Some Thoughts on World Englishes and Intercultural Communication: Implications for English Language Teaching in Thailand
EG 811: World Englishes
Although the Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC), the Ministry of Education of Thailand (MOE) requires that educational institutes at primary and secondary levels respond to its policy on English language education reform, which adheres to the Common European Framework of Reference for Language (CEFR), to develop Thai students and teachers’ English competency (Office of the Basic Education Commission, 2014), this English education policy which favors the native-speaker (NS) norms may not well be in consistent with the current status of English today. In other words, English is already and continually expanding into the Outer Circle and Expanding Circle societies and new varieties of English and new patterns of language use have emerged even in the Inner Circle societies, including the UK and the USA (Bolton, 2006, p.305). Hence, despite the policy, the notion of “world Englishes (WE)” should never be disregarded for English language teaching (ELT) in Thailand to keep abreast of this ongoing phenomenon.
Apart from WE, another aspect worth equal attention is “intercultural communication” (ICC). The understanding of ICC, as we know, is a major element for one to increase his/her ICC competence; this is especially true for language learners as they need to have both the knowledge and skill in the grammar of a language and the knowledge of ICC and ICC competence to be able to use the language appropriately according to the context (Byram, Gribkova ; Starkey, 2002). While linguistic competence and ICC competence are closely related and ELT in Thailand should then assist students in achieving certain levels of these competences, the current policy, which adheres to the NS norms, unfortunately makes it difficult for Thai teachers to promote the teaching of non-native speakers (NNS)’ cultures, thereby impeding students’ in acquiring greater ICC competence.
To supplement the missing elements in the policy, incorporating the knowledge of WE and ICC into ELT in Thailand is therefore indispensable in order to strengthen linguistic and ICC competences among Thai students, who are part of the global community. In this paper, significant issues concerning WE will be critically reviewed and discussed in the first section, whereas issues on ICC will appear in a later section to yield insights into how awareness of WE and ICC can be increased among English teachers, educational institutes, students as well as relevant stakeholders in Thailand’s teaching contexts.
World Englises (WE)
Although many users of English language across the world prefer having communicative abilities like native speakers’ (Kachru ; Nelson, 2006, p.21), it is universally true that today the use of English is not restricted only in native English countries like U.S.A or Great Britain, which is why to study English’s other varieties is of paramount importance (Kachru & Nelson, 2006, p.10). As regards ELT, the stakeholders who are likely to be most affected when it comes to new ELT practices are undoubtedly teachers and students, the knowledge provider and receiver. Whether the receiver can achieve his/her English language learning goals depends considerably on the knowledge and roles of the provider; therefore, to incorporate WE into ELT in Thailand, it is important that first of all, teachers have thorough understanding of the different varieties of English and seek effective strategies to develop their students’ knowledge about WE.
For teachers from the Expanding Circles to increase the knowledge of WE, there are a lot of activities that they can do. Kachru and Nelson (2006, p.126) point out that the teachers can gain global perspectives on their own by exposing themselves to other varieties of English. For example, they can get access to academic and research articles on various aspects of WE, e.g. descriptions, lexicons, pedagogy, creative literature, etc. While budget to send Thai teachers abroad for WE trainings may be limited in many educational institutes and the adherence to the CEFR is obligatory for Thailand’s ELT, especially at primary and school levels, I find that Kachru and Nelson’s suggestion easy for practice. Thanks to technology, it is more than likely that teachers nowadays can easily access national and international journals online or through their workplaces’ library service. Accordingly, by doing this, not only can the Thai teachers keep up with current WE trends but also they can apply research findings and ideas from the articles to their pedagogical practices and for self-development on WE.
Nonetheless, while Kachru and Nelson (2006) opt for the WE approach, Kirkpatrick (2017) suggest that Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries adopt the lingua franca approach in their ELT contexts. To me, there are pros and cons of this approach. According to Kirkpatrick (2017), English is already used as a lingua franca among the ASEAN nations and thus by adopting the lingua franca approach, both students and teachers from this multilingual and multicultural region will be more at ease as the NS norms will no longer be a main focus. He asserts that this approach can bring to the ASEAN nations three benefits: 1) ELT is likely to be more successful in the ASEAN region because the lingua franca approach is more flexible than the NS approach and respects learners’ local identities; 2) Because the suggested approach does not prevent learners from expressing their identities, it enables future curricula to include topics on linguistic, religious as well as cultural diversities of the region; 3) This new approach does not impede the use of local languages in the region, thus preserving local identities. Despite the claim of the possible benefits, this approach, nonetheless, may not fit ELT in Thailand. As suggested by Kirkpatrick, the first two principles regarding this approach underline that NS’s linguistic and cultural aspects are not the target because the goals of the approach are for users to communicate successfully in this multilingual region and gain intercultural competence, again with focus on contact among ASEAN members. Hence, considering the OBEC’s policy, it is unlikely that the lingua franca approach can easily be adopted in Thailand’s ELT where the NS norms are still prevalent in practice. Activities such as CEFR workshops, for example, have been organized by the British Council in Thailand, the well-known British organization, for Thai teachers and educational professions to achieve the policy’s goals and to support Thailand’s education system (British Council, 2018). The lingua franca approach may be applicable to the ASEAN region to a certain degree, for example when focus less on native-like fluency, but I still question its feasibility to enable ASEAN users to communicate appropriately and successfully when they are in non-ASEAN contexts. Instead, a more balanced approach should be embraced in Thailand’s setting to be a compromise between the NS norms and the NNS norm, and in my opinion, the approach as suggested by Farrell and Martin (2009) seems to be a more realistic solution.
According to Farrell and Martin (2009), although questions as to which variety should be taught in school and is regarded as “Standard English” remain debatable to this day, they insist that “a balanced approach” be applied to suit each ELT context and students’ needs, regardless of English varieties. The balanced approach, that is to say, neither rejects the NS norms nor the EFL, ESL and ELF concepts, but it also welcomes all English varieties, thereby accepting the notion of WE in ELT practices. To adopt the approach, it is essential that teachers abide by the three principles, i.e. considering their teaching contexts, valuing learners’ English as well as preparing them for ICC. By considering the teaching context and value learners’ English, they explain that teachers can select an English variety suitable for their teaching abilities and styles, and most importantly, for their students’ needs. Although a variety of English may be used for instruction, the teachers can emphasize that it is merely a variety among all the others and students’ English is still valuable. In some situations there is no need for the teachers to correct the students’ mistakes if they do not conform to the NS norms. These two principles of the balanced approach, in my opinion, slightly differ from Kirkpatrick’s lingua franca approach as they also welcome varieties other than the ASEAN varieties; as a result, it seems the balanced approach can be practiced elsewhere, not just in the ASEAN region. Additionally, the last principle of the approach as regards preparing students for ICC can go hand in hand with introducing WE to the students. Based on this balanced approach, Farrell and Martin suggest sample classroom activities, e.g. teaching international idiomatic expressions to expose students to WE by using bilingual dictionaries, and increasing students’ awareness and comprehension of WE by having them listen to different varieties such as British English, American English, Indian English or Singaporean English. For this reason, the balanced approach seems to fit diverse ELT contexts as teachers have freedom to adjust to what extent WE should be incorporated in their pedagogical practices, regardless of English education policies.
The likely success of the balanced approach is well confirmed by the findings of Jung, M.Y. (2010) who studies the intelligibility and comprehensibility of WE to non-native speakers. His research examines which pronunciations of English are difficult or different from one’ first language and looks into factors that are essential for communication with people from other cultures when English is used as one of the WE. That is to say, his research is built upon two concepts, i.e. “intelligibility” (focusing on words) and “comprehensibility” (focusing on meaning). He concludes that intelligibility involves such factors as intonation, stress and pronunciation and as a result, teaching methods for pronunciation should include authentic materials. To achieve comprehensibility, more factors such as linguistic, cultural, socio-cultural, or pragmatic aspects are involved. According to these findings, miscommunication among users of English can be caused by differences in English pronunciations, speech styles, socio-cultural and pragmatic competence as well as other variables. These findings thus confirm that exposing students to numerous English varieties in terms of both linguistic and cultural aspects can increase success in communication when they are in contact with those who use a different English variety from them.
Another research by Rajani Na Ayuthaya and Sitthitikul (2016) similarly supports incorporating WE in ELT in Thailand. They point out that the NS ideology of ELT in Thailand has, to a certain extent, caused Thai students to have foreign language classroom anxiety (FLCA). Thus, in their studies, they design WE-based lessons for an experimental group of tertiary students in order to investigate the effectiveness of the WE incorporation in Thailand’s ELT to reduce FLCA and to explore whether the reduction of FLCA would result in better language learning achievement. The findings confirm that by incorporating WE in classroom practice, not only does the students’ FLCA drop significantly but also their learning achievement improves. Although they do not mention to what extent the WE incorporation should be implemented in Thailand’s ELT, they emphasize that the NS norms can still be included in the classroom practice. This is a point that I agree. Since some students still prefer acquiring native-like English skills (Rajani Na Ayuthaya ; Sitthitikul, 2016, p. 214), the total shift to the NNS norms may not respond to all students’ needs. For this reason, balance between the NS and the NNS norms would be more preferable.
While English education policies directly shape ELT classroom practices like in Thailand, teachers’ awareness of the existence and importance of NNS varieties affect their classroom teaching as well. If teachers, as role models for students, are not aware of the significance of WE, it is likely that students’ knowledge of WE is still limited, which in the future can result in failures when they communicate with people from diverse sociocultural societies. It is surprising to find that the perceptions of WE of English language teachers, particularly ones from the Expanding Circle, are not in line with today’s prominent status of WE as the world language as reflected in Hao and Moore’s (2015) research. Hao and Moore (2015) study the awareness of Vietnamese university teachers of English varieties and discover that the teachers are more aware of American English and British English than other varieties, whereas Vietnamese English features are also recognized and acceptable for use in Vietnam. Nonetheless, the teachers realize that teaching other English varieties in classrooms is essential to prepare their students for real-life situations when they communicate with those who use English varieties different from them. To do that, they suggest that different varieties of English be introduced to students carefully and appropriately through task-based language teaching (TBLT) activities, depending on the students’ learning pace. Additionally, workshops or informal presentations based on teachers’ personal experiences should be organized and investment in overseas teacher training be considered for the improvement of teachers’ English language and ICC competences. Nonetheless, as already stated in their article, the research findings cannot be generalized since the perceptions of WE of teachers at the other educational levels in Vietnam have not been explored. Hao and Moore thus suggest that further study be conducted to grasp the whole picture of the status of WE in Vietnam. This is the point that I totally agree on and similar research studies should be conducted to explore as to what extent WE are recognized among Thai teachers.
To achieve communicative goals, one cannot have only linguistic knowledge and competency. Instead, he/she will have to acquire three areas of knowledge: 1) grammatical competence which is concerned with knowledge of lexis, syntax, morphology and phonology; sociolinguistic competence which involves sociocultural rules and rules of discourse; 3) strategic competence which concerns the effectiveness of verbal and non-verbal communication strategies (Canale ; Swain, 1980). While the first and third areas are concerned with language, the second directly involves cultural dimensions, which is the concept of “Intercultural Communication” (ICC). According to Byram, Gribkova and Starkey (2002), “Intercultural communication is a communication on the basis of respect for individuals
and equality of human rights as the democratic basis for social interaction”(p.5). Thus, not only is ICC concerned with cultural understanding of others but also of one’s own cultures, and for pedagogical practices, teachers should consider incorporating the knowledge of ICC in their classroom to ensure that their students will have substantial ICC competence for future contact with others.
To start with, teachers should introduce the principles of ICC to their students before rushing to engage them in ICC activities and materials. According to Byram, Gribkova and Starkey (2002), ICC consists of five major principles, namely intercultural attitudes, knowledge, skills of interpreting and relating, skills of discovery and interaction, as well as critical cultural awareness. To achieve the goals of the principles, they suggest some activities that the teachers can do both inside and outside classrooms. For instance, the teachers who have never left their own countries can engage their students in simulations and role-plays to increase the students’ holistic experience learning. The benefits of these activities are that they can develop self-awareness and perceptions about other countries (Byram, Gribkova ; Starkey, 2002, p.10). A study visit or exchange is another activity that promotes experience learning among the students, thereby increasing their ICC awareness. What the teachers can do based on this activity is engaging their students in the three phases: the preparatory phase, the fieldwork phase and the follow-up phase. Within each phase, activities can be done such as getting the students to compare and contrast expectation and experience, to keep a diary so that they can express feelings and reactions as well as to reflect their experience to their friends and families. Therefore, not only do students get to practice the language learnt in classroom but also they gain new attitudes and values (Byram, Gribkova ; Starkey, 2002, p.10). Although the suggested activities sound practical in any ELT contexts, some teachers may still have one critical concern as to being a native speaker is needed for them to teach ICC effectively. With respect to this, Byram, Gribkova and Starkey (2002, p.12-13), assert that the teachers need not worry as the concept of the native speaker is usually concerned with linguistic competence rather than cultural competence; being a non-native teacher should not be seen as limitation, but on the other hand an advantage that allows both the teacher and his/her students to view a culture from a distance and to compare with their own. Considering the ICC concepts and suggested activities, to incorporate ICC in classroom practices in Thailand is not impossible despite the ELT context and teachers’ nationality.
Another compelling idea with regard to promoting ICC is pointed out by Kachru and Smith (2008, p.165-176) when they encourage teachers to use WE literatures more in classroom. They clarify that WE literatures, or so-called “contact literatures”, are works written by writers within and outside the Outer and Expanding Circles and they have already been introduced to classrooms by colleges and universities around the world. They indicate that today contact literatures have received more attention, particularly when certain writers won prestigious awards such as V. S. Naipaul (of Indian origin, born in Trinidad, resident of Britain) who won a Nobel Prize in literature in 2001 and Jhumpa Lahiri (of Indian origin, born in London, living in the USA) who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. For this reason, through contact literatures, both teachers and students can gain knowledge on WE and ICC.
To increase the understanding of ICC among students, Lee (2012) also suggest that activities concerning cultural exploration, comparison, acquisition, and negotiation (integration of one’s own third place between cultures) be done in Korea’s ELT. Possible activities that teachers can arrange include organizing quizzes, showing movies, inviting guest speakers, organizing discussions, engaging students in role-plays and simulations as well as creating virtual learning environments via the Internet. The activities suggested by Lee (2012) in fact have been done in English classrooms at all levels in Thailand; Thai teachers, however, may need to look back on adding the knowledge of ICC to their activities and materials and adjusting the activities and materials according to the English language level of their students. If the incorporation of ICC in English classrooms in Korea reveals a sign of possible success, English language teachers in Thailand, also a country in the Expanding Circle, should consider doing likewise.
Another activity to develop ICC competence is suggested by Lim and Griffith (2016) when they encourage teachers to use the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) to design classroom activities. Like Byram, Gribkova and Starkey (2002), they stress that ICC competence not only requires foreign language learners to know about the target language but also about their own culture and through the ILR the learners will be able to improve their ICC competence. The IRL measures one’s ICC competence along a five point scale where “0” indicates no competence and “5” indicates the highest competence level and the level of language competence automatically corresponds to the level of ICC competence. In other words, to achieve one level of ICC competence, one must also have a corresponding language proficiency. Lim and Griffith further suggest possible topics for classroom activities to improve ICC competence such as ones on introductions and salutations, people and appearances as well as geography, climate and weather. Within these topics, there can be three to four activities that assist the learners in achieving an expected ICC competence level. IRC-based activities are thus very useful since the learners will clearly be aware at which level their ICC and linguistic competences are. Lim and Griffith make a final remark in their article that linguistic proficiency without correspondent intercultural competence can lead to ineffective communication.
Apart from suggestions by the previous scholars, Laopongharn and Sercombe (2009) provide insights into Thailand’s ELT and suggestions on how ICC can be included in pedagogical practices. As with other scholars, they assert that ICC competence involves not only awareness of other cultures but also of their own. For the ELT context in Thailand, they suggest a very distinctive idea in that English can be taught in relation to Thai cultures. For example, to teach the concepts of “face” and “politeness”, teachers can get students to compare how Thais and foreigners view politeness and what strategies they use for face-saving. Another suggestion by Laopongharn and Sercombe is including Buddhism, part of the Thai cultures, in ICC teaching as in their statement, “Thailand is a predominantly Buddhism nation, so the role of Buddhism could be taken into account as part of ELT in the Thai context” (p.69). By adopting this idea, it is believed that the Thai students will gain greater comprehension of Buddhism; however, Laopongharn and Sercombe, in my opinion, fail to indicate how the teaching of Buddhism could be put into practice in classrooms, and if ICC is aimed to raise students’ cultural awareness, other religions in Thailand should be included in ICC teaching as well. Despite that, Laopongharn and Sercombe (2009) have manageably shared considerable ideas as regards the incorporation of ICC in Thailand’s ELT.
In summary, the scholars all point out that increasing the awareness of WE and ICC among teachers is significant for a better comprehension of these concepts among students and teachers themselves and that numerous activities can effortly be done to attain the awareness. By incorporating WE and ICC in Thailand’s ELT, it does not mean that Thai teachers should disregard the English education policy straightaway; rather, I encourage Thai teachers to find balance between policy and benefits of WE and ICC incorporation in their pedagogical practices.
*I used www.grammarly.com to check for plagiarism; the website did not find any plagiarism in this paper.
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