Recent developments in pluralistic approaches to English in classroom practices

A debate over the implications of findings in the research areas of WE and ELF for ELT and pedagogic practices has recently seen important developments, and several proposals can be found in literature, mostly oriented at an inclusive and more pluralistic approach in connection to the developments and changes English has gone through. Some proposals are related to more general goals in EIL (McKay 2002; Matsuda 2003) and EIL curricula (Brown 2012) or to ENL, ESL/WE and ELF/EIL (Kirkpatrick 2007; Matsuda and Friedrich 2011; Wen 2012); others provide exemplifying activities (Farrel and Martin 2009; McKay 2012a; Matsuda and Duran 2012). In some cases more structured activities are set out, either within courses - mostly in higher education - or in modules that can be integrated into a syllabus (Takagaki 2005; Vettorel 2010b; Bayyurt and Altinmakas 2012; D'Angelo 2012; Lee 2012; Sharifian and Marlina 2012). Other proposals have focused on more specific aspects, such as a communicatively oriented curriculum (Sifakis 2006), pragmatics (McKay 2002, 2009; House 2012), or are aimed at the development of language awareness (Seidlhofer 2004) and communication strategies (Canagarajah 2006, 2011; Mariani 2010; Friedrich 2012).

The proposals emerging from the literature can therefore be considered in line with the promotion of plurilithic (vs. monolithic) ELT practices, which are oriented by an Englishes- and an EIL/ELF-informed approach that is set within a broader perspective aiming to make learners aware of the plurality of English today and to provide them with the tools needed to become competent as well as more effective English users.

As the approaches briefly summarised above show, operating within a pluralistic perspective to WE and EIL is not about selecting which 'features' and language elements are to be taught. It has been pointed out very clearly by ELF researchers that to embrace an ELF-informed perspective in ELT would not in any way imply applying a prescriptive pedagogic model, namely 'teaching ELF features' (cf. Seidlhofer 2004; Seidlhofer et al. 2006; Jenkins 2007; Dewey and Jenkins 2008; Cogo and Dewey 2012). Jenkins et al. (2011: 17) state very adamantly that ELF

is not about determining what should or should not be taught in the language classroom. Rather, ELF researchers feel their responsibility is to make current research findings accessible in a way that enables teachers to reconsider their beliefs and practices and make informed decisions about the significance of ELF for their own individual contexts.

What a pluralistic WE and ELF-oriented pedagogic approach entails is, in the first place, an acknowledgement that English no longer represents a single, monolithic language and culture, and that this diversification is not a distant, far-away and merely theoretical reality, but one that can be frequently encountered in everyday communication.

Adopting a pluralistic perspective on Englishes and ELF is hence neither a matter of 'selecting linguistic features' that ought to be given priority in syllabi and materials, nor of choosing between 'international varieties' such as 'an/the international variety of English' (p. 334), '[s]peakers' own variety of English' (p. 335), or 'an established variety of English' (p. 336), as summarised in Matsuda and Friedrich (2011: 334-337). Instead, it entails a broader shift in perspective, one that 'would enable each learner's and speaker's English to reflect on his or her own sociolinguistic reality, rather than that of a usually distant native speaker' (Jenkins 2006a: 173) and to each local context of learning and use.

As we will see in the next sections, the areas outlined above could be taken into account in order to:

  • • encourage language use in authentic contexts, similar to the ones learners are already engaged in as L2 users, whether face-to-face, or digitally-mediated;
  • • foster awareness, and provide a realistic representation, of the pluralities of English today, both in terms of varieties (WE) and of ELF users;
  • • provide attainable and realistic language models for learners as L2 users;
  • • connect with the learners' context, environment and L1 as a site of language contact, that can be meaningfully exploited for reflection and critical awareness; and
  • • provide an overt focus on active and WE/ELF-oriented Communication Strategies (CS) and Intercultural Communication Strategies (ICS).

As regards CS and ICS, if on the one hand it can certainly be said that CS have been part of CLT-oriented curricula, on the other they have traditionally been set against a NS backdrop (e.g., Widdowson 2003; Leung 2005; Berns 2006; Canagarajah 2006, 2011; Jenkins 2006b; Seidlhofer 2011). Given that both CS and ICS are an inalienable element in achieving successful communication, they ought to constitute an important area in ELT, with a focus on real-world communication contexts, particularly in WE and ELF settings (e.g., Leung 2005, 2013).

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