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Review of English - A Changing Medium for Education
This book is a collection of papers on English as a medium of instruction in various contexts around the world, with particular focus on English communicative competence and its use as a situated social practice. Edited by Constant Leung and Brian V. Street, renowned experts on language and literacy, the book draws readers’ attention to English language education in an era of English being a lingua franca or an additional language, and brings scholars from different parts of the world together to contribute to our understanding of medium of instruction, language policy, literacy and education.
The book is composed of seven chapters, each of which focuses on different aspects of English medium education, ranging from language curriculum and language policy, to arguments on theoretical conceptualizations.
Chapter 1, contributed by the editors, is entitled “Introduction: English in the curriculum--Norms and Practices”. Drawing on the work of Halliday (1973, 1975) and Hymes (1972, 1977), the authors review the concept of communicative competence and its influence on the fields of language teaching and literacy, and then suggest a practical view of language rather than a norm-based view. In order to further illustrate this point, Leung and Street offer an ethnographic case study of English practice in a classroom conducted in a London school, showing how English was taught in combination with digital and visual methods in order to help students understand and learn it in a variety of forms (e.g. spoken, written, etc.). As indicated by the authors, the very first chapter “helps set the scene for the discussions by subsequent authors in the volume” (p. xiv).
Chapter 2, “What counts as English?”, written by Mastin Prinsloo, focuses on examining the discrepancy between what educational policy (in relation to language learning and use) stipulates in South Africa and what has actually taken place in schools there. Assuming the interactional sociolinguistic and ethnographic research approaches, Prinsloo first reviews what language policy in education is like at the national level before explaining research on real English language practice in three different schools in South Africa. At the policy level, the author finds the language policy problematic because it is based on an autonomous and boundarized understanding of language, without taking daily language practices at schools into account. When Prinsloo looked at classroom data (i.e. students’ and teachers’ English practice), he found that the use of English differed in the three schools “depending on the situated resources and intention of social actors” (p. 38). Towards the end of this chapter, Prinsloo suggests that an effective language policy should be based on a deep understanding of how language is practiced so that the divergences between language policy and language practices in reality can be minimized.
In Chapter 3, Ilana Synder and Denise Beale systematically review the developments and changes of bilingual education policy in indigenous communities in Australia in response to the rise of English as the medium of instruction. It has been argued that language policy in Australia in general, and bilingual education in indigenous areas in particular, indicate the intervention of politics, power, and ideology, which can be reflected in the Northern Territory, where English is the settlers’ language, associated with economic and political profits, whereas indigenous languages index local cultures and identities. Meanwhile, the authors of this paper address the roles of literacy and testing in the amendment and implementation of bilingual education policy. It is their hope that future policy for indigenous education can be more pluralistic so that it “recognises and respects the importance of local languages and cultures as foundational to educational achievement” (p. 54).
Chapter 4, entitled “Re(Writing) English: Putting English in translation”, is contributed by Bruce Horner and Min-Zhan Lu. They focus on a new understanding of English as a medium in composition classes taught in colleges and universities in the United States by challenging the English Only ideology within the frameworks of English as a lingua franca and World Englishes. Based on their observations and review of literature, the authors explore how research on ELF (English as a lingua franca) and World Englishes reinforces the tenets of a monolingual ideology and ignores the agency of both native and non-native speakers of English in writing. Alternatively, Horner and Lu propose a translingual approach to language that emphasizes the hybridity and fluidity of language, a speaker’s agency in negotiating meanings, and cooperation. To illustrate this new pedagogy, they analyze a case study showing how their translingual approach helps both native speakers and non-native speakers of English understand the “errors” produced in their writing through collaborative experiences with teachers.
In Chapter 5, “Multilingual and multimodal resources in genre-based pedagogical approaches to L2 English content classrooms”, Angel Lin explores the ways by which we can tackle the difficulties and dilemmas in outer and expanding circles, where English is gradually adopted as a medium of instruction in schools. Situating her study in the context of Hong Kong, the author first offers a historical overview of changing language policies in school education and pinpoints the impacts of the recent changes of MOI policy by questioning how students’ English proficiency can be improved when Chinese-medium instruction is changed to English-medium instruction in some school subjects. Then, Lin introduces four directions that may be used to innovatively meet the challenges mentioned above: (i) developing multiple flexible approaches to content-based second language (L2) instruction; (ii) breaking away from the traditional immersional model as the best approach to designing L2 English content programmes; (iii) drawing on multimodal and continua theories of language and communication; and (iv) drawing on genre-based multilingual, multimodal and popular cultural resources to provide basic-L2-proficiency students with access to L2 academic content and literacy. Drawing on Hallidayan linguistics (such as Halliday, 1998), the Sydney School of genre analysis, and Gibbon (2009), Lin proposes a genre-based multilingual and multimodal bridging pedagogy for integrated science in Hong Kong junior secondary schools and tested it out in a pilot study. It is the author’s hope that this genre-based multilingual and multimodal pedagogy can be applied to other L2 English content subjects and in other L2 contexts in the future.
Chapter 6, “Multimodal literacies and assessment: Uncharted challenges in the English classroom”, by Heather Lotherington and Natalia Sinitskaya Ronda, provides a picture of how the advent of new media and digital communication challenges our traditional understanding of language and literacy in English classrooms and examines how the current assessment executed by higher authorities hinders students’ multimodal literacy development in schools. Drawing on the theories of the New London Group and others, the authors suggest shifting from a narrow understanding of literacy as reading and writing English print to a new understanding of literacy in the pixelized world, where digital communication plays a prominent role. Then, they offer two case studies that successfully practicized multimodal literacies in English classrooms in Canada by pinpointing the lack of a suitable language and literacy assessment. Lotherington and Ronda conclude the chapter by proposing some basics for the assessment of multimodal literacies and calling for more attention to be placed on classroom learning and real social communication needs.
In the last chapter of this book, “Beyond labels and categories in English Language Teaching: Critical reflections on popular conceptualizations”, Martin Dewey starts to rethink the concept of English in light of the changing, complex sociocultural contexts surrounding its use. He has found that terms such as EFL (English as a Foreign Language) and ESL (English as a Second Language) “are heavily laden with traditional intellectual assumptions about language that do not adequately reflect current realities regarding the global sociolinguistics of English” (p. 130). Those dominant assumptions in ELT (English in Language Teaching) are often manifested in CLT (Communicative Language Teaching) and Tasked Based Learning methodologies in ELT, where English is regarded as a unitary and stable phenomenon. Drawing on the theories of ELF, Dewey tries to highlight the heterogeneous and unboundarized sides of English because, in his view, this approach helps us cross the boundaries between Kachru’s (1992) three circles and sees ELF interactions taking place in highly variable socio/linguacultural networks that may operate independently of physical setting. Continuing this line of thinking, Dewey then discusses the major implicatoins for language learning and teaching in reference to Canagarajah’s (2005) multi-norm approach to English, and finally, concludes the chapter.
As a whole, this edited book explores the major issues of English as a medium for education in the fields of language and literacy with a global perspective. All the contributors in the book take a practical view of language and then apply it to discussions on either language and literacy curriculum or language policy, while taking sociocultural, political, and ideological contexts into account. The case studies reported were conducted in different places around the world, ranging from countries in the inner circle, such as England and the United States, to countries in the expanding circle, like Hong Kong, which reinforces the idea that English as a medium for education has gained global attention. The cooperation among the researchers in the book advances our understanding of English language and literacy, both theoretically and practically. In particular, the first and last chapters are theoretically insightful and important in that they lay a strong foundation for further development in the field. For instance, in the first chapter, the view that English is part of social and language practice, proposed by Leung and Street, can help us build a rich and more complex picture of language and literacy in education; and in the last chapter, the demystification of some prevailing language labels in ELT challenges the very nature of our beliefs about what the English language is. It is these ideas that are taken up by the authors of the remaining chapters, all of which map out the direction for our future research. Therefore, this book can be regarded as a timely addition to the emerging literature on language and literacy education.
One minor criticism of the book is the lack of careful editing work prior to publication, as there are occasional typos throughout the book (e.g. p. xxi, in line 8, “Del” should be spelled “Dell”; p. 24, in line 7, “ideologues” should be “ideologies”, etc.). However, these minor items do not in any way affect the overall quality of this excellent volume, which will be of great value, not only to researchers and students of language education, but also to language policy-makers and teaching professionals in schools or universities.
Canagarajah, A. S. (2005). Introduction. In A. S. Canagarajah (Ed.), Reclaiming the local in language policy and practice (pp. xiii-xxx). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates.
Gibbon, P. (2009). English learners, academic literacy, and thinking: Learning in the challenge zone. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Halliday, M. A. K. (1973). Explorations in the functions of language. London: Edward Arnold.
Halliday, M. A. K. (1975). Learning how to mean: Explorations in the development of language. London: Edward Arnold.
Halliday, M. A. K. (1998). Things and relations: Regrammaticising experience as scientific knowledge. In J. R. Martin and R. Veel (Eds.), Reading science: Critical and functional perspectives on discourse of science (pp. 185-235). London: Routledge.
Hymes, D. (1972). On communicative competence. In J. Maybin (Ed.), Language and literacy in social practice (pp. 11-22). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, in association with Open University.
Hymes, D. (1977). Foundations in sociolinguistics: An ethnographic approach. London: Tavistock Publications.
Kachru, B. (Ed.). (1992). The other tongue: English across cultures (2 ed.). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Zhang Kun is a PhD candidate in the Centre for Applied English Studies at the University of Hong Kong, where he is working on his doctoral dissertation about Mainland Chinese Students’ language use and identity construction in Hong Kong and Macao. His research interests include sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, and multilingualism.