The Impact of Standard Varieties of English in Education: the need to increase awareness and shift language attitudes
Over the past few years, there has been an increase in ‘non-standard’ varieties of English due to the rise of English becoming an international language. This concept is called English as an International Language (EIL), which has specific functions that English fulfills in international and multilingual contexts. This phenomenon has created English variation and varieties, including different dialects of English and world Englishes such as Singlish (Singaporean English), Chinglish (Chinese English), and Indian English. Unfortunately, the variation of English has led to a controversy between ‘standard’ varieties that are regarded as ‘prestigious’, such as British English, American English, and Australian English. The language attitudes shown in the perceptions of ‘standard’ varieties relate to a historical context while ‘non-standard’ varieties are typically culturally embedded (Kachru,1992). The ‘standard’ varieties of English came about due to a history that consisted of colonisation, political, and economic authority along with codification, which eventually produced a language ideology that is ‘prestige’ or ‘proper’. The history and cultural influence on British English, American English, and Australian English culminated into a social norm that is called ‘standard’ varieties of English. However, the recent notion of English as an International Language (EIL) and English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) has developed the presence of ‘non-standard’ varieties of English, such as world Englishes. The significant amount of English as a Second Language (ESL) speakers in the world today have made this concept possible in spite of the ‘prestige’ of ‘standard’ varieties of English.
Educational institutions tend to have a preference towards ‘standard’ varieties as they are highly recognised in academia compared to the newly established ‘non-standard’ varieties. Furthermore, it is believed that the ideology of linguistic and cultural homogeneity transpires with language teaching practices of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. At school, doing it ‘right’ leads to educational success, while doing it ‘wrong’ leads to the connotation of ‘not smart’ or ‘struggling’ learners (Blommaert, 2010). This ideology explained here directly relates to ‘standard’ English being ‘right’, and ‘non-standard’ English being ‘wrong’ in educational institutions. This can make it extremely difficult for speakers who use ‘non-standard’ varieties of English to thrive due to the fact that the linguistic differences from their socio-cultural background are categorised as ‘non-standard’ in most schools. This perspective systematically disregards speakers who use a language dialect that represents their sociocultural background and therefore undervalues their whole identity.
A reconstruction and reorientation of language attitudes in order to increase awareness of variation is desperately needed for the ‘standard’ variety of English speakers, both students and educators. Doing this will allow ‘non-standard’ or world English speakers to feel proud of their linguistic and cultural features, which will then empower local varieties of English. Moreover, developing intercultural competence is an essential part of changing our attitudes towards language. It can be defined as skills in verbal and non-verbal communication, which helps us identify and understand cultural norms (Koester & Lustig, 2012). Intercultural competence also fosters unique perspectives that arise from the interaction of several cultures and is a part of developing multilingual or multicultural perspectives (Fantini, 2007). Interestingly, Bennet (1986) talks about how intercultural sensitivity is not natural to any single culture and that the development of this ability demands a new awareness and attitude. The author introduces a developmental model called the Development Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) that consists of a continuum of six stages of personal growth among intercultural communication, from denial, defence, minimisation, acceptance, adaptation to integration. The latter being the acceptance of behavioural differences, including language, communication style, and nonverbal patterns. More explicitly, Bennet (1986) emphasises that developing empathy in intercultural sensitivity is defined as a temporary shift in perspective such that one interprets events as if one were the other person. When a person is able to put themselves in another’s shoes, empathy develops, and this allows for reorientation in our cultural world viewpoint. The question that remains, then, is how we can apply this to ‘standard’ English speakers, and encourage them to step outside of their comfortable learned culture norms. It would start with developing strategies in classrooms, for example, intercultural training and interaction activities. This shift in language attitudes will benefit many English speakers that have a background in a ‘non-standard’ variety of English in across many educational settings such as international students at universities in Australia.
There is no doubt that in today’s growing multicultural world, it is extremely important to have intercultural competence, intercultural sensitivity, and awareness of language variation and innovations. One step to achieve this is to shift our language attitudes and welcome English speakers with rich socio-cultural backgrounds, which will in turn break down the stigma of ‘non-standard’ varieties of English in education.
Bennett, M. J. (1986). A developmental approach to training for intercultural sensitivity. International journal of intercultural relations, 10(2), 179-196.
Blommaert, J. (2010). The sociolinguistics of globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fantini, A. E. (2007). Exploring and assessing intercultural competence. Centre for Social Development, Washington University, Washington, USA.
Kachru, B. B. (Ed.). (1992). The other tongue: English across cultures. University of Illinois Press. Illinois, USA.
Koester, J., & Lustig, M. (2012). Intercultural competence: Interpersonal communication across cultures. Pearson Prentice Hall, Boston, USA.