Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Pluricentric Views towards English and Implications for ELT in China

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Pluricentric Views towards English and Implications for ELT in China

Article excerpt


Descriptions of the classifications or models of English language have been proposed by a number of scholars who attempt to explain the differences in the ways English is used in different localities. This paper reviews three models of classification of English language, with an aim of drawing implications on how English Language Teaching (ELT) in China should adjust according to this highly pluricentric view towards English.

Keywords: ELT in China, pluricentricity, World Englishes

1. Introduction

As modern technologies such as the internet and 'apps' of all kinds increasingly facilitate communication and interaction between people, language contact phenomena become increasingly attractive to linguists. Meanwhile, as a result of education, 'bilingual speaker of English' has become a common attribute or characteristic for the majority of people all over the world, regardless of their first language background. The interface of these two trends is English, a focus of concern to critical sociolinguists. It is quite possible that English will continue to play a role in China's engagement with the world. Under these circumstances, English Language Teaching (ELT) in China is experiencing unpretending challenge ever before.

One of the fundamental issues, as the author of this paper believes, is the perspective towards English. Thus this paper tries to situate ELT in China in a global context of wider discussions in the closely related research paradigms of English language. The three influential perspectives in linguistic research adduced are a) ENL/ESL/EFL distinctions; b) Inner/outer/expanding circles distinction; and c) world language system theory.

2. ENL/ESL/EFL Distinctions

One of the early attempts to account for systematic variation in the way English is used by speakers in different parts of the world is a tripartite distinction between English as a Native Language (ENL), English as a Second Language (ESL), and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) (Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, & Svartvik, 1985; Conrad, 1996). Based on this classification, Stern (1983), Widdowson (1997, 2003), McArthur (1998), Nunan and Carter (2001), among many other scholars, have proposed definitions and discussed the importance of these distinctions. Some other linguists (see, e.g., Görlach, 2002, pp. 99-117), have also tried to tackle theoretical issues arising from the use of these terms from a plualcentric perspective towards English varieties.

Crystal (2012) provides a picture to help visualize the way English is used as a native language around the world at the time of writing (Figure 1). Countries in red are places where English is used as mother tongue or native language. Counties in purple represent places where English is used as an official language. The places in green, as proposed by Crystal, are places where English is used as a mother tongue, but co-exists with other languages. He does not explain whether it is implied that the places besides these three colored zones (which obviously constitute a larger territory compared to the above-mentioned) could be characterised as places where English is used as a foreign language.

There is no doubt that this 'ENL/ESL/EFL distinction' has been helpful in certain contexts, but it has its shortcomings. One obvious drawback is that the notion native versus second and foreign indicates considerable linguistic prejudice against the latter terms, which might imply that one is superior and the others should look up to it as a standard. Another disadvantage may be that it is increasingly difficult to find countries that can be accurately classified as using EFL. How can one possibly distinguish 'second' from 'foreign' in the 21st century, with the internet, Wi-Fi, Facebook, and built-in smartphone functions such as WhatsApp creating such readily accessible communication platforms connecting people regardless of the physical distance between them? …

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