ALx Resource: D. Crystal’s “The Language Revolution”

I’m thinking of proposing a new course for NYU Shanghai’s J-term or summer term that focuses on language change and variation. It comes out of a very fruitful thought-experiment suggested by one of the students in my humanities seminar, Language, Identity, and World Englishes. The student invited us to consider what it would take for Chinese to reach the status and diversity of English. Could we someday see World Chineses? It’s an interesting question because it forces us to consider what causes and drives language change. It also asks us to consider geopolitics and the role of language policy. In the class I want to design this fall, I think that this thought experiment could be expanded to be a fascinating collaborative course project. The desire to use this assignment raises the question of how do we prepare students for that project. I know that I would use Kachru and Nelson’s World Englishes in Asian Contexts, but I would like to start with a more accessible piece. So, I’ve been reading books on language change and variation that are targeted at non-linguists or at students who don’t have a strong background in linguistics—enter David Crystal’s The Language Revolution.

In this book, David Crystal explores the global spread of English and the changes that have occurred to it during, and because of, this spread. It begins by looking at the historical forces and attempting to divine what the future might hold for the English language. It then looks at what this might mean for other languages by addressing the question of whether or not humanity will converge towards the human dream of babel—one unified language. The short answer, no. He then goes on to look at the internet and its influence on language, a chapter that is showing its age. And, he concludes by identifying ten themes that will/should dominate linguistics research and language policy in the 21st century. Overall, it’s a good book, but it’s certainly showing its age.

Overall, it’s a good book, but it’s certainly showing its age. It was first published in 2000, and the chapter on the internet is dated to say the very least. But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It could make a good early-semester project to have students update the chapter with their understanding of how web-technologies and CMC have influenced their use of language and introduced linguistics variation to their language practice. Another positive is that Crystal pulls the reader attention towards issues of language death (an explosive disphmism if ever there was one). But, this brings up issues of power, status, and prestige that are critical to thinking about language and the human use of it. And, while he doesn’t do so in quite the alarmist way that I feel K. David Harrison does, he does bring it to the forefront of the reader’s attention that can spur some severe and critical classroom discussion.

While I don’t agree with David Crystal on everything, and the book isn’t aging that well, I still would recommend it because of its accessibility for the non-linguist and because of the avenues it opens up for in-class assignments and collaborative work.

A Quick Word on English-only Policies

Well, spring 2017 is behind us and I’m about to board a plane back the U.S. to spend my summer with my spouse and dog. It’s great to be able to get back to reading and writing in earnest. I started my summer read-a-thon with a revisiting of Auerbach (1993), which I discussed in passing in this post. Auerbach is a staunch advocate for the abolition of English-only educational policies. If you haven’t read it yet, and you work on the teaching or administrative ends, you simply must read it. She deftly points out the flawed foundations of English-only ed. policies. She follows this up by pointing to some early research showing that the L1 isn’t detrimental to L2 language acquisition. I believe that Auerbach is an important read for any language educator that is critical about their practice. To add an updated angle to Auerbach’s work, Minneapolis Public Radio recently ran an article on the benefits of home language education on English language acquisition for K-12 students. It’s also a good read, and a quick one since it steers away from too much specialist language (link in the sources, below).

Source Articles

Auerbach, E.R., (1993). Reexamining English only in the ESL classroom. TESOL Quarternly, 27(1), 1-18.

Wastvedt, S. (2016, June 1). Path to mastering English? Schools say home language is key. Minneapolis Public Radio News. Retrieved from:

World Englishes in ELT: Mounting Evidence from the Cutting Edge

In previous a previous entry, I outlined why I support linguistic variation in English language teaching (ELT). The case that I made was predicated on embracing linguistic variation and helping students to strengthen their strategic competence to better take advantage of their varied linguistic repertoires. Tomlinson (2016), in his discussion of materials development, uses the English as a lingua franca (ELF) framework (see Jenkins, 2000, 2012; Pennycook, 2014) to argue for new directions in materials development that also embrace local and regional variation in the English language. He focuses this argument on materials for use in classrooms where students will likely engage in international communication.

Now, I’ll readily admit that I disagree with Jenkins—the veritable maven of ELF—on certain ideological and theoretical grounds. But, Tomlinson (2016) uses the ELF framework to great success to advocate for new directions in materials creation that address the fact that many students who are currently engaged in English language learning may never need, nor want to, communicate with so-called native speakers (p. 53-54). From this, he develops nine ways that materials development needs to be revisited to better meet the needs of these students. Four of his areas of concern provide a strong practical argument for the further deployment of the world Englishes paradigm in ELT. They are: (1) the use of authentic texts; (2) the use of spoken interactions between non-native speakers; (3) the use of pragmatic awareness tasks; and (4) the use of texts written by non-native speakers for a global audience.

Authentic Texts

Users of English as a Lingua Franca need to experience language as it is actually used in the real world, not as it is practised in the idealised world of the typical coursebook dialogue (Tomlinson, 2016, p. 56).

Frankly, I couldn’t agree more with Tomlinson (2016). We do our students no favors when we limit them to carefully constructed example texts that have been sterilized of the natural linguistic variation that occurs between speakers of different varieties of English. Mainly, we rob them of a crucial moment to practice and to gain in intercultural and strategic competence. This is one place where the world Englishes paradigm may be helpful. Through the careful collection and cataloging of examples of authentic texts, world Englishes literature provides us with ripe grounds from which to cull examples for students and to better discuss with them—in research grounded ways—how linguistic variation is realized and under what circumstances it might be eschewed by the multilingual communicator. We can then use a version of the analysis carried out by world Englishes scholars to help our students become more consciously aware of their own linguistic practices and how they can fit those practices to the communicative demands of the situation that they are facing. We can also use authentic texts to better discuss the influences of local and foreign rhetorical expectations and how they impact shaping a message.

Spoken Communication between Non-native Speakers

Tomlinson (2016) correctly points out that many students learning English in the outer and expanding circles may never communicate with native speakers. So, having them just parrot back dialogues based solely on native speaker norms is doing them a disservice (p. 59). Setting aside the fact that most idealized dialogues in textbooks ignore actual usage, Tomlinson is again on to something here. There’s no reason, outside of standardized testing and assessment, that only examples of native-to-native speaker interaction should be held up as the model. Not only does this not provide the learners with a variety of input, but it also sends the tacit signal to the student that the only proper English is that of the native speaker. This to me casts the learner as perpetually being in a power-under position. That is, no matter how proficient they become, they’ll never be a native speaker…they can only hope to be native-like. So, close, but so far away.

By modeling non-native-to-non-native interaction we not only provide students with a more realistic representation of their possible communicative spaces, but we also disabuse them of this tacit signal of being “less than.” Additionally, and this is important, we give them exposure to accented English. This is important because it helps them build essential listening skills that will aid them in future interactions. As a learner of Chinese as a second language, I can usually tell which Chinese speakers I interact with are used to hearing accented Chinese—I’m much more successful in communicating with them. Others, just can’t hear past my horrible American accent.

Pragmatic Awareness Tasks

This is an area where I had hope Tomlinson (2016) would have dug deeper, though I understand how much important work he was already doing in a relatively short chapter. I wish he had spent more time thinking about written communication, but that’s because I am primarily teaching writing-intensive courses. It’s also an area where both world Englishes and intercultural rhetoric (see Connor, 2011) could be particularly useful.

For example, carrying out rhetorical analysis of authentic world Englishes texts—specifically those written by the same author for different purposes—can lay bare for students how the rhetorical situation and the highly localized rhetorical expectations of a given nation or region interact to constrain linguistic choice. For example, there is more linguistic freedom in computer-mediate communication (CMC) interactions with peers and colleagues, but far less linguistic freedom when writing a white paper to brief your bosses on a current project. Likewise, there is likely less willingness to tolerate linguistic variation in client-to-business CMC interactions.

Non-native Produces Texts Written for a Global Audience

In this regard, I can think of one immediate way that world Englishes can help fulfill this need. World Englishes can contribute here through the use of contact literatures in the language classroom. Contact literatures are those literatures that have been produced by speakers of outer or expanding circle varieties of English about national contexts and experiences in those circles. Contact literatures represent a unique genre of creative fiction and non-fiction that can serve as models for learners by showing how others have deployed their multilingual, multilectal resources to engage in a creative and communicative act. This can lead to discussions of how other varieties of English may enable a writer to better capture and reflect local experiences in ways that some International, Global, or other native-speaker driven model of English never could.

Tomlinson (2016) was a cutting-edge piece that dug into what needs to be addressed in materials creation in modern ELT. My response to Tomlinson is that the world Englishes paradigm provides us with a real path forward to address some of his concerns. Now, it’s just a matter of developing the materials and testing them in classes. An Internet-based, collaborative repository would be interesting. Maybe there’s a grant out there and a chance for some of us to collaborate…

Source Materials

Connor, U. (2011). Intercultural Rhetoric in the Writing Classroom. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Jenkins, J. (2000). The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Jenkins, J. (2012). English as a lingua franca from the classroom to the classroom. ELT Journal, 66, 486-494

Pennycook, A. (2014). The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language. London: Routledge.

Tomlinson, B. (2016). Current issues in the development of materials for learners of English as an international language (EIL). In W.A. Renandya and H.P. Widodo (eds). English Language Teaching Today: Linking Theory and Practice (pp. 53-67). New York: Springer

A Pragmatist’s Argument for Standard Varieties in English Language Teaching


Welcome to the final entry in this week’s series on linguistic variation in the language classroom. In today’s entry, I’m going to be speaking from the position of a pragmatist that believes that linguistic variation has no place in formalized English language teaching (ELT). To write this piece, I will be playing the devil’s advocate, and I’ll admit that it was a bit of a challenge for me to write—mostly because of my own ideological and theoretical leanings. However, I feel that this is a useful exercise to prevent rampant bias and to help me better understand my own beliefs. Granted, because of my professional leanings, I’ve found it challenging to find supporting articles for this piece. So, this piece will be pure, but simulated, opinion.

The Importance of Standards: Or, the Case Against Embracing Linguistic Variation

The case for adopting global varieties of English in ESL/EFL classrooms has been well recorded (e.g., Canagarajah, 2006;2013). However, there is a strong pragmatic argument for eschewing linguistic variation in our classrooms. Said another way, there’s sufficient reason to believe that we should be working to teach and maintain a particular standard English in ELT.

First, it’s what our stakeholders want. Research suggests that our students have high perceptions of native speaker teachers (NESTs). Murtiana (2011) found that students at an Indonesian university felt that having a NEST would facilitate gains in their own linguistic competency, allowing them to reach a more native-like level of proficiency. From this finding, we can safely assume that part of the perceived appeal of the NEST is the standard variety of English that they are bringing with them. This desire for NESTs from the students is likely reinforced by their parents’ attitudes and perceptions. Anecdotally, many parents feel that if their children can have a NEST during their childhood, it will provide them with a linguistic “leg up” over their peers. And, this parental desire has had an impact on ELT hiring practices for private language schools and afterschool programs. Some of these programs openly advertise that they’re only hiring NESTs. Now, there are reasons why parents have this desire for students to learn a standard variety of English. There are real reasons why older students believe that NESTs are more effective teachers and will lead them to more salient language learning gains. Two of primary reasons relate to standardized assessment and to professional development and opportunities.

Standardized Assessment and the Need for Standard English in ELT

Our students, at one point or another, will face a standardized assessment. It may be a national assessment like China’s gaokao (普通高等学校招生全国统一考试) or the College English Test (大学公共英语考试). Or, they may decide to take TOEFL or IELTS for study abroad applications or for workplace advancement. Any one of these assessments will be testing students in standard English and expect them to produce standard English—the IELTS speaking band and its grading rubric show how high proficiency in standard English may translate to higher scores on this section. If part of our job as language educators is to prepare students for the linguistic demands, they will face in the future, and if those requirements include standardized tests that may penalize use of non-standard varieties, then our duty is to embrace standardized varieties in our classrooms.

Continuing with assessment, but moving away from standardized assessment, our students’ linguistic skills will be assessed by other teachers that they meet and by university administrators. These individuals may not be language professionals, and they may certainly not be open to linguistic variation—to the use non-standard varieties of English. They may not see Singaporean English or China English as legitimate varieties. They may just see a student in need of remediation, a student speaking Singlish and Chinglish. Also, their disciplinary teachers may not have been trained to recognize what is a linguistic error versus what is linguistic creativity driven by being multilingual in different varieties of a language. The strict educator will mark these instances as errors. The liberal one may choose to ignore what may be a genuine error in order to not risk marginalizing the students’ unique variety of English.

Professional Development

My pragmatist’s view of the world also applies to education. Therefore, I believe that education’s primary purpose to prepare our students for their professional lives. And, in this regards, abjuring linguistic variation and embracing standard varieties of English (e.g., Canadian English, Australian English, etc.) just makes sense. Take, for example, the graduate student in applied linguistics. If they are working on their doctoral studies, they will likely be working towards publication in any number of academic journals, because publications are equated with scholarly success. And, even in journals like The International Journal of Applied Linguistics, The Journal of Second Language Writing, TESOL Quarterly, The Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, The Journal of Language and Sexuality, etc., there is explicit instruction to authors that their manuscript should be very well-edited, and that it should adhere to either American or British standards of use.

Likewise, for our professional students, when they enter the workforce they will be judged based on their use of language. In the conference room, non-standard Englishes will likely be marginalized, and their speakers may be encouraged to seek out accent reduction or additional English language training. Likewise, when they engage in professional writing acts, non-standard Englishes will likely be viewed as indicative of linguistic error instead of a novel use of the writer’s entire linguistic repertoire. Managers will come to see these writers as deficient, and this may lead to negative career consequences. Therefore, we must embrace standard varieties in the classroom. While local varieties of English may be useful for communicating with their national/regional peers, it may disadvantage them in the higher education and in the workplace.

Closing Note

Again, this was an exceptionally difficult piece for me to write, because I’m rather set against the view expressed here. Wednesday’s entry is much more in line with my professional orientation to ELT. I actually got a little angry with myself while I wrote this, thinking “Well, this guy is a bit of a tool, isn’t he?” However, this was a very productive activity for me to engage in. When I talk about world Englishes-informed pedagogies and embracing linguistic variation in the classroom, these are some of the arguments against it that I am used to hearing. So, engaging in this exercise, and writing as a serious proponent of standard varieties, was very illuminating for me. I would encourage you, any time you have a firmly held believe try this exercise.

Source Articles

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.

Murtiana, R. (2011, November). Student’s perceptions of native speaker and non-native speaker teachers: Implications for teacher education. Paper presented at the 5th International Seminar on Teacher Education in the Era of World Englishes, Sataya Wacana Christian University, Salatiga, Indonesia.

Linguistic Variation in the L2 Classroom: Series Introduction

Within [a] social context, ‘non-standard’ has two meanings. First, it refers to whatever differs from the standard (i.e., most regional and social dialects). Second, it has the evaluative meaning of ‘incorrect’ or ‘bad’ usage, of language which is not merely non-standard but sub-standard. -Seargent Exploring World Englishes, p. 28.

A few weeks ago, I talked about my position against English-only institutional policies. After mulling it over some more, I’ve decided to dig into this from a slightly different perspective. Because if we’re going to talk about English language policy, we must necessarily ask ourselves, which English? So for this week, I’m going to look at linguistic variation in the L2 classroom; and, I’m going to use today’s blog update to orient you to how I plan on approaching this topic.

Applied Linguistic Controversies

I’m reading Barbara Seidlhofer’s edited collection entitled Controversies in Applied Linguistics. The first controversy that she decides to tackle is on the global spread of the English language, which she explores by using the work of Randolf Quirk, Braj B. Kachru, Margie Berns and her students, Robert Phillipson, and David Crystal. It’s an exciting series of articles, with plenty of barbs flying back and forth. What’s telling to me, however, is that this is the first controversy that she decides to take, in part because it is so heavily implicated in matters of power, dominance, and education. By examining the global spread of English, one will invariably encounter systemic variation. That is, Indian speakers of English use the language differently from UK speakers—often with differing lexicons, syntaxes, grammars, etc. However, depending on what side of the controversy you fall, you may argue that the English of the Indian speaker is non-standard in both senses mention in Seargent’s quote from the beginning of this post. Personally, I acknowledge that we live in a pluricentric world—one where there are multiple varieties of English, each with its domain of use and none of which are inherently superior to any other.

World Englishes, Linguistic Variation, and Pedagogy

However, how do we acknowledge linguistic variation in our teaching? Is it something to which we merely pay lip service while still strictly enforcing “standard English”? Or, do we embrace and celebrate linguistic variation in our teaching, no matter what trouble it may cause with assessment or the students’ overall educational goals? These are the questions that this week’s blog posts will be examining. And, I’m going to be doing this by trying to look at both sides of the argument.

On Wednesday, I’ll be discussing what a pedagogy that is tolerant of linguistic variation might look like. I’ll try to focus the conversation on ways that it might be realized in the classroom and how students might benefit from this. My approach will be heavily grounded in the world Englishes model as realized by Braj and Yamuna Kachru. This post will also serve as space for me to begin thinking through a workshop that I’ll be giving in NYC next month at NYU’s Pedagogies for Cultural and Linguistic Diversity Institute.

On Friday, I’ll take a look at the other side of the controversy. I’ll do this by outlining a case for a pedagogical approach that is aimed at standard language as its goal and measure of accomplishment. I plan to focus this argument around student assessment and success. This argument will be a challenging one for me to make, as I am somewhat opposed to it. But, I think that it’ll be a good practice for me to make sense of my thoughts.

Throughout this process, I’d love to hear from you about where you stand, why you take that position, and how it influences your pedagogical practice.

Source Books and Articles

Berns, et al. (1999). Hegemonic discourse revisited. International Journal of Applied Linguistics8(2), 271-282.

Crystal, D. (2000). On trying to be Crystal-clear: A response to Phillipson. Applied Linguistics, 21(3), 415-421.

Kachru, B.B. (1991). Liberation linguistics and the Quirk concern. English Today, 25, 3-13.

Phillipson, R. (1999). Voice in global English: Unheard chords in Crystal loud and clear. Applied Linguistics20(2), 265-276.

Quirk, R. (1990). Language varieties and standard language. English Today21, 3-10.

Seargent, P. (2012). Exploring World Englishes: Language in a Global Context. London: Routledge.

Siedlehofer, B. (2003). Controversies in Applied Linguistics. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.