Global Communication & The International Classroom
Teaching International English Abroad
"The momentum for change is clearly in place. The insatiable quest for knowing the unknown, the eagerness of business to put technology at the service of consumers, and the military arms race between nations have all helped create this momentum," (Yunis, 247). Here, Muhammad Yunis seeks to inspire his audience to accomplish things that will benefit global humanity. Some see global communication as one of these things. Global Communication in Public Spaces is arguably none more apparent than in a classroom of international English students. When writing for a diverse audience like this, there are numerous factors to consider. I’m an American who has taught international English in South Korea for 10 years, now. In my spare time, I did blog fairly regularly about different culturalaspects of South Korea, but not in any professional or instructional capacity. During my time, here, I have taught kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, University, business workers and other adults. Even with a bachelor’s degree in English Rhetoric and just a few classes shy of a minor in TESL, there was still a learning curve.
In 2007, at my first job in South Korea, the first book I ever used to teach my elementary school students instructed the students to “tick the box” next to the correct answer. I was quite confused, having never heard that usage before. In USA, we say “check the box”, as in ‘put a check mark in the box’ to mark it. A big reason this sticks in my mind is because of how stupid I felt after learning that these books were Canadian, and that was the way they communicated the same thing. The bottom line? The teaching materials that you use abroad may not always come from your native country! So you better get familiar with international English, quickly!
Correct English: The International English Trap
A few years later, I worked for an adult English academy. Primarily we had University students signing up to learn English, but we also had other adults students of any age. I had roughly 20 coworkers from a variety of English speaking countries such as the UK, New Zealand, Canada, USA, and South Africa. This environment taught me a lot about teaching English. I recalled that first experience of mine and absolutely did not want to make that mistake with adult students. They are much less forgiving than children! Every time I ran across an unfamiliar English expression in the book or perhaps in a student’s writing sample that sounded like it might be influenced from another native English speaking country, I would bring it straight to a coworker from that country (or someone with more experience) and ask them directly. In doing this, not only did I become a better instructor, but this speaking environment also shaped my own language usage habits.
In an international English speaking environment abroad, I have learned to be very open to unfamiliar accents, expressions, and idioms. And an important aspect of being in such an environment is to teach consistency in communication. I will allow any of my students to pick and choose their accent and expressions, but the one thing I demand is consistency. For example, if they want to speak the word ‘hot’ with a British accent (to rhyme with ‘caught’), then they must speak the word ‘lot’ with that same accent. They cannot switch accents where a native speaker of that accent wouldn’t do so. Although this applies more to speaking, it also applies to writing when using different expressions and styles.
Communicating With a Diverse Audience
Connecting with a truly diverse audience requires writing with equal diversity. What does that mean? Keep your writing simple. Make it as clear as possible. Supplement the writing with pictures or diagrams (when possible). In the case of a diverse audience that also has diversity of native languages; you can throw conventional teachings out the window. For example, it might be okay to write exactly what is spoken, or to provide pictures that deliver repetitive information found in the text. By doing so, you’re accounting for the fact that not all of your audience will understand 100% of the text. Doreen Stark-Meyerring states that "Professional communicators cannot become literate in globalizing workplaces just by developing multiliteracies and the ability to negotiate multiple literacy practices and ecologies," (Starke-Meyerring, 481). She then goes on to talk about the coined term, "glocalization", which is a favorite concept of the president of the University where I teach. Global language indeed takes a life of its own in local communities. If you’re a teacher and the text is being used for instruction, it’s especially important that your audience understands! Finally, use plenty of examples. Often times, examples will be the most helpful aspect of the writing.
Ethics & Teaching English Abroad
Deborah Cameron touches on a primary reality for countries that draw in foreign native English speakers to teach their students. "The practice of instructing people in speaking and listening is also gaining ground in educational institutions, not least because of politicians and policymakers concern that education should prepare students to meet the needs of the new economy," (Cameron, 73). This is a very real belief, here in South Korea and elsewhere. Today, English is an international language. Why English? And is this ethical? Questions like these are always being discussed and might have crossed your mind just as they’ve crossed mine. After teaching English as an international language, you’ll learn quickly that it’s nearly impossible to teach English without also teaching culture. So in some sense, students must forget their own culture and rewire their brains if they want to become adept in speaking English. English frequently carries religious, societal, and ideological undertones or roots. Is it really ethical to spread these things to other countries and peoples? Isn’t it having a negative impact on other cultures and languages? Here’s my take.
The answer completely depends on each individual instructor. To be an ethical instructor, one must teach with a global outlook. One must spread diversity of instruction, writing, and opinions. One must accept some things, such as ways of speaking or writing, which might not be accepted as normal in one’s own country. Teach to that diversity. Allow the blend to take root and accept that. Be aware that it’s happening and bring that awareness to the students.
There’s a demand for learning different languages, and I think that’s a good thing. I also don’t think English needs to be the only international language. As long as English instructors don’t go abroad with any sense of authority, superiority, or pushing a particular culture or dialect in those ways, there is no ethics problem.
There are certainly a lot of things to consider and a lot of lessons to be learned for anyone wanting to teach English abroad. Most lessons will only be truly learned from experience, but for any hopefuls who have read this blog, you’re off to a good start! And if you can only remember one thing, let it be to keep the right attitude. And the right attitude is to remember that all teachers are also students. This is especially true when in a foreign country!
Cameron, Deborah. “Globalization and the Teaching of ‘Communication Skills.’” Globalization and Language Teaching, edited by David Block and Deborah Cameron, Wiley-Blackwell, 2002, pp. 67–82. CrossRef, doi:10.1002/9781444324068.ch12.
Palasz, Christopher. “An American in Korea.” Intro, 1 Jan. 1970, waygookboon.blogspot.kr/2013/04/blog-post.html.
Starke-Meyerring, Doreen. “Meeting the Challenges of Globalization: A Framework for Global Literacies in Professional Communication Programs.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication, vol. 19, no. 4, Oct. 2005, pp. 468–99. CrossRef, doi:10.1177/1050651905278033.
Yunus, Muhammad. “Chapter 14: The Future.” Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle against World Poverty, Perseus Books Groups, 2003, pp. 247–62, https://bblearn.nau.edu/bbcswebdav/courses/1181-NAU00-ENG-624-SEC001-7257.NAU-PSSIS/Reserves%20Files/Yunus_-_The_future_PDF.pdf.