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Introducing Students to Global Englishes: A Gateway to Global Intercultural Communication

A Gateway to Global Intercultural Communication

Binod Dhami 16 Sep, 2021 12:48 pm

I got most of my formal education in Nepal with a specialization in English Language Teaching (ELT) and worked as a school and university teacher for ten years in Nepal. In 2018, I moved to the US and did my master’s degree in TESOL, and taught writing composition courses to undergraduate international and domestic students at one of the universities. While I had the experience of teaching English in both school and university in the Nepali context and at the university setting in the US, I also wanted to teach and experience teaching English at the school level in the US. Therefore, I applied for the position, got selected, and taught about a year as an English language literacy teacher at one of the elementary schools. I was lucky enough to have students from various cultural and educational backgrounds from different parts of the world in the class meetings. Impressed with the diversified class of students, I did my best to prepare diversified teaching materials and methods. I remember browsing the internet for hours and hours and searching for students’ ability and identity appropriate materials to use in the classroom. My duty was to go to different classes and coach the needy ones and bring them together to teach as a whole class. Not only did I want to teach the students in the classrooms, but also wanted to experience how students present themselves on the playground, in the cafeteria, gym, library, English language department, and student counseling center. Therefore, I requested the principal of the school for letting me play multiple roles. Since I was privileged to remain in different capacities at the schools, I had the opportunity to meet every single class teacher and student at the gym, on the playground, at the library, at the students counseling center for social and emotional support, and so on. Although every student followed the same curriculum and school systems, they all were different with their varied identities. The first language cultures they brought while speaking English, family culture while eating their breakfast or lunch, culture of a society while greeting in English, were fascinating to watch and learn all multiplicities under the single roof. One of the things that I was really delighted with was the ‘Englishes’ students brought from their own territories. I could feel distinctive cultures and identities through their Englishes they spoke with me. However, the discouraging part is that I never found even the teachers making students aware of the Global Englishes in their class meetings. Of course, this school had more English as the first language speakers who grew up in the monolingual community (US). But what educators have to understand is that these students who learn, have learned English in the ‘English-only’ community, have to meet with the speakers of different Englishes. So, if the educational institutions around the world do not provide opportunities to make their students and teachers aware of different Englishes spoken around the globe, they lack the most important strategies needed for global intercultural communication through the English language in their lives.

                             Against this backdrop, in the following section, I present the exchanges of a dialogue that took place on the playground between students at my school. I then analyze it explaining what kind of communication problem an incident created, and how I resolved it after it came to me. I, finally, will shed light on what roles educators, especially English teachers, can play in this situation.

              Student A: Give me a football.

Student B: I don’t have a football.

Student A: It’s with you. You are holding it.

Student B: Are you kidding me? I don’t have a football.

Student A: What is the one with you then?

Student B: Come on, dude! This is called a soccer ball.

Student A: Soccer ball? No. That’s football.

Student B: No. It is a soccer ball.

Student A: What are you talking about? It’s football.

Student B: No. It’s a soccer ball. We play football with hands, dude! This is a soccer ball.

Student A: You play football with your hand? No. Let’s ask a teacher (discussion continues…).

                             This is a part of discourse two of my fourth graders were having at the school while playing, during their recess time. In this piece of dialogue, both students (A and B) are ready to play football/soccer. Because of a misunderstanding in the communication, they were not able to play. Student ‘A’ in the above conversation belongs to the South Asian context, who speaks three languages including English and recently relocated with family in the US and started school. Before moving to the US, student ‘A’ completed three years of schooling in one of the South Asian counties. Similarly, student ‘B’ belongs to the US context. He speaks English as a mother tongue and does not know and understand any additional languages. On the playground, both spoke English, however; the differences while selecting lexicons created confusion to understand each other. In the excerpt, student ‘A’ asks for a ‘football’, a round object played with feet on the court as he calls so in his English, learned in the South Asian context or in South Asian English. Student ‘B’ responds, “I do not have a football”. He calls ‘soccer ball’ to the same object because he learned that in the US context or in American English. While the students were arguing, the recess time was over and all of us walked back into the classroom. Both students looked disappointed with each other as they could not utilize their recess time in playing football or soccer ball. I did not want to talk about an incident in front of the whole class, therefore, I took them to a separate space in the school, asked them to explain what happened in detail. And all of us came into an agreement after I explained to them about the variations in English language.

                             This incident seems simple, but it arouses the following major questions when we think of making students global citizens by teaching them English as a global language.

  1.   Are the English teachers aware of Englishes spoken and used around the world? If they are, how do they make their students aware of them, particularly in elementary, middle, and high school?
  2. Do our English language courses, curricula, or textbooks contain Global Englishes-informed activities/content whatsoever?
  3. Do our TPD (Teacher Professional Development) programs provide teachers with Global Englishes-informed information and tasks so that teachers can use in the classroom?
  4. How can teachers be adaptable in designing teaching materials and methodologies, so that they can make students aware of Global Englishes, without just emphasizing on so-called standard Englishes, to equip students with the strategies that are imperative for global intercultural communication?

In the above conversation, who is guilty in creating confusion on the playground: student A or Student B? I think that none of them are guilty, but I am guilty as a teacher for not training students with skills necessary for a negotiation of meaning during conversation and for not providing exposure to Englishes. As is evident, in the South Asian territories and most of the other territories, people call football, whereas people in the US call soccer ball. The football in the US is played by hand. Here, the concern is not why people in the US call ‘soccer ball’ to ‘football’ and people in South Asia call ‘football’ to a ‘soccer ball’, but the question is why we (i.e., teachers) exclude the discussion of these multiple identities of English language, classifying English as a bad English and good English from our pedagogy. I am not trying to argue that teachers have to teach how a certain word, sound, or sentence is articulated in Asian Englishes, African Engliahes, American or British Englishes in the classroom. The teachers may choose whatever English is appropriate for their class—but my argument is that the teachers, at least, can familiarize students with Englishes by showing them videos, stories, and conversations in the Englishes. This simple modification and inclusion of Global Englishes lessons and discussion in education provide students opportunities to appreciate the Englishes that exist around the world. The word ‘Englishes’ is not only related to the English language systems such as grammar, pronunciation, and other writing conventions, it is more of understanding different cultures, knowledge, and way of living as a human.

It was certainly difficult for me to convince American fourth graders, in this case, that there are the stories and teaching materials available in other Englishes such as Indian English, unless I exposed students with academic reading materials, documentaries, daily learning subject matter developed in other Englishes (i.e., African or Asian Englishes), for example. To my surprise, the students loved these language lessons after a couple of weeks of practice. In one of the reading texts, I included an essay on how arranged marriage is done in India and Nepal in which they came across different English lexicons that they never heard of related to Nepali and Indian arrange marriage culture. By incorporating this sort of Global Englishes- informed materials and language lessons, I prepared my students to carry out communications in the multilingual speech communities. This case is just an example among other hundreds of thousands of cases that may happen if the students are not given input on Global Englishes. The research shows that there are more speakers of English around the world who speak English as a second or foreign language than those who speak English as the first language. This indicates that the native speaker students of English should be introduced with the concept of Englishes, as there are more non-native speakers of English in the world they may have to communicate. If we still teach English language literacy with a hegemonic concept of ‘standard English or native speakerism’ as it was before, we are abandoning students’ right to multilingual landscape.

[The writer is a faculty at Minnesota State University, Mankato, USA, where he teaches academic reading and writing courses.]

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