Before I start I want to clarify that these are my thoughts not as a linguist, but as an English educator. I am by no means an expert on languages, but rather want to consider the ways in which we Language Arts and ESL/EFL teachers grapple with the difficult reality of Standard English, stigmatized dialects, and neocolonialist attitudes in English language learning.
In my post on Babarbados, I said that Bajans speak English, and that’s true. Obviously Barbados is the Caribbean, though, so there’s the Bajan accent most tourists will grapple with...
Bajan is an English-based creole whose grammar most resembles Standard English. There are some African words, though; the most common that I came across was “wuna” for “you all"--not wanna (want to) (Blake). My friend got a message from one of her friends that used that word, and we New Yorkers spent a good five minutes trying to decipher his meaning.
Coincidentally, I spent my beach days reading a book called The Language Wars by linguist Henry Hitchings on the historical accounts surrounding debates over “proper English.” While travelling through Barbados I kept thinking about conversations in my MAT courses where we discussed code-switching and the validity of various dialects; thoughts about my ESL students within the public-school system (who rely on strict adherence to standardized syntax) kept popping up too. Of course, I also thought of my EFL students who originally had trouble with authentic interactions with NY locals because of regional varieties.
On the one hand, these dialects and vernaculars are stigmatized. Everything from AAVE to Indian English--to invite the white-folk over too, a Southern accent or working-class Dublin accent (though of course these are not exclusive to white-folk). These varieties of English and many others are deemed as either unattractive or improper. Such descriptions stem from the crossroads of multiple different biases such as class-conflict, colonial rule, and racism.
On the other hand, English has become part of our era's lingua franca. In many ways, a standardization is utilized by EFLs to help understand one another.
But then on the other, other hand (I'm now a triple-armed monster) English had spread to many international populations due to colonial rule by America/England. Though I have specific thoughts about the way I saw this in Barbados, I don't want to overstep my boundaries by speaking for a specific locale I only visited as a tourist, so I'll talk about Cyprus and these complex thoughts as I approach teaching abroad.
As I've mentioned in other posts my family comes from Cyprus, a Mediterranean island right by the Levant and Middle East. Because of its location, the island's been passed around a few different empires before becoming its own country in the 1960s after fighting against British colonialism.
In some ways that time as a British colony had antagonized Cypriot-Greek and Cypriot-Turkish relations. The British constantly exoticised Cypriot-Turkish customs while using the Greek in Cypriot-Greek to root the island in Europe. Of course there was the whole thing with enosis....
But I digress...language...
Between 1931 and 1940 Britain imposed what's now known as Palmerokratia. These were a set of laws and regulations that discouraged Cypriot participation in schooling or law, and even regulated the Orthodox church. Of course, this all affected language as well. Nowadays, many British tourists still come to Cyprus as a vacation spot and many also to retire. There are still patronizing comments though. Patronizing attitudes from the British to the Cypriots, and an underlying of the not-so-distant past in which British occupation stifled--or pitted rivalries between--my community's cultures. (Rappas)
If we throw into that mix, or change the setting to, a nation whose language was being actively attacked, things become even more complicated for modern EFL teachers. Neocolonialism.
Neocolonialism is the use of economic, political, or cultural imperialism to influence a nation, primarily developing nations. We see the connection to EFL in a variety of ways, but for this post I want to talk about the dominance of a "Native Speaker." In a lot of communities a "Native Speaker" or "Native Language Teacher" is a native speaker of English coming as a guest or lead teacher. Many times these teachers have had no prior teaching experience, ultimately leading to schools and communities hiring unqualified individuals over local English-language educators. Even worse, in certain countries "native English" speaker simply means white American/Brit. Open discrimination against English speaking POC and non-Standard English speakers (even if they can code-switch) is unfortunately common. Of course for some nations/communities, the use of English as an international language is an attempt to empower voices on a global scale. Because despite criticism of English as an international language...it's been happening; some even claim that the more far-reaching English becomes, the more it can adopt a multicultural identity (Lochtman & Kappel). Again, though, I'm not a linguist and don't want to get into theory I can't back up.
As with many of my posts there aren't too many clean-cut answers I want or am able to offer. Instead, these questions of ethical teaching snowball even further--if I'm teaching in a developed nation whose native language is in no way at risk of extinction, does my EFL still hold the same neocolonialist weight? If I aim to learn from and prioritize the methodology of my host/co-teacher in a program such as EPIK, does that even help? What do I owe my students in Korea as a foreign language teacher? What history as a Western teacher should I be aware of? How do I, a white woman, confront or recognize the colorism and discrimination teachers of color face in a program I gain privileges from?
And the most realistic scenario:
How will I react when students ask about "proper English"? How will I react when I've been taught--been reading and thinking about--vernacular validity, "language wars," and the way colonialism shaped over 60 English-official countries?
But then again--these kids will be asking about grammar rules that most all native English speakers know, even with our differences in vernacular. And it's a standardization utilized when said student maybe travels...and it's five minutes to lunch time...and they're like eight years old.
I mean, of course I know I'm not bringing up such difficult topics in a third grade class.
I don’t have much left to offer on this discussion but some quotes from Hitchings' book:
“When we practise what the linguist Debroah Cameron has designated 'verbal hygiene', we expose our anxieties about otherness and difference.”
"Arguments about English have always been coloured by feelings about tradition, the distribution of power, freedom, the law and identity...any statement about methods of teaching and learning is grounded in politics, and when someone advances a so-called educational philosophy it is really an ideaological programme."
So I end this reflection with a call to other EFL teachers and/or teach-abroad hopefuls, native-speakers of all vernaculars and/or EFL-students-turned-teacher: how do we approach our field and these questions of ethics? I spent a lot of my MAT discussing equitable teaching--"that personal or social circumstances such as gender, ethnic origin, or family background are not obstacles to achieving educational potential"--
--what does that look like in an EFL class?
(Side note, if anyone wants to link me to works written by POC and/or local educators on this subject matter please feel free!!)
Pedagogy and Reflection
We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience