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English, What Next? Perspectives;
Approaches; Attitudes
by Neil McBeath
- 2

Then reality began to bite. It was true that the students at Brighton College would receive tuition in Mandarin, but what they would actually receive was one 40 minute lesson a week. Allowing for 40 weeks' teaching a year, over a six year stay in secondary school, the pupils would have received 160 hours of instruction. This is what my students at Sultan Qaboos University receive in eight weeks, and it is nothing like adequate preparation for anything other than the most basic survival if one is starting from scratch.

Mercifully, a recent look at the Brighton College website (www.brightoncollege.org.uk) suggests that a more intelligent plan has been adopted since 2006. In their first two years, students now receive THREE lessons a week. This drops to two in the third year, and rises to four lessons a week for the fourth and fifth years, when they take GCSE Mandarin. It is possible to go on to take "A" Level Mandarin, but that appears to be an option. What is even more interesting, however, is that the much vaunted Mandarin classes now seem to have been reduced to what is standard modern language teaching, and are a par with the considerably less newsworthy teaching of Spanish.

And while on the subject of Spanish, Graddol (2006; 63) also reports that "Trinidad and Tobago declared in 2005 that it aspired to become a Spanish-speaking country by 2020, setting a target of having at least 30% of public employees proficient within five years. Ironically, Trinidad and Tobago has been a popular study destination for Venezuelans learning English, but the language trade may now reverse, with a shortage of qualified Spanish teachers on the islands."

There are three points here. Firstly, Graddol seems to be one of the few people who have taken this statement seriously. It was made by the previous Trinidadian government, and while it received very limited coverage in the foreign press, both commentators (Davies 2005; Williams 2005) suggested that this decision was little more than a desperate attempt to attract the capital of the Free Trade Association of the Americas to Port-of-Spain. The Free Trade Association of the Americas, of course, is a project that has been put on hold. Many South American countries regard it as colonialism by the back door – a free trade area that will give huge advantages to multinational companies from the United States, while the United States government, in turn, is allowed to continue subsidizing its own farmers. Remarkably, however, the decision to try to change the official language seems to have aroused no controversy at all in Trinidad – possibly because the people there realize that it will never happen, and that the time frame of fifteen years is absurd.

Trinidad and Tobago are oil rich, and they have such a well established education system that they can accommodate extra Spanish classes and attract South American students who wish to learn English. Not only that, Trinidad and Tobago can claim not merely one, but TWO Nobel Prize Winners for Literature – Sir Vidia Naipaul and Derek Walcott – both of whom write in English. There is no earthly reason why the population should wish to change their language, even if such a policy were feasible.

Secondly, if there is already "a shortage of Spanish teachers on the islands", how does the government propose to train 30% of the public sector workers up to proficiency level within five years? It is clearly not possible to send large numbers of public officials to study in Venezuela.

Thirdly, Graddol's statement begs a lot of questions, and the more closely it is examined, the more questions arise. Who would be selected – immigration officials, tax officers, sanitation workers? What constitutes "proficiency" – the ability to hold a casual conversation, the ability to give directions; native-speaker literacy levels? The five years have, moreover, already elapsed, and the Trinidadian civil service remains resolutely Anglophone. In November 2009, it was announced that of the 24 different Ministries in Trinidad, only 14 had even established Spanish language programmes for their staff, and that it clearly a long way from having "30% of public employees proficient."

The linguistic challenges to English, in short, may be less severe than Graddol suggests.

English Next – Educational Issues

Nor, I would suggest, is he on much firmer ground when he turns his attention to educational concerns.

To begin with, I feel that he places far too much emphasis on the supposed impact of Content and Language Integrated learning (CLIL) (P. 86). Two years ago, I gave a paper at the 15th TESOL Arabia Conference (McBeath 2009) entitled "CLIL; Or Deep-Level ESP?" My contention was that there was nothing really new about CLIL and that ESP Practitioners had been using its basic premise for years – primarily because in advanced level ESP it is often impossible to separate language from content.

One example will suffice here. Writing from the Czech Republic, Chovanec and Budikova (2009; 134-35) point out that students who have graduated with degrees in English from conventional academic programmes "may find themselves – at least temporarily – challenged, for example, when asked to translate a legal document."

That statement strikes me as being incredibly naïve. OF COURSE a Czech graduate in English will find it challenging to translate a legal document. A native speaking graduate in English would find it challenging to understand a legal document. Legal documents are deliberately written so that they exclude the layperson, and translation is a specialized skill.

Anyone who wants to translate legal documents should train as a legal translator, and it precisely in that type of specialist course that ESP practitioners excel. They have the humility to understand that they are working alongside "students" who have a different type of professional expertise and that they are all "professionals who both learn and complement each other" (Irizar and Chiappy 2008; 13).

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