Chris Kennedy: Learning English in a global context*

In the twenty-first century it is clear that English is the uncontested world language. Although Chinese is spoken as a first language by the largest number of people, English is much more widely spoken as both a first and an additional language. For instance it is one of the four official languages of India. In this paper Kennedy points out that the spread of English is associated with the rapid globalization of economic and cultural activities and discusses some of the implications of English having become the world language.

It is no longer easy to recommend that learners aim to acquire a clear single standard of spoken English. There are several varieties of standard English, even among native speakers – Australian, as well as American and UK English. In addition, many different varieties of spoken English have developed, especially in Africa and the Far East, which are heavily influenced by the phonetics, grammar and vocabulary of the local areas.

I came across the difficulty of teaching a standard variety twenty years ago, when I was part of a team of linguists and teachers writing a textbook for secondary school pupils in a newly independent Namibia. The teachers wanted exercises on pronunciation on tape as part of the course and I found myself organizing this. We used the Namibian teachers as the informants and, of course, they spoke the South African variety of English, which makes no distinction between “set” and “sat”. There was horror among the linguists when we played this tape back to them. What were we to do? The problem remained unresolved.

*Chapter 8 in Introducing Applied Linguistics ed. Susan Hunston and David Oakey



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