Speak Your Very Own English!


(A review of an article below; by one NEB)

Li, David C. S. (1999). Incorporating L1 Pragmatic Norms and Cultural Values in L2: Developing English Language Curriculum for EIL in the Asia-Pacific Region. Asian Englishes. Available online at http://www.alc.co.jp/asian-e/li.html

The point of departure that David C. S. Li uses to argue the idea as suggested by the title above is the fact that English is now a global language shared by people all over the world, the existence of which—by definition—can no longer be rendered to any one nation or group claiming it to be their native language. Citing McArthur (1992), Li writes, “…English is the possession of every individual or every community that in any way uses it, regardless of what any other individual or community may think or feel about the matter” (p. 1). Li presents some logical reasons for making such a bold proposition, three of which follow.

To begin with, it cannot anymore be expected that learners learning English in the Asia-Pacific Region will come in contact with their American or British counterparts. They will only get to use their English with their teachers and friends within their own community, be it their school, community, country, region, or world, but not necessarily America or England. Therefore, the assumption that teaching English should go with teaching its American or British pragmatic norms and cultural values governing the use of the language, assuming that Asia-Pacific learners would experience encountering their American or British partners somehow, probably by going to study or work in America or England or by their American or British friends’ coming over to their country has increasingly been doubted, especially by advocates of New Varieties of English (NVEs) (citing D’Souza 1997, Kachru 1989).

Secondly, adult learners, who make up the majority of learners learning English in the region, have already been equipped with—what Li quotes Agar (1995) terming—“languaculture”, that is, the learners’ L1 language culture which has been shaped by their values, belief system, and behaviors. These will undoubtedly clash with the English pragmatic norms and cultural values that those learners have to adopt when learning the language. Honna and Takeshita (1995) assert that, thus, many people in the world are learning English not to assimilate themselves to the Anglo-American norms of behavior, but to acquire an adequate working command of language for wider communication and whereby to express their national identity and personal opinions. In other words, no one is forced to abandon his or her native culture and behave Anglo-American in order to acquire proficiency in English.

Thirdly, more often than not, given an established system of values, beliefs, and behaviors, learners consciously resort to transferring their L1 pragmatic norms and cultural values to English out of fear of losing their identity rather than adopting English pragmatic norms and cultural values and developing a new identity in the language. Citing works of some scholars, Li writes that this pragmatic transfer occurs in the areas of politeness strategies, turn taking, topic confusion, making requests, refusing, using terms of address, complaining, and offering apologies.

Considering the different needs that Asia-Pacific learners have in learning English and the different function that English serves in the Asia-Pacific Region, Li strongly suggests that those three points above be accommodated in the region English curriculum to be specified a the levels of phonology, lexis and grammar, as well as elements of communicative competence all aimed at training learners to develop language functions needed for both inter- and intra-group communication, especially across national boundaries.

This article of Li’s offers a different perspective of looking at English role and English teaching in the Asia-Pacific Region. This is especially so for those who have so far taught English following the prescription of native-like English with all its due pragmatic rules, yet with the result being far from satisfactory. This should make them re-consider their teaching practice in such a way that it can conform more to what learners actually need to learn and to do with English in their everyday life. For those practitioners, this article is a must-read.

Reference:

Honna, Nobuyuki, and Yuko Takeshita. (1995). On Japan’s Propensity for Native Speaker English: A Change in Sight. Asian Englishes. Available online at http://www.alc.co.jp/asian-e/honna.html

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