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NEWS AND COMMENTARY
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The Forum makes a weekly roundup of interesting commentary from all over the world about the English language and related subjects. To read commentary from a particular country, simply click the indicated country link. To go out of that country’s commentary section, simply click the country link again and choose another country link.
LIKE IT IS: More than reading and writing
By Peter Wallace, Columnist, @inquirerdotnet
MANILA, March 17, 2016—I read somewhere that schoolbooks do not provide much on the horrors of martial law. How on earth did that happen? It explains the youth’s disturbing acceptance of the Marcoses’ return to society. So here’s a first for the presidentiables: Produce accurate, quality textbooks—in hard and soft copies. For every child, all requisite books or a tablet with everything all loaded in. Let’s transition more rapidly into the modern world starting with every kid owning a computer.
Computers are expensive but necessary today. What can help is for companies, like those in the BPO (business process outsourcing) industry, to donate theirs as they upgrade. Some have tried this, but they were taxed for being generous. I have written to the Department of Finance to scrap this tax, but there’s been no response. So the computers are trashed instead. What a terrible waste.
As I said last week, education is No. 2 in the list of family priorities. At my rural house, the two reasons I get requests for loans are sickness in the family or a child’s tuition.
President Aquino made the right decision in shifting to a 12-year curriculum, but his introduction of it has been quite unsuccessful. So an immediate action, in the first 100 days of the next administration, must be to fix the transition problems.
Education Secretary Armin Luistro has done much to put in place the needed facilities and hire the needed teachers and staff. The next president should keep him, but with a budget of only P412 billion, there’s a limit to what he can do. Thus we have the perennial problem of not enough of everything, such as teachers (whose salaries should be increased), books, classrooms, desks and chairs. And, not least, decent toilets. Nutritious, free food would be a good idea, too.
In addition, no one should be laid off—no college instructor or professor, no college staff, no one. The government needs to subsidize their continuance. This is a reasonable cost in introducing a necessary change. Wherever possible, college instructors and professors should assist by teaching Grades 11 and 12, but only if they have the knowledge and ability to do so.
The Department of Education has also given students the option of enrolling in private schools through a voucher program (Education Service Contracting Program). A total of P12 billion has been allocated for this.
I’d like to see a far greater emphasis given to the sciences, which is not saying that the arts should be ignored. With a mother as an artist, I’m more aware than most of the great value painters, musicians, actors, etc. bring to society. They are its cohesion; they give us the joy in life we need. But we need to produce products and deliver services, too. We need engineers, scientists and IT technicians. Far too few are being graduated. Promoting the sciences should be high on the next president’s list.
As should English. Primary and early learning can be in a local language, but English must follow within a few years. The Commission on Higher Education has launched a basic English training program, as has the Department of Science and Technology. Why so late in the day? As I’ve long argued, English must be one of the essential languages to learn at the start of schooling, when the brain can best accept it. It’s the language of the globalized world, of which the Philippines must be part. Computers speak it, international trade operates with it, and it’s an advantage the Philippines mustn’t lose. I hope the next president will continue the program that does this.
Make English our national language
By Homobono Adaza, columnist, The Manila Times
MANILA, January 6, 2016—“People see things as they are and ask: why? I dream of things that never were and ask: why not?”
—Nobel laureate George Bernard Shaw, made widely popular by Senator Robert F. Kennedy
ONE of the gnawing problems of our country is unmitigated tribalism. The Ilongos like the Cebuanos love their language; it is their national language. The Ilocanos as well as the Bicolanos love their language, too, and way down the line of known tribes in this country. Tagalog as the national language is resisted everywhere except in the Tagalog speaking regions.
The world has changed in so far as the language of communication is concerned. English is the universal language of communication and diplomacy. As a matter of fact, Filipinos speak better English than the Englishman, the American, the Canadian and the Australian. We have mastered the language so much so that our Asian neighbors come to the Philippines to have their students learn English or import Filipino teachers to teach English in their schools.
World conferences use English as the basic language of communication. Filipinos excel in world conferences or schools abroad because of our mastery of the English language. Would a Filipino have been given a standing ovation in the Inter-parliamentary Union Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1985, if he did not extemporize and spoke in fluent English? Would a Filipino have been told, after a symposium in Washington, DC by an American chief of staff of one US senator that he and the Filipino shared a mutual misfortune because the Filipino was not an American and if the Filipino were an American, he could become President of the United States of America, if he did not extemporize and spoke fluent English?
The biographies and autobiographies of great men in the world are originally written in English or translated into English and made available to the world. Only one thus far has been translated into Tagalog or the national language. Are we going to keep Filipinos ignorant of these biographical or autobiographical works – from Augustus to Winston Churchill, from Plutarch Lives to Profiles in Courage, from Leon Troztky to Zhou En-Enlai, from Benito Mussolini to Adolf Hitler, from Ben Gurion to Gammal Abdel Nasser, from Moammar Khaddafi to Lee Kwan Yew, from Moshe Dayan to Vo Nguyen Giap, from Fidel Castro to Hugo Chavez, from Thomas Jefferson to Tom Paine, from Woodrow Wilson to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, from Simon Bolivar to Ernesto Che Guevara, from Mahatma Gandhi to John F. Kennedy, from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes to Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy, from Admiral Nelson to Admiral Nimitz, from General Douglas McArthur to Charles de Gaulle, from Saint Augustine to Sister Teresa, from Margaret Thatcher to Golda Meir, from Indira Gandhi to Benazir Bhutto, from Marilyn Monroe to Ingrid Bergman, from Jawaharhal Nehru to Nelson Mandela, from Menachem Begin to Anwar Sadat, from Mao Zedong to Ho Chi Minh, from Valdimir Ilyich Lenin to Julius Nyerere, from Gustavo Gutierrez to Janio Quadros, from Irwin Rommel to Van Tien Dung, to mention a drop in the bucket?
What about the landmark and outstanding works of literature – Nobel Prize, Booker Prize, Prix Goncourt, Pulitzer Prize, and the classics, to mention a few – from Ernest Hemingway to Andre Malraux, from T. S. Eliot to Pablo Neruda, from Romain Roland to Lawrence Durrell, from D. H. Lawrence to Gustav Flaubert, from Andre Gide to Simone de Beauvoir, from Aristophanes to William Shakespeare, from Pramudya Ananta Toer to Yukio Mishima, from Yasunari Kawabata to Kenzaburo Oe, from Sherwood Anderson to Guy de Maupassant, George Orwell to Thomas Wolfe, from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Octavio Paz, from William Faulkner to Jorge Vargas Llosa, from Leo Tolstoy to Margaret Mitchell, from Ayn Rand to Pearl Buck, from Mathew Arnold to Thomas Gray, from Homer to Sappho and Pindar, from Dylan Thomas to Robert Frost, from Kahlil Gibran to William Ernest Henley, from Ignazio Silone to W. Somerset Maugham, from Rudyard Kipling to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, from Paolo Coelho to Miguel de Unamuno, from Alice Munro to Michael Ondaatje? Are we going to keep the Filipinos ignorant about them simply because we consider the adoption of English as a national language as betrayal of our nationalistic aspirations…?
Under the penumbra of error
By Antonio Calipjo Go, Opinion, Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, June 8, 2015—“Look at her, a victim of the gutters, / Condemned by every syllable she utters, / By right she should be taken out and hung, / For the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue.”—My Fair Lady (Lerner/Loewe), sung by Rex Harrison
“Diversity: Celebrating Multiculturism Through World Literature” is the title of the “learner’s material” that was recently published by the Department of Education (DepEd) for the use of Grade 10 students studying in all public secondary schools in the Philippines.
The “Development Team” responsible for the sorry existence of this 508-page so-called instructional material includes two consultants, 10 authors, 10 reviewers, one language editor and an additional production team with four members.
For all that, this textbook has been rendered dark and dim by the presence of 1,300 errors, shadowed by a penumbra of infirmities, inconsistencies, deficiencies, defects and instances of plain stupidity.
Twenty years ago, I stumbled upon what would turn out to be my calling in life, after having been serendipitously introduced to the dark underworld of the defective textbook by way of a series of 12 grossly defective textbooks bearing the deceptive titles of “Effective Language Book” and “Effective Reading Book” (published by St. Bernadette Publications).
After reviewing “Diversity,” I feel I’ve come full circle. After 20 years, the already worse textbook situation simply got worst.
The 27 individuals who cobbled “Diversity” into the abomination that it is, all the public high school teachers who are now using it, and the entire DepEd bureaucracy—not one among them saw the glaring error in the very title of the book itself.
The word “multiculturism” does not exist! It should be “multiculturalism.” On the copyright page, these may be seen: “Only institutions which have entered an agreement with Filcols….” and “Those who have not entered in an agreement with Filcols….”
The writing, as Eliza Doolittle would’ve croaked, is abso-bloomin’-lutely loverly! Only a Cockney idiot will spell the word “lackluster” as “lakslustre.”
Ways to fix “sick book” problem
By Jane Abao, Opinion, Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, June 28, 2015 The 1,300 errors that “sick book” crusader Antonio Calipjo Go found in a book that the Department of Education (DepEd) published recently hogged the headlines. The book is a learner’s material for Grade 10 students.
DepEd said the book was only a first draft but Go insisted the draft book was still anomalous. In a press statement, DepEd pointed out that developing the learning materials and teaching guides “involves several stages of drafting, editing and validation, as well as various consultations with content writers, reviewers and editors before printing.” That is the correct process. But was this process followed?
Book publishing for teaching and learning is every citizen’s concern. So, what were those 1,300 errors? A combination of factual errors, grammatical errors, misspelling and typos.
A textbook normally contains a lot of text and a few pictures or none at all. Ordinarily, when manuscripts are being prepared, copy fitting entails some counting. A page of 8 1/2 x 11 inches when placed on a draft, double space in Times New Roman, 12 points, would contain 250 words. If single space, that would be 500 words. So for a book of 144 pages (considering paper cuts), expect some 72,000 words.
But words are only words and they must be correct factually as well as grammatically in the way they are used in sentences. If we talk of allowed errors for a tenable confidence level, the margin of error for a book of 72,000 words should only be 7.2 where the errors are preferably found in typos.
Therefore, 1,300 errors are not forgivable. It speaks more of ignorance than neglect. Even if Go found the errors to be 100 or 50, the number is still not acceptable.
The book had 2 consultants, 10 authors, 10 reviewers, 1 language editor, 5 members of the production team, 3 illustrators and 3 layout artists. But there’s nobody there at the top as editor in chief. Who could have acted as one? This is the key to the whole problem.
Lingua not so franca
By Scott Jaschik, InsideHigherEd.com
LONDON, June 2, 2015—The PowerPoint used here by Russell H. Kaschula at a discussion of English as an increasingly global language of instruction was different from those of the other presenters. Key words and phrases were both in English and in isiXhosa, a South African language.
Kaschula, a professor of African language studies at Rhodes University, in South Africa, said he wanted to challenge one of the “myths” about English instruction: “that one must choose one language of instruction.” Kaschula said he doesn't doubt that English is increasingly being used at universities all over the world by students and faculty members for whom it is not a first language -- and that the trend will continue. But he said that there is no reason that this must be at the expense of local languages.
His was among a number of comments at a panel here at Going Global, the annual international education meeting of the British Council, that suggested that many of the issues about the rise of global academic English have been oversimplified or ignored.
English is increasingly used for instruction in countries all over the world. A 2013 study by the Institute of International Education, for example, found 6,407 master's degree programs in English offered across Europe (excluding Britain) a 33 percent increase over 18 months, and 10 times higher than the total from 2002. Entire universities where instruction was once in a language other than English have converted programs. New colleges are sprouting up in Asia and the Middle East, teaching in English.
But is English really taking over? Should it?
Ernesto Macaro, professor of applied linguistics at the University of Oxford, studies second language learning strategies. He said that much research remains to be done, but that there are already indications that English may be less universal and more problematic than people realize.
For instance, he said that in much of the world, when people talk about “global English,” they are talking about English being taught in the private schools that prepare wealthy students to enroll at elite universities in their home country or abroad. So it's true that many more people plan to study in English at the higher education level, he said, but there are major issues of inequality at play.
A foreign language can make sex scenes read better
By Arifa Akbar, Columnist, The Independent UK
April 22, 2015—What is the right language of love? Or sex, I should say, if I were being less British. There are those literary fiction writers who daren’t venture into that territory at all and then there are those intrepid others who have found themselves on the receiving end of a Bad Sex Award.
Perhaps the solution is to write sex in a language that isn’t your own. At least, that is what the American-Ghanaian novelist Taiye Selasi does. Writing about sex in Italian for magazines gives her a freedom she wouldn’t have in English, she says: “I write about sex – women sleeping with Italian men – for GQ Italian. I write directly in Italian, particularly when I want to have a bit of distance from myself. I started writing in English and thought ‘This is a cheap Sex and the City and I’m not Carrie Bradshaw’.”
For Selasi, a key factor is her limitations in Italian. As counter-intuitive as this sounds for good writing, I see her point: a smaller, more utilitarian vocabulary can’t accommodate the obfuscations and hiding places that her boundless English could allow: “My vocabulary is limited in Italian and it should be when you describe sex, really. I’ve found that simple subject verbs in sex are wonderful. It means the writing is direct and honest because you can’t dissemble with an adverb.” It’s a method exercised by English language novelists such as Geoff Dyer who succeed in writing such scenes in convincing ways by using exact, almost clinical, language. Not everyone can achieve this effect though, which is Selasi’s point.
Telling stories in another language, and not just sexy ones, holds certain advantages for writers, I discovered, at a fruitful panel discussion held at the Iceland Writers Retreat (IWR), which puts on workshops for writers ever year in April. Among the guest speakers was Barbara Kingsolver, who expanded on Selasi’s idea that a foreign language, even with its limits, can enable rather than disable a speaker. In her case, it offers another kind of personal freedom: “When you learn another language, you assume a new personality. I grew up extremely shy, and I was always a shy child but when I learned French I became bolder and then speaking Spanish in my twenties I was much more adventurous and bold.”
Desperately dull TOEFL abuses the English language
By Ann Marlowe, TabletMag.com
WASHINGTON, D.C., March 13, 2016—“Who is Alicia Keys?” Amina’s voice over the Viber connection to Afghanistan was faint but her puzzlement was clear. I didn’t think I was going to have to give lessons on American pop culture when I set out to tutor Amina, 16, and her brother Ahmad, 17, for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Truth was, I didn’t know much about Alicia Keys either, and that hadn’t interfered with my life so far.
I’d met Amina and Ahmad in their home town of Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan in 2002, when they were 3 and 4 years old. We took to each other from the start. And I kept visiting their family—and staying in their big family compound—at least once a year up until 2011. For most of that time, Afghanistan in general and Mazar in particular seemed to be on an upward path.
Amina and Ahmad both go to the local Afghan-Turk High School—run by the Turkish Gulenist movement and rather peculiar but the best option among the not very impressive selection of local private schools. Everything was going well for Amina and Ahmad until this year, when the Afghan government began what looks like a meltdown. This summer, the girls’ Afghan-Turk school received Taliban death threats, and the Taliban’s success in capturing Kunduz briefly this fall didn’t bode well for Mazar, just 100 miles away. So, this fall Amina and Ahmad’s parents asked me to help them apply to boarding school in the United States.
To apply to American boarding school or college, foreign students must take an English language test, usually instead of the PSAT or SAT. For all the boarding schools we were interested in (and for the vast majority of colleges) the TOEFL is required. While there are TOEFL junior and primary tests for ages 11+ and 8+ respectively, the TOEFL iBT, or Internet-based test, which Amina and Ahmad will take, is suggested for “16+”. They will be competing with students five or 10 years older—they are lucky enough to attend a local TOEFL prep course, and the other students are at the local university. The TOEFL IBT takes four and a half hours and incorporates reading, listening, speaking, and writing sections.
I’d assumed Amina and Ahmad would have a tough time with the TOEFL, as they have little experience with English. Uzbek, a Turkic language, is their home language. Dari—a dialect of Farsi and, along with Pashtu, one of the two official languages of Afghanistan—is what they speak outside the house. Turkish is the second language of their high school. They also study Pashtu in school, as it’s obligatory for Afghan students to study both Dari and Pashtu. But not English. So, I was prepared for an uphill battle to improve Amina and Ahmad’s English. And I adjusted to the fact that the Internet is slow in Mazar, and it takes a long time to download files or refresh a screen.
What I didn’t expect was the esoteric cultural content embedded in the test. In three months of working an hour a day with Ahmad and Amina, seven days a week, I’ve come to see the TOEFL as almost always dull and often profoundly unfair to students from the more remote parts of the developing world.
What exactly is the native speech of the United States?
By Tyler Wooley, Staff Writer, TropNews.com
March 17, 2016—I think it is safe to say that each of us has met someone who says things that are completely ignorant. I know I have.
You know those people who act like they know about something, but actually they don’t know anything about the subject?
Yeah, those people.
It seems like no place is immune to these sorts of comments, conversations and moments when you just look at someone and think, “Did you really just say that?”
I had one of those moments a while ago. I have heard this certain phrase plenty of times, and it makes me cringe every time I hear it.
The statement I am referring to can be said in different ways, but the gist of it was “This is America; we speak English!”
Regardless of the fact that this statement is extremely rude — perhaps the reason I don’t hear it in person — it is nowhere near any kind of correctness politically, factually, etc.
Let’s start with the facts.
First, this is the United States of America; using just “America” is much too broad of a statement and can include countries in North and South America, most of which have a national language other than English.
Next, not everyone in the United States speaks English.
Would you like to know why?
According to usconstitution.net, “many assume that English is the country’s official language. But despite efforts over the years, the United States has no official language.”
How not to help English-language learners
By The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board
October 25, 2015—A huge omnibus study of English-learner education in California faults the state for not having any rigorous effort to determine what works and what doesn’t — and for having such haphazard standards that some school districts routinely classify (and stigmatize) English-learners as “special needs” students. The study was conducted by researchers at Stanford University and the University of Oregon and was based on evaluations of programs in Los Angeles Unified and several medium-sized and small California school districts.
In a state in which 23 percent of K-12 students are English learners, the largest percentage in the nation, this should be a call to action. Unfortunately, Gov. Jerry Brown has already appropriated the issue with a scam program — the Local Control Funding Formula — that in theory is supposed to be about helping English learners by getting them more resources but in practice has amounted to a way to funnel more money to urban school districts to pay for teacher raises.
In a January telephone interview with editorial writers, Brown challenged a question based on the premise that the Local Control Funding Formula had been “hijacked.” But the governor did say he would look more closely at the question of how LCFF dollars were being used. Five months later, his administration agreed with Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson that the money could be used for teacher raises.
This, yes, hijacking should be one of the biggest issues in Sacramento. That it isn’t speaks to the power of the California Teachers Association and the cowardice of politicians who claim to care about struggling students but who are far more concerned about their careers.
The changing face of learning English
By Indy Sarker and Saurabh Chopra, Leap Learning Solutions
September 4, 2015—Language learning is going through tremendous evolutionary shifts, with the advent of technology tools and devices that empower and promote learning at the individual level. The mobile Internet and the ecosystem supported by smartphones are redefining the language learning landscape. English language learning is by far the largest segment globally, when ranked against all other languages. India is no different.
Traditionally, English language learning in India has been largely left to the formal schooling process. That has had limited success. Out of a population of 1.2 billion in India, 350 million "use" English in some capacity in their daily lives; only 90 million out of that speak the language; and out of that a mere 10 million speak and comprehend English fluently. While the aspiration to learn English remains high in India, fulfillment of that aspiration has been a huge challenge. We believe smartphones, mobile Internet and the cloud has the power to impact dramatic change in this area.
Knowledge of the English language is increasingly seen as an economic empowerment tool, to help in one's career growth and employer-ability. Given the shortage of quality English language teachers and lack of standardization in teaching methodologies, technology-enabled solutions are helping to bridge this supply side constraint of shortage of English language teachers and methodologies (or the lack thereof).
This combination of low-quality English language education infrastructure and the gap between academic teaching and employability has been a drag on the proliferation of fluency in the English Language. Aspiring Minds, a company that conducts assessments on students and their employability, in 2011 found that across a sample size of 55,000 students (in India), only 3 percent were fit for employment in the IT industry without any further training; and around 78 percent of the students surveyed struggled in the English language.
Traditional "vocational institutes" and "coaching centers" have had little positive impact on the English learning market place, as they are fragmented across the country with poor quality teaching staff and lack of well-established practices that foster language learning in the most effective manner. Learners have to go these locations physically and at specific times of the day. The latter alone is a huge constraint (i.e., geography and time) when it comes to attracting numbers.
The evolution of language
By Mayank Vahia, DNA Webdesk
March 14, 2015—When you think of it, I think it is a miracle that we can talk and listen.
Language is a strange entity. We talk about languages, family of languages, structure of languages etc. The world is a babble of languages. Most have a structure which is useful to express our ideas, our feelings and of the nature around us. Then there are non-linguistic languages and languages that cannot be spoken.
Mathematicians would read an equation as “d square x by d t square is equal to minus k x” but frankly the amount of background training one needs to make sense of what the phrase “d square x by d t square” is significant. To understand this sentence requires a fairly involved learning of the common agreement on symbols and what they stand for and what they imply. Most of us would be quite happy to ignore the above sentence. Yet all our clocks and a lot more are derived from this sentence of mathematics.
Language can be far more complex than we normally care to acknowledge. It is the most common mode of communication, but can also create more confusion. For important issues, we prefer to meet in person rather than use a phone. We attribute this to the need to have human interaction. To really understand what someone is saying, it is often important to read the ‘body language’ along with listening to the spoken words. Even video conferences are not fully satisfactory. We all spend enormous resources in personally meeting each other. Indeed the most cunning of men (and women) perfect the art of not communicating while talking so that they can keep their personal thoughts private even while interacting with people and deceive people into believing something else.
So language is used to express the most complex ideas, to express our deeper feelings, to understand each other and to hide ourselves from others in full public view. Yet this importance of the spoken word is strange because our strongest sense is not the sense of hearing, but the sense of sight…
Language of science is the key to wisdom
By Rowan Hooper, The Japan Times
May 16, 2015—Today I’m going to try something a little different — at first, anyway. First, let me tell you a bit about my job.
Around the world every day, lots of important things happen. Some of the most interesting and exciting things are about humans, the world we live in and how everything works — things such as why stars burn, why people get sick, what is space made of, how the brain works and how babies grow?
My job is to decide which of these things you really need to know and understand: to decide which stuff matters.
My job is also to decide what is true and what is wrong. I then have to write about these things or, more often, ask other people to write about them in order to explain them. We write all of this in a paper book that you can buy, but we also write it in stories you can read on a computer. It’s a great job.
Why, you might be asking, am I providing you with a description of my job? You might also wonder why is it reads a little strangely, and why I didn’t use the words “news” or “science.” The answer is that until the beginning of the fifth paragraph I had been writing using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language. It’s an idea I wanted to try out because last week I took part in a science festival at Imperial College London with a cosmologist who has written an entire book using just the 1,000 most common words. That sounds impressive enough, but it’s not just any old book — Roberto Trotta’s The Edge of the Sky attempts to explain the universe.
Imagine trying to write a book about physics and the universe without using the words “science,” “telescope,” “galaxy,” “planet,” “energy” or even “universe.” The constraints actually impose a kind of automatic poetry onto the writing.
“It is hard to believe that everything out there past the White Road and its stars, is running away from us,” Trotta wrote in his book. “Yet, like Mr. Hubble found long ago, the Star Crowds are running away from each other, as the space between them gets bigger and bigger. The All-There-Is is growing with time.”
Shameless Quebec language cops bully small paper
By Barry Wilson, CTV Montreal
MONTREAL, May 29, 2015—The heavy hand of Quebec's language police has come down on a tiny newspaper in West Quebec and it is shameful.
The Pontiac Journal is one of those vital links for small communities that local newspapers fill so well. A few years back, the English paper began publishing some stories in French and also took on some ads in French. It's a bilingual community so it only made sense. But the language heavies at the OQLF got wind of this and didn't like it one bit.
The Office objected to English and French content together. Nor did it like the fact that any ads in French were not bigger than the ads in English. You know how size matters in this province, particularly with those who may be a little insecure about things.
Said publisher Lily Ryan: “Extremism is being put on the table by an organization that doesn't understand the reality on the ground.”
I guess the OQLF is afraid that putting English ads and copy in an English newspaper too close to French would be contagious and would somehow threaten the so-called fragility of the French language in Quebec.
Bureaucrats are interfering with press freedoms and the ability of a small newspaper to serve its readers in the way they know best. Why? Because more often than not these buffoons and their masters need to justify their existence and they specialize in bullying small businesses and people who have a hard time fighting back.
But usually what happens is that Quebec ends up looking stupid and petty because of anti-English laws which, for the language zealots, are written on tablets that they believe are worthy of the Ten Commandments.
Memo to the OQLF and the language minister and all those who just want to put us in our place: Back off. Just back off. There is whole new generation of confident outward-looking young Quebecers who don't see the world through the optics of language grievance.
English-language education is a rudderless ship
By Ahn Seok-bae, Chosun Ilbo News Desk
Most people in northern Europe speak English fluently. According to the English Proficiency Index compiled by Education First, a global education business, Sweden ranks No. 1, followed by Norway and the Netherlands. Some 89 percent of Swedes speak fluent English, and no one in the country gets nervous when approached by a foreigner in a supermarket or in the street.
What is their secret? The education system has a lot to do with it. In Sweden, English teaching starts in elementary school, focusing on conversation, and many subjects are taught in English through all grade levels. For instance, some classes such as chemistry in high school are taught in both English and Swedish. Education authorities do not meddle in that.
Outside school, language learning takes place on TV. Swedish TV does not dub foreign-language programs but provides subtitles instead, so children get exposed to English at an early age.
But in Korea, where English-language education accounts for a huge proportion of the vast sums parents and the government spend, most people are still seized by panic when a foreigner approaches them in the street. Korea ranked a poor 24th out of 60 nations on the EPI last year.
Education First says that despite “enormous private investments,” Korea has seen “minimal” effects, while the proficiency of Koreans has “declined overall.”
Advice to foreign tourists: Don’t expect English-language service
By Olena Goncharova, Kyiv Post
Foreigners coming for the Euro 2012 football championships had better make room in their suitcases for a Ukrainian or Russian language guidebook. They’re going to need it, judging from this Ukrainian’s attempt to get around the city with a friend, both of us pretending to know only English. We visited theaters and cinemas, bookstores and cafes in order to find out who could communicate with us, and ranked the experience. In general, it was a disappointing one.
Although English is widely taught in schools from early childhood, the world’s most widely spoken language still hasn’t sunk in enough for many Ukrainians to be able to have even an elementary conversation.
So if you can read this, thank a teacher.
First we went to Taras Shevchenko National Opera House, a logical stop for a foreign tourist, and bought a ticket. After 10 minutes of queuing, one man tried to cut in front of us. He made the booking clerk nervous. The man’s mood brightened considerably after he heard us speaking English, and he began to smile.
“Hello! Do you speak English? We would like to buy two tickets for Iolanta on April 11,” I asked the clerk.
“On the 11th?” he asked in response.
Then he turned to the woman standing behind him. They started to point at the poster and asked us whether we want a ticket for April 11. We assured him that was the case and asked about the prices in the third row.
Lessons in a common language
By Alicia Clegg, Financial Times
April 18, 2012—It is hard to imagine Gina Qiao, Lenovo’s talkative head of human resources, at a loss for words. But when her employer announced, following its acquisition of IBM’s personal computer division in 2005, that it was adopting English as the company language in place of Mandarin, she was speechless.
“It was the toughest time of my whole life,” she recalls in rapid accented English, punctuated by the occasional malapropism and mixed-up tense. “I couldn’t communicate. I couldn’t express my ideas. Because I couldn’t say anything, I just felt maybe I am not so smart.”
The feelings of frustration and loss of confidence that threw Ms Qiao off her stride are an increasingly unfortunate feature of a global marketplace that has elected English as the de facto language of international exchange. As managers create teams that straddle national borders, knit together companies that are merging and look for ways to speed up the sharing of knowhow, their attempts to impose a common language on a multilingual workforce can create winners and losers.
During a language transition, bilinguals are often called on to act as intermediaries linking headquarters and local operations, which puts them in a privileged position and can lead to job offers. But for those forced to master a whole new vocabulary and grammar just to hold down the job that they were already doing, a language change can feel like a professional step backwards from which it is hard to imagine ever recovering.
“(Companies) very much underestimate the psychological stress that a language change can cause,” says Rebecca Piekkari, professor of international business at Finland’s Aalto University.
In some cases this may be because the cosmopolitan elites that run them speak several languages already and mistakenly assume that their subordinates do too…
Learning English language in Thailand: Hype or necessity?
By Kuldeep Nagi, NationMultimedia.com
April 2, 2012—Lately there has been increasing debate about the status of English language in Thai society. Many arguments are made for and against the relevance of English language and its usefulness. Arguments made by Thai politicians take us back and forth about the role of English language and distracts us away from the realities of this new century. This nationalistic faction believes that imposing English language on Thai people is against their culture, heritage and their unique identity. The same group also argues that Thailand was never colonized so why bother to learn English. For them English is the language of the British colonies. It has no place in Thai society. Some others with a myopic vision believe that Thai peoples hould not be made to feel insecure and inferior because of all the hype about importance of learning English.
It is an historical fact that in the 17th century the British did not go around the world to impose their language; they went places with an intention to do trade. Later, they forcibly occupied many countries in Africa and Asia. And of course they occupied North America and USA as well. In their more than 300 years of history in Africa and Asia they conquered many countries. It was followed by the creation of their own system of education, transport, communication and governance…
It’s English but not always as we know it
By Stewart Riddle, NewZealandHerald.co.nz
Jun 13, 2013—English is rapidly becoming a lingua franca in international communication for commerce and trade, education, science, international relations and tourism.
It is the fastest growing language in the world, with more people speaking English than ever before. School children in India and China are learning English at a staggering rate as their countries emphasize the importance of English as a ticket to participating in the global economy.
So why then do we continue to link this evolving internationalizing language with a small island in Europe that once upon a time controlled the world?
Perhaps it is about time we got rid of the “English” and start calling it something else - international, standard or common language?
It is important to understand that there is not one English language; there are many. In fact, in Australia we don't even speak and write English. We use Standard Australian English, which is not the same English that you might find in the United Kingdom, the United States, India or China.
There are countless blends, pidgins, creoles and mixed English languages. At the same time that English is becoming the language of internationalization, it is also becoming localized in different parts of the world as multiple world Englishes flourish.
English: the linguistic equivalent of rock’n’roll
By Toby Manhire, The Internaut
February 13, 2013—More often than not, the domination of the English language in international discourse is put down to an accident of history. But for leading German commentator Alan Posener, that’s only part of it.
“There are many reasons for its dominance,” writes Posener, who was born and in part bred in Britain, in Die Welt (and translated at the terrific WorldCrunch site), “the heritage of the British Empire, and the post-world-war economic hegemony and cultural influence – ranging from Mickey Mouse and Marilyn Monroe to Elvis Presley and Snoop Dogg – of the United States.”
But it’s more than that.
The main reason is the elasticity of the language and the broad-mindedness it communicates. If English grammar is rudimentary, the linguistic equivalent of rock’ n’ roll, the English vocabulary is huge. There are very few things that can’t be expressed in English, and if it can’t be said in English then a word is lifted from another language – like “kindergarten,” for example. If it doesn’t exist in English and a word isn’t lifted from another language, it’s because what it represents doesn’t make sense to thinking shaped by the English language: a case in point, Schicksalsgemeinschaft (companions in fate).
Posener points to a new German novel which imagines a world in which the first world war had never happened, and German had become the universal tongue of science, academia, politics and so on.
It’s not an altogether implausible scenario, he says, but in respect of the language, at least, the world could count itself fortunate.
English translations of Chinese laws? Don’t call us.
By Dan Harris, ChinaLawBlog.com
May 27, 2013—Pretty much every week someone asks me for an English translation of a Chinese law or cites one to me as an explanation for a decision they made or are contemplating.
China’s laws are too precise/too vague/too changing/too real world/too dependent on regulations to use English language translations of one or two laws for making final decisions. An English language translation can in many cases give you a good “feel” for a situation or a starting point for how to proceed, but the risk of that translation being very wrong or just enough wrong to make a big (or even just a little difference) is just too great for you to rely on it without more.
And every year or so we get a company comes to us as a new client seeking our help in getting them out of some sort of trouble they find themselves in with the Chinese government for having accidentally violated some law due to a mediocre translation or one that simply did not include all of the laws and regulations on the subject. In figuring out how to legally proceed in China, in many instances even a good translation is not nearly enough because decisions on how to proceed might require interpretations of local regulations or even knowledge of local quirks. Many times one of our China-based lawyers (or even one of our China lawyers in the US) will get on the phone and call a government official (or two) to get their views on how the relevant government body interprets/enforces particular laws/regulations and/or treats particular situations. Chinese government officials are virtually always willing to talk these things out and they are often surprisingly helpful, even if they do not always provide the expected or desired answer.
So what do I tell those who ask me for English language translations of Chinese laws? I send them the following form email:
The Chinese language contract is what matters
By Dan Harris, GlobalSources.com
April 26, 2013—One of my favorite “trix” employed against American companies doing business in China is the dual language contract, where the English language version is silent on which language controls. We often see this from companies that come to us for the first time with a contractual problem.
Dual language contracts can be incredibly dangerous. If you have a contract in both English and in Chinese, which language controls? Well, if both of the languages say that one language controls, that one language will control. So for example, if both the English language and the Chinese language versions say that the Chinese language version controls, then the Chinese language version will in fact control. Similarly, if both versions say that the English language version controls, then the English language version will control. These are the easy and safe examples.
It is everything else that so often gets American and British and Canadian and Australian companies in huge trouble.
If you have an English language contract and a Chinese language contract that are both silent as to which version controls, the Chinese language version will control in a Chinese court and in a Chinese arbitration. So what this means is that if your English language contract says that a product must be strong enough to withstand 500 pounds of pressure and your Chinese language contract says that the product need only be strong enough to withstand 300 pounds of pressure and neither contract version says which controls, the Chinese version will control and the product need only be strong enough to withstand 300 pounds of pressure.
Why Aussies really butcher the English language
By Emma Manser, The New Daily
October 29, 2015—Rough, inarticulate, lazy – the Australian language is many things, but there is one thing it is not: drunk.
Australians are famous for their innovative butchering of the English language, both in the addition of new creative words and the shortening of old favourites.
It’s common knowledge that AFL stalwarts only ever call their game “footy,” not “football.” Likewise, only a true Australian speaker understands the meaning of the phrase: “yeah, nah.”
But earlier this week, a communications expert floated the idea that the Australian vocal chords are perpetually drunk.
In an article for The Age, Victoria University lecturer Dr. Dean Frenkel described the Aussie accent as a “cocktail of English, Irish, Aboriginal, German,” and something else.
“Our forefathers regularly got drunk together and through their frequent interactions unknowingly added an alcoholic slur to our national speech patterns,” he wrote, while also calling for improved rhetoric studies in the Australian curriculum.
Another linguistics expert, UQ’s Dr. Rob Pensalfini, disagreed with Dr. Frenkel’s assessment, however, saying that our articulation was connected to Cockney and Irish English.
But the editor of the upcoming edition of the Australian National Dictionary, Bruce Moore, said both were absurd propositions.
“It is a very odd and curious and unhistoric notion of how new dialects get created, what worries me is that we do know a fair bit about how the Australian accent was created and it is unfortunate that pop explanations get promulgated,” he said.
Knives are out for language manglers
By Mark Day, The Australian
SYDNEY, June 1, 2015—Most editors will nominate religion and politics as their readers’ hot buttons. If you want to start an argument, stir those pots.
But there’s another subject that raises more ire and brings forth a torrent of pet hates — the language.
Last week I devoted this space to a grizzle about the slack standards of story selection, grammar and the ignorant misuse of the English language among media outlets. Print, broadcast and online — we are all guilty of causing grievous harm to the language from time to time but in our era without proofreaders and with a fast-shrinking pool of sub-editors, the list of mistakes getting through is growing at an alarming rate.
The response was extraordinary. I’m still getting emails and letters (delivered by snail mail — remember when?) from infuriated readers poised to throw bricks at their TV sets, listing their grievances and, inevitably, finding fault.
There’s one thing you can be certain of when you write about standards and grammar — someone will pick you up on something. I wrote: “The smart-arse word de jour is ‘myriad’,” which prompted an instant smart-arse message: “It’s du jour.”
Lesson one: Follow George Orwell’s sage advice to fellow journalists: “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”
Myriad (a vast number, or many) also came under scrutiny. I argued it was overused and should be avoided and that it was incorrect to use it as a noun, as in “a myriad of …” My contention is that it should be used only as an adjective, as in “myriad” (or many) things. That remains my preference, but there are enough dictionary references saying otherwise for me to accept that it may be either an adjective or a noun.
But why use it at all? Is the writer trying to show off? What’s wrong with “many” in the absence of a precise number? Orwell’s lesson two: never use a long or fancy word when a short or simple one will do.
The story behind “Australian English”: Why we talk the way we do
By Georgia Wilson, ABC Sydney
Tracing the changes in Australian English from the First Fleet to present day is really about exploring the story of the nation, author Kel Richards says.
The English language arrived in Australia a little more than 200 years ago and since that time it has been levelled, sculpted and adapted to give Australians a specific dialect.
“When you trace the story of Australian English from 1788 to the present day, you find yourself actually tracing the story of the whole nation,” Richards told 702 ABC Sydney’s Dominic Knight.
Beyond the influences and movements that shaped our use and understanding of English, Richards said we first needed to consider our concept of language.
“They now say there is no such thing as English, the English language doesn’t exist, there are only Englishes, only dialects.
“We have our dialects and as it happens, quite by coincidence, it is the best, most colourful, most inventive English dialect on the planet.”
Richards has studied and interpreted the language’s history and documented it in his new book, The Story of Australian English.
According to Richards, the beginning of our Australian accent emerged following the arrival of European settlers in 1788.
“It emerged from a process called levelling down because you had all these people who came here on 11 ships from different dialect areas, regional dialect areas across England,” he said.
If you speak Mandarin, your brain is different
By Larry Taylor, Northumbria University
NEWCASTLE, February 25, 2015—By the time a child can tie his or her shoes, enough words and rules have been mastered to allow the expression of an unlimited number of utterances. The uniqueness of this behaviour to the human species indicates its centrality to human psychology.
That this behaviour comes naturally and seemingly effortlessly in the first few years of life merely fascinates us further. Untangling the brain’s mechanisms for language has been a pillar of neuroscience since its inception. New research published in the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences about the different connections going on in the brains of Mandarin and English speakers, demonstrates just how flexible our ability to learn language really is.
Before functional brain imaging was possible, two areas on the left side of the brain, called Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, had already revealed their importance for language. Victims of stroke or traumatic brain injury to either of these crucial areas on the left side of the brain exhibited profound disabilities for producing and understanding language. Modern theories on connectionism – the idea that knowledge is distributed across different parts of the brain and not tucked into dedicated modules like Broca’s area – have compelled researchers to take a closer look.
For example, language requires real-time mappings between words and their meanings. This requires that the sounds heard in speech – decoded in the auditory cortex – must be integrated with knowledge about what they mean – in the frontal cortex. Modern theories in neuroscience are enamoured with this type of “network” approach. Instead of pinning miracles of cognition to singular brain areas, complex processes are now viewed as distributed across different cortical areas, relying on several parts of the brain interacting dynamically.
By six to ten months children have already learned to be sensitive to the basic sounds, known as phonemes, that matter in their native language. Yet different languages differ profoundly in the sounds that are important for communication.
Mandarin Chinese is a tonal language in which the same basic sounds can refer to vastly different things based on the tone with which it is spoken. In a non-tonal language such as English, tone might convey emotional information about the speaker, but indicates nothing about the meaning of the word that is spoken.
What is the role of the English-language Saudi media?
By Dahham Al-Enizi, Al-Sharq
November 07, 2013—According to statistics, there are at least nine million expatriates in the Kingdom including at least five million non-Arabs. A quarter or more of these are fluent in English, and undoubtedly, they follow the local English language media. This may be the only source of information they have on what is going on around them as far as local culture, news and government decisions are concerned. There are three English-language media outlets in Saudi Arabia, the two newspapers Saudi Gazette and Arab News and Saudi TV Channel Two.
The two newspapers and the TV channel know the importance of presenting news and should be providing details of local events. However, this is not always the case. The 4th Conference for Saudi Litterateurs held in Madinah in late August is an example. I was one of the guests at the three-day conference. I read the two newspapers daily in the hope that I would find news about this important literary and cultural event. However, all I found was one picture on the inauguration ceremony and two lines indicating that there was a conference for men of letters in Madinah under the auspices of the Emir of the region and in the presence of the Minister of Culture and Information. This was all that was published!
The newspapers did not provide enough space to cover the conference, the participants, the subjects tabled, the recommendations or any information that could be presented to English-speaking readers despite the importance of the conference. Even Channel Two did not provide sufficient attention to this cultural event.
Furthermore, when several women in Al-Qassim region staged a demonstration demanding the release of detainees being held on terror charges, a story was published stating only that there had been a demonstration. The story said that security men dealt with the situation as required, but it did not deal with the reasons for the demonstration in the way that Arabic newspapers did.
Teach us English but without its cultural values
By Dr. Khalid Al-Seghayer, SaudiGazette.com
January 29, 2013—Recently, some local Arabic newspapers reported that some Saudi families had registered strong complaints about a Saudi university’s including inappropriate pictures and the components of Western culture in selected English textbooks. This, again, revives the controversial issue of teaching the English language along with or without the English culture in which it operates. As a result, educational stakeholders who are responsible for English programs, especially in the higher education sector, mandate that international publishing companies produce what are called Middle Eastern English textbook versions for use in the Kingdom.
The view of those who call for not incorporating cultural elements in the teaching of English is that teaching cultural values is a form of cultural invasion or, more accurately, a form of linguistic globalization that emanates from cultural globalization. These individuals feel that teaching Western values to Saudi students will result in eroding their identity. Those opposed to the teaching of English culture instead call for including only Islamic and local cultural values in textbooks used by English programs in the Kingdom. In examining this highly sensitive linguistic topic, two questions need to be asked: What is so significant about teaching culture, and why is culture such an important element to consider in the foreign language classroom?
Let us first state what most language educators believe and then answer the aforementioned questions. It appears that culture, as an ingrained set of behaviors and modes of perception, is highly important in foreign language learning. Language is a part of culture, and culture is a part of language; the two are intricately interwoven so that one cannot separate the two without losing the significance of either language or culture.
The world in which we live requires people who can communicate effectively in at least one other language and who have related cultural insights and understanding. This cannot take place unless the culture of the language being taught is fully integrated in the curriculum in a systematically planned way.
Without cultural insight and skill, even fluent speakers can seriously misinterpret messages they have read, and the messages they intend to communicate can be misunderstood…
English literary works by Asian authors growing steadily
By Pramod Kanakath, JakartaGlobe.com
February 28, 2013—Literary works written and published in English by Asian authors are growing at a steady rate. Does this speak anything of the collective English language skills of non-native speakers in Asia as we have entered the second decade of the 21st century? Are literature and language complementary?
While literature is growing, English still remains an alien language to an unaccountable multitude across Asia. Literary figures apart, there is a so-called gentry who may pride themselves on being excellent listeners, speakers, readers and writers in the global language. This group is mainly formed of academics, businessmen and employees from private companies.
In some countries like India and in Southeast Asia, English literacy is also a touchstone to determine one’s cosmopolitan identity. But the man on the street is yet to wear the international identity uniform.
At the same time, there are some countries where English only rises to the occasion, purely demanded by situations. A bank official I talked to in a southeast Asian country struggled every moment during our conversation over a transaction. A street vendor in a touristy area in the same country did not just talk but even spoke to me about local cultures in clear though grammatically inaccurate English. The latter deals with foreign tourists and needs to twist his jaw differently to suit the Anglo-Saxon delivery.
The capability of learning English effectively depends a lot on the structure of the vernacular tongue of every community in Asia. Speakers of Indo-European family of languages tend to pick up English words and sentences easily as its structure is identical with that of their own languages.
However, the absence of different tenses, different word order (e.g. adjective after the noun unlike in English) and other linguistic variations make it difficult for some in southeast Asia to make a smooth conversation…
Language as an economics tool
By Dr. Abdur Rehman Cheema and Mehvish Riaz
December 21, 2015—Mastering a variety of languages can be a distinguishing mark of an individual in this era of competition, multiculturalism, diversity and globalisation.
Foreign trade, job opportunities, tourism, political dialogue and access to literature and technology need expression and we need not rely solely on our national language along with a mother tongue. Language can play a vital role in introducing us to other cultures and peoples.
Many a times we come across questions like, “Why should we learn English,” and “China and Japan are making progress without learning English. Why can’t we make progress?”
According to a recent report, the English language training market in China comprises more than 50,000 English language schools. China is a flourishing and revenue-generating market for digital English learning products. There is high demand for such apps in the country, specifically for business, tourism and aviation.
It is time to learn not only English but also other foreign languages such as Arabic, Chinese, French, Japanese and Russian as part of an all-round education. This suggestion is obviously not pertinent for everyone, but at least it does apply to many professionals with varied degrees of significance or necessity.
In most European countries, a foreign language is studied as a compulsory school subject. And in more than 20 European countries, it is a must for university students to learn a second foreign language for one complete year. In various universities in the US, it is mandatory for students to attend two language courses in order to graduate, and Urdu is being taught as a language in many renowned universities in the US.
Don’t underestimate the importance of English
By Sumati Muniandy, New Straits Times
JOHOR, October 29, 2015—Of late, I have been reading news related to the English language. Many parties have voiced their concerns following the announcement of the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah English paper being split into two components — comprehension and writing.
I think it is a good move to strengthen the standard of English at the primary level. Since English has taken a back seat, I believe the time has come for us to give the language its due respect and priority.
Let’s look at the positive side of it. With hard work and determination, everything can be a breeze. I am sure the need to score well in English papers is evident among students. Nevertheless, English should not be learnt just for the sake of the examinations alone as it should go beyond that, whereby it becomes an integral part of our lives.
Recently, I read an online news article indicating that many top students were not able to enrol in local universities due to their poor score in Malaysian University English Test (MUET). These students have all the A’s, so to speak, but not in English. Isn’t that a sad state of affairs?
We have to nip the problem when the students are in primary school. So, the introduction of two separate UPSR English papers is timely. Obviously, the students will be stressed out but that is not an acceptable reason. It is time for us to move forward and not lag behind as English is an international and widely used language. Teachers would have to work around the clock to prepare the students for the challenges ahead.
Having obtained a C1 or C2 in Cambridge Placement Test or APTIS test does not mean that we have achieved enough as some still struggle when conversing in English. I wonder how that could be. Research has shown that learning English has to be a continuous process.
The joy of language barriers
By Shirley Wade, HuffingtonPost.com
April 22, 2013—I am living in a distinctly exciting, frustrating, and creativity-enhancing environment. As a Fulbright Scholar applicant, I applied for a country where I would not need to be fluent in another language. I was awarded my first choice—the Republic of Georgia. Now that I am here, I am immersed in the Georgian language. I decided to attempt learning not only this language but also the unique Georgian alphabet, for this is such a rich environment in which to learn. Moreover, I am teaching Georgians who are working at becoming more adept at speaking and writing English. This has presented me with some wonderful experiences, most of which I never anticipated.
When I first arrived in Georgia, I was limited to a few words - hello and thank you. To be honest, there were times I mixed them up. Gamarjobat (hello) sounded very similar to Gmadlobt (thank you) to me, especially if I tried to speak quickly. Now, I rarely mix them up, but the Georgian letters comprising “hello” and “thank you” still appear as squiggly lines until I get out my Georgian alphabet flashcards and look closely at the individual letters. Even as I stumbled with the words at first, my native Georgian speaking neighbors, shopkeepers, taxi drivers, and colleagues were friendly and forgiving to me.
Without speaking a word, my husband and I are recognized as foreigners. With our Irish heritage and its accompanying lighter coloring, our different style of clothing, and our mannerisms, we stand out as different from the norm. This can be endearing. It is not uncommon for us to be followed by school children when we are walking through the streets of the city. They want to practice their English that they are learning in school. We ask them elementary phrases such as “ How are you?” to which they reply, “I am fine, thank you, and you?” They smile and seem proud of their abilities as we engage them in simple conversations. The widespread teaching of English in Georgian schools has proven to be very convenient for us as well. Indeed, when we encounter problems with our rental house, our non-English speaking landlady sends for a neighborhood teenager to serve as a translator.
Government-driven EFL training: Is Mongolia left behind?
By Jerick Aguilar, MongolNews.mn
April 23, 2013—Mongolia is an example of an EFL, or English as a Foreign Language, country. The first and official language here is Mongolian, and English is just one of the foreign languages that Mongolians speak aside from Russian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc. In comparison, there are also ESL, or English as a Second Language, countries. The United Arab Emirates is an example where Arabic is the official language, yet most, if not all, of its citizens and residents speak English.
Another EFL country is Tunisia where the government has implemented a national training initiative that targets its jobless youth for enhanced skills training. There was a time when unemployment was chronic in Tunisia, reportedly at around 30 percent, and many experts believe that this was one of the major reasons that contributed to the recent revolution there.
The Tunisian government has a “free education for all” policy which has, on one hand, enabled thousands of students to receive university degrees over the past years. On the other, many of them have not acquired key skills that employers are seeking. The educational system has been producing graduates for the sake of producing them, so quality has been compromised by quantity.
Particularly with big local companies and multinational corporations in Tunisia, one of their job requirements is for a potential employee to have adequate skills in English. Unfortunately, such demand has not been met by the already huge supply of university graduates in the country. The Tunisian government, thus, wanted to address this skills gap. Launched in 2006, this national program, aimed at helping unemployed university graduates, sets out to provide them training in the English language as well as in information technology.
Franglais row: Is the English language conquering France?
By Agnes Poirier, BBC.co.uk
The French parliament is debating a new road map for French universities, which includes the proposal of allowing courses to be taught in English. For some, this amounts to a betrayal of the national language and, more specifically, of a particular way at looking at the world—for others it’s just accepting the inevitable.
It all started with a faux-pas—to use a French phrase commonly borrowed by English-speakers.
On 20 March, when French higher education minister Genevieve Fioraso unveiled the proposed road map, she mentioned that there were only 3,000 Indian students in France.
In order to attract more foreign students, she added, French universities would have to start offering courses taught in English.
“We must teach in English or there will only remain in France a handful of experts discussing Proust around the table,” she said.
But Proust was an unfortunate choice. The author is actually one of France’s best literary exports and the reason why many students in the world take up French at university.
Composites: German language and “Things Fall Apart”
By Jalees Rehman, M.D., HuffingtonPost.com
May 29, 2013—”Shorter sentences and simple words!” was the battle cry of all my English teachers. Their comments and corrections of our English-language essays and homework assignments were very predictable. Apparently, they had all sworn allegiance to the same secret Fraternal Order of Syntax Police. I am sure that students of the English language all over the world have heard similar advice from their teachers, but English teachers at German schools excel in their diligent use of linguistic guillotines to chop up sentences and words. The problem is that they have to teach English to students who think, write and breathe in German, the lego of languages.
Lego blocks invite the observer to grab them and build marvelously creative and complex structures. The German language similarly invites its users to construct composite words and composite sentences. A virtually unlimited number of composite nouns can be created in German, begetting new words which consist of two, three or more components with meanings that extend far beyond the sum of their parts. The famous composite German word “Schadenfreude” is now used worldwide to describe the shameful emotion of joy when observing harm befall others. It combines “Schaden” (harm or damage) and “Freude” (joy), and its allure lies in the honest labeling of a guilty pleasure and the inherent tension of combining two seemingly discordant words.
The lego-like qualities of German can also be easily applied to how sentences are structured. Commas are a German writer’s best friends. A German sentence can contain numerous clauses and sub-clauses, weaving a quilt of truths, tangents and tangential truths, all combined into the serpentine splendor of a single sentence. Readers may not enjoy navigating their way through such verschachtelt sentences, but writers take great pleasure in envisioning a reader who unwraps a sentence as if opening a matryoshka doll only to find that the last word of a mammoth sentence negates its fore-shadowed meaning.
Even though our teachers indulged such playfulness when we wrote in German, they were all the more harsh when it came to our English assignments. They knew that we had a hankering for creating long sentences, so they returned them to us covered in red ink markings, indicative of their syntactic fervor…
English-language tests fail to clarify teachers’ proficiency
Editorial, South China Morning Post
May 27, 2013—The latest outcome of a test for local teachers has again put the issue of English-language proficiency in the spotlight. While the pass rates for reading and listening skills remain relatively high, at 89 and 78 per cent, performance in the written exam leaves a lot to be desired. Only 45.2 per cent of the 1,357 candidates passed the test, though that is better than last year’s pass rate of 38.5 per cent. The result for the oral exam is not reassuring either, with a pass rate of 52 per cent, two points up from 2012.
Whether the results should be a cause for concern is open to debate. The alarmist would say the poor performance is evidence of declining English proficiency among the younger generation. It may even be tempting to blame the teachers. If they are proved to be unqualified to teach, students can hardly be expected to speak and write properly.
Teacher groups, however, contend that the results are misleading. The exam is open to teachers and those who want to join the profession. While it is true that only those who pass the exam are qualified to teach, it remains unclear whether the results reflect the standard of serving or of would-be teachers. As the exam has been in place for more than a decade, it can be argued that most serving teachers would have either passed or have been screened out. Those sitting the exam in recent years are probably the ones aspiring to teach. The high percentage of failure shows that the test is an effective tool for keeping the incompetent away from the classroom.
Regrettably, it is difficult to prove which argument is valid without further information. The government is still reluctant to disclose the profile of the candidates in the exam each year, making meaningful analysis difficult, if not impossible. The public is left wondering what to make of the exam results.
Our standards of English language going down the drain
By Wangari Buku (letter to editor), Nation.co.ke
NAIROBI, May 27, 2013—For some years now, I have watched with dismay as our standards of English go down the drain.
From broadcast to print and social media to work place and conversations, our command of spoken and written English is wanting. Our children are taught a mediocre version, and are exposed to too much TV and read less, and so cannot express themselves articulately in English, even after university and beyond.
Take newspapers. There are spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, with some sentences reading like a nursery school child’s first attempt at grammar. Example: “...no any evidence...” Even the news crawling at the bottom of TV screens is often mis-spelt.
But pronunciation and diction by news anchors beats them all, starting with the irritating use of the word “august”, pronounced “augaast” by news casters to describe Parliament, whereas it should be pronounced in the same way as the month August!
English has stolen from too many cultures to count
By Matthew du Plessis, Mail & Guardian
SOUTH AFRICA, June 14, 2013—If language is wine upon the lips, as Virginia Woolf once told her husband over a bottle of Blue Nun, English in SA must be a bottle of Tassenberg: a blight upon the tongue, to some; to others, a luxury. And enough of it should see you all the way through varsity.
English has always been a bastard tongue, stealing and stolen from too many cultures to count. Frankensteined on a faraway island from the blood and phlegm of wave upon wave of foreign invaders, it fed first on the words of its oppressors, then their ambitions. And then it escaped, and set about the business of empire.
English had exhausted itself of its colonial ambitions by the time it found me, and was in the process of being sold off for parts.
Growing up in the Eighties I was vaguely aware that the only language I knew was only grudgingly tolerated by the establishment as a necessary nuisance. Had you suggested that there were nine or more other languages that were decidedly worse off in South Africa, I’d have laughed (politely, always politely) and then run off to see if I could find the simulcast dub for Rabobi on Radio 2000.
But that was the business of the outside world, and for the longest time the English language and the fictions it has proved so good at conjuring served to insulate me from any of the harsher realities that waited rather literally just beyond the doorstep: The house I grew up in in Port Elizabeth was barely a hop, skip and a jump away from where Steve Biko was detained by the security police before being tortured and taken to Pretoria to die. Of any of this I had not even the slightest inkling, in my insulated world. The police station itself barely registered; more important was the library across the road. The greatest indignity I felt as a child was being denied permission to borrow more than five books at a time.
By Jon Lind, The Foreigner
It’s funny the things that stick in your mind, even after 60 years. I honestly don’t remember the exact moment when I was told we were moving to America.
The earliest memory I have of the impending trip was a ride on my bicycle on my way to Solesjøn, to the local store. I remember thinking that, right at this time, I really had no problems weighing on my mind (although I can’t imagine what kind of problems I usually carried around at the age of 11). That was until I suddenly realized: “Oh yeah, we’re moving to America.”
I don’t think I really dreaded the move, as uncle Karl and his wife and daughter had visited from Oregon a few years before and they were very nice people and the image they left in my mind was that we were moving to a place of constant sunshine. I was quite certain that everyone in America was nice. The fact that I had to learn a new language did not seem to worry me. My father however, had foreseen this problem and, on most nights, sat us down at the kitchen table (my mother, my six-year-old sister, and me) to teach us English from a blue paperback book he had purchased (it was quite a thin book and I remember thinking that if this was all there was to learning English, I’d have it mastered in a week or two).
One of the minor obstacles to learning English was that our teacher couldn’t speak a word of the language either. At that time it was very unusual for people living in our rural setting to speak English. It wasn’t taught in grade school (we only had two teachers). My father had a friend and neighbor, Kasper, whose favorite expression was “I don’t begrip” (“begrip” is Norwegian for “understand”), meaning that my father’s, as well as the rest of the community’s comprehension of the English language was most likely limited to “I don’t.”
My father left for the U.S. about two months before my mother, sister, and I. The idea was that he would find a job and a place for us to live before we arrived. He crossed on “Oslofjord,” which was Norwegian America Line’s newest ship, launched in 1948…
Broken English, Broken Graduates
By the Editors, Leadership.ng
October 29, 2013—At the passing-out parade of the last batch of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), the Kano State coordinator of the scheme, Mr Sanusi Abdulrasheed, disclosed that about 89 per cent of corps members could not write good application or communicate effectively in English. Rather, the NYSC administrator said, the corps members, a majority of whom hold a first degree or its equivalent, prefer to communicate in “broken English,” a variant of the language that linguists refer to as “pidgin.” Of course, it does not conform to standard usage and not acceptable in academic curriculum.
Ordinarily, Abdulrasheed’s statement could have been regarded as another red herring or an exaggerated opinion of some critics of the state of affairs in Nigeria. But he said the finding was revealed in a research undertaken by the NYSC management nationwide. Revelation of this embarrassing trend, therefore, came from a credible source.
It is no news that the nation’s education system is in a shambles. It is also discomforting that most fresh graduates are no longer employable. This indictment is not only for the corps members. Their schools, the society and the government should share in the embarrassing verdict. A system that shuts down schools for a half of the academic year cannot produce quality graduates. A student that is ill-equipped with the grammar of the official language of communication is bound to code-switch and make largely ungrammatical expressions. It has been found that most of the tutorials in our institutions are delivered in unorthodox English. Some teachers are equally guilty, if truly mastery of English was a pre-requisite for appointing them.
Despite a troubled history, Argentina still needs the English language
By Gill Harris, TheGuardian.com
March 10, 2014—In a Studies of Youth Literature class at the University of Buenos Aires, my teacher picked on me, the only native speaker, to read aloud from our copy of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Never has my rather ordinary south-east London accent been met with such raptures. I felt like a parrot who surprises their owner with a perfect rendition of Shakespeare's Sonnet Number 18. One girl told me I had “beautiful sonority”. I was inundated with requests for conversation exchange. But, while Her Majesty's English was winning the hearts of my classmates, right outside the door of the classroom (my faculty being notorious for its political zeal) hung a disfigured picture of Margaret Thatcher emblazoned with the angry words: “Brits Get Lost”, among other less savoury phrases.
While living in Buenos Aires last year, I came to realise the importance of a good grasp of English for students and young, aspiring professionals in Argentina. Regardless of their attitude towards Great Britain more generally, verbally the British empire is still ever-present in Argentina today. In recent years, Argentinians, fervently patriotic by nature, have reluctantly acknowledged that learning English is crucial if they want to succeed in a country racked, as theirs is, with economic turmoil.
Currently the Argentine economy is in dire straits, almost as bad as the crisis in 2002. Amid rising temperatures, rising tempers and rising supermarket prices, Argentinians, led by their president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, have become increasingly hostile towards foreign parties.
Fernández points the finger at those who refuse to bury the hatchet on the large international debts the nation has racked up in recent years. Not for the first time, Argentinians lamenting over extortionate costs find themselves cursing the colonial spectre under their breath.
Power of love in any language
By Corrie Tan, StraitsTimes.com
Singapore, May 24, 2015—I was working late at night on a news feature when a message popped up on my computer, from a long-distance friend in Australia.
“Corrrrieeeeee!” he exclaimed.
“It's 12.43am,” I typed, grumpy and sleepy, “I'm going to bed.”
“Oh! Go to bed,” he said, “I'll text you later. I wanted to get some help with writing a speech in Mandarin to my mum for my wedding.”
I sat up straight in my chair, suddenly revived. My friend, who is ethnically Chinese, grew up in Australia speaking perfect English while his Singaporean mother spoke to him only in Mandarin. She would send him texts in hanyu pinyin which he would then decipher.
I would hardly call myself effectively bilingual, but my Mandarin has served me well enough to watch plays in Mandarin without usually needing surtitles and to occasionally conduct interviews with Mandarin-speaking artists - well, only after hours of painstaking preparations and an English-Chinese dictionary (read: Google Translate) for tricky specialist terms.
But to translate a thank-you speech for a wedding? I felt a sudden rush of nervousness after yelling “yes!” - what happens when you try to communicate the depths of love in a language you can speak but that you have not yet made your own?
A few days later, he sent me a short but tender paragraph thanking his mum profusely for all she had done and concluding with: “I appreciate all the time and tears you have poured into my life and I can only hope I'm able to give D. (his wife) even a fraction of the love and care you have shown me. I love you, mum. Thank you.”
Teaching English in Saigon: At what cost is paradise?
By Dan Cave, Thanh Nien News
HO CHI MINH CITY, December 25, 2014—There’s a shortage of good jobs for recent graduates in the West. I know; I am one. The only financially viable post-university options included either returning to my parents’ house, returning to non-graduate employment or interning for free while sleeping on sofas.
In such an unforgiving employment market, the option of teaching English in Vietnam seems like a dream—a chance to live in a novel environment, get paid high wages and, perhaps most importantly, drink cheaper beer.
Vietnam’s rocketing economy and optimistic government targets about wanting every child to have some access to a native English teacher by 2020 has resulted in an increasing demand for native English speakers.
Such high demand for native speakers has shaped the utopian nature of the living and working conditions being advertised to prospective Western teachers. A quick internet search returns loads of promises for ample pay sweetened with teacher testimonials about the beauty of the local culture, the friendly people, and endless pictures of beaches and beers.
It’s no wonder that loads of Westerners move to Vietnam.
Yet for all the benefits these companies advertise and provide for Western employees, the employment of locals is characterized by exploitation, scapegoating and subcontracting. Here, I will focus on the practices employed at two specific English language centres: Melbourne-Massachusetts Hello 123 and Shiny Happy English Smiles.
The most obvious difference between treatment of local and Western staff is the gulf in pay.
How India changed the English language
By Rafiuzzaman Sifat, NewsHour.com.bd
BANGLADESH, June 27, 2015—They are in there, often unnoticed. The words that have become part of everyday English. Loot, nirvana, pyjamas, shampoo and shawl; bungalow, jungle, pundit and thug.
What are the roots, and routes, of these Indian words? How and when did they travel and what do their journeys into British vernacular – and then the Oxford English Dictionary – tell us about the relationship between Britain and India?
Long before the British Raj – before the East India Company acquired its first territory in the Indian subcontinent in 1615 – South Asian words from languages such as Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam and Tamil had crept onto foreign tongues. One landmark book records the etymology of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases. Compiled by two India enthusiasts, Henry Yule and Arthur C Burnell, Hobson-Jobson: The Definitive Glossary of British India was published in 1886. The poet Daljit Nagradescribed it as “not so much an orderly dictionary as a passionate memoir of colonial India. Rather like an eccentric Englishman in glossary form, reports BBC.
The editor of its contemporary edition – which has just been published in paperback – explains how many of the words pre-date British rule. “Ginger, pepper and indigo entered English via ancient routes: they reflect the early Greek and Roman trade with India and come through Greek and Latin into English,” says Kate Teltscher.
“Ginger comes from Malayalam in Kerala, travels through Greek and Latin into Old French and Old English, and then the word and plant become a global commodity. In the 15th Century, it’s introduced into the Caribbean and Africa and it grows, so the word, the plant and the spice spread across the world.”
As global trade expanded through European conquests of the East Indies, the flow of Indian words into English gathered momentum. Many came via Portuguese. “The Portuguese conquest of Goa dates back to the 16th Century, and mango, and curry, both come to us via Portuguese – mango began as ‘mangai’ in Malayalam and Tamil, entered Portuguese as ‘manga’ and then English with an ‘o’ ending,” she says.