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What variety of English should be taught? November 6, 2009

Posted by Seamus in English for Progress.
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There is an ongoing debate here in Sri Lanka about which variety of English should be taught and tested in schools:  Sri Lankan English or international English.  Industry seems to support international English but there are strong voices from Academia which insist that Sri Lankan English is the variety that must be taught and tested.  What do you think?


1. Anooja - November 9, 2009

Hi Seamus

It’s a very relevant topic that you have raised.

I think there are certain issues to be considered while deciding which English to be taught:

Will it be a good idea to teach only the regional English in schools and colleges? That leads to another question – What will the students do after school and college/university? Does the education equip them for that? Will they be able to compete globally without further training after leaving school/ university if they’ve learned only the regional variety of English?

The regional English can be taught and tested in schools, if the answer to the last couple of questions are yes. Otherwise it would be better to teach international English.

Susan Hillyard - November 16, 2009

Hi Anooja.
This is a massive question and one which causes a lot of debate.

Traditionally here in Argentina the feeling has often been in favour of standard BrEng but the scene is changing towards standard AmEng in some areas and some sectors and anyway what is STANDARD? What is International English? My teachers continually ask and my only response is that there is no standard English anymore and that we are more concerned with intelligibility and intercultural awareness. As you so rightly comment……much depends on NEEDS:

I could talk gallons on this but that’s my tuppence worth for today.
Susan H

Anooja - November 17, 2009

Hi Susan

I agree with you completely.

One could actually talk so much about this topic. International English–an ambiguous term, though commonly used.

In India BrEng is commonly taught and used, though in some sectors AmEng is preferred.

But I haven’t met anyone who wants to learn ‘Indian English’. Is the situation same in Argentina too? Or are there people who prefer learning the local variety of English?

Susan Hillyard - November 18, 2009

Hi Anooja,
I’m replying to your response below as I can’t find a tab .

We are too young here in Argentina to have a real regional variety of English although we ” native ” speakers are always compiling our lists of “Spanglishisms” which one day no doubt may contribute to an Argenglish……

There is definitely a certain frowning at code switching or inaccurate grammar which can manifest itself as disgust in older generations…..
Susan H

2. Stephen Jenner - November 9, 2009

Hi Anooja

What do you mean by ‘regional English’. What should be the place of English in a country like India where regional languages are so strong? I read that the ‘tri language’ policy of the 60s (Hindi+English+regional language) failed. Why was that?

3. Stephen Jenner - November 9, 2009

Hi Anooja

I think in India it’s complicated. In reality people need Hindi, English and at least one regional language in order to satisfy all the questions you’ve posed. But the ‘tri language policy’ of the 60’s failed to make that a reality. Instead, Hindi and English were seen as political weapons rather than building blocks. Do you think this is still the way forward?

4. Seamus - November 9, 2009

HI Anooja
I think you list a number of very important questions for educators and policy makers which make us examine the goals of English language education in our school and colleges.
I personally think children should be exposed to as many varieties as possible and that each variety should be assigned equal status by the teacher. Respecting and celebrating diversity is the only way forward surely – do you agree?

5. Manoj Nair - November 10, 2009


I was following the discussion on what type of English be taught in schools.I belong to tri lingual era and could not find anything wrong with the system. The past experience can not be taken as a bench mark since the Indian outlook is more global in the 21st century.though the language is still a political issue at least animosity towards English has definitely reduced. I agree that children depending on their capacity should be exposed to as much variety as possible clearly distinguishing each of them.

6. Seamus - November 10, 2009

Hi Manoj
I’d be really interested in hearing about your experience of the tri-lingual era. How exactly did the system operate in practice. Which was the main language of instruction in schools and how were the other languages introduced. Could you tell me a little more about it?

7. Stephen - November 10, 2009

Hi Manoj

I’d like to hear more too – why did the policy fail, and do you think it would have a better shot in today’s India?

8. Anooja - November 10, 2009

Hello everyone

It’s interesting to note the views expressed.

Stephen, I don’t know if the ‘tri language policy’ has failed or the criteria to determine the success or failure of the policy. But I too, like Manoj, learned three languages in school and have only benefitted from that. I think even now schools in many states teach the students three languages. In Maharashtra the children are taught three languages in the schools that follow the state board syllabus. I have read that the ‘tri language policy’ was not implemented vigilantly and some states did not follow that. But I think the policy is very much followed in many schools and at least by some states even now. I would like to know why the ‘tri language policy’ was considered a failure.

I agree, in India it is complicated and any type of English may face opposition from some political parties. Unfortunately it is true that some politicians use language as a weapon for gaining mileage politically. I think the majority of educated people would want language to be used the way it is meant to be- for communication.

Don’t you think, in India there are many varieties of English and not just one variety we can call as ‘Indian English’. I don’t know if I used the right connotation by saying regional English, but if you take any region, for example South India, there is a specific variety, actually ‘varieties’ as each state in S India there is a variety. There may be some homogeneity in many respects between these varieties, but there are differences as well. I agree with Seamus – celebrate the diversity and expose the children to as many varieties of English as possible, be it (varieties of) Indian or American or British.

Regional languages are very strong in India. That is the reason why people need a common language to communicate. People often go to other states for various purposes and the knowledge of Hindi and English becomes necessary then. People readily switch to Hindi/English when they find that the listener can’t understand the regional language. My mother tongue is not Marathi and I live here speaking mostly English. I think English is important when it comes to the business world. What is your observation?

Seamus, I can tell you how the system operated when I was in school. I studied in an English medium school (means I studied all the subjects in the medium of English from 1st grade) I started learning English from kindergarten onwards. I learned to write the regional language (my mother tongue, so I spoke that already) from 1st grade. Then the third language (Hindi) was taught from the 5th grade till the 10th. I think more or less the same method is followed even now. But it is slightly different if it is a vernacular medium school. I think English is introduced later in 2nd or 3rd grade. I hope Manoj will tell us more about his experience learning languages in school.

9. Manoj Nair - November 10, 2009

Hi Stephen & Seamus
Let me clarify one thing beforehand; tri-lingual policy in India is not over and it still exists. My reference of belonging to the ‘era’ was an instant reaction to the comment of Seamus that it started in the 60’s. Tri-lingual policy in India is very much relevant considering the existence of many regional languages dominated by the National language of Hindi. Regional languages are confined to a particular region, usually a state. For the communication outside the region, Hindi is popularly used and English to some extent. So, it is beyond doubt that tri-lingual education will stay in India. I cannot comment whether it failed or not. I would like to hear more about it from you.
My schooling was during the seventies and eighties and I studied 3 languages. I studied in private schools for the first 7 years and in a State Government run school for the last 3 years. The medium of instruction was the regional language, Malayalam. English was the second language which started with the alphabets from the first year itself and Hindi was introduced from the fourth year. The syllabus was set many years ago and had no stress on the practical usage of the language which I feel is still the lacuna in the Indian system. My parents stressed on the importance of the English language and encouraged me to improve the language skills by reading English newspapers and other publications. The role of parents in the initial years of education is very important and they play an equal or even more effective role in every child’s education. Because of this extra reading in English language at an early age, I did not find it much difficult to adjust to the sudden change of medium of instruction to English after the grade 10. My initial difficulty was not handling the language but to learn the terms in science and mathematics which I had learned in the regional language in the school.
After my graduation in Engineering, I had to leave my home state and take up jobs in other parts of the country. I made it a point to converse in English to the extent possible to polish my spoken English. From my experience, the only concern in using a regional language as medium of instruction is that the students do not get enough exposure in the practical usage of the English language and they lack confidence in real life situations when they have to communicate in English. They try to stress on the grammar and think many times whether the grammar usage is correct or not. The person who is not confident about the grammar tries to avoid situations where use of only English is possible. I feel that our educational system should focus more on the real life situations rather than giving more stress on the literature.
Another problem I have observed is that in the era of computer, internet and mobile phones; our young generation is losing touch with the proper use of language in formal communication. I am currently heading the marketing function of an organisation. I need to actively involve in the recruitment process for my department. I do get many job applications written like an internet chat or sms. Spell check is left to the computer and many times an irrelevant word is selected by the computer and the writer easily neglects the mistake. This is a perennial issue now and is unpardonable when you find that common even in news papers.
I am glad to be part of this forum and be able to voice my opinions. I hope that responsible and opinion making bodies like the British Council can do something to improve the current system.

10. Stephen - November 11, 2009

Hi Anooja. Very interesting posts, and I learnt a lot from what you’ve written. It was me who wrote that the tri language policy of the 60’s failed – or rather I read that it failed. I think failure here means that the majority of school leavers do not speak 3 languages confidently.

I agreee that the term ‘Indian English’ is probably a simplification. Just as there are many ‘Englishes’ (from Australia to Jamaica to Scotland!) there are also many varieties of Indian English (from Chennai to Amritsar to London!).

I agree that English is essential for the business world, and for working across India. The question is – what form of English? In the BPO sector you constantly hear expressions like ‘proper English’ and ‘the Queen’s English’ and ‘voice and accent training’. I’m not sure that any of these have relevance. If you’ve ever heard the Queen speak, she is actually pretty difficult to understand!

Do you think your experience of successfully learning 3 languages at school is typical? Or were you lucky?

Thanks again for your interesting and very enlightening posts!

Mallika - January 4, 2010

Hi Stephen

Very interesting post and extremely relevant too. I have been actively employed in the training and development field in India for the last decade and I couldn’t agree more with you. Especially about the voice and accent training delivered to completely clueless individuals in the BPOs!

There is an emphasis on a particular way of pronunciation of words which clashes with what young people watch on TV today, which is mostly American soaps and movies! In order to get that clipped Britich accent, they are forced to watch the Beeb in all its newsome glory, which can be quite tiring after a while! The point I am trying to make here is that we are living in a global world where everyone’s exposed to all sorts of varieties of English and there is no need to get all prissy and stuffy. The important and pertinent point is: are you intelligible to people who speak english anywhere in the world? I suggest toning down some hard sounds which may cause some confusion and speaking normally to get your message across.

What do you think?

11. Seamus - November 11, 2009

Hi Anooja and Manoj
Thank you both so much for your informative posts. It was very interesting to learn that although you both had tri-lingual education – the approach that your schools adopted seemed to differ markedly. However, also interesting and promising for the future is that the two different approaches led to success – in your cases anyway. This indicates to me that language policy may be equally successful when planned at community or regional level – would you accept that?
I agree totally about the importance of the parents’ role in a child’s education and particularly in attitude to one language or another. How can we get parents involved in India and Sri Lanka? Certainly here in Sri Lanka this is a major challenge as many parents in rural areas have little or no knowledge of English and some are even hostile or distrustful as far as English is concerned.

Susan Hillyard - November 16, 2009

Hi Seamus.
I agree that Anooja’s and Manoj’s posts are extremely enlightening. And also that getting the parents on board is vital.
Here in Argentina the state system has been implementing English language teaching at various levels in cities and rural areas for years and will soon bring the starting age down to grade one. As you say, there are some parents who do not see the point and they pass that attitude on to their children. The question of motivation on the learners’ part becomes a big problem for the teacher and impinges on success or failure.
Susan H

Seamus - November 17, 2009

Hi Susan
I think activity based learning is the only way forward in lower primary. Am I niaive in thinking that if children are enjoying doing a variety of activities from drawing, to singing, to craft and beyond in the medium of English they have a better chance of shaking off parental prejudice.

Susan Hillyard - November 18, 2009

Not naive at all.

But some parents might think it’s just messing about and not SERIOUS…….
Susan H

12. Debanjan Chakrabarti - November 11, 2009

Absolutely fascinating discussion on varieties of English that should or could be taught.

However, in India trilingual education is poised to make a strong comeback. The NCF, as far as I can remember, supports this and while there is perhaps less of a social need to be trilingual in South and North India, it is almost an imperative in East and West India, perhaps partly due to the reason that Eastern and Western states were relatively untouched by the language politics around Hindi in the 60s.

Very recently, we heard Isher Ahluwalia, Chairperson of Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) speak at a British Council event where she articulated a very strong case of a three-language formula in education.

Beyond the academic and pedagogic perspectives, tri-lingualism will increasingly be a factor in labour mobility within India. This has already started happening in the financial services sector. I have lost count of the number of callers from various banks and credit card companies who call me up and strike a conversation in Bangla though it is obvious from their vocabulary and accents that they are non-native speakers of the language. I have simply been profiled linguistically and the service provider is trying to reel me in by offering the language bait. Am so touched!

13. David Graddol - November 12, 2009

I think the question of what variety of English should be taught in Sri Lanka and India is a key one. One of the functions of schools is surely to help children extend their linguistic repertoire by acquiring skills in a language variety which has wider use: in relation to English that means a more standard form which can be understood internationally – but it can still be an Sri Lankan/Indian variety. The important thing is that this should be done in a way which does not devalue the more local variety that the child might bring to school.

On the three languages formula, I think it hasn’t worked well in the past. In English Next India I describe it as a kind of serial monolingualism. But I also think Debanjan is right about it becoming important again – Sibal, the HRD Minister clearly seems to think so, but I don’t think his version would go down well with everyone, or produce tri-lingualism.

14. Stephen - November 13, 2009

Hi David,

This is interesting and I’m looking forward to finding out more about ‘serial monolingualism’ at the Third Policy Dialogue.

Both you and Debanjan suggest that some form of the three language formula might succeed now although it failed in the past. I’m wondering what has changed in India for you to suggest this. What are the conditions for multi-lingualism?

Susan Hillyard - November 16, 2009

I know one can hardly compare the two countries in terms of size, population and regional languages, but the tri-lingual system in Singapore was a huge success…… at least while I was teaching English in the state system there in the seventies.

I will be really interested to hear David’s explanation of serial monolingualism.
Susan H

15. uberVU - social comments - November 13, 2009

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by EfPonline: #efponline English for Progress blog discussions get going http://bit.ly/4956jL What variety of English should be taught? #ELT #EFL #English…

Stormy - October 10, 2011

A few years ago I’d have to pay someone for this ionframtoin.

16. Seamus - November 13, 2009

Yes ‘serial monolingualism’ is an intriging idea and it will be interesting to unpack that term at the policy dialogue.

It is good to hear such optimism about tri-lingualism too. I anticipate strong interest from Sri Lankans in any model that is successful in India. I believe that tri-lingualism must be part of the reconciliation process and I would be interested to hear others’ views on that.

17. Uma - November 13, 2009

This is very challenging in the Indian perspective. A language cannot be effectively learnt unless it is set in its sociocultural system: …So the variety would depend on local values, mores, taboos, habits, social institutions, registers and so on….It would also depend on the users future interaction with communities outside their sphere..either for work, leisure or business. This is the big challenge in India…muticultural, multilingual !!!
I am really looking forward to hearing the experts on this…

18. Amy Lightfoot - November 13, 2009

Hello, I have really been enjoying the discussions so far as the topic of Indian English is one of my main academic interests (I can’t wait to read David Graddol’s new book!). There are four points that I would like to throw into the discussion…

Firstly, a major issue that I can see for deciding which variety of English to teach in schools is that the choice requires the teachers to be at least familiar with, if not proficient in, that variety.

Secondly, what do we mean by International English? Has this been codified as a distinct variety? I’m not sure it has. Is it essentially the same as Standard British or perhaps Standard American English?

Thirdly, as David has mentioned above, are the varieties really different enough for it to be a problem if students learn their own national or regional variety rather than an ‘International’ variety?

Fourthly, what do the students themselves want? Are they aware of different varieties or do they assume English is just English and that is what they are learning? And does this matter?

Susan Hillyard - November 16, 2009

Hi Amy.
I would like to respond to all your points but the most interesting one for me (as I have been teaching English in the World online at the New School New York as part of their MA TESOL programme) is the issue of “what is International English?”

My students spent two weeks discussing this and although we read books and articles galore we could not come to a satisfactory conclusion.

Into the fray I would like to add the debate about NESTs and NNESTs and which makes a better teacher? Old hat maybe but getting hotter by the day as we move into the World English Project faster than anybody dreamed.
Susan H

Amy Lightfoot - November 18, 2009

Hi Susan,

Yes, I think that ‘International English’ is one of those terms that is bandied about by many people, especially in academic discussions, but is very very difficult to define – perhaps it is a concept rather than an actual language variety, if that makes sense.

I agree that the NEST/NNEST debate is very interesting and another with no easy answers, especially if it’s generally agreed that teachers and students need to be confident at least comprehending several different varieties of English. This by no means translates into NESTs having the upper hand, perhaps the opposite as their exposure to varieties other than their own may be considerably less than many NNESTs.

I’m also really looking forward to the upcoming policy discussions, although I will have to watch the recordings as I’m away when it’s actually happening 😦

All the best


Susan Hillyard - November 18, 2009

Yes Amy,
I agree that EIL is more a concept than a variety but I’m not sure how that helps my teachers???¡¿¿¿ They want to know WHAT english to teach ……

Re NESTs and NNESTs…….I would agree that it does not translate by any means into NESTs having the upper hand….in fact I believe that in the not too distant future NESTs may become redundant if not extinct……or am I exaggerating and being too dramatic?
Susan H

19. Anooja - November 13, 2009


Stephen, you are correct in saying that majority of school leavers do not speak the 3 languages confidently. I wonder if it is because the languages are taught more as subjects. The skills are not given adequate importance. Especially the listening and speaking skills are ignored almost completely. So the students never develop the confidence to speak the language and get to listen to the teacher/s only in schools. Couldn’t that be a reason? There is no doubt that the policy or rather the system needs revamping. I really hope that the trilingual policy will only go from strength to strength in its new form as Debanjan said.

My experience learning languages may not be typical, but it definitely is not an isolated one also. I was lucky to get the right environment- friends, teachers, parents, background etc

That brings me to your question Seamus—getting parents involved in the child’s learning process. I don’t know about the situation in Sri Lanka, but as Uma has mentioned here (https://britishcouncilindia.wordpress.com/2009/11/11/two-simple-questions/#comments), in the comments section of this blog, the lower income group people are also taking keen interest in teaching English to their children. But as you said the case may be different in the rural areas. There, probably, educating the parents about the importance of teaching English to their children through something like street plays along with some incentive/motivational schemes where they are recognised/given prizes etc could do the trick. Anyway it is going to be a time consuming process..

David, I think what you said is very important. Whichever variety of English you teach the students the teacher should never make the students feel that the English the people around them speak is inferior to the one they are learning.
Serial monolingualism—sounds interesting. Waiting to hear more about it.

20. Seamus - November 13, 2009

Hi Anooja

Good to see you back online – I have missed your thoughtful and illuminating posts over the last few days.

I love the idea of street theatre as a vehicle for raising awareness of language policy and its implications. Is that sort of thing common in India? I have heard extremely enthusiastic reports of Forum Theatre in India and Sri Lanka and how powerful a tool it is for community cohesion. Unfortunately, I have never actually witnessed a performance,

Anooja - November 18, 2009

Hi Seamus

Sorry for the silence in between. Was a bit tied up.

I have read about instances in India where street theatre is used successfully as a means to carry messages across to the public or to educate them. Unfortunately, I too haven’t watched one live. Anyway, if it can work for one cause, why can’t it be used for a good cause like educating the parents about importance of education?

By the way, Stephen says that you can tell us more about teacher education which trains the school teachers in communicative language teaching. I am sure it would have been a challenging project. Perhaps you could tell us a few things about that..

How long does this training last and are there any follow-up training sessions for the teachers? Did the teachers find the unlearning process (from conventional teaching to communicative teaching) difficult?

Would love to know more about this.

21. Seamus - November 13, 2009

Hi Amy

I think there are two reasons why I used ‘international’ English in my original post.

The first, perhaps disingenuous, was that I did not want to use the term standard British as it is often misinterpreted as RP or even the Queens’s Englsih.

The second reason is based on my belief that there is, as David Graddol says above, ‘language variety which has wider use: in relation to English that means a more standard form which can be understood internationally – but it can still be an Sri Lankan/Indian variety.’

22. Stephen - November 14, 2009

Hi Amy

Nice to see you on the blogs!

A recording of David’s keynote introduction to English Next India will be available on early on 19 Nov at http://www.britishcouncil.org.in/efponline/sessions/18.html and there will be a live stream of the debate by our panel of experts (including Som Mittal, Rod Bolitho and David Graddol) on 19 Nov at 09.15 IST at http://www.britishcouncil.org.in/efponline/sessions/19_1.html, which will also be recorded.

Hope you enjoy this debate and the other sessions from the conference!

23. Stephen - November 14, 2009

Hi Anooja

I think you’re right that the reason students leave school unable to use a language proficiently is because they ‘study’ it rather than use it. I’ve seen this in other countries I’ve worked in too, e.g. Egypt.

However, things are perhaps changing. In Tamil Nadu the state board of eduction, together with Unicef and the British Council, has been managing what it calls a ‘silent revolution’ by introducing activity-based learning into primary schools. These are very low resource, largely rural schools where the main resource is the learners themselves. There will be a session on this on 20 Nov at 13.30 IST which you can watch live at http://www.britishcouncil.org.in/efponline/sessions/20_4.html

Finally, the British Council in India and Sri Lanka is trying to tackle teacher eduction by working with state boards to train large numbers of teachers, introducing them to communicative methodology adapted for large classes. Seamus, Clare and Philip will be able to say more on this.

Susan Hillyard - November 16, 2009

I’m interested in your comment:

_ I think you’re right that the reason students leave school unable to use a language proficiently is because they ’study’ it rather than use it._

I have noted that I, personally, totally agree with activity based ELL (as an ed dramatist how could I not) and communicative methodologies in general but there is also debate about imposing “western” styles and Br imperialism on other societies. Sandra Lee McKay in her book “Teaching English as an International Language”, 2002, OUP has a whole chapter (5) on this topic and of course, Canagarajah has written extensively on the topic.

Up to now I have not seen mention of CLIL, although David Graddol does mention the approach as a possible way forward.

Susan H

Anooja - November 17, 2009

Hi Stephen

Thanks for the link and sorry for the late response. Read your prompt response, but didn’t get the time to write this.

The BC’s effort in the area of teacher training in collaboration with respective state governments/boards is really laudable. Hopefully this will bring a sea change in the teaching methodology used in schools.

I read about the ‘Silent Revolution’ elsewhere in this blog. I would love to watch the session live to know more about it as at present I am involved in a project in a much smaller scale which aims at teaching English to children from non-elite background at a vernacular medium school. Though it is not a rural area as such, it is a smaller town nearby and their exposure to English is negligible. The children are all in 6th grade and supposed to be learning English from 1st or 2nd grade onwards. But what surprised me was that they can’t even differentiate between ‘b’ and ‘d’ or understand very simple instructions/questions in English. We are using activity based interactive teaching in the class and the children look forward to the classes every day. But the programme is just for a month and so can produce only a very limited result. Maybe the authoirities should get the teachers trained instead to make a lasting change.

I really hope that this ‘revolution’ would reach all the corners of India. I have kept myself free on 20th to be able to watch the session live. So, waiting to know more about the ‘silent revolution’…

Amy Lightfoot - November 18, 2009

Hi Anooja,

I’ve read all your posts with great interest, especially this last one. I am writing a PhD proposal at the moment which relates to what you have discussed about teaching in a non-urban environment. I’d love to discuss this further with you, perhaps at a later date, if you are interested.

Stephen – is there a way I can pass my email address on to Anooja without posting it on the blog?

Many thanks


Anooja - November 18, 2009

Hi Amy

Thanks for your interest.
I deal with different teaching situations as a freelance teacher. But this was my first experience with the vernacular medium students in middle school. The challenge is quite different.

It will be very interesting to discuss this with you and I would be happy if I can be of help.

24. Abhishek Giri - November 14, 2009

Hello Everyone,
I was fascinated by the discussion in international english or just regional english. I am from Nepal, i studied from a basic english boarding school and had developed a more often, regional english. But after completing Bachelors in India, and recently completing masters in Melbourne, i have realized that the need for an international english is a must, which will help to develop us from a non-english speaking country to come to a totally different country and speak english fluently.
International english will help young people who are looking for bright futures in a multinational company. Industries all over the world prefer to have a person who has a total command in english. I personally did face numerous challenges during my stay here in Melbourne completing my masters. What i saw as a pattern in most of us students from Asian countries do, is instead of thinking and writing, we wrote exactly the same what we spoke. Which in return made no sense in paper. This is shouldn’t have been seen in a Masters student’s paper, a proper english pattern should be portrayed from the very beginning so that the individual gets a proper hold of the language.
After recently giving IELTS again i received an overall score of 8 out of 9, compared to what i had two years ago an overall of 6.5 which i had to give to enter into Australia. The impact of regional language was seen in my previous score, the intense preparation for the IELTS exam for 2-3 months to get good score which i did, when i was back in Nepal. But now when i recently gave my IELTS exam, i didn’t prepare my self at all. I was confident that i could achieve a good score, as i was reading, writing and speaking and listening english for the last 2 years in melbourne.
Therefore i do believe that the impact of international english should be there from the very beginning, they should be taught in Academia so that, it can help students towards a better industry.

Seamus - November 22, 2009

thanks for sharing your experience with us Abhishek. Your comments on IELTS are very interesting and will resonate with bloggers on other posts here such as CLIL and Bilingual Education.

25. John - November 14, 2009

Hi everyone.
What an interesting debate. I congratulate everyone for such fascinating comments. It seems obvious that all you are experts in the topic.
I would like to share my thoughts and experience in the long path of learning English so it might give a different light to the debate.

I started learning English when I was 14 years old and I have not stopped since then. Even now, after more than 12 years I keep learning new things day by day.
I was initially influenced by American English probably because of the proximity of my country (Colombia) to the United States. After a while I then I moved on to study the British “version” of it for 5 years. Nowadays I live in Australia and I had just completed a Masters degree in Business in Melbourne. Just before leaving Colombia I worked in Citibank for 3 years and English was of paramount importance in our daily activities.

From my perspective, and taking into account that I have no relevant experience in the academia, I might incline myself to say that “Standard English” whatever it might be, has been helpful in determining my success in my previous posts and in my educational life. I do not consider myself to have British English, neither American nor Australian. Unfortunately kids, as I did, do not have much of a choice of what kind of English will be more productive or beneficial in their professional life in the future; therefore, what kind of English to teach new students should be a work done in conjunction with policy makers and academia, as Seamus has very accurately expressed. Some of my classmates in the Masters (many of them from India and Sri Lanka) and colleagues in Citibank, had trouble understanding and getting their thoughts understood in English. I wonder if that had to do with the kind of English that they learnt back home.

Seamus - November 22, 2009

hi John

Thank you for your comments. I found them very interesting especially in relation to a number of other discussion taking place on the blog (e.g CLIL, the optimum age for children to begin studying English).

One of the great things about having this policy dialogue online is that we can hear the voices of students (or end users) such as yours along with the policy makers, teachers, trainers and anyone with an interest in the subject.

In my view the more ‘voices’ the better.

26. Gary - November 15, 2009

Interesting discussion, one we need our resident Sri lankan English expert’s opinion on. In my opinion, we shouldn’t exclude SL English as a variety, but I’m not qualified to teach it. It’s perfectly valid in SL but interferes with communication once outside of that context. A move towards an international standard, not British English, would be welcome.

27. Stephen - November 15, 2009

Hi Gary,

I think you’ve got to the crux of the issue, but what exactly is the form of international English that everyone will understand? At the moment it seems to be British or US English, but this seems to be for reasons of history and economy. Perhaps we’ll all be speaking Indian English in a few years time? Or is the idea of a universal English as redundant as Esperanto? Perhaps we are entering an age of multi-lingualisim (just as we enter an age of political and economic regionalism, compared to the blocks of past years). I don’t know, but your post made me think about all this…

28. Amy Lightfoot - November 15, 2009

Hi everyone,

This is all so fascinating. I think Abhishek’s experience with IELTS is particularly fascinating. The fact that most people wanting to access education or work opportunities in English-speaking countries will need to go through an IELTS or other assessment ‘checkpoint’ first has a lot of implications for the English we learn/teach all over the world. I would imagine that, as Abhishek found, the use of a regional variety of English generally wouldn’t score as well as an International or British/American standard variety on these kinds of tests. Perhaps this is one things that is having a giant backwash effect on English teaching around the world?


Stephen - November 16, 2009

Hi Amy

You’ve raised an interesting point about IELTS. When I first came to India I was an examiner for the IELTS speaking test. I remember feeling a constant ‘disconnect’ between the kind of English described in the marking scheme and the language spoken by Indian candidates. In an EFL context it’s much easier to say this or that sample of language is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. In an ESL context such as India it all starts to get a bit blurred. Many ‘Indianisms’ (as we call them!) are perfectly acceptable in South Asia and used by millions of people without any problem, but they don’t conform to the version of ‘standard English (as we call it!) which we in the ELT profession use as our benchmark.

It might be wiser to adopt a more diverse view of language use, and to promote use of different forms of language for different situations. Just as native speakers modify their language (sometimes) when speaking to non-native speakers, Indians are taught to modify their language when speaking to native speakers, e.g. in a call centre when speaking to a British customer.

I’m not convinced by the school of thought that says one ‘standard’ version of English will give way to another, i.e. that we’ll all be speaking ‘Indian’ or ‘Chinese’ English in future decades. Rather, I think we might all become more multi-lingual (except the British of course!).

I know this is your area of expertise. What are your views? Would love to read more on this…

David Graddol - November 16, 2009

I agree with you, Stephen. I think that examiners’ guidelines are already becoming a little more tolerant of certain localisms. But what is needed is also better education of speakers of other varieties of English to develop receptive competence in a more standard form of Indian/Sri Lankan English.

I think Call Centres are a special case: there may be reasons why call centre agents have to adapt to what may be a customer with hostile attitudes to the call. But I also think that in call centres which are dispensing expertise (such as some of the higher end tech support centres), sounding Indian is becoming OK.

Amy Lightfoot - November 18, 2009

Hi Stephen,

I think “area of expertise” is pushing it a bit but thanks 😉

I think there’s a lot of emphasis on non-native speakers developing competence in a wide variety of Englishes (standard, regional etc) but there is a big gap in the education of native speakers, for example in the UK, about other varieties. I went to a really interesting talk by Jeremy Harmer last year where he was saying exactly this. I wonder whether the British Council would ever get involved in such a project here in the UK. I think British and other native speaking children will be a distinct disadvantage internationally if they don’t gain more exposure to different types of English, not to mention other languages.

I’d be interested to hear if others agree.


Susan Hillyard - November 18, 2009

I agree about the backwash effect but I have a bee in my bonnet which I want to express here and it relates to another forum but can fit in here too.

What “variety ” of English do we teach trainees?


Teachers go all over the world and do all sorts of interesting on-line courses on ESP for doctors, lawyers, economists, engineers…..but nobody’s done ESP for teachers! Why not? What an irony.

Will somebody in the ministries all over the world please consider this vital Q?
Susan H

nashanoojam - November 18, 2009

Hi Susan

ESP for teachers-a great idea. That’s the need of the hour in India as well. Many teachers who teach in schools where the medium of instruction is English would benefit a lot from that apart from English teachers.

Let’s hope that the idea ESP for teachers will be discussed during the conference.

29. Amy Lightfoot - November 15, 2009

p.s. thanks for the links Stephen 😉

Stephen - November 18, 2009

You’re welcome! If you email me at stephen.jenner@in.britishcouncil.org I can pass your email id on to Anooja.

30. David Graddol - November 15, 2009

Stepehen asks: what exactly is the form of international English that everyone will understand?

I think there must necessarily be several varieties involved in a teaching situation. The model used by the teacher, the student and the learning materials often differ, for example. A learner needs to be able to understand a range of varieties of English (not just native speaker varieties), without having to reproduce them. A model is also a standard by which students are assessed – it may be that certain differences from the teacher’s model are tolerated (even encouraged), but others may need correction.

To my mind, one of the major issues is intelligibility. If a local feature causes difficulty in understanding by someone from another country, then it’s not ‘international English’. As far as I know, there has not been much research on this. It is not the same as ELF (English as a lingua franca) because, in the Sri Lankan and Indian context we’re talking about a continuum of local to standard forms of English. Concepts such as ‘standard Sri Lankan English’ and ‘Standard Indian English’ are not well-developed. In contrast, there is a concept of ‘standard Singapore English’. And I was recently on a caribbean island where they distinguished between ‘creole’ and ‘standard English’. (As you might imagine, what they called ‘standard English’ was still pretty local, but I could more or less understand it).

Susan Hillyard - November 16, 2009

I’m based in Argentina where social status is very important and the learning of English goes hand in hand with that. We are constantly discussing standards and the variety of English we should teach with many users believing that standard English is both definable and measurable.

I myself would agree on intelligibility being the main criterion but that’s open to debate too. Who understands whom? Who is the arbitrator of this new standard worldwide?

The benchmarks laid down by international exams are changing too and agreeing, to some extent at least, to “enjoy” diversity which I believe must become part of our thinking.

Certainly regional accents, even today, in the UK can BRAND a person as coming from a certain social background……and can apparently measure worthiness/intelligence/competence. The same can be said for all countries and across cultures unless we raise awareness of variety.

It’s going to be a tough job.
Susan H

31. Susan Hillyard - November 16, 2009

To all,
Sorry I came in late ( I was away working in Peru) but I have thoroughly enjoyed this fascinating debate so far and see that we are raising so many intriguing issues. I hope to be able to stay with you now and am looking forward to continuing blogs and the opening of the conference itself.

Thank you all so much for making my presence possible even though I’m so far away. The joy of technology and the willingness of people to share and discuss openly!
Susan H

32. David Graddol - November 17, 2009

On the three language formula and the idea of ‘serial monolingualism’: In English Next India, I quote the HRD Minister Kapil Sibal who recently restated the policy (September):

‘We need our chldren to learn mother tongue, Hindi and English – mother tongue for better understanding of the subjects at elementary stage, Hindi at secondary stage for integrating to national level and English at university level for connecting to the world’.

I also note that a few days ago he appears to have released significant funds from the centre to recruit Hindi teachers in regional medium schools – over 1000 in the Punjab alone. Six other states were mentioned as beneficiaries.

The three language formula has been implemented in various ways, but none of them seem to me to have been designed to develop bilingualism or trilingualism in students.

In some cases there has been an at least implied ideological programme: teach primary through mother tongue and develop Hindi for study in secondary school; in secondary school teach through Hindi and develop English for study in university.

Only 12% of students reach higher education. Are they the only ones needing English? Is the mother tongue only useful for basic concepts and informal use?

Susan Hillyard - November 18, 2009

Thanks for this. Very clear and rather worrying. Perhaps we have to have some REAL debate about what we mean by bilingualism, which I know is another forum.

But it permeates the whole issue.

What is competence! bilingualism!trilingualism?

Where does intercultural awareness/competence fit?
Are pple aware of the implications in ELT?
And where do you think CLIL comes in to this?

Susan H

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