[I read this interesting post from @EBEFL and felt compelled to write a response.
Since comments on blogspot occasionally drive me crazy and I thought my response was more than a bit long for comments I have decided to post them here. My response is below. ]
Dear EBEFL (if that is really your name),
I hope all is well and you are having a productive summer. I discovered you were off Twitter when I wanted to give you a HT (hat tip) for some link or other. It took me a while but I figured out that you were not longer a twitterer (atwitter?). I hope it is just a summer break in the name of productivity. I was pretty proud of my tweet regarding your absence from Twitter. Here it is, for posterity’s sake.
Anyway, enough about Twitter and my tweeting/sleuthing skills.
I liked your recent blog post and I think you raised some great and interesting questions. As you know, I like to see challenges of what everyone thinks (even in this case if it is about something I think). I thought I would share some my initial thoughts on the questions you asked. These are just my own personal thoughts and not based on any of that fancy book learnin’ stuff. I apologize in advance for the scattered nature of this response as well as for all the scare quotes, which I found were quite addicting.
In your recent post, you wrote about how democratic (numerical?) appeals always play a role in discussions of ELF. You wrote, “English as a Lingua Franca articles always begin with the assertion that there are way more NNS of English than NS, so who are we to tell them how to speak?!” For me it is not about the number of speakers making a variety more or less valid. It is about native speakers re-orienting their teaching to the reality in the world. Note that I am not talking about teaching a particular variety of English but rather teaching with the knowledge that the vast majority of English encounters in the world are between L2 users of English. This changes things doesn’t it? For me it does. In general it guides me to focus more on clarification and accommodation strategies and lessens the focus on things like the pesky 3rd person s. I am not suddenly going to talk in a hybrid of Chinese and Indian English but I might not “teach” as many US-centric idioms as I would have 10 years ago without knowing about the stats related to L2 communications in English. For me it is not so much about “teaching” (Not totally sure what that means in this case. Seriously) a brand new language but more about how the realities of communication in the world impact my decisions. I hope this makes a bit of sense. I trust you will let me know if not.
Above I mentioned thinking back to 10 years ago. I think I could be forgiven for thinking that most interactions my Korean and Japanese students would be with quote native speakers. I mean all these foreigners (mostly white…you decide if this is important or pertinent to our conversation or not) were working in Korea and Japan on the basis of being a “native speaker” and were pinpointed as the model and the goal. I think this, using “native speakers” as the model, is problematic. (Possible questions might be “native speakers from where with what background, speaking style, accent and socio-economic status?) I have met plenty of people from around the world that required much less effort for me to understand than many “native speakers” from both the US and UK but I guess that falls in line with what you wrote.
I also think it is worth considering the shift from “native speakers” as the model to something more realistic and attainable. I can’t tell you the amount of times that students around 25 years of age and with very basic English skills told me they hoped to sound like “native speakers” at the end of a 20-week intensive program. Not very helpful (or likely) in my view. Now, I don’t really want to be known as the shatterer of dreams but at the same time I think a bit of a reality check can be helpful for both teachers and students. If the goal is to become a competent user of (global?) English I think that makes a lot more sense.
I think another reason for what might seem like “‘native speaker’ bashing” is how the reverse is a “NON-native speaker. ” So here we are defining people by what they are not and will never be. I think this sort of labeling doesn’t really help things very much. It seems a lot of people get quite bothered by the non aspect of this label but for me this is not such a big deal. I think it depends if we really think of the non as a deficit or not. I do think that the term is necessarily a tricky one. I won’t get into the tricky cases involving this label I have seen and heard but I think we can agree that it is tricky, right? For me it is about using a label that is necessarily confusing and doesn’t seem to add too much to discussions on teaching/learning. I am not sure how on point your red/orange and native speaker/non-native speaker comparison is (found on your recent post) but as always I admire your questions and your attempts to make sense of what might seem alternatively super easy and super difficult. I guess this, like many things, is not something that is so black and white (or red and orange for that matter).
PS- I am not sure if it is necessarily related but here is something I wrote a long time ago about “native speakers” in Korea, replete with quotes on “native speaker” at every turn. Also, this one on fighting generalizations with generalizations might be of interest.