Many thanks to Darren Elliott for raising some interesting questions about English as an International Language (EIL). Here are my initial thoughts on them, and please chip in folks and add your answers too.
1. Is it right for language teachers to impose the communication style of a native speaker culture on the language learner?
No. And actually I’m not sure how it would be possible, even if we wanted to. But I do think we should be providing information on different communication styles. That way the learners can better understand where the folks they’re trying to communicate with might be coming from, and make more informed decisions about what they want to do.
2. Does English as an international language mean that we all have to do business like the Americans?
I don’t think there’s anything prescriptive about EIL. There are lots of different Englishes and American is just one of them, albeit a pretty influential one. I see EIL research as useful for informing us about what we should be spending classroom time on – what’s likely to provide learners with the biggest bang for their buck, as it were.
3. And what happens when a Greek talks to a Korean?
Yes, English might be used by a Greek talking to a Korean, or a Dane talking to a Saudi or a Thai talking to a Brazilian – there are so many combinations. And we could just throw up our hands in horror and say it’s all too complex and we should restrict ourselves to native varieties and not bother looking at what communication issues might arise. But I think this would be a bit of a cop-out. A lot of my students use English to speak to other non-native speakers.
Central to EIL research is the idea that there are core features of English which are essential for intelligibility – otherwise English couldn’t function as an international language or lingua franca. They might be pronunciation features or lexico-grammar features or sociolinguistic features. We’ve tended to hear more about the first two, but there are folks doing research into the last one as well.
I’m hazarding guesses here, but I think to explore core sociolinguistic features we’ll need to address issues like politeness, turn-taking, indirectness, and compare how we accomplish things like showing approval, negotiating disagreements, and getting people to do what we want. And it’s not easy because a lot of the language we use for discussing these things is culturally loaded. But more on that another day…
Over to you…