Hall, Joan Kelly, and William G. Eggington, eds. (2000) The Sociopolitics of
English Language Teaching. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters LTD. Pages:
Reviewed by Dipika Mukherjee, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
This is a collection of eleven papers by well-known experts in the field of
English language teaching. As most of them are based in the United States,
this book largely addresses issues relating to English language policies and
attitudes within America, and explores the inherent biases of both political
movements and social attitudes. Targeted at English language teachers,
especially to aspiring teachers in TESOL teacher preparation programs, most
of the eleven papers in this collection are intellectually stimulating, with
a balanced mix of thought-provoking and radical viewpoints.
This book is divided into three sections with chapters by various authors,
and each chapter has discussion questions and activities following it. The
three sections are further demarcated by additional questions and activities
as well as a list of readings and resources at the end of each section. As
such, this is good resource material for those in the field of second
language teaching in the United States.
The book is subdivided in the following way:
Section 1: Language Politics, Language Practices and English Teaching
This section considers Policy and Ideology in the Spread of English (James
W. Tollefson); Linguistic Human Rights and Teachers of English (Tove
Skutnabb-Kangas); Official English and Bilingual Education: The Controversy
over Language Pluralism in U.S. Society (Susan J. Dicker); and Non-Native
varieties and the Sociopolitics of English Proficiency Assessment (Peter H.
Section 2: The Social, Cultural, and Political Dimensions of Language
This section evaluates The Social Politics and Cultural Politics of Language
Classrooms (Alistair Pennycook), Education Malpractice and the Miseducation
of Language Minority Students (John Baugh), and Transforming the Politics of
Schooling in the U.S.: A Model for Successful Academic Achievement for
Language Minority Students (Shelley Wong).
Section 3: Possibilities for Action
This third and last section focuses on Creating Participatory Learning
Communities: Paradoxes and Possibilities (Elsa R. Auerbach); Exploring the
Spiritual Moral Dimensions of Teachers' Classroom Language Policies (Ramona
M. Cutri); Disciplinary Knowledge as a Foundation for Teacher Preparation
(William Grabe, Fredricka L. Stoller and Christine Tardy); and Becoming
Sociopolitically Active (Linn E. Forhan and Mona Scheraga).
In the first two papers, Tollefson and Skutnabb-Kangas explore the effect of
English language policies on the use of other languages in international
settings. Tollefson's argument makes the point that although the English
language is the language of opportunity, it creates global inequalities in
that it marginalises those who do not speak the variety that is considered
normative by a dominant group. Skutnabb-Kangas's article is
thought-provoking and impassioned, including rabble-rousers such as:
"Soon some Americans may be the only ones in the world
suffering from the curable illness of monolingual stupidity, and in a
hundred years' time, we multilinguals may be showing some of those who are
still voluntarily monolingual, in pathalogical museums" (39).
Baugh's paper delves into "educational malpractice" and although less
strident in tone than Skutnab-Kangas, he makes a strong statement about the
potential for injury from the miseducation of minority students being as
devastating as that resulting from the negligence of a medical practitioner.
Robert B. Kaplan points out in his foreword (viii) that "an issue not
addressed in this volume is the marginalisation of language teaching
itself", and for readers outside what Braj Kachru would term the
inner-circle of English-speaking countries, such an omission is significant.
In such countries, ESL/EFL teaching is most often treated as an academic
subgroup that any native speaker is able to handle with minimum training,
and this is a field that is often neglected by serious scholars.
Practitioners in this are often the least likely to be able to think about
intangibles like language rights.
In addition, although Forhan and Scheragamake a case for teachers getting
involved, personally and professionally, in sociopolitical activism in
language teaching, there is little emphasis on the fact that in some
Southeast Asian countries, language teaching discussions can have serious
political ramifications. The Sedition Act (1971) in Malaysia made the
discussion of language issues prohibited by law, and in Singapore recently,
the government's criticism of Singlish changed the essence of a very popular
sitcom (the main character underwent a British Council language course
before he returned for another season).
Thus as Pennycook and Wong both highlight the challenges facing the language
teacher due to the complex framework of social, cultural and political
aspects that determine the structure of English language education, it
becomes obvious that the inner circle of English-speaking countries where
English is already the dominant language, has issues significantly different
from the outer circle, both socially and politically, when it comes to
English language teaching. A more in-depth analysis of the challenges of
teaching English in non-western settings would have been valuable.
The editors say at the outset (emphasis mine): "Our primary purpose is to
introduce these issues to aspiring teachers of English from myriad
educational contexts and geographical locations for the purpose of provoking
their sensibilities, stimulating discussion and ultimately, raising
student's awareness of these important issues" (1). Although the editors
acknowledge on the next page that they are unable to cover all of the social
cultural and political issues important to the English language field in one
book, the strong American bias, unfortunately, makes this collection of
limited relevance for practitioners in myriad geographical locations.
Lowenberg's paper, in which he makes a plea for language testing norms
needing to take into account non-native varieties of English around the
world is well-argued and the one this reviewer found to be the most relevant
practitioners outside the North American subcontinent. Although I found
Lowenberg's choice of textbook to illustrate the Malaysian examples a bit
unusual, he makes an excellent case for recognising non-standardised norms
instead of penalizing such items as errors in standardized global texts.
Overall, although this book is an excellent resource for practitioners in
the English-language teaching field in the United States, it may be of
limited relevance for practitioners in other settings. The title may
mislead readers to expect a more global perspective on the Sociopolitics of
English Language Teaching than can actually be found in this collection.
About the reviewer
Dr. Dipika Mukherjee holds a Ph.D. in English/Linguistics from Texas A&M
University, and is now an Assistant Professor at Nanyang Technological
University, Singapore . Her research covers sociolinguistics as well as
second language teaching applied to the genre of technical writing.
Dipika Mukherjee, Assistant Professor
Communication Skills Coordinator
School of Materials Engineering
Nanyang Technological University
Nanyang Ave SINGAPORE 639798
Tel: (65) 790 6921 Fax: (65) 790 9081
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>