Monday, March 14, 2011


Penny Ur

English as an international language: What difference does it make?

This presentation is from Penny Ur. She is a pretty big name in the TEFL word, here's a pretty succint summary (again copied from the biodata): "Penny Ur has thirty years’ experience as an English teacher in primary and secondary schools in Israel. She teaches courses on aspects of foreign-language teaching methodology at Oranim Academic College of Education. She has published a number of articles on the subject of foreign-language teaching, and several books with Cambridge University Press, including A Course in Language Teaching (1996) and Grammar Practice Activities (2nd ed.)(2009)."

Per the abstract it was about: "English is today used predominantly as a tool of international communication between people who speak another language as their mother tongue, as distinct from its use as a mother tongue in the English-speaking countries. I will suggest in this talk that this development makes substantial differences to both principles and practice of our teaching."

Penny starts by discussing the prominence of English today (about 1/3 of people on earth speak English at a level where communication is possible). She mentioned kachru's three inner circles

English has such a large scope (academic, entertainment, political, tourism, etc.)

Competent speakers are no longer just "native" language speakers. Penny therefore posits that the circle be redefined: with the inner circle being named full competent, the next circle be named competent and the final circle being named limited competence

She talks about three different types of English we could teach. We talked about this a lot in my most recent Spanish course. What type of Spanish should be taught? There are so many lexical differences and even some verbs changes.

One of the native varieties
+Traditional and more conventional
+Has the reputation of prestigious
+Plenty of authentic material and coursebooks (which makes it easy)

-Not used by most competent speakers
-Difficulty deciding which one to teach (British/Australian/American)
-It is difficult for a non-native to reach a competence of native speakers

Diverse flexible models
+Ideologically acceptable (its very politically correct)
+Allows for local variation (since it is flexible the local model can always be included)

-No clear model
-Difficult to design syllabus and materials (and thus hard to teach and assess)

A standard variety
Derived from one of the main varieties/combination that eliminates local idioms, vocabulary, pronunciation spelling, grammar (omit fortnight, cheers: meaning thanks, etc) and adding more international words (like zee not zed)

+Range of acceptable forms
+Based on usages of fully competent speakers (which are not necessarily native!) Thus giving learners a realistic standard to reach
+Acceptable worldwide!

-Existence is questioned
-Not very P.C.

In the end Penny basically talks about how we can incorporate more of this into our classes.

My friends and I have talked about this quite a lot. Most of my collegues in Spain learned British English. I am American. I can navigate British, Australian, South African and most other Englishes without problem (although prepositions do sometimes mess me up). So what do I teach stduents? I try to teach the least offensive word. For example, I would not teach rubber for eraser since it means condom in America. I also prefer to teach trousers instead of pants since pants means underwear in British English.

An interesting reminder, though not very applicable to preschool at the moment :)

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