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Bilingual Education and Code-Switching
by Zainab Al Bulushy
- 2

English as a second / foreign language

There are some important contextual differences between English being a second language or a foreign language in a specific country. Crystal (1997) distinguishes between the two affirming that a second language is a language to be made the official language of a country, to be used as a medium of communication in such domains as government, the law courts, the media and the educational system. Getting on in such societies requires the master of the official language as early in life as possible. The second language in this case is seen as a compliment to the person's mother tongue, or 'first language' as Cook (1991: 66) defines it "A language acquired by a person in addition to his mother tongue". In the case of English, it has the official status (second language) in more than 70 countries as mentioned above.

English as a foreign language, in contrast, applies when the language is made a hot recess in a country's foreign-language teaching even though it has no official status. Crystal (1997) comments that it becomes the language which children are most likely to be taught when they arrive in school, and the one most available to adults, who for whatever reasons, never learnt it. Choosing a particular language to be a foreign language in a country depends on reasons such as historical tradition, political expediency and the desire for commercial, cultural or technological contact. "English is now the language most widely taught as a foreign language -in over 100 countries such as China, Russia, Germany, Spain, Egypt and Brazil- and in most of these countries it is emerging as the chief foreign language to be encountered in schools" (Crystal 1997: 4). The Sultanate of Oman is also one of the countries considering English a foreign language, as discussed in chapter (1).

When we come to the conditions for teaching / learning English either as a second or a foreign language, some differences appear accordingly. Ringbom (1987) distinguishes between second language and foreign language learning. He argues that in a second language acquisition context, the language is spoken in the immediate environment of the learner who has good opportunities to use the language for participation in natural communication situations.

In a foreign language situation, however, the language is not spoken in the immediate environment of the learner, although mass media may provide opportunities for practising the receptive skills. Unlike the second language condition, there is little or no chance for the learner to use the language in natural communication situations in a foreign language setting.

Who are bilinguals?

The stock of bilinguals includes those who have learned a second language or who have actually been raised in a bilingual environment where both languages are used. Romaine (1995) points out that a bilingual is anyone who possesses a minimal competence in one of the four language skills (listening, reading, writing, and speaking), in a language other than his/her mother tongue. This therefore includes a wide range of people and applies to many situations in bilinguals' lives. Levine (1990) suggests that the term 'bilingual learners' can be used to mean all those pupils who use one or more languages other than English in their ordinary lives in and outside school. Bilingual education is defined by Swain (1987) as the use of two languages as mediums of instruction at some stage in a student's educational career. These two languages thus are English and the student's mother tongue.

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