English training targets Asean’s link language
Brunei funds $25m English programme to bolster southeast Asia’s adopted lingua franca
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 18 September 2012 13.59 BST
Brunei and the US will this month start delivering the first of a series of intensive 11-week English-language courses for teacher trainers and government officials in southeast Asia, where consolidated language skills are expected to help unify the region before it becomes a single economic zone in 2015.
The courses are part of a five-year, $25m Brunei-US English Language Enrichment Project for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), aimed at linguistically unifying the 10 members – all of which speak their own languages – and strengthening diplomatic, educational and teaching opportunities across the region.
Some 70 teacher trainers and government officials will take part in the programme, which is funded entirely by the Brunei government and run jointly by the University of Brunei Darussalam (UBD) and the Honolulu-based East-West Centre. Courses begin with a seven-week module in English proficiency at UBD and continue in Hawaii with a four-week course in culture and leadership, says Terance Bigalke, director of education at the East-West Centre.
“The idea of the English-language proficiency approach is to prepare diplomats and officials for being able to use language effectively in the work that they do,” Bigalke says. “For the teacher trainers, the modules deal with education materials and methods of teaching. For the diplomats there are specific courses on leadership and a range of regional issues which we’re still ironing out, but which will cover environmental, population health and international relations challenges.”
Focusing on communication skills in speaking and writing, and using up-to-date information technology, the learners are expected to graduate from the programme with a wider skill set that will enhance dealings with fellow Asean members on the issues that face the region collectively.
They will also undergo a specialised module on the cultures and peoples of Asean, Bigalke adds, to promote harmony in a region where past disagreements have arisen over minority groups such as Burma’s Muslim community and control of the South China Sea.
While English was chosen as the official lingua franca of Asean in 2009, its adaptation has proved particularly challenging for certain member states – notably Burma, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – that don’t have a history of English language usage and which have therefore been targeted by officials at UBD as “most in need”. Others have launched their own English language programmes such as Thailand, where an ambitious English Speaking Year Project aims to teach conversational skills to some 14 million students.
The choice of English in a linguistically diverse region is a strategic one, says US-Brunei project executive Dr Salbrina Sharbawi: “The dominant status of English in Asean is undisputed, and English is the language of choice in interactions between speakers of different first languages.”
America’s tie-in to this project is of particular interest. The US government became an Asean “dialogue partner” in 1977 and in 2009 pledged, among other things, greater socio-economic ties with all 10 nations, a move that critics viewed as a thinly veiled attempt to weaken China’s role in the region. Hillary Clinton is the only US secretary of state to have visited every member state, and her diplomatic visits have focused recently on promoting unity over the South China Sea, to which various Asean states – as well as China – lay partial or full claim.
In a seeming attempt to provide a counter-balance to English language hegemony in the region, however, Chinese officials have in some cases attempted to drum up interest in Mandarin. One significant move has been to offer to send 1,000 Chinese teachers to Thailand, and 1,000 Thai students to China, at no cost to the Thai government.
For the moment, however, all eyes are on the English-language prize. The US-Brunei programme will mostly involve officials and teacher trainers in their early 30s. Organisers are keen to place so-called “English-language fellows” in remote areas in all 10 Asean countries, where they will work in universities and schools in underprivileged locations to help expedite capacity building.
As it expands, the programme will look to recruit qualified US and Bruneian English-language teachers to work at higher-education institutions across Asean. A forum on English education for Asean integration and an online resource for teacher trainers are also planned for the near future, Bigalke says.
“This will all take quite a few years to effectively develop, but it will be really engaging and people will learn a lot.”
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Native Speaker Myth
Even today, this issue rarely sees daylight, rarely is the subject of discussion when ELT teachers meet and talk shop, rarely gets any attention.
It’s the “black sheep” of the ELT profession.
In my subsequent writings and discussions in a variety of professional forums, it became clear that opinions are varied. Believe it or not, it has negative consequences for both native and non-native English-speaking teachers. Within the pages of this book, that fact will be amply evident.
Does this book offer any new insights?
I believe it does. It will raise your consciousness anout the Native Speaker, and ask you for an answer to the question: Who is the best teacher: the Native Speaker or the Non-native Speaker English Teacher…
This book is dedicated to all the teachers I work with, have worked with, and ever will work with. Beyond that, this book is for all the teachers in the ELT profession, world-wide.
Regardless of our status as native or non-native speakers, we all share one common characteristic that transcends everything: our love of teaching, and in particular, teaching English.
This love, this passion, is what truly defines us, as individuals, and as teachers.
It is my great privilege to share my true love and passion with you in the reflections contained in this book.
Native Speaker Needed?
At the 2007 TESOL Chile Conference the question was asked: Are native speaker teachers automatically the best teachers of a language?
Just because you speak a language naturally, does that mean you can teach it?
Or does the process of learning a language to a high level of fluency make non-native speaker teachers far better equipped to teach that language?
This book shares the global voices of those on both sides of the issue, pro and con, with their realities, perceptions and beliefs.
Some say the Native Speaker is the best teacher. Others voices say the Non-Native Speaker teacher is the best teacher. Some say students and their parents prefer the Native Speaker. Others say the evidence does not support that statement. This is where we begin our journey.
The book takes this point of departure, the never ending controversy of the mythical Native Speaker as the ideal language teacher, privileged, superior, and with a standard of English unattainable for a learner.
Right from the outset, the learner is doomed to ultimate failure, to possess a level of language known as “interlanguage” a linguistic Limbo. In this place, Limbo, the learner has become “fossilized”, not fully developed, at some substandard level of language learning.
Beyond this, the book aims to reach a deeper level of historical understanding by looking at the development of ELT, and then, returning to the present, to ask the question: Native Speaker Needed?
By then, we have come full circle, and now have clear and compelling evidence from which to base a conclusive answer.
The global search for high-quality education, embedded in high-performing education systems, has taken on mythical proportions, almost resembling the alchemists’ quest to turn common metals into gold.
It is my hope that the present day search for global education, equitable and providing equality of opportunity for all, shall not cease until the “gold” we seek, has been found.
I therefore dedicate this book to all the educators, researchers, parents and students the world over, who strive to achieve this elusive goal,high-quality education for all the citizens of the world.
In this endeavour, it is my belief that the International Baccalaureate merits a closer look, based on their more than 40 year history of delivering consistently excellent results.
I add that all of the reflections and views in this book are mine alone, unless otherwise noted, and can not be attributed to my employer or any other organization I am affiliated with, past or present. For any errors or oversights, I bear the complete responsibility.
Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He is the Head of the English Department at Colegio Internacional SEK in Santiago, Chile.
He is the Co-Founder and Co-Organiser of EdCamp Santiago, free, participant-driven, democratic, conversation based professional development for teachers, by teachers. EdCamp Santiago 2012 was held at Universidad Mayor in Santiago.
Thomas is also a past member (2011-2012) of the Advisory Board for the International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association (HETL), where he also serves as a reviewer and as the HETL Ambassador for Chile.
Thomas enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. Thus far, he has written the following genres: romance, historical fiction, autobiographical, sports history/biography, and English Language Teaching. He has published a total of forty six (46) books overall.
The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family, his wife Gabriela, and his son, Thomas Jerome Baker, Jr.