The issues surrounding which English we should teach are complex. A third of the world’s population is using English today “with varying levels of fluency” (Crystal, 2010, p. 8 ) and this diversity of use and users has given rise to the terms ‘World Englishes’ (Mesthrie and Bhatt, 2008, p. 3) and “English as a International Language” (Jenkins, 2000). These Englishes have been variously conceived as inner, outer and expanding circles of uses and users (Kachru, 1985, p. 16), as geographical varieties (Kachru, 1992) and as “self regulating registers for international use” (Widdowson, 1997, p. 399). In addition to these descriptions of varieties, standards, uses and users, Englishes in the world have been viewed from a critical perspective (Pennycook, 2001) which considers the political implications of the spread of English.
The political nature of language issues have been in the UK news thanks to Rastamouse, an animated crime-fighting mouse who spends his time making “a bad ting good” (“Rastamouse Background Info,” n.d.). The television programme has proved a hit with children but, despite being a positive role model, Rastamouse is not a hit with parents. In fact, the BBC has received complaints about the show. Why? Because of the variety of English used.
According to the Telegraph, the BBC has received 95 complaints about the language used in the children’s program (Wynne-Jones & Copping, 2011). The Independent reports that one viewer complained “Why don’t we teach children to speak English correctly before confusing them with a bastardised version of it? I feel sorry for the English teachers who have to pick up this mess” (Sherwin, 2011). The Daily Mail states that “it has generated concern about ‘confusing’ children with non-standard English” (“Makin’ a bad ting good”, 2011) and the Guardian notes that there have been “parental concerns that the patois could teach bad linguistic habits” (Hogan, 2011).
However, it’s not all bad news, with The Independent pointing out that “Britain’s Afro-Caribbean community, which numbers around 600,000, has embraced the series. The BBC 1Xtra digital radio station plays clips from the show in response to listener requests and an unofficial Rastamouse theme tune remix has appeared on YouTube” (Sherwin, 2011).
The Rastamouse website has the following information about the language used in the programme: “The dialogue is a blend of English, Street and Patois. In the case of Rastamouse and President Wensley Dale their general speech is sometimes interspersed with rhyming verse. The rhyming is never overdone and always feels completely natural within the flow of the dialogue” (“Rastamouse Background Info,” n.d.). It is worth noting that “[i]dentity and intelligibility are both needed for a healthy linguistic life” (Crystal, 2001, p. 61).
So where does this leave English as an International language (EIL) and the decisions we, as teachers, must make about which English to teach?
Considering EIL, Widdowson writes that:
How English develops in the world is no business whatever of native speakers in England, the United States, or anywhere else. They have no say in the matter, no right to intervene or pass judgement. They are irrelevant. The very fact that English is an international language means that no nation can have custody over it. To grant such custody of the language is necessarily to arrest its development and so undermine its international status. (cited in Jenkins, 2000, p. 7)
This has lead to the proposal for “a pedagogical core of phonological intelligibility for speakers of EIL, the ‘Lingua Franca Core’ (Jenkins, 2000, p. 123) to improve intelligibility in EIL while also reducing the learning load of learners by “focusing pedagogic attention on those items which are essential in terms of intelligible pronunciation” (2000, p. 123). This raises interesting questions for ELT and some of the implications for teacher training courses are examined in this issue in Eleanor Spicer’s article.
Issue 30 of the IH Journal sees teachers, teacher trainers, academic managers and materials writers engaging in theories and ideas about language, language learning, pedagogical issues and professional development. Developing an understanding of these areas is a key feature of teacher development and this is reflected throughout the IH Journal.
This issue is my last as editor. Taking over the job from Ian Berry for Issue 22 and finishing now at Issue 30, I have seen the Journal through its ‘twenties’ and enjoyed every minute of it. One book, four years, nine issues later, it’s time to pass on the role. I must thank the IH Journal team, Elizabeth Arbuthnott, her predecessor Ania Ciesla and our designer Yuriy Matiushkin for their patience, diligence and professionalism. The job would be much more difficult and much less fun without all their contributions and hard work. Finally, I’d like to thank you, reader, for taking the time to read the IHJ. I hope you find something of interest which might, in turn, inspire you to put pen to paper and submit an article for a future issue.
Bhatia, V. (2001). The power and politics of genre. In Burns, A. & Coffin, C. (Eds.). Analysing English in a global context: A reader (pp 65 – 77). London and New York: Routledge.
Crystal, D. (2001). The future of Englishes. In Burns, A. & Coffin, C. (Eds.). Analysing English in a global context: A reader (pp 53 – 64). London and New York: Routledge.
Hogan, M. (2011, February 15). Rastamouse: righteous rodent or rank stereotype? Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and radio/tvandradioblog/2011/feb/15/rastamouse-cbeebies
Jenkins, J. (2000) The phonology of English as an international language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kachru, B. (1985) Standards, codification and sociolinguistic realism: The English language in the outer circle. In Quirk, R. & Widdowson, H. G. (Eds.). English in the world: Teaching and learning the language and literatures (pp 11 – 30). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kachru, B. (Ed.). (1992) The other tongue. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Makin’ a bad ting good: Rastamouse becomes biggest children’s TV hit since Teletubbies. (2011, February 12). Retrieved from the Daily Mail Web site:
Mesthrie, R. & Bhatt, M. (2008). World Englishes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pennycook, A. (2001). English in the world/the world in English. In Burns, A. & Coffin, C. (Eds.). Analysing English in a global context: A reader (pp 78 – 89). London and New York: Routledge.
Rastamouse Background Info. (n.d.) Retrieved from the Rastamouse Web site: http://www.rastamouse.com/
Sherwin, A. (2011, February 12). Tings is good for Rastamouse, the TV cult hero. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/tings-is-good-for-rastamouse-the-tv-cult-hero-2212495.html
Widdowson, H. G. (1997) ‘EIL, ESL, EFL: global issues and local interests’, World Englishes, 16(3), pp. 135 – 46.
Wynne-Jones, J. & Copping, J. (2011, February 12). Rastamouse provokes complaints of racism and teaching bad language. Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/bbc/8320549/Rastamouse-provokes-complaints-of-racism-and-teaching-bad-language.html