by Cari-Ann Roberts Gotta
[This article was first printed in the Winter 2017 issue of TEAL News.]
Several years ago I decided it was time to do a master’s degree. I was a dedicated, passionate English teacher and intended to continue to develop my career in the field, but felt that I wanted to step outside the boundaries of teaching English to speakers of other language (TESOL) to explore teaching and learning in a broader context. After all, English classes are certainly not the only places we find English language learners, and speakers of various Englishes are found all over the world. I applied and was accepted to the University of British Columbia’s Master of Education, Adult Learning and Global Change (ALGC) program, and so began my journey to extending my perspective on adult education beyond the traditional parameters of English language teaching (ELT).
I refer to my learning experience as a journey because the changes in my perspective have not come from single illuminating moments, but have developed gradually over the course of my studies. When considering the options for graduate studies, the international nature of the ALGC program was a significant draw for me. I am somewhat well-travelled, and as a teacher of individuals from all over the world, I learn about different languages and cultures daily; therefore, I thought a program with a global focus was a good fit for me. In hindsight, I have not changed my thoughts on my suitability, but I now realize that my perspective and approach to teaching was much less international than I believed, as it was limited to the individualized and localized realms of linguistics and intercultural competence. Through my studies, my perspective has now extended from the individual to the collective and from the local to the global.
Interestingly, my previously narrow focus of ELT is exactly the criticism of the field by prominent writers studying the global spread of English such as Alastair Pennycook and Robert Phillipson. Pennycook (2001) critiqued applied linguistics, the basis of ELT, as “…limited to an overlocalized and undertheorized view…” (p.5). Likewise, Phillipson (1992) espoused the need to look at the wider historical, social, economic, and political contexts and implications of the field. When I first read these criticisms I struggled not to be defensive, but I questioned their claims on three bases. The first is on the pragmatic grounds. My thoughts were in line with those of well-known author David Crystal (2003). His view is that it is simply practical to learn English because it increases an individual’s opportunities for employment and a nation’s opportunities to participate in the global economy. I now understand that to be a gross simplification of the spread of English around the world that underestimates issues such as social, economic, and political inequalities and ignores issues of linguistic human rights. Secondly, I considered the possibility that the work of Pennycook and Phillipson was outdated. ELT as a profession had its inception in the 1950s (Phillipson, 1992), so I had to question if 20-year-old literature, in a profession that is only 60 years old, was still valid. In my experience, ELT is a rapidly developing field with many areas of growth and specialization, so I reasoned that much must have changed in the past two decades. Here I was both right and wrong. A lot has changed in terms of classroom pedagogy and intercultural competence; however, the scope of ELT, the very source of criticisms, has remained unchanged. Finally, I questioned whether or not their work, focused as it is on English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classes where English is not a primary national language, is applicable to the context of English as an Additional Language (EAL) classes where English is one of the primary national languages. It is this final question which I will explore at length here.
I consider ELT a helping profession as well as part of the wider field of adult education, so it was hard to accept that the products of English language teachers’ work may not contribute to the world in only a positive way. However, my new found and extended perspective on the field concedes that the Phillipson and Pennycook’s criticism of ELT, as narrow and lacking in critical analysis, are applicable to at least some degree to the EAL context where English is a primary national language. At the beginning of the ALGC program I had to identify my learning goals and what the evidence of my learning would be. As an EAL professional with a strong focus on classroom practice, most of my goals were directly linked to teaching, and I identified teaching materials and practices to be evidence of my learning. Herein lays a double-edged sword. Connecting learning to practice is a strength at the same time as my narrow focus on the classroom makes me guilty of Phillipson’s and Pennycook’s criticisms. This leaves English language teachers with the challenge of extending our perspective outside our daily practice and then incorporating that extended perspective back into our daily practice. The intent is not to shift our focus, but to widen it. As English language teachers move from the individual to the collective and from the local context to the global context of our work, the connections are less direct and the implications less obvious, but are nonetheless important to our practice as EAL professionals.
In my experience most EAL instructors approach their role from the humanist perspective, an orientation to learning that focuses on the individual learners and their well-being (Fenwick, 2001). For me, this meant that when asked to identify the micro, meso and macro contexts of my work, I identified the learners’ personal contexts, the institution I work for, and the field of EAL in Canada respectively. In contrast, my new extended perspective situates my institution with its programs and students at the micro-level, the field of TESOL in Canada at the meso-level and the field of ELT (both EAL and EFL) globally at the macro-level of my work context. What does this mean for practice? It means that my practice has more depth; it means that I connect the English as a global language to my Canadian classroom with more than just passing reference. One simple example is in recognition of the pluralism of English. In the past, I would highlight differences in Canadian, American, British, and Australian English in classroom discussions and lessons. Today, I reach beyond the core English speaking countries to explicitly recognize other Englishes such as the varieties spoken in African countries such as Nigeria and Asian countries such as the Philippines. This serves to validate both those languages and the students’ prior learning, and to foster an inclusive learning environment.
Upon reflection, I think it is the constructivist pedagogy of ELT that led me to identify the learners as the micro level of my work context and to initially resist Phillipson’s (1992) critique of ELT as lacking in context. As EAL instructors, we are trained to take a constructivist approach to lessons; we focus on the learners’ individual contexts to plan lessons that are relevant to the learners’ lives and we draw on their background knowledge and prior learning to activate their schema (Doolittle, 1999). With this narrow focus on context, I believed the students’ personal contexts and histories to be the global aspect of my learning. However, I learned through my studies that the global aspect of teaching EAL is much broader than the international citizenship of the students. It encompasses ELT around the world and the role of English language teaching in globalization. Globalization has both beneficial and detrimental consequences (Chanda, 2002), and unfortunately, ELT plays a significant role in one of the negative effects, the decline of global languages.
Although the field of ELT’s contribution to the decline of global languages is primarily a result of EFL and educational language planning policies which stress the importance of English for participation in the global economy, the focus on English for newcomers to Canada is also a factor. Families are the primary cultural carriers in society, but new immigrants are perhaps so busy with day-to-day tasks, working, and learning English that they may neglect to make a conscious effort to teach their children their mother tongue. This is particularly true once the children begin school and quickly become fluent in English. While learning English may be an important part of creating human capital, Skutnabb-Kangas (1999) stressed the need for fluency in a mother-tongue as well in order to be able to speak to family members and to form one’s identity. She referred to this as a cultural right on the individual level. Similarly, when speakers are from a minority language group, it is considered the collective right, and a linguistic human right, of the group to foster the development of their language (Phillipson et al, 1995). As EAL teachers, if we extend our perspective further than our local contexts, we can instruct in a way that recognizes linguistic human rights. The key to this is to situate English as another language rather than as a replacement for the languages of the students’ home countries. This means foregoing English-only policies in classrooms and when possible incorporating students’ first languages in lessons. It may also be possible through activities such as discussions and journal writing to bring the topic of language transmission to the next generation to the classroom.
It is in these ways and with these implications that my perspective has grown from individual to collective and local to global. Despite its congruency with criticism of ELT, at the time when I began to consider the options for post graduate studies, my inclination to explore the broader field of adult education was not at all connected to a critical reflection of the field of English language teaching. I see it now as the desire to go beyond my knowledge of teaching methodology and instructional strategies to contextualize my work and learning globally. I think it is likely that the implications of my studies and my newly extended perspective will continue to surface in my daily practice in the years to come and I hope that by sharing my journey outside the confines of ELT I have planted a seed for extending the perspective of your practice and of our field.
Chanda, N. (2002). Coming together: Globalization means reconnecting the human community. Yale Global Online. Yale Centre for the Study of Globalization. Retrieved from: http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/about/essay.jsp
Crystal, D. (2003). English as a global language (2nd ed.). UK: Cambridge University Press.
Doolittle, P. (1999). Constructivism and online education. Proceedings from the 1999 Online conference on teaching online in higher education. 1, 13. Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University.
Fenwick, T. (2001). Experiential learning: A theoretical critique from five perspectives. Information series no. 385. ERIC Clearing House on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education. Columbus: OH.
Pennycook, A. (2001). Introduction In Critical applied linguistics: A critical introduction. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. UK: Oxford University Press.
Philliipson, R., Rannut, M., & Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (1995). Introduction in Tove Skutnabb-Kangas and Robert Phillipson (Eds.), Linguistic human rights: Overcoming Linguistic discrimination. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (1999). Linguistic diversity, human rights and the “free” market. In Miklos Kontra et al (Ed.), Language: A right and a resource. Budapest: Central European University Press.
Biographical Information (From the Winter 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter)
Cari-Ann Roberts Gotta is a BC native who has returned after a long stint in Alberta where she worked at Bow Valley College. She is currently the School Chair for International at Selkirk College and the BC TEAL regional representative for the Kootenays.
Original reference information:
Roberts Gotta, C. (2017, Winter). Extending Perspective: From Local to Global. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/TEAL-News-Winter-2017.pdf