broadening. Contact with non Western cultures and languages calls English into service to express a new array of linguistic and culture functions”. (Michael Spooner 1987). As all languages have significant differences among themselves and in order to facilitate communication and understanding, in my point of view, the teaching of English as a second/foreign language should be standardized. Teachers should teach Standard English in classroom and that should be the teaching focus. But, on the other hand, I also think it’s necessary to teach some content aspects on Non Standard English but not as the main focus of the teaching.
Therefore, my question is should teachers only teach Standard English in Second/Foreign Language Acquisition classrooms or should Non Standard English be also taught?
I believe that some teachers may feel uncomfortable when teaching Non Standard English and they may feel that language is going to have an adverse effect on their students’ uses of English. Others may feel that they should avoid the use of Non Standard English in the classroom as this sort of language can reinforce wrong English usages and that’s exactly what all second language English teachers try to avoid and, consequently they work hard on that with students in the classrooms.
In most schools I have worked at, the English classes are focused only on the teaching of Standard English since the aim of the classes is to provide students with lots of grammar content which will be a requirement on all entrance college tests. Each school chooses the textbooks that will be used and those textbooks follow the Standard English “rules”, therefore the teaching approach is focused on the prescriptive rules rather than on descriptive rules.
Nevertheless, there are some schools that follow the same educational system pattern, which is a sort of a network of private education, and, these networks headquarter designs their own material which is updated every two years.
I work in a school that follows that system and the material provided is quite good because not only Standard English is taught but, also Non Standard English, even though the material is all focused on the Standard English and students are required to use it on the exams and assignments. The textbooks also point out some aspects of the Non Standard English. These aspects are presented in a chart right after the Standard English content is introduced. This way, students will be aware of the fact that sometimes the same content can be used in a different way. Nevertheless, when the Non Standard English contents are introduced to students, those contents are not named as Non Standard English. They are introduced as a “variation” of the language, most of the times, a variation from written to oral language.
Besides, depending on the proficiency and interest level of the students, some of them can recognize these “styles” in songs, movie discourses or even in interaction with some tourist they may encounter around the city. I think the material, we use in my school, helps to create a link from Standard English and Non Standard. And, that’s why I think that it’s important to enhance students’ awareness of that. Therefore, they will not feel so “lost” when they face real interaction with native speakers of English.
“By learning about how languages varies geographically and socially, students will understand at least 2 basic facts about language: 1) that language changes overtime and, 2) that language use is linked to social identity “ (Hazen 2001). As second language English teachers, it’s our role to make students aware of such variations, especially oral speech variation. Also, make them understand that in our native language this “language variation” also takes place even if in some cases it seems not to be the correct usage of the language. However, we, teachers, need to be aware of the controversy but not to involve our students with the many varieties of English that may for sure confuse them.
In short, after many positions of what Standard English is and is not, it can be stated that it is definitely the language utilized by all English speakers in communicating, in some style or another. Almost every English speaker who is literate will have to use Standard English at some point in his/her life, so this is why the variety rests the most important and esteemed in the English Language.
According to Liu (1998), the point of learning culture in teaching EFL is to make target language learners be capable of using English appropriately according to the contexts and necessity. “Debate about what is “correct” can become a moral battlefield in which individuals argue the merits of language use and language instruction according to absolute standards of right and wrong.” Therefore, instead of thinking of language as “ good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”, teachers should consider seeing it as effective or not, a fit or not in the setting by recognizing that we all use many versions of English for different purposes and in different context.
Michael Spooner, 1987. JSTOR- English Journal- foreign affairs: contact literature in English.
Auerback, E. R. (1993). Reexamining English Only in ESL classroom. JSTOR: Tesol Quartely: vol. 27. November 19, 2007
Stein, D. (1990). Sorting out the variants: Standardization and social factors in the English language. In Towards a Standard English 1600-1800. Berlin: New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Trudgill, P. ( 1999). Standard English: What it isn’t. In Bex & Watts (Eds), Standard English: The widening debate ( 117-128). New York: Routledge.
Wheeler, R. ( 1999). Language alive in the classroom. Westport/London. Praeger