Lecture 1: 'Native speaker' and the goals of ELT

Despite what has been said about the 'native speaker' in the previous section, it seems that the fact that 'native-like' proficiency is the ultimate and the highest goal for any language learner has become an article of ELT faith. It is not uncommon then for language levels on different scales to be pegged to the 'native speaker'. For example, the CEFR B2 level descriptor states that the learner "can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party".

Read the quotes below. What views on the 'native speaker' and their role as a proficiency benchmark? Which do you agree with most?

  • "The native speaker's 'competence' or 'proficiency' or 'knowledge of the language' is a necessary point of reference for the second language proficiency concept used in language teaching" (Stern, 1983, p. 341).
  • "Learners often failed initially to produce correct sentences and instead displayed language that was markedly deviant from target language norms" (Ellis, 1994, p.15).
  • "The native speaker is a fine myth and is useless as a measure" (Davies, 2003).

You're now going to read an article from IH Journal entitled ELT and the Native Speaker Ideal: Some Food For Thought by Christina Smolder, which is available for free on-line here. She argues that "the blind promotion of the native English speaker ideal can be impractical, inappropriate and unfair in most EIL teaching contexts" [emphasis mine].

Which arguments do you think she uses to support each of her points? Before you read the article, make a list of possible arguments and examples to support Christina's thesis that maintaining the 'native speaker' as the model and goal for all learners is:

  1. Impractical;
  2. Inappropriate;
  3. Unfair.

Then read the article and compare the arguments you listed with those used by Christina.

Smolder ELT and the Native Speaker Ideal.pdf

The article you've just read raises some very important questions for teaching and learning of English. For example, if the 'native speaker' model is not an appropriate one any longer, which English should we teach? And who gets to decide? We'll address these questions in more detail in the following lecture, but as a prelude, we'll watch a short interview with David Crystal where he talks about the spread of English worldwide. While watching, try to make notes on the following questions:

  1. What is the biggest challenge facing English teachers now?
  2. Why by teaching students only one variety of English might we be doing them a disservice?
  3. What should we take into account when choosing which Englishes to expose students in class?
  4. How can teachers expose students to different varieties of English?

Suggested reading:

  • Kirkpatrick, A. (2012). English as an Asian Lingua Franca: the ‘Lingua Franca Approach’ and implications for language education policy. Journal of English as a Lingua Franca, 1–1 (2012), 121 – 139. [available on researchgate.net here]
  • Llurda, E. (2009). Attitudes towards English as an international language: The pervasiveness of native models among L2 users and teachers. In Sharifian, F. (Ed.) (2009). English as an International Language. Perspectives and Pedagogical Issues.
  • Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. [available on academia.edu here].
  • Mahboob, A. (2005). Beyond the native speaker in TESOL. In S. Zafar (Ed.), Culture, Context, & Communication. (pp. 60–93). Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: Center of Excellence for Applied Research and Training & The Military Language Institute. [available for free on academia.edu here]