There is no doubt that English is now a global language, and as such it has inevitably “diversified into a proliferation of forms, varying in pronunciation, intonation, grammar, vocabulary, spelling and conventions of use” (Gilmore 2007:103). With English now a global language it is no longer adequate to prepare our students to communicate simply through the ‘English language’, we need to prepare them to communicate with English as a lingua franca, in other words English as a common language used as a means of communication between speakers of many different native languages.
A conversation with one of my students last week provided a clear example of this need: I started teaching Mina just before she spent her two month break from university travelling through Europe. Last week was our first class since this trip, and while discussing her travels I asked her how she found communicating in English. She replied that she was extremely shocked as she often found herself sat in hostels and bars, communicating in English with people from China, Japan, India and many other places around the world. I asked why she was shocked by that situation and she replied that she didn’t feel she had been adequately prepared for it at school, or in English classes she had taken since school. She stated that she is only familiar with native accents, native sentence structures and native uses of vocabulary. She went on to tell me she has never been more highly motivated to improve her English, as she now realized it is not necessarily about communicating with native speakers, but the whole world. Given this reality that the English language is now a lingua franca we have a duty to our students to overcome the linguistic imperialism our textbooks and materials often force upon us. In other words, we need to find a way of exposing our learners to the output of other speaker of English as a second language (L2 output).
The need for exposure to L2 output is not only necessary due to English being a lingua franca. If English is being spoken by people with vastly different backgrounds, it is impossible that all L2 English speakers are disassociating themselves from their cultural knowledge when communicating in English. This cultural loading of language has resulted in English becoming a cultura franca as well as a lingua franca. As Pulverness (1999:6) explains, this is simply an issue that most textbooks fail to deal with. In fact, their usual solution is to side-step it all together by presenting completely inauthentic and impractical ‘international contexts’. This is not through fault of material developers, as how can one possibly expect to disassociate themselves from their own culture, especially when language is so representative of one’s culture? All of our communication, and interpretation of others communication, is inevitably loaded with our background and culture, this includes both our actual and our own interpretation of others meanings in writing, speaking, listening and reading.
The need for us to help our students develop the skills to deal with English as a cultura franca isn’t only apparent when our learners are communicating with people outside of their own country. We now live in huge urban melting pots of nationalities and cultures. Our students’ ability to successfully communicate is therefore dependent on their ability to understand English from as by people of different cultures and ethnic identities. As teachers, both John and I firmly believe it is our responsibility to expose our learners to as much output from different L2 speakers as possible. By doing this we not only develop our students communicative competency, but also their intercultural competency. Quite simply, if we can present our students with examples of other L2 output (which is the aim of the ESL Students Library) we can substantially reduce the likelihood of our students facing cross-cultural miscommunication.
Of course, I am not suggesting we completely overhaul the materials we present to our learners. As teachers, if once or twice a week we could just commit five minutes to the exposure of our students to materials that represent the myriad of levels, cultures and backgrounds they will be exposed when communicating outside of the English classroom it would make a significant difference to their confidence and skills in communicating with other non-native speakers, a situation they will almost definitely encounter.
It is for these reasons that John and myself were inspired to create the ESL Learners Output Library, a resource providing teachers with access to all the L2 output they could need. We realized that such resources don’t have to be difficult to find because as educators we have all the L2 output we need right at our finger tips, in the form of our learners output (work). It is to take advantage of this that we built the ‘ESL Learners Output Library’. This project is a free service that is designed to allow educators all around the world to share the output of their students. Our mission is, through this website, to create a global community sharing their students’ output. This can then be used to expose our students to English language produced by learners of different cultures, background, levels, ages or any other factor that will help our students communicate outside of our classrooms. We can create tasks for our students that will prepare them for inter-cultural communication, we can inspire each other to try new activities in our own classrooms, we can encourage our students by showing them projects students are doing all over the world, we can compare and contrast the specific needs of certain groups of students, we can even create links between our classrooms that will allow our students to interact with each other, the possibilities are both endless and necessary.
Also please check out this passionate blog post from the co-founder of http://www.esllol.org @johnpfordresher http://observingtheclass.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/why-create-the-esl-learner-output-library/
Crystal, D. (1997). English as a global language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gilmore, A. (2007). Authentic materials and authenticity in foreign language learning. Language Teaching. 40 (.), 97-118.
Pulverness, A. (1999). Context or pretext? Cultural content and the course book. Folio 5.2, 5–11.
Sweet, H. (1899). The practical study of languages. London:Oxford University Press.