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Plurilingual Positioning and Its Effectiveness in Classroom Interaction and Teacher Education.



Educators and learners switch languages, dialects and various types of slang when we live in communities in which there are many languages or dialects. Malaysia is such a setting with many speakers of languages who switch codes at ease, even within one sentence. The communicative situation is much more than multilingual and multicultural, and this paper will explore the term “plurilingualism” (Canagarajah, 2009) and the choices this repertoire provides as we interact in classrooms, lecture halls and everyday situations. In formal settings, learners may benefit from seeing teachers or teacher educators as plurilingual, on-going learners who switch between languages. This paper will use interactional data from Malaysian rural teacher education to suggest that there are benefits in deconstructing a monolingual “English Only” approach which may be based on “native speakerism” and outmoded concepts. It will be argued that a greater level of acceptance of learning a new language can be nurtured by embracing languages and differences in cultural frameworks. Data will be used to anchor a framework of techniques which celebrate linguistic diversity, while fostering the growth of English language within the classroom. The paper will also contextualise the concept of plurilingualism and link it to useful English language learning techniques.
Plurilingual Positioning
and Its Effectiveness
in Classroom Interaction
and Teacher Education
Stephen J Hall
Educators and learners switch languages, dialects and various types of slang when
we live in communities in which there are many languages or dialects. Malaysia is
such a setting with many speakers of languages who switch codes at ease, even
within one sentence. The communicative situation is much more than multilingual
and multicultural, and this paper will explore the term “plurilingualism”
(Canagarajah, 2009) and the choices this repertoire provides as we interact in
classrooms, lecture halls and everyday situations. In formal settings, learners may
benefit from seeing teachers or teacher educators as plurilingual, on-going learners
who switch between languages. This paper will use interactional data from
Malaysian rural teacher education to suggest that there are benefits in
deconstructing a monolingual “English Only” approach which may be based on
“native speakerism” and outmoded concepts. It will be argued that a greater level
of acceptance of learning a new language
Great Thinkers, Great Minds
can be nurtured by embracing languages and differences in cultural frameworks.
Data will be used to anchor a framework of techniques which celebrate linguistic
diversity, while fostering the growth of English language within the classroom. The
paper will also contextualise the concept of plurilingualism and link it to useful
English language learning techniques.
Communication across languages is becoming increasingly complex with
transnational business, “third culture kids” and online globalisation, yet most
communities have been more than monolingual for centuries (Crystal, 2000).
Increasingly, the definitions of being a so-called “native speaker”, a monolingual,
bilingual or multilingual speaker of language(s) are being questioned (Holliday,
2006a). The complexity of multiple identities when one uses a repertoire of
language choices in communities with two or several languages asks for a more
fully situated construct. This paper will begin by contextualising “plurilingualism”
as a concept, examining the “native speaker” concept and will then suggest
plurilingual concepts as tools for developing teaching. We turn first to more widely
known concepts.
The global linguistic climate is not dominated by monolingual speakers who only
communicate in one language and this applies to English language, which is the
subject of this paper. Within the circles of the English language, so-called
monolingual speakers — those of one mother tongue — are less than half of the 1.5
billion speakers of the language (Crystal, 2000), but they may be privileged by
being seen as native speakers and the standard bearers of correctness. This
positioning will be critiqued in this paper with arguments for a more inclusive,
multi-faceted approach.
Stephen J Hall
The situation of monolingual “native speakerism” (Holliday, 2006b)
is a shrinking minority position with the rapid spread of fluent
speakers of English within linguistically complex settings and a
growing diversity of language use with globalisation. Critiques of
the monolingual/bilingual/ multilingual framework suggest that the
concept of monolingual is more of a mindset and framework, often
based in English language industry conceptions of a homogenous
norm. In 2004, Viv Edwards in her groundbreaking work suggested
that with the role of dialects in English, monolingualism in English
may not even exist. She argues thatthe monolingual mindset can
be traced to 19th century Europe and the rise of the nation state,
when one dominant group at the core achieved political and
economic control of the periphery” (2004, p. 5). In an entire chapter,
the writer outlines how European views were transported to colonial
outposts from the metropolitan centres, which not uncoincidentally
still remain central to English language publication and gatekeeping
test production. Based on numerous examples, Edwards shows that
within the myth of monolingualism, “an astonishing diversity of
languages lies just beneath the veneer of homogeneity” (2004, p. 5).
The assertion is made that on a global scale within English speaking
communities, multilingualism is not an exception but the norm.
There are vibrant bilingual communities, such as the Hispanic
communities of California and Francophile Quebec, geographically
near to the strongest areas of monolingual perceptions in English. In
such communities, a bilingual speaker can be defined as a person
who switches between two languages, being understood in both
(Romaine, 1989). Bloomfield in his classic definition states that
bilingualism involves “native-like control of two languages” (1933,
p. 56) with the practice of alternately using two or more languages.
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Multilingual speakers draw on a repertoire of three or more
languages to communicate with various speakers and this
complexity is described in terms of analytical units of both spoken
and written discourse elsewhere in considerable depth. Essentially,
it is worth noting that multilingualism (Cenoz, 2013) and
multicompetence are the norm rather than the exception for the
majority of English language speakers worldwide, a point
developed by a number of researchers (Cook, 1992; Li, 2011).
Clearly this is a rich area of research, as boundaries shift and tools
of documenting discourse across languages have become more
sophisticated and multi-modal (Sebba, 2011). Policy statements are
also becoming more encompassing of language complexity, with
statements such as the introduction to the most prominent document
for European languages policy:
“The aim of language education is profoundly modified. It is
no longer seen as simply to achieve mastery of one or two
or even three languages, each taken in isolation, with the
‘ideal native speaker’ as the ultimate model ... the aim is to
develop a linguistic repertory, in which all linguistic abilities
have a place” (Council of Europe, 2001, p. 5).
So why add another term into what is already a jargon-laden field
with monolingualism, bilingualism and multilingualism? It will be
argued that “plurilingualism” reflects the reality and the need for a
linguistic repertoire, while being an observable linguistic situation
in our own and other communities. The term “plurilingualism” and
related multi-competences draw on the ideas of social
constructivism and recent research. A plurilingual awareness and
application could integrate needs that are especially evident in the
rojak of Malaysia’s complex communicative settings (Lee, 2003).
The usefulness of defining and applying the concept of
plurilingualism will now be developed.
Stephen J Hall
Plurilingualism: Concepts and Competencies
Plurilingualism and the competencies which come from being
plurilingual are integral to societies in which many languages and
dialects co-exist. Rather than define this abstractly, I would like to
share a personal, local experience related to language for a very
specific purpose. The purpose does not warrant academic status as
an English for Specific Purposes subject nor have an academic field
of its own, but there are critical competencies which affect all;
namely English for Plumbing.
Except for greetings, the plumber who comes to my home cannot
speak English but is fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese, Malay and
workable Bahasa Indonesia with a smattering of Hokkien. Leaving
aside the debates of what is a dialect and what is a language, this
man clearly works across languages for communicative purposes.
My wife, who is fluent in several languages including Malay and
Cantonese, code-switches within sentences as a plurilingual
Malaysian and this sometimes occurs with just one other listener.
She “codemeshes” (Canagarajah, 2013) as sometimes there are
language items from three different languages in one utterance or
spoken sentence. This is a major difference from being multilingual
in that languages overlap in one setting in a mix or meshing related
to the plurilingual person who is listening. This has also been
labelledtranslingualism” (Canagarajah, 2013) but we shall focus
on the plurilingual term and its relevance.
The features of plurilingualism are readily observed in Malaysia, as
observed at the beginning of this paper, and they are a contributing
factor to the uniqueness of Malaysian English, with such phrases as
got jalan and kopi money (Lee, 2007), as well as within the
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situations of many Malaysians who readily switch languages. We
return to the story of the codemeshing woman, who does not have
what we call “content knowledge” or specialised vocabulary for
plumbing in Malay or Cantonese. Therefore, I communicate in
Malay with the plumberas I taught myself Malay for Plumbing
and, when I am stuck, I explain details in English to my wife.
She will then tell him the problem in Cantonese. Then, this highly
paid plumber who left school early, will check the details with me in
Malay. Sometimes we intersperse with specialised vocabulary from
English to build communication. Occasionally, I will check with the
Indonesian workers who respond out of restrained chuckles to add
in their plurilingual comments, as one is able to speak Cantonese.
This situation is not unique to Malaysia and is recognised as a set of
competencies, which will now be described, less anecdotally, for a
wider European context:
“The plurilingual approach emphasises the fact that as an
individual person’s experience of language in its cultural
contexts expands, from the language of the home to that of
society at large and then to the languages of other peoples
(whether learnt at school or college, or by direct
experience), he or she does not keep these languages and
cultures in strictly separated mental compartments, but
rather builds up a communicative competence to which all
knowledge and experience of language contributes and in
which languages interrelate and interact. In different
situations, a person can call flexibly upon different parts of
this competence to achieve effective communication with a
particular interlocutor” (Council of Europe, 2001, p. 4).
Stephen J Hall
A common approach is to present learning a foreign language as an
addition, in a compartmentalised way, of a competence to
communicate in a foreign language to the competence to
communicate in the first language or mother tongue. The concept of
plurilingual and pluricultural competence, in contrast, tends to:
“consider that a given individual does not have a collection of
distinct and separate competences to communicate depending on
the languages he/she knows, but rather a plurilingual and
pluricultural competence encompassing the full range of the
languages available to him/her ...”
“stress the pluricultural dimensions of this multiple competence”
(Council of Europe, 2001, p. 168).
Such an approach reflects the reality that an estimated 80% of
English language teachers speak another language (Graddol, 1997)
and that like all live languages, English is continuing to evolve with
many neologisms, otherwise known as new words. There is a
heritage of this trait of English as Shakespeare himself created over
300 new words and this was not because of lack of talent. It could
be argued that English itself stays vibrant through its cultural inputs,
adoption and adaptation, although some argue that “native speaker”
standards should be upheld. We will, therefore, turn to the
arguments which rest heavily on standards issues to consider how a
plurilingual approach may be contested by assertions that so-called
native speakers have an insider’s knowledge and the right to being
guardians of correctness due to where he or she was born.
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Native Speakerism: Constructs and Practices
I have often heard, as one whose first spoken and written language
is English, the expression, “I would like to ask you, as you are a
native speaker of English.” It is certainly true that by the time one is
five years old, a first-language speaker of English would have
acquired up to 5,000 words of one’s mother tongue (Nation, 2001)
and will have acquired idioms and cultural norms for everyday
communication in family-based interactions and social settings. The
language one has acquired by one’s birth place is clearly deeply
embedded as part of one’s thinking and what has been termed as
your “inner voice”. However, there are many debatable aspects of
the idealised concept of the native speaker.
In ASEAN countries such as Malaysia, there have been demands for
both in-country and international expertise. Often this expertise is
sought in the form of “native speaker” teachers of English. This
choice is in marked contrast to the foregrounding of culturally
situated plurilingual educators. In this section, we shall explore the
myths of “native speakerism” (Holliday, 2006b). In a Malaysian
nationwide project of which I was part, within the Ministry of
Education, the client specified that native speakers were to be
recruited (Hall, 2007). An early rejection by the client during the
recruitment of a Trinidadian teacher educator revealed that for the
client, native speaker for some decision makers meant born in a
country where English was the first and dominant language, and
appearing to match some idealised image of this. The teacher
educator in question was a third-generation Londoner, but of a
rather darker hue than myself, so issues of race were being invoked
as his expertise was questioned based on appearance. Even though
his English was, as we joke in Manglish, very “powderful”, he did
not look the part,
Stephen J Hall
so to speak. This racism within the world of Teaching English to
Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) has been described
elsewhere in detail, as it clearly impacts other contexts (Lin, 1999;
Llurda, 2004; Mahboob, 2010) and that is a whole discourse in
itself. To return to my story, the experienced Master’s degree-
holding teacher educator did not look like the perception of a
speaker for whom English was his language by birthplace. In my
experience, the use of the term “native speaker” within this project
and in other even more commercial English language teaching
situations, is often linked to what Kachru (1992) terms as the “inner
circle” with a preference for the United Kingdom, a preference
paralleling the way that the word “native” has its roots in the Latin
root word related to birth.
The term “native speaker” is now widely critiqued and is far more
complex than a link to being born with English language as one’s
first language. Yet this “native speakerism” (Holliday, 2006b) as an
element in the project which I was involved, is still sustained in
more recent statements. The tension was that the local client viewed
the teacher educators as native speaker experts, while the teacher
educators viewed their work as being focused on pedagogy and
classroom change (Costelloe, 2006). In other words, in practice and
in what teachers in rural Malaysia wanted was professional
expertise over a native speaker approach based on a birthplace
definition of who the teacher educators were (Hall, 2009). The
analogy could be that just because you can eat, you can cook; but
then which is the chosen cuisine? In the English language teaching
world of Taiwan, I would rate below Americans, Canadians, British
and South Africans, according to colleagues working there. Sadly,
professional expertise from other groups is sidelined in perceptions
of what the market demand is. Plurilingualism does not rate very
highly in the East Asian market and even elsewhere, yet as I have
suggested it is the linguistic
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reality here in Malaysia and could contribute positively to learning.
There are some other concepts to deconstruct before we return to
stories from my past and plurilingualism.
It is useful to note that the terms “native” and “non-native” speakers
can no longer be viewed as a workable dichotomy (Braine, 1999;
Derivry-Plard, 2005). I will outline reasons why. In Davies’ (1991)
thorough study of the term, he moves away from the populist notion
that the language your mother spoke is your one native language
“by virtue of place or country of birth” (Davies, 1991, p. ix). He
notes that the binary division, native/non-native, avoids the fact that
more and more fluent speakers of English are multilingual in the
home setting. Being born in a place does not guarantee that the
person will be a native speaker as the language in the home may not
align with the language in the so-called native area. Defining the
dichotomy in terms of language learning is important, as Reves and
Medgyes surmise that:
“The issue of defining who should be considered native and
who non-native, is relevant to a large number of questions
within Applied Linguistics, such as language acquisition,
competence and performance, bilingualism and
semilingualism, knowledge and proficiency, communicative
competence, language consciousness and attitudes” (1994,
p. 353).
Part of the difficulty in defining the dichotomy is that it is not easy
to sustain an “either or” situation when one examines the growth of
English as an international language or lingua franca (Llurda, 2004).
Jenkins (2000, p. 8) notes that “English is often one of several
languages available in the repertoires of the multilingual
Stephen J Hall
of, for example, India ... where it is often difficult to ascertain which
language is a person’s L1 and which is their L2.” Globalisation
challenges simple binary notions of native and non-native speakers,
and these transnational flows are not new in our Southeast Asian
region. Kachru in more recent work (2005) refined his widely
quoted work, stating that the “inner circle” is best seen as a group of
highly proficient speakers of English, namely those who possess
“functional nativeness”. This means that how the speakers came to
learn the language or where they originated from are immaterial.
Even if one settles for defining native speakers as “habitual users of
English for all communicative purposes”, to paraphrase Timmis
(2002), there still remains an issue when the criteria of native
speaker is used as central to hiring an English language
professional. When language learning is involved, there are issues
of the depth of a native speaker’s knowledge of how the language
functions and is structured, as well as a native speaker’s pedagogic
knowledge. If the native speaker is seen as an expert, the fact that
the teacher was born in a setting where English is the major
language for communicative purposes and one of the first languages
acquired in a naturalistic setting, may be a questionable rationale for
hiring an educational professional. The sustaining of the valuing of
the native speaker is especially tenuous when one looks at the very
specific skill sets needed in English for Specific Purpose teaching.
One may be left questioning the usefulness of profiling the role of a
native speaker over the need for language teaching professionalism.
When a native speaker is working in the field of language teaching,
one may overlook the fact that a native speaker is not necessarily
skilled or trained as a language teacher. To repeat an analogy, being
experienced and knowledgeable about food does not make you a
Great Thinkers, Great Minds
or a chef. Derivry-Plard’s research in France points to a “strong
social construct which confuses ‘speaker’ with ‘teacher’ and ‘native
speaker’ with ‘native teacher’” (2005, p. 62). Kachru and Nelson
state that the “label ‘native speaker’ is of no a priori significance, in
terms of measuring facility with the language” (1996, pp. 78–79).
Pasternak and Bailey (2004) make the point that proficiency is not
the same as “nativeness” and that people can continue to develop or
diminish proficiency, although pronunciation may be less malleable
to change. They state that for relevant education in preparing a
language educator, the focus should be on both proficiency and
professional preparation, and that the skills needed go far beyond
one’s own communicative competence and proficiency. They assert
that there is a need for “declarative knowledge” about the target
language and appropriate behaviour, as well as “procedural
knowledge”, which is the how of the language and the “knowing
how to teach” (Pasternak & Bailey, 2004, p.4). Such knowledge is
acquired through more than being a native speaker.
The dichotomy of native and non-native speakers is based on
tenuous assertions as I have discussed, and the application of an
anachronistic dichotomy has been labelled by Holliday (2006b) as
an “ideology of native speakerism”. He defines this as “an
established belief that ‘native speaker’ teachers represent a ‘Western
culture’ from which spring the ideals both of English language and
English language teaching methodology” (Holliday, 2006b). He
notes that although this does not mean that all English-speaking
TESOL practitioners are native speakerists, there still are pervasive
professional forces at work which sustain the tenuous native/non-
native speaker division. This tension between widespread
professional forces and native speaker teacher educators who
struggle to not sustain the division, is part of the need to assert a
plurilingual approach.
Stephen J Hall
The necessity and usefulness of moving beyond the tenuous native
versus non-native dichotomy will now be developed with a fuller
explanation of the importance of situating teaching approaches. I
will draw on my approach to some of the tenets of being a
plurilingual professional through a personal narrative.
Plurilingual Positioning: Principles and Stories
When viewing the learners’ needs as central to a classroom, one has
to consider individuals and what they bring to classroom
interaction. This should include each learner’s language
background, especially in the digital era in which we communicate
in different modes, such as Facebook language and emoticons,
along with the fading use of SMS language. Throughout my
professional career which spans over three decades, I have applied a
learner-centred approach. I will use a personal narrative in a type of
auto-ethnography to illustrate some teaching and learning principles
which move beyond native speakerism to a more encompassing
approach which recognises and draws on learners’ existing
linguistic repertoires and competencies. I believe that, while using
particular examples from stages of my career, the principles of
embracing plurilingualism were already at play before the term
itself came into vogue. The principles link to sections of my career
but most overlap in an overarching pedagogy.
Situating learners’ needs
I began my career as a volunteer TESOL tutor while studying for
my first postgraduate diploma. The primary purpose of the tuition in
small groups was for Indochinese boat people to acquire
communicative English to help with socialisation and some
acculturation to the New Zealand workplace. We involved earlier
Great Thinkers, Great Minds
settlers to provide information on the specific difficulties that they
had faced and mastered, so as to provide relevant language learning
tasks. First language differences were directly addressed especially
in the challenges of tonal and stressed time pronunciation.
Therefore, the approach meant situating the learning in their
everyday needs. This was paramount to maintaining motivation and
also involved mutual learning for tutors as well as the recent
Working with learners’ own stories across languages
When I moved to teach in an upper primary school in a working-
class section of suburban Wellington, at a time when I had
considerably more hair, I rapidly found out that as soon as you close
the classroom door, you are the conductor of the orchestra no matter
what the planning book states. This is a reality which all
administrators, including myself, know even if it is not expressed.
The school children wanted high-interest materials, as all do, but
with 12 nationalities in a class of 28, it was evident that many had
their own stories as refugees, victims of war or passengers on the
journey of their parents’ ambitions. I chose to use students’ stories
with important phrases from the “language you dream in” to teach
narrative writing. The uncovering of past events was an area
requiring careful handling but involvement and the class-wide
development of compassion were high. Students wanted to learn
each other’s greetings, discovering that some had totally different
meanings, such as “Have you eaten already?”. Such inclusion
helped to create a “culture of learning” (Cortazzi, 2000) in which
celebrating the diversity was more pronounced than most of the
classes in the school.
Stephen J Hall
Celebrating creativity in cultural diversity
Demographics play a large part in creating workflows across
borders and the end of the Baby Boomers era affected many of
those working with young people in the early 1980s. Such was my
case, along with many other New Zealand teachers. I wanted to
keep teaching even if I was seen as an overqualified school teacher,
so I moved to a small dot in the central Pacific, the very affluent
tiny island of the Republic of Nauru. The school I taught in was
English medium and 90% of the children were Nauruan inheritors
of phosphate-provided wealth. Their motivation to learn English
was minimal and in the days before internet, with no television
input in English, the usage of English language outside the school
was minimal. I was aware of grandparents still being the storytellers
of traditional stories in Nauruan, so we used their stories to produce
bilingual storyboards with drawings. Learners worked in groups
with varied roles, including translator, artist, English accuracy
checker and storyteller. The students went back to their homes and
would make additions and changes to the stories after talking to
their elders. This integrated project, therefore, drew from traditional
culture and valued the local language community, rather than
approaching the first language as something that impeded English
language learning. This was the basis for my first academic article. I
used the same approach when I later taught in the Solomon Islands
by creating a local bamboo instrument orchestra in a project-based
approach, integrating mathematics, cultural studies and language.
The upper primary school class wrote songs in English and varied
local languages, exploring the differences in local terms and the
challenges of translating culturally “loaded” concepts into English,
and vice versa.
Great Thinkers, Great Minds
Recognising language complexity and varied domains
The island of Singapore where I worked for 11 years is vastly
different from New Zealand or the central Pacific Islands where I
had spent the previous decade. Singapore is extremely focused and
the strong emphasis in my teaching and teacher education often
involved focusing on the issue of Singaporean English versus
Standard English. There was, in fact, a “Speak Good English”
campaign; Singapore is somewhat of an expert state at organising
and propagating campaigns, some of which can be perceived as
reversals of earlier sloganeering. My stance was that there is a role
for local varieties and internationally comprehensible English, as I
stated in 1999 during a national level debate.
My personal approach is best reflected in the photo of the dragon
boat team (Figure 1). I learnt a lot of what Singaporeans call
“dialects”, but it was actually dragon boat locker room talk and so
most of my Hokkien is not repeatable in this august setting. The
dragon boat team functioned in Malay, Cantonese, Hokkien,
Mandarin and Singlish. I was told in my first couple of many
paddling sessions, “We are Singaporean mah. We don’t need the
Queen’s English. OK. Can ah?” and that was that. This example
could be termed as a statement of domain-specific usage. A further
example of this was in 1994, when I had to be the translator for the
leading Singapore’s men’s team while mixing in Singlish and
Hokkien. We rowed against Indonesian teams in Batam and the
team at that time had no other Malay or Indonesian speakers. In
these plurilingual examples, we see how setting, social interaction
and communicative needs are important determiners of language
use, in much the same way that the Master’s research I supervised
in Singapore had to be in the register of academic English. In such a
rich language setting, we could view the ability to codemesh and
switch as a resource rather than a deficit. Yet questions remain as to
classroom teaching and learning implications, which I shall now
turn to.
Figure 1 The writer and part of the Hi Raleigh Singapore dragon boat team
Plurilingual Pedagogy: Methods and Reflections
Divesting power status through accepting diversity
Central to the premise of accepting the cultural background of
plurilingual speakers is the role of the teacher or lecturer as a model
of linguistic openness and cultural acceptance. However, being
linguistically accepting of diversity does require the learners seeing
you as other than the traditional transmitter of knowledge. This is
something I do in my present teaching and it is an approach that has
been part of my whole professional life.
Great Thinkers, Great Minds
The importance of divesting oneself from the often culturally
sanctioned all-knowing teacher role was part of the approach of a
nationwide Malaysian project which I headed in terms of pedagogy.
This began in mid-2002. The five-year involvement with rural
teacher education involved all states, Ministry stakeholders and so-
called “native-speaker” teacher educators. The latter were all
experienced professionals. To illustrate the pedagogical basis which
involved recognising Malay and other languages rather than
ignoring the national language, I would like to quote from my
thesis. The qualitative study involved four teacher educators
working in culturally differing districts and 16 teachers, four for
each district. During the project, it quickly became evident that the
client’s wish of “English Only” in the teacher education sessions
was communicatively and motivationally challenging. Teacher
educators found that they first had to overcome perceptions of the
recently arrived expatriate experts. While adopting a focus on
fostering interactive classrooms, many teacher educators felt a need
to deconstruct the perception that they were all-knowing experts
who had power, as the centralised Ministry had brought them into
the country. Malaysian teachers were perceived initially as lacking
confidence, a common misconception (Kabilian, 2007; Malachi,
2011). However, this can be deconstructed by understanding local
needs, as shall be seen, and this, of course, has parallels with
classroom teaching. Learning about the linguistic complexity which
can vary enormously from Perlis to Pontian to Sandakan also helped
teacher acceptance of new methods. Figure 2 is a transcript of an
interview with a Mat Salleh teacher educator who was involved in
teacher training courses at a kampung site (Hall, 2009, p. 101):
Stephen J Hall
62 Could you talk about building the teachers’ confidence
during the session?
63 T Yeah. That’s an important part of the –of my own, I
guess, inner objectives for
64 training. The first one would be the affective factors
relating to me personally
65 and trying to remove the barriers of foreigner to local
and expert to non-expert
66 and remove those kinds of things, that’s my sort of
inner, primary inner objective.
67 The second one would be teachers’ confidence and –So
yesterday’s training for
68 teacher confidence, I like to make use of singing which
is a non-threatening, all
69 participating activity so we had several phonic songs
related to that.
Figure 2 The thoughts of a teacher educator regarding his methods
The positioning of oneself as part of the community was an
important part of teacher acceptance of novel teaching techniques,
as was a shared acceptance that there is a role for the other
languages in a classroom.
Working languages: Building bonds
All learners of other languages bring their own inner resources and
cultural background into the language acquisition processes of a
classroom. This may seem glaringly obvious, yet it is often
sidelined in the desire to get the most done in the shortest time. The
teacher educators whom I researched reflected that the use of the
languages of the teachers in their in-service courses was an effective
tool not only for building acceptance but also as a comparative basis
for learning. An example of this is the use of tenses, or lack of them,
in Malay. Those teacher educators who showed that they were
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of the rojak or complex mix of languages were accepted almost as
much as those who enjoy durian. Eating and enjoying durian are
not a marker of Malaysian life which you can cultivate; you either
do or do not: I do. I digress with thoughts of musang king. Some
terms, like durian, just simply do not translate from one language to
another. This is one practical point in using some other languages.
However, the principle that all who come into formal learning bring
their own language backgrounds underpinned most success stories.
As one teacher educator said to me, “I have to be tabbed. I switch
cultural tabs” (Hall, 2009, T3 109 raw data). Another view was, “I
use a little Malay and see the shared and sometimes very different
concepts. We discuss these. Mixing it up. English only doesn’t
usually work” (Hall, 2009, Appendix G). Deconstructing some of
the distance between so-called native speaker teacher educators and
local teachers came about when they acknowledged the linguistic
complexity of plurilingualism, and positioned themselves not only
as teachers but also as learners open to other languages. Another
interesting aspect which can draw on the linguistic complexities is
the use of humour to deconstruct perceptions of an all-knowing
expert, and this is a rich area of cultural difference and plurilingual
acceptance described elsewhere (Holmes, 2000; Hall, 2009). I shall
conclude with some brief suggestions drawing on my experience
and what I believe is a practical approach to TESOL.
I would like to conclude in a concise manner by suggesting some
brief points and examples for pedagogy which celebrate linguistic
diversity in our plurilingual nation. Most of these points also inform
our practice here at Sunway University. In the role of CELS, the
Centre for English Language Studies, we celebrate linguistic
diversity. All the staff are multilingual and, as most are Malaysians
Stephen J Hall
we are plurilingual, as is some of our office interaction. We all
recognise that language has diverse roles to meet specific needs and
clearly there is a much-needed role for internationally
comprehensible English for academic and professional purposes.
This is, at times, an under-recognised strength of Malaysian
professionalism, in that we are very aware of matching the audience
with the right code. We also are experts at “codemeshing” and
switching to meet specific needs. Language is increasingly for
specific purposes, beyond everyday communication. Of course, we
need the tools to work and communicate accurately in the global
market place. We can also be supportive of regional forums and
collegial links. In all this diversity, we may be asked, “Do we have
accents?” We all do, as really an accent is a perception of difference
in that one may claim, “Everyone has an accent but me.”
I suggest that hiring policies should recognise the language teaching
strength of colleagues from varied first-language backgrounds, as
they will know the power of comparative analysis and how a
language works. Professionalism should override “native
speakerism” and, sooner or later, the sheer number of English
language teaching professionals who are from varied language
backgrounds will be predominant. In classrooms, we should also be
broad-based in varied techniques, as cultures do approach learning
differently. We could also draw on the rich resources which our
learners bring into the interaction, as I have suggested in my
personal narrative. Hiding diversity under an English monolingual
approach ignores the complex plurilingual world we live in. I
suggest we celebrate plurilingualism as we develop English for a
rapidly globalising world.
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