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"Not a native speaker? So what?"

Posted on May 22, 2012 at 4:05 AM


With globalization propelled by technological breakthroughs in communication strongly felt, one of the things that has been radically affected is the need for the English language. The demand has never been this much in man's history. Ever. With it comes the need to develop people's English language skills. For those in-the-know, it is a no-brainer to realize that people who don't have English as their first language turn out most vulnerable. They are the non-native speakers of the English language or the NNS's. If one looks around in Southeast Asia, for example, the mantra to do things the native speaker's way is undeniable. Corollary to this, surveys and research suggest that non-native speakers have eventually developed a kind of thinking making them feel inferior despite their relevant training, qualifications and their innate capability to develop their own English language skills to the fullest. Trendy this practice might have become, it is, nevertheless, important to know and understand the pedagogical implications that surround this issue, if only to bring out more benefits non-native speakers have overlooked for so long a time. Knowing and understanding issues relating to linguistic models certainly help a learner have a sense of direction and purpose in his language development.


One very common model used these days is the "standard English" framework. Andy Kirkpatrick, in his article "No experience necessary?" maintained that there really is no "standard English" as it is simply an idealized form that only exists in grammar books and discussion. He further said that the kind of English commonly spoken around in many English language schools "is likely to be a regional variety of English and one that differs, particularly phonologically, from the idealised standard in significant ways." Trained or untrained, the problematic question such a model poses is this: Whose variety should a second language speaker follow? In the first place, is there really a need to follow/ use a single variety as a model? Has there ever been a statement made by authorities, such as TESOL, declaring that some varieties are acceptable and others are not? I have yet to see one.

 

Another false assumption is that a native speaker's way of using the language is the perfect model for all language learners. People need to understand that English is an international language. With 1, 350 million second language speakers as opposed to 337 million native-tongue speakers, clearly there is no stopping to the trend categorizing English more as a lingua franca. In Jennifer Jenkins The Phonology of English as an International Language, she argued that the English Language Teaching (ELT) pedagogy has "to adjust its methodologies in line with this changing pattern, in which the goal of learning is more often to be able to use English as a lingua franca in communication with other 'non-native speakers,' i.e. as an international language than as a foreign language in communication with it's 'native speakers.'" Among non-native speakers alone, a wide host of varieties already exists. To impose a model on one group based on a single variety will not only violate legitimate language teaching-learning principles, but will also defy educational principles by which every self-respecting educationist abides.

 

If following any of the above-mentioned models does not come across as appropriate, what then can those in search of the linguistic holy grail use?

 

One reasonable way, yet possibly not exactly appealing to some, is to confront one's self and accept the fact that it is perfectly within realistic, practical, pedagogic, and logical bounds to sound non-native when you are a non-native speaker. This does not mean that one should simply lower the bar and expect others to carry out and enjoy prolonged English conversations with him even if he sounds utterly incomprehensible. This does not mean that learners should abandon every effort to reach a language level required by an organization to which one is applying either as a student or an employee. Striving, in fact, for a near-native or native-like competencies should still be one of the goals, if only for the reward that comes with it. However, working on one's English language skills should be done within reasonable limits.

 

Again, from a practical, pedagogic, and realistic perspective, finding a non-native speaker model presents to be a good jump-off point. However, as there is really no single recipe to doing this or universal ingredients to arriving at the perfect formula, the ELT pedagogy should instead be more sensitive to the unique needs of every language user within and across various learning contexts.

 

Times are changing and the role the English language plays in the lives of its users continues to change as well. And so should the people's attitude towards it be.

Categories: English Language Teaching (ELT), Education, Speaking

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