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How has the English language taken over the world and how is the language changing?


English has become the new global language and as this phenomenon continues, the language is changing. According to David Crystal (Dent, 2020), there are now five non-native English speakers to one native speaker of English. As a result, English is seen as a lingua franca. English as a lingua franca (ELF) is a concept, which hasn't been precisely defined yet as Mollin (2006) suggests. There have been many definitions which include Seidlhofer (2002: 8f. in Mollin, 2006) (who) “suggests that ELF transcends the three Kachruvian circles, uniting all speakers of English in cross-cultural communication” (Mollin, 2006). Karchu’s (1985) three circles model (Mollin, 2006) refers to the perception of English language expansion. Seidlhofer’s right observation is my preferred definition of ELF.


Having listened to a BBC programme on English as a lingua franca (ELF), I agree with David Crystal’s view (Dent, 2020) that the growth of ELF is based on four types of powers: political power, technological power, economical power and cultural power. In line with this, the need of globalisation brought the need for a common language in order to successfully communicate across the world. These powers are the indicators for the need of English as a global language.


How this language is developing is seen as more of a controversial issue. Speakers of ELF don’t seem to follow the accuracy, yet are more concerned with their communicative competence. As Jenkins (Dent, 2020) says, ELF speakers know the rules but choose not to use them. This is an interesting viewpoint and it may come from the fact that one adapts their language to be better understood. On the contrary, this may not be true for beginner speakers who may not know certain rules yet. I certainly adapt my English to other non-native speakers of English, especially when their level is inferior, however I do not choose to ignore grammatical language rules but to pick simpler vocabulary and adjust the pace of my speech. I believe that accuracy is still very important for English language learners, many students seek to be corrected in their speech. Yet, should this be the main concern of the teacher?


As Krashen (Schütz, 1998) confirms we acquire language by understanding messages which we call ‘comprehensible input’. In other words, it is easier for us to learn a language not by knowing rules but by being able to understand what people mean. Having reflected on this, it is important to bring aspects of lingua franca into the classroom. A lot of it will depend on the context of where English is taught and the purpose behind learning it. For example, meaningful discussions about everyday language and cultural instances will help students understand the meaning better, focusing on real-life scenarios and reflecting on the use of language outside the classroom will provide students the opportunity to share their experiences and resolve information gaps.


According to the Guardian article (Anon. 2001) : “it is crucial for English language teaching in Europe to focus on contexts of use that are relevant to European speakers of English”. This is referred to as Euro English, a European variety of English which has been adapted from non-native speaker use. These contexts are indeed very important. The learners need to be able to communicate their ideas not only with native English speakers but also with other English learners, which are in fact larger in number. What’s more, non-native speakers have been introduced in audio material used for language exams, which indicates the need of understanding various ‘versions’ of English. This more often refers to non-standard pronunciations, however, could it be adapted to include ELF structures of English? Perhaps, Patricia Ryan (Ryan 2012) was right to refer to students not being able to pursue their dreams of entering a prestigious British or American university just because they did not pass their English language test. Should our knowledge be judged on the correctness of language? After all, we are able to put our message across successfully even though we do not follow all the grammatical rules.


Another programme presented and discussed a simplified version of English called Globish. Jean-Paul Nerriere came up with a list of 1500 useful words which were particularly useful in business interaction. (ABC Education, 2020) In other words, he simplified English and referred to it as Global English, the one we need purely for communication. I found this a very interesting observation, which in fact can help to simplify the language.


On the contrary, if we didn’t learn up to a certain standard variety, would we be able to communicate at all? We have to think that language has its rules for a purpose and breaking some of these rules can impede the meaning and therefore hinder communication.


Another interesting point raised in the BBC programme refers to the future of English as a lingua franca. An interesting statistic given by Crystal (Dent, 2020) tells us that English grew by half a billion speakers in 8 years in the 1990s and by 300 million from then until 2019. This suggests that English is growing in numbers but not as much as before. There could be many factors contributing to this, one of them being nationalism, as mentioned in the programme. People may be feeling oppressed by English as a dominant language. Ultimately, it did spread because of colonialism.


So, what’s the future of English as a lingua franca? It has been suggested in the BBC programme (Dent, 2020) that Chinese Mandarin may become the new lingua franca in the future. Chinese is the world’s most spoken language. Many countries in Africa are learning it, mainly because it gives them the opportunity to interact with their new commercial partner. (Dent, 2020) This brings it back to the idea of power and how the world depends on China, especially regarding production.


To conclude my argument about English as a lingua franca, there are many factors which facilitate ELF communication and it should undoubtedly be addressed in modern English classrooms. It is important to acknowledge the context in which teachers and students find themselves as this will shape the way the language is taught. We should not forget about the reason why the standard variety of English exists but at the same time remember that language adapts with time.


References:

Bringing Europe’s lingua franca into the classroom. (2001, April 19). The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2001/apr/19/languages.highereducation1

Mollin, S. (2006). English as a Lingua Franca: A New Variety in the New Expanding Circle? Nordic Journal of English Studies, 5(2), 41. https://doi.org/10.35360/njes.11

Schutz, R. (2019, October). Stephen Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition. Sk.com.br. https://www.sk.com.br/sk-krash-english.html

Suzie Dent (Host). (23 Mar 2020). The Battle for English [Audio podcast episode]. BBC Sounds https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000gkv4

TED. (2011). Patricia Ryan: Don’t insist on English! In YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFX68SJs2-0

The language called Globish. (2019, December 18). ABC Education. https://www.abc.net.au/education/learn-english/the-language-called-globish/11810380




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