The Case for World Englishes Informed Pedagogy: Linguistic Variation in the L2 Classroom

We must keep in mind that ‘standard’ language is an ideological construct, and accommodates considerable hybridity. What is important is that users negotiate both the diverse semiotic resources in their repertoire and the context to produce a text that is rhetorically most appropriate and effective for the situation. -S. Canagarajah Translingual Practice: Global Englishes and Cosmopolitan Relations, p. 8

Today’s post will outline the case for a world Englishes informed pedagogy (WE pedagogy). At its core, WE pedagogy seeks to create educational spaces that embrace and celebrate linguistic variation. Not only that, WE pedagogy equips all students—the L1 and the L2 English-speaking student—to strategically deploy all of their linguistic resources to engage in meaning making with others.

One of the key ways to meet this goal is to incorporate central concepts from the world Englishes model in the classroom. Some of the concepts that are critical to this endeavor are varieties and linguistic creativity. In world Englishes, we move away from the notion that there is one English out there, that English is some monolithic entity with only minor regional variation. Instead, we view English as being pluricentric. That is, there is more than one variety of English and each of these varieties—be they American English, Australian English, Singaporean English, Indian English, etc.—has a legitimate domain of use. An extension of this thought is that local varieties may be preferable to some external “standard” for certain communicative purposes. Conversely, rigid adherence to some prestige standard may create distance between them and the people they’re interacting with to such a degree that it damages the relationship between communicating people. Linguistic Creativity refers to how multilingual speakers of a variety creatively adapt that variety to fit their communicative needs through the translation of cultural metaphors, code-blending, and the strategic deployment of home-culture rhetorical patterns.

Once these concepts have been discussed, conversations in the classroom can move towards becoming more aware of how students already use a variety of linguistic tools to make meaning and to negotiate that meaning with others. What’s important here is to get them to understand how we negotiate meaning with others, even when that meaning is related to seemingly objective facts. To help students to understand this mediate negoation of meaning, simulation activities may prove very, very useful (Jones). The use of the BaFa BaFa simulation can help to highlight the culturally mediated ways that we make meaning, and the critical role that language has in this act. The BaFa BaFa situation is a great tool to get students playing with language and their linguistic repertoires for a form of intercultural communication. And, it’s in this action that we can find space see and to discuss how the students are making use of more than just “standard English” to communicate and make sense of the world.

The next step, then, is to make it clear to students how the communicative context constrains the choices that they have about variety use. For example, if they’re writing an argumentative paper for an American composition classroom, this context will call for the utilization of a standard academic English. However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for play, nor does it mean that making some use of other varieties of English might not be helpful. There are many places where blending varieties may help to make a stronger piece of writing and to imbue that writing with authorial voice and ethos. The point, here, is to give students an increased understanding of audience and how to meet their expectations in novels way.I find that the best way to do this is to do vivisections of live texts. Sounds gruesome, but it works. Begin by taking a text written by a multilingual author and collaborate with the students to find seemingly novel uses of language. Perhaps, the author refers to young children as “being like pristine sheets of white paper.” Then discuss how this expression might not fit with “standard English” and the impact that this novel usage has on the reader and their understanding of the text. By laying bare how other multilingual writers make use of their rich linguistic repertoires, even in the seemingly bounded act of academic writing, we can equip students with the skills that they need to deploy linguistic variation and creativity to their advantage.

Now, that doesn’t mean that this strategy is risk-free. Others may not appreciate the unique use of language, thinking that it violates some norm of style or usage. However, by discussing with students how others make successful use of different varieties of language, we can help them become more critically aware of their language use. We can move away from the “single correct standard” and towards a celebration and acceptance of linguistic variety and creativity. I don’t want to dig too deeply into the argument against linguistic creativity and variation for now. So, to see the other side of this argument come back on Friday for the end of this week’s series.

In the meantime, what pedagogical strategies do you have that relate to linguistic variation in the language classroom?

Source Articles & Books

Canagarajah, S. (2006). The place of world Englishes in composition classrooms: Pluralization continued. College Composition and Communication, 57(4), 586-619.

Canagarajah, S. (2013). Translingual Practice: Global Englishes and Cosmopolitan Relations. London: Routledge.

Jin, H. (2010). In defense of foreignness. In A. Kirkpatrick (ed.). The Routledge Handbook of World Englishes. (pp. 461-470). London: Routledge.

Jones, K. (1982). Simulations in Language Teaching. London: Cambridge University Press.

Kachru, Y., & Nelson, C. (2006). World Englishes in Asian Contexts. Hong Kong: Honk Kong University Press.

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