Professor Chugani Molina describes how school leaders need to be aware of the changes taking place in teaching English in different contexts.
As a teacher educator, I have had the opportunity to work with teachers and students of English within the United States and abroad in a variety of contexts. What I have come to learn through these experiences is that it has now become increasingly important to re-conceptualize the traditional ways
in which English language teaching has been approached where English is a language that now belongs to its users. These multi-lingual users of English now far exceed users of English in “inner circle (Kachru, 1988)” English-speaking countries. English has become “denationalized (Smith, 1988),” as in no longer associated with a particular nation or nations, and “renationalized (McKay, 2002),” as in become a language unique in its own right by users of the language across the globe. This then challenges our assumptions about the ownership of English, what constitutes a good model of the language for our students, and re-conceptualizing materials and methods that are socio-culturally relevant and pedagogically sound for the local cultures of learning. English language teachers need to also recognize and be sensitive to the societal, political, economic, and educational environment in which they teach as the ideologies and shifting dynamics embedded within the context have a deep implication on classroom practice.
Recently, I took a group of graduate students from the University of San Diego to Japan to learn about the Japanese educational system and practices. While our graduate students assumed that all countries around the world wish to have their students proficient in English for the global opportunities it provides, we learned that the Japanese were first and foremost concerned about nurturing their national identity with their children first, which meant that they wanted their children to be proficient in their own native tongue first before introducing any other language. The sense of urgency in Japan to be proficient in English was not as great as those in other countries such as Kenya, where I had the opportunity to work with a non-profit agency on providing a Business English for Global Communications program (Molina, 2015; Molina, 2016). The youth in this program were interested in working for multinational corporations and for upward mobility and saw proficiency in English as a way out of poverty. In China, I conducted surveys and interviews with 75 English teachers and learned about one of the Ministry of Education’s goals for English language education of which one was to help their students become competitive in the global market (Molina, 2017). In Thailand, I learned from the English 68 teachers I worked with that like China, students who had access to English language education beyond the schools had better work opportunities with higher income levels than those that did not come from homes with expendable income to afford these classes. In Singapore, in my conversations with the English language specialist at the Ministry of Education, I learned that though they speak their own variety of English, they have refocused their energies on teaching standard English to promote lingua franca communications. What this suggests is that it is important for English teachers and school leaders to understand the political, social and cultural contexts in which they teach as this will determine how they approach language teaching within their particular setting.
In addition to knowledge of the multidimensional influence on the context of language learning and teaching, I believe that language teachers and students need to develop “multi-dialectal competence” (Canagarajah, 2006) to negotiate meaning with English speakers globally and “meta-cultural competence” (Sharifian, 2009) to negotiate their unique culturally-specific expressions and ideas in English to encourage a “bi-directional negotiation of meaning” (Inoue & Molina, 2011).
Because English is now used to express unique cultural ideas of its users, the users need to be skilled with communication strategies to express and clarify their culturally nuanced ideas and expressions to other users of English in order to expand and deepen individual and cultural understanding among and between users. There were so many occasions when I was an English teacher where my students would give up and say, “Never mind!” as they were trying to explain an idea, but I would never give up on them and would continue to elicit from them their intended meanings thereby broadening, enriching and deepening my understanding. Kumaravadivelu (2008) calls this “global cultural consciousness,” which no longer privileges the teacher as the sole cultural informant, but includes the students as cultural knowledge-holders as well. When students are placed at the center of the learning process in this way, there is a shift in power, where dialogical learning can take place. When students in the language classroom begin to see their ideas as being valued in a safe space, they begin to use the language in creative ways as they articulate what is meaningful to them individually and collectively as a society.
There was one semester where I had nine students, who were all from different countries and we used our time together to learn from each other about how we understood ideas such as time, space, behaviors, gender roles, societal expectations, marriage, and family to name a few, while at the same time following the curriculum and the language objectives of the course. One summer, I also had the opportunity to teach English to migrant farmers in a non-credit program. I worked with the students to understand their needs and what they hoped to gain from this course, and we collaboratively came up with a project that I believed would help them share their voices. I provided them with disposable cameras to document what was important to them in their lives and experiences and supported them with the language they needed to share their images. I invited the students to speak in Spanish if they did not have the English words and expressions and asked the more advanced students to translate for me so that I could listen, learn, and understand. As teaching moments transpired, I put pertinent vocabulary words on the board and helped students convey their ideas using English expressions without jeopardizing the flow of the discussion or their writing (Molina, 2015).
These are just some of the experiences that profoundly deepened my understanding of my students and their life experiences as a language teacher. I witnessed that the experiences created in these classrooms also deepened my students’ sense of appreciation for their peers’ cultural knowledge and experiences. English language classrooms lend itself to these opportunities for students to share their own cultural knowledge and experiences, but also to understand those of others in their classroom and globally through a purposefully designed curriculum that encourage such interactions. For school leaders, adopting this framework will require
a fundamental shift in our understanding of English language education and influence how we select and nurture our teachers, adopt and modify the language teaching materials we use within our contexts as well as our pedagogical practice.
Canagarajah, S. (2006). Changing communicative needs, revised assessment objectives: Testing English as an international language. Language Assessment Quarterly, 3 (3), 229-242.
Inoue, N. & Molina, S. (2011). Lost in translation: Strategies Japanese language learners use in communicating culturally specific expressions in English. CATESOL Journal, 22 (1), 149-166.
Kachru, B. B. (1988). The spread of English and sacred linguistic cows. In Peter H. Lowenberg (ed.), Language spread and language policy: Issues, implications and case studies (pp. 207-228). Washington: Georgetown University Press.
Kumaravadivelu, B. (2012). Language teacher education for a global society: A modular model for knowing, analyzing, recognizing, doing, and seeing. New York, NY: Routledge.
McKay, S. L. (2002). Teaching English as an international language: Rethinking goals and approaches. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Molina, S. C. (2015). Transnational English language teaching: Opportunities for teacher learning and development. English Language Teacher Education and Development, 18, 20-28.
Molina, S.C. (2015). Navigating social responsibility alongside migrant workers in an ESOL classroom. Social Responsibility Special Interest Newsletter. International TESOL Organization.
Molina, S. C. (2016). The complexity of providing feedback when teachers and students speak different varieties of English: A case study. Journal of Teaching and Teacher Education, 4 (1), 61-69.
Molina, S. C. (2017). English language teaching in China: Teacher agency in response to curricular innovations. English language teaching: Teacher agency and policy response. Ng, P. & Boucher-Yip (Eds.) Routledge.
Sharifian, F. (ed.) (2009). English as an international language: Perspectives and pedagogical issues. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Smith, L. (1983). Readings in English as an international language. World language English series. Michigan: Pergamon.