With more than a billion native and non-native speakers, English is the most widely spoken language in the world. Teaching English as a global language is a practice that recognizes the characteristics that made English so widespread and prepares students to participate in this global linguistic experience by exposing them to different accents, dialects, and cultures. Here are eight key strategies that teachers can implement when taking this global approach in the ESL classroom.
Tip #1: Emphasize the global nature of the English language.
When teaching English as a global language, it is important to provide context to help students understand how exactly English became a global language.
Present a brief history lesson that traces English from its origins in England to the dozens of countries that use it as a dominant language today. Discuss why English became widely adopted around the world while other languages were not.
By following the evolution of English through the centuries up to now, students can fully appreciate the flexible, open, and inclusive nature of English that facilitated its global adoption.
Tip #2: Examine your own attitudes and your students’ attitudes towards English.
Students and teachers who have been taught to speak and hear English in a certain “correct” way might find it difficult to grasp the characteristics that make English a global language.
Take inventory of the vocabulary you use and the music you listen to. Trace these words and sounds to their original cultures to appreciate the true openness of the international English language.
This exercise serves as a reminder that English is constantly evolving into a more descriptive, more powerful language that is expressive of a global human experience. Throughout history, it has rarely conformed to grammatical or lexical boundaries, preferring instead to serve as a channel of candid human expression around the world.
Tip #3: Remind students that English is no longer linked to a particular country.
Pull up a map and ask students to start naming the countries where English is spoken as a native language. Then, ask them to find the countries where it is spoken as a dominant language. Finally, ask them to find where it is spoken by the majority of the population.
Not only will this be a very surprising exercise (did you know that English is an official language in Zimbabwe!?), it will also remind students that there are many ways that English is spoken around the world. Learning to use it is meant to facilitate communication with people across the globe, not to dictate a single, correct form of usage.
Tip #4: Tell students that they might be using English with other non-native speakers.
Students who are learning English as a global language must be reminded that, statistically speaking, they are more likely to use English with non-native English speakers than natives. This is because English has more non-native speakers than native speakers!
Although some students may have very specific goals for where and with whom they will be speaking English, it’s highly likely that they will at some point encounter an unexpected accent or dialect of English.
Unless you’re great at accents, use the World Wide Web to train your students’ ears to non-native English accents. Incorporate some listening comprehension activities to maintain focus and prevent this from devolving into a purely humorous exercise.
Tip #5: Emphasize fluency, or communication, over accuracy.
Academic English and English proficiency exams have ingrained in many students’ minds a stark contrast between “correct” and “incorrect” English.
It is the heavy task of the global English teacher to help students unlearn their fear of mistakes and embrace communication for the sake of comprehension.
When speaking, students should learn to decipher their listeners’ body language in order to ensure they are being understood. Some students will prioritize correct language usage and pause, hesitate, and self-correct to the point of losing their audience’s attention. Other students will disregard all standards of usage and blurt out a string of nonsensical words.
Get students comfortable with the eventual reality that, while speaking English globally, they will at some point be misunderstood.
In order to make themselves understood to people from around the world who all speak varying levels of English in various dialects, teach your students to be receptive to their listeners’ reactions, adapt their speech accordingly, and prioritize intelligibility above all else.
Tip #6: Explain that there is not one standard English pronunciation.
Tomato, tomato (tomayto, tomahto).
From American English to Scottish English to South African English, there are countless ways to pronounce each word in this wonderfully global language.
Instead of fretting over the correct pronunciation of a word, train students’ ears to a plethora of pronunciations by exposing them to different accents.
It can be difficult for even native English speakers to understand different accents. The more students listen to a variety of pronunciations, the easier it will be for them to understand others and make themselves understood in a global English setting.
Some teachers tend to repeat what students say, absorbing what they hear and automatically translating it into their own accent. If you and the class can understand what the student is saying, try to refrain from over-correcting their pronunciation or “translating” their pronunciation. Continued exposure to the language and meaningful conversations using English will iron out any unintelligible sounds without crippling their communication with too many rules.
Tip #7: Encourage a multicultural atmosphere in the classroom.
Every language classroom should be a vivacious place full of culture, conversation, cuisine, music, poetry, and emotion! After all, language is used to reflect the human experience, not twisted and grappled with to conform to one single experience.
The more culture you can bring into the classroom, the more you can take advantage of the full potential of English as a global language.
Invite your students to share a piece of their own culture. If your students are all from the same country, you can still invite them to share aspects of their life that they love – food, hobbies, music, sports, literature, and more.
You can also show videos, play music, or invite guest speakers to exemplify how English is used to express a global experience.
Tip #8: Allow students to use English to explore their own local surroundings and interests.
Although it’s a global language, English is also uniquely personal.
Its openness and inclusivity have allowed it to be adopted as a global language. Its flexibility has allowed it to be molded around each individual’s unique human experience.
While showing students how English is used in Scotland or Zimbabwe, don’t forget that, ultimately, they are there to use it as an expression of their own personal existence.
Invite them to take English out of the classroom and explore how it is used in their city. Whether it’s the cafe playing Justin Bieber’s latest hit, the name of the milkshake at their local fast food restaurant, or a new Instagram update from a celebrity, remind students to recognize the role English already plays in their lives.
Instead of glazing over it, invite them to interact with it by straining to understand Justin’s lyrics, ordering that milkshake in English, or setting their phones to English. Since it’s all around us, it can be easy to learn to ignore global English. Invite students to recognize it, embrace it, and engage with it in their own daily lives.
Teaching English as a global language requires that teachers approach it with the same spirit of openness, flexibility, and inclusivity that facilitated its global adoption in the first place. By following these tips, you can help your students use this language to its full potential – to facilitate multicultural communication and collaboration and to express the full, authentic experience of humans around the globe.