August 2019
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THE MORAL RESPONSIBILITY OF EVERY ENGLISH TEACHER TO EXPOSE THEIR STUDENTS TO THE DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
Saurabh Anand, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Minnesota, USA

During the last semester of business administration, my undergraduate degree, I decided to learn the German language, and it was the first step of my inclination toward languages. My teachers and instructors were so innovative and empathetic that soon after developing sufficient language proficiency, I started working as a German tutor to school students (along with my full-time digital marketing job) and later in an educational management company in Delhi. Trust me, I used to enjoy my tutoring sessions more than my mainstream career. This is because language teaching is only possible when the instructor and students are both curious about learning the language. Fortunately, in my case, all my students were. Thus, I never realized when teaching became my passion.

Language learning has always fascinated me because it empowers people to represent themselves by verbalizing their thoughts. My teaching sessions were such pleasurable moments for me that the end of the sessions always came as a surprise. I used to eagerly wait for my next session. For the first time, the German language tutoring sessions exposed me to the dynamics of language development in early age language learners and unconventional language teaching methods. While teaching, I made sure I created a safe learning environment for my students by building foreign language proficiency with the help of the first language (L1), the English language. I was very thankful for my students because, based on my experiences, I decided to redirect my career into language teaching, and, in 2018, I moved to the United States to pursue my MA TESOL.

At my university, I currently work as a TESOL teaching assistant. I teach ESL to a group of multilingual students from all over the world. My class is a combination of international students who have limited English language exposure or are new English learners. The course I teach is called English for Academic Purposes, and it aims to polish students' academic and professional skills. My students are from all over the world, and their L1 isn’t English. To see them connecting through English, week after week, has been fascinating. My students, who are entirely strangers to each other, connect through the English language. In the process, they are sensitized about different cultures and practices.

Of course, it was not an easy journey but much trial and error. When I received the students' evaluation reports of my course for Fall 2018, they were mixed. I wanted to think more about these reactions. The reports started on positive notes, such as the students describing me as an enthusiastic, comprehensible, knowledgeable, and well-organized teacher. However, as I turned the pages further, I noted some comments that caught my attention and concerned me in the recommendations section.

I’ll be honest: Some suggestions had already been mentioned by my peers and course coordinator when they came to observe my class, so I was expecting them. However, to my surprise, a few of the student suggestions indicated that I was not eligible to teach English. According to these evaluations, if I had been a “native” English language speaker, their experience would have been better. It shook me from inside, because I grew up speaking and writing English. As a TESOL instructor, I wanted to know what could be done to curb this perception among nonnative speakers. Many job descriptions I saw later also specified that they wanted only native speakers of English as TESOL or English language teachers. I realized there is a larger bias out there. In the case of my students, I realized that these comments were coming from ignorance and lack of exposure to diversity. The students are not at fault here, but they are the victims of a larger cultural discourse around English language pedagogy. Immediately, I decided to work toward curbing this misconception. My course adviser encouraged me to introduce my students to the variety, adaptability, and durability of the English language. I decided to start with the version that was most familiar to me: Indian English.

I feel proud to say that English is one of my L1s, like the majority of Indians who can access education in English-medium schools. I am bilingual: I speak Hindi and English. The only difference is that I speak Indian English. I do understand that at times, there are some quirks in Indian English, which the international students might find “cute,” but at the same time, it is essential for these students to be sensitive to the multiple accents of the English language outside the commonly known British and American forms.

In fact, it is not only about Indian English. I am not alone. This is a broader feeling—the feeling that perpetuates that only a certain kind of people's English is perfect. English is spoken as a daily communication medium in more than 100 countries all around the world (Nordquist, 2018), and each has its own version of English, such as Nigerian English, Philippine English, South African English, Spanglish, Scottish English, Singapore English, and Zimbabwean English. So the question is, why does the “[native speaker] ideology” (Lippi-Green, 1997), referring to native-speaker accents being more celebrated and desired, prevail? There are strong biases and beliefs among many nonnative-English-speaking students that only a native speaker of English can teach them English in the best possible way. Most often, “native speaker” is a code word for “White.” This is alarming because, according to Jenkins (2007), a continuous attempt to imitate native speakers could also be counterproductive for the use of English as lingua franca.

In my opinion, as long as the context is not impeded, it should not matter what version of English one speaks. Sung (2013) and Crystal (2003) suggest that 80% of English learners worldwide learn English to communicate with other nonnative speakers. This implies that English is the connecting cord between people who speak with each other even though they do not share common L1s. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 estimate (2018), out of 2 billion English speakers worldwide, only 372 million people speak English as their L1. Whereas, according to Masani (2012), in India, more than 125 million people speak only English, which is around half the U.S. population and which makes India the second largest English-speaking country in the world.

Scholars such as Kachru (1983) coined the polymodal approach in the English language teaching classroom. This model advocates against the native-speaker norms for successful global communication in the English language between L1 and second language (L2) speakers. Despite all these facts and figures, even today, Indians still have to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam if they wish to continue their education in western countries. These test systems by their very presence propagate discrimination and internalized racism in the societies in which they operate. The presence of these tests could be destructive, and that could be a potential reason that some multilingual students cannot imagine a brown person teaching them English.

I think it is a moral responsibility of every ESL teacher to expose their students to the different versions of the English language so that students can learn the language from a broad perspective without internalizing racism. Reflecting on this, in my spring 2019 class, I exposed my students to a variety of English languages. Given technological advancements, the number of ELLs are growing day by day. Every day, more people are communicating with each other using English as a global language, which represents many accents and cultural identities. Therefore, it is very important to sensitize international students to the fact that there are Englishes, not one “English.”

These students are the future, and they need to be taught different versions of the English language so that they can respect diversity. I try to incorporate these discourses in my L2 classroom through exciting targeted lesson plans and teaching materials, such as posters, YouTube videos, and TED talks. Students can also be sensitized through different bodies of literature, comparing cultural songs’ lyrics, and viewing short movies that are set in other cultures. Another recent resource TESOL teachers could refer to is the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) World Englishes subsection (Purdue Writing Lab, 2019), which provides a detailed introduction to the World Englishes concept, including application-based examples, in-class strategies, and related scholarships. Measures such as these promote not only broader cultural awareness, but also harmony.

References

Crystal, D. (2003). English as a global language (2nd ed). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Jenkins, J. (2007). English as a lingua franca: Attitude and identity. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Kachru, B. B. (1983). The Indianization of English: The English language in India. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Lippi-Green, R. (1997). English with an accent. New York, NY: Routledge.

Masani, Z. (2012, November 27). English or Hinglish - which will India choose? BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-20500312

Nordquist, R. (2018, December 7). What is world English? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/world-englishes-1692509

Purdue Writing Lab. (2019, June 17). World Englishes: An introduction. Retrieved from https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/english_as_a_second_language/world_englishes/index.html

Sung, C. C. M. (2013). Learning English as an L2 in the global context: Changing English, changing motivation. Changing English, 20(4), 377–387. doi:10.1080/1358684X.2013.855564

World Economic Forum. (2018). Chart of the day: These are the world’s most-spoken languages. Retrieved fromhttps://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/02/chart-of-the-day-these-are-the-world-s-most-spoken-languages


Saurabh Anand is an international student from India who is obtaining his TESOL master’s degree from the Department of English at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He teaches an English for academic purposes course as a graduate teaching assistant. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
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