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Teaching English as a Global Language

Amy GTEFL Contributor
ESL Lesson Handouts - Teaching English as a Global Language
Photo by Edmond Dantès

If you haven’t already noticed, there has been a shift in the way we think about Teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language. Actually, there have been many shifts, but we are focusing on just one of them in this article. It can be argued that English is no longer a “foreign” language at all. Instead, it has become a kind of “lingua franca”, an international mode of communication among native and non-native speakers.

Here are a few things you need to know about English as a global language and the implications for our EFL/ESL instruction.

The global nature of English

It’s no secret that English is by far the most widely-spoken language in the world. This means that in order to fully participate in international culture, beyond national borders, students must be prepared for the many dialects, accents, and cultures that they will encounter from a variety of English speakers [1]. Considering this, many English educators are abandoning old-fashioned notions of teaching “Standard British English” or “Standard American English”.

There is a growing understanding that teaching English as a global language will prepare English learners to engage in the language in all situations. Remember, your English students are more likely to communicate in English with non-native English speakers, because there are simply more non-native English speakers than native speakers.

How exactly did the English language achieve such prominence? Although it is the home language of Americans, British, Canadians, and South Africans, it is also the common language of business in many other countries throughout Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

Emphasis on communication

To teach English as a global language, it’s important to take a communicative approach. [2] In other words, the goal of instruction is not simply proper grammar or sentence form, or even necessarily correct pronunciation, but simply the ability to understand and to be understood.

Your focus as an instructor should be helping students use the language in a wide range of language functions, to vary language use appropriately for the audience and the situation, and to read and write a variety of texts (such as reports, narratives, interviews, etc…). And perhaps most crucial of all, students must learn to communicate effectively in spite of any gaps in their knowledge or, for that matter, the knowledge of their audience. Thus, using the language properly, based on the situation, becomes more important than using it correctly.

Your role is to empower ESL/EFL students to negotiate meaning with other English speakers, both native and non-native.

Speaking of Language Functions
ESL Lesson Handouts can be filtered and sorted by Language Functions (e.g. Asking and answering questions, Describing people, places, or things) and Language Forms (e.g. Adjectives, Future forms, Passive voice, Past forms), so it’s easy to find the perfect teaching material. Check out the Lesson Plan Library.

Problems

Needless to say, there are a number of potential problems with teaching of English as a global language.  One of the biggest obstacles lies in the diverse backgrounds and knowledge bases of your students. Their knowledge of English will differ depending on the degree to which English learning was encouraged in their native country. For this reason, it is important to remember that your students may be coming from very different places, cultures, and stages in their learning journey.

In addition, there are a number of cultural biases to contend with. Students who speak with an accent suggestive of “Indian English” or “Japanese English” may feel that their abilities are inferior, even if they can be understood very well. These English speakers may have been conditioned to believe that an American or British accent is superior, indicative of near-native fluency.

It’s possible to counteract these biases by teaching about the cultures of the many people who speak English all over the world.

The teaching of English as a global language has powerful implications for building unity and understanding across cultures. If you haven’t yet explored its possibilities, it may be time to start.

[1] Breene, Keith. “Which countries are best at English as a second language?” World Economic Forum, 15 Nov 2019.

[2] Wang, H. Samuel. “Global English as a trend in English teaching.” Intercultural Communication Studies, XXII:1 (2013).

Amy GTEFL Contributor
Amy is an experienced English, French, and Spanish teacher. She now studies and writes about trends in education and is a course content creator.

Disclaimer  We aim to provide useful ESL and EFL teaching resources and educational ideas. Our articles are written by educators with extension TEFL experience. They contain only general information about teaching English as a foreign language and are meant purely for informational purposes.

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