Pennycook (1994) views the international spreading of English as neutral, natural, and beneficial. The EIL discourse is connected with numerous cultural issues. The implementation of the EIL model in Asian countries reveals the major controversies and benefits of positioning the English language as natural and neutral.
The EIL discourse as natural, neutral, and beneficial
“An international language is not the possession of a specific group. It is public property. It is not the vehicle of a single culture. It becomes the vehicle of any culture to which a user applies it” (Bryan, 1994). Although international language is not a possession of a specific group, it should be adjusted to specific cultural conditions. Evidently, the spreading of English has mainly been beneficial, and has created strong mergers with specific cultural contexts. To have a full view of the way English has become an international language, this paper will discuss Pennycook’s view on English as “natural, neutral and beneficial” (Pennycook, 1994). We will discuss the EIL discourse as applied to Asian cultural environment, and the issues which prevent English from effective implementation and use in specific Asian countries.
The EIL discourse in Asian cultural environment
Pennycook (1994) is very objective in that “the English language is so widely used today that a new dynamic has entered the economics of EFL”. Although the English language has already turned into a business commodity, English remains an effective tool of communication in business, too. Pennycook (1994) implies that the British Council’s language policies have been neutral and beneficial, but the central element of Pennycook’s (1994) discussion is the neutrality of English in specific cultural practices. Pennycook (1994) writes that “the dominance of the Western academy in defining the concepts and practices of language teaching is leading to the ever greater incursion of such views into language teaching theory and practice around the world”. Such dominance and imposition of the western educational models create cultural distortions; they compromise and eliminate the neutrality of EIL discourse, the importance of which Pennycook (1994) constantly emphasizes. The neutrality of the EIL discourse stems from the English language being a form of a developmental aid (Pennycook, 1994). As a result of these “aiding approaches”, English is not always appropriately embedded within specific cultural contexts. Singapore is one of the brightest examples of the way Pennycook (1994) views language in the real-life cultural environment. Singapore represents an example of the cultural environment, in which English remains a neutral means of communication, but which generates the controversy between numerous varieties of English. This language controversy subsequently grows and turns into inequality with social coloring: “the variety with the most prestige is typically referred to as Standard English, with all other varieties generally labeled with pejorative terms such as sub-standard or non-standard. […] Such a standard-nonstandard division is basically a reflection of social inequality” (McKay, 2002). In many instances, this social inequality can undermine the neutrality as one of the basic features of the EIL discourse. Although Pennycook (1994) pays special attention to cultural distortions of English, it is not the only issue the EIL faces in international cultural contexts.
The issues of EIL discourse in Asian cultural context
The problem is that the discussed language inequality in Singapore is partly caused by the distorted perceptions of the EIL as a language of colonialism, imperialism, and Western dominance. Through the prism of the world’s history, these language perceptions acquire additional “political taste”. These issues are discussed by Pennycook (1994), and are further developed by numerous language professionals. “Singapore, with no natural resources of her own, early saw the need to exploit fully her geographical location on the great shipping and trading routes between east and West” (Lim, 1991). Simultaneously, Singapore and other Asian countries face a dilemma between English as a critical means of communication and English as the language of colonial masters (Lim, 1991). Although Asia is striving towards social and cultural independence from the Western world, Asians cannot but recognize the importance of the English language as neutral and beneficial for business, market, and intercultural contacts. Asia frequently finds itself in the “influence of American capitalism and all the social, moral, and cultural values it implies” (Lim, 1991). As a result of these political influences, the EIL loses its neutrality; it meets social and cultural opposition, and takes a form of linguistic imperialism, about which Bryan (1994) speaks. However, Asian countries in general, and Singapore in particular, display the changing attitudes towards English, and reveal the new opportunities for discussing new culturally non-discriminative language teaching methodologies.
The majority of issues in the EIL discourse are caused by the conflict between Asian tradition, Western language approaches, and the need to combine them. Traditional approaches to teaching English as a foreign language emphasize the importance and the central meaning of a native speaker, positioning the foreign learner as an outsider, “who struggles to attain acceptance by the target community” (Graddol, 2006). This is the central problem the EIL discourse creates in Japanese cultural environment. Honna & Takeshita (1998) speak about the cultural and communicational problems Japanese students face: “they do not seem to have a correct understanding of how international and how common the language actually is among people throughout the world. In their mind, the native speakers are a big group, while the others do not cut a clear figure”. This is the result of the large EIL misconception which Asian language teachers promote in language teaching environment. They tend to view language as the border which divides speakers into the two unequal groups of native and non-native speakers, and in which “contact makes the dominant language impure by ‘infecting’ it with transfer ‘errors’” (Jenkins, 2005). In the majority of cultural contexts, Asian students face a fear of making mistakes in communication, and prefer speaking their native language.
Graddol (2006) discusses this artificial “purism” and the issues of bilingualism in the EIL discourse. For the majority of Asian countries, bilingualism remains an issue. Pennycook (1994) supports this view by stating that “language teaching methods, which have been exported to the world as scientific, modern, and efficient, have constantly supported the belief in monolingual English teaching”. Bilingualism is not recognized as a natural and normal situation. Furthermore, Asian countries lack a definition of a “mother-tongue” language. “For the next generation of primary schoolchildren in China, for example, many children will be expected to learn in Putonghua rather than their mother tongue” (Graddol, 2006). To further promote English as a language of international communication, a larger shift from native-speaker to any-speaker dominance should take place (Smith, 1983). The EIL discourse should encourage non-chauvinistic attitudes towards mother tongues and non-native English speakers.
The last and probably the most meaningful issue is in the erroneous view that Western teaching methodologies are easily applicable to Asian cultural environments. “The export of the applied linguistic theory and of Western-trained language teachers constantly promotes inappropriate teaching approaches to diverse settings” (Pennycook, 1994). These problems are especially visible in the Asian Islamic cultural environment, when “westernized” English teachers fail to adjust their secular teaching methodologies to the religious needs of the Islamic world (Mazrui, 2006; Washima, Harshita, & Naysmith, 1966). For example, Ozog and Conrad (1989) examine the “silence” information gap which forms the basis of English language teaching in Malay world: while Europeans take silence as an uneasy aspect of any language interaction, Malay community views silence as an appropriate cultural aspect, especially in formal settings (Ozog & Conrad, 1989). This is why to support the status of English as international language western teaching methodologies require major re-focus from standard to more individualized cultural approaches. Individualization is critical for supporting the neutrality and benefits of the EIL discourse in various (often dramatically different) cultural environments.
The EIL discourse as natural, neutral, and beneficial
The spreading of the English language has been extremely beneficial for the whole international language community. Pennycook (1994) underlines the benefits of English language in international communication, and suggests that
English is a commodity in great demand all over the world; it is wanted not only for reasons of friendship and trade with the English-speaking countries but also for other reasons not necessarily connected with any desire to imitate British ways or to understand British history and culture.
It is estimated, that by 2050, 1.9 billion of people will speak English as either the first or the second language (Graddol, 2006). The EIL discourse has been beneficial in helping Asian societies find closer association with the western world on more equal terms. Bryan (1994) pays special attention to bilingualism in the EIL cultural contexts. Bilingualism displays the unambiguous role of the English language, which does not distort unique cultural traditions but enhances more productive patterns of oral communications across various cultures.
Has the spreading of English been as neutral as Pennycook (1994) positions it? Yes, it has, and this viewpoint is also supported by the earlier work of Lim (1991). According to Pennycook (1994), the neutrality of the EIL discourse is expressed through the merger of applied linguistics and development discourses. As a result of this merger, the English teaching practices are gradually developed to achieve the highest scientific modern standards. This merger “sanctifies a range of teaching practices which have their ideological underpinnings firmly based in other Western ideologies” (Pennycook, p. 164). “Over the years, with the widespread use of English came a distinctive western-oriented way of life that grew rapidly in response to its own youthful impulses and those of the larger cosmopolitan world to which it looked” (Lim, 1991). The neutrality of the EIL discourse is also expressed through the vague and disappearing distinctions between native and nonnative speakers. Numerous authors emphasize the critical importance of distinguishing native speakers from non-native (Valdes, 1999; Washima, Harshita, & Naysmith, 1966), but in the EIL discourse these differences are becoming less relevant and further emphasize the neutrality of the English language in international context. The development of new global relationships makes these differences subtler and creates an undeniable image of the English language as neutral and beneficial.
Undoubtedly, the EIL discourse is known for being neutral, natural, and beneficial. The benefits of the English language are displayed through the closer associations between the western and Asian cultures. The erasing distinctions between native and nonnative speakers underline the visible neutrality of the English language. Western language teaching methodologies frequently create controversies with the native cultural environments. The changing attitudes towards English as international language create stable communicational relationships between different cultural contexts.
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