Friday, March 23, 2012

[MLE] Article "Linguistic imperialism alive and kicking"

Dear Multilingual Education friends,

The British Council, as well as some US agencies,  are active in south Asia and other places promoting the use of the English language in the classroom. A recent article by Robert Phillipson in The Guardian titled "Linguistic imperialism alive and kicking"  is criticising this as "undermining multilingualism and education opportunities". Some quotes:

The myth is the belief that studying English is all you need for success in life. Policies influenced by this myth prevent most children from accessing relevant education.

Is Anglo-American expertise really relevant in all such contexts? In fact educational "aid" worldwide does not have a strong record of success. There is scholarly evidence, for instance from Spain, that primary English is not an unmitigated success story: quite the opposite.

Governments have tended to clutch at a quick fix, such as importing native speakers, or starting English ever earlier, either as a subject or as the medium of instruction, in the hope that this will make the learning of English more effective. Such demands should be challenged by ELT when both the demand and the response are unlikely to be educationally, culturally or linguistically well-informed.

As many states in India are pushing for English,  this is a very relevant debate.

Karsten van Riezen
Consultant, LinkedIn Profile
SIL International, South Asia Group

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1 comment:

  1. The British Council responded in the Guardian to this article. It states:

    Multilingualism works

    Robert Phillipson (Linguistic imperialism alive and kicking, 16 March) states that the British approach in Africa and Asia aims to strengthen English rather than promote multilingualism. Last month while at a language policy conference in South Sudan – the world's youngest country – I stressed the British Council's commitment to the principles of the Unesco campaign for mother tongue-based multilingual education. I emphasised our alignment with the values of the African Union, promoting the use of African languages in the education system – in partnership with English and other ex-colonial languages.

    Governments worldwide want better access to English for their citizens to improve education, work and social mobility prospects – and they come to us for advice and support. While part of our mission is to develop a wider knowledge of English in the world, we do this within a wider aim of promoting the advancement of education.

    English should add to a child's linguistic heritage, not replace it. This is, after all, how we see foreign languages being taught in British schools.

    Most of the 10 million teachers of English around the world are bilingual or multilingual non-native English speakers. Multilingualism gives people great advantages in their lives and their jobs, and we promote it as a value. Phillipson quotes his experiences from before 1992 – the reality in 2012 is different.

    John Knagg

    British Council