SOCIAL INJUSTICE IN ESL POLICIES: VIETNAM SHOWCASE & BEYOND
Language & Culture – Dr. Leslie Gauna Name: Phuc Nguyen, Dao
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SOCIAL INJUSTICE IN ESL POLICIES: VIETNAM SHOWCASE & BEYOND
Currently in Vietnam, many language centers and institutions prefer to recruit native speakers from Inner Circle countries (e.g. powerful English-speaking western countries such as America, England, Australia and Anglophone Canada), regarding their intuitions about their mother tongue and how the target language works. The policy-makers and administrators believe these foreigners promote the process of English learning and acquisition, especially in terms of communicative competence. Sadly, this belief is also deeply rooted among local ESL teachers and students. Nonnative speakers tend to “feel intimidated by native speaker norms of use and usage” (Alptekin, 2002), and that they cannot compete with their standardized criteria when it comes to communicative competence; in addition, a long-standing faith among students and their parents, in which native-like competency of English will bring about a higher power position in the society, leads to substantial needs for foreign teachers. This widespread, deep-seated obsession with native-speaker standardized norms thus results in an increasingly excessive recruitment of native speakers, regardless of their backgrounds. The price of hiring these foreigners is not cheap, both literally and metaphorically.
In this case, isn’t it the target language that has become a marker/ a criterion to determine one’s social standing? Isn’t it strange when the phenomenon transpires the country where that language is not even its official language? Isn’t it a paradox when the native-speakers themselves compromise the quality of ESL teaching and learning?
This project, therefore, aims to address the questions above and at the same time question the dominance of English and its negative impacts on the English Language Teaching (ELT) industry worldwide, causing social inequality in underdeveloped and developing countries. The study was conducted in Vietnam’s current ELT contexts to examine local ESL teachers’ beliefs, thereby making evident that English-possession contributes to the birth of new forms of social stratification and neo-colonialism. Finally, some directions for the current deteriorating ESL learning and teaching contexts will be proposed.
2. Literature review
Even more than a decade ago, the juggernaut of the English language and its impacts were addressed by some well-known scholars such as Skutnabb-Kangas (1988), Kachru (1985, 1992a, 1992b), Phillipson (1992), Pennycook (1994), and Widdowson (1994). Among all the criticism, Phillipson (1992) appears remarkably critical of the phenomenal, worldwide expansion of English, which he terms “linguistic imperialism” and defines it as below:
…the dominance of English is asserted and maintained by the establishment and continuous reconstruction of structural and cultural inequalities between English and other languages. (Phillipson, 1992)
He continues by arguing that linguistic imperialism is the consequence of socio-political, socio-economic and socio-cultural predominance of what Kachru (1992) calls Inner Circle countries. Linguistic imperialism, according to Phillipson, is a sub-category of “linguicism”, which is defined by Skutnabb-Kangas (1983:13) as “ideologies, structures, and practices which are used to legitimate, effectuate, and reproduce an unequal
division of power and resources (both material and immaterial) between groups which are defined on the basis of language”. Thus, to thrive for a higher social standing, there has been a high demand from underdeveloped and developing countries to invest in learning the language. Phillipson (1992) then critiques the expansion of ELT agencies, such as the famous British Council, which is established not only to meet the demand, but also aims to reinforce it. He also emphasizes it is the promotion of ELT that contributes to the hegemony of English and even goes further by claiming the spread of the language is in fact a conspiracy established to serve the interests and thus maintain the politico-economic position of the Inner Circle countries.
Although they all agree to some extent that the notion of linguistic imperialism has reflected the socio-political role of languages and power relations among different language speakers, linguistic researchers such as Bisong (1995), Davies (1996), Crystal (1997) and Pennycook (2000) question and criticize Phillipson’s arguments in that Phillipson subjectively overemphasizes and overgeneralizes the predomination of English without taking into account other contextual factors. Following this spirit, it is posited that new forms of socio-economic inequality has emerged between native and nonnative English users in international contexts, as well as between those with and without English proficiency in the Outer and Expanding Circle countries (Kachru, 1992a, 1992b; Pennycook, 1995; Tollefson, 1995, 2000). Also, there has been a strong critique of the ubiquitous implementation of idealized monolingual native-speaker standards, which inextricably leads to the social demotion of other language speakers and deems late language competence as impure and illegitimate (Alptekin, 2002; García, 2009; Ortega, 2010).
To resist the hegemony of the language and its insidious effects, many scholars (e.g. Canagarajah, 1999, 2002; Kachru, 2005; Jenkins, 2006, 2009; Larsen-Freeman & Anderson, 2011; etc.) have examined various approaches which foreground the
ideological shift from the Inner Circle to the Outer and Expanding Circles to support the ideals of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF).
This research will follow the previous studies’ spirit, but the scope is narrowed down to the impact of the English language on Vietnam, a developing country in Southeast Asia. The findings of this study are expected to inherit the ideals of ELF, thereby hoping to extend to the situations of other developing and underdeveloped countries all over the world.
Qualitative research was implemented for this study. The participants include local 5 ESL teachers and 14 teaching assistants. The five teachers are all female and vary in age (from 23 to 27) as well as in years of experience. One of them completed her Master of TESOL and is now pursuing her second degree in the US; two are doing their Master’s in Vietnam; and the other two are junior teachers who have started teaching for a year. Most of the teaching assistants are doing their undergraduate studies. All the teaching assistants and teachers participating in this project used to work or currently work in the same English center. The data reported below is mainly drawn upon a questionnaire involving the teaching assistants and interviews with the 5 ESL practitioners. The interviews were conducted via Skype, in a period of a month, with 4 conversations recorded. With the goal of establishing more authenticity, interview questions were distributed to the participants before the interviews, so that they would have more time reflecting upon the current contexts. In the same manner, the data presented below are necessarily selective and partial, including quotes from the conservations as well as the questionnaire.
4. Key findings, critiques and further discussion
a. Distorted ELT industry and Compromised teaching quality
In 1994, the U.S. lifted its trade embargo with Vietnam for the first time after the war. As a result, foreign companies such as Nike, Adidas, FedEx, Coca-Cola, etc. rushed in, leading the country into unprecedented growth and financial stability. Also in the 90s, the world witnessed the fall of Berlin Wall, the downfall of Soviet communism and the end of Apartheid in South Africa, which brought about the promise of freedom, democracy and equal opportunity around the globe. Essentially, knowledge of English has been an indispensable factor as a part of the promise of egalitarianism. However, since 2001, we have also lived in a world where a deregulated fast capitalism has exacerbated global inequalities, creating havoc among the financial markets and increasing the global competition for resources, status and power. English, therefore, has become a language of the new global elites. (Kramsch, 2013), and Vietnam is not an exception.
Not only has the preeminence of English led to unbalanced power relations between native and nonnative English-speakers (Phillipson, 1992; Pennycook, 1994, 1995; Tollefson, 2000), but it also brings about a new form of social stratification in developing countries: People who can afford to learn English in lavish English agents (e.g. English centers, international schools, etc.) will have greater educational advantage and thus higher socio-political/socio-economic position. For instance, in Vietnam, considering the Inner Circle countries’ economic and political dominance, it is widely believed that English literacy will provide one with greater access to symbolic and material resources. As a result, more and more people invest their own time and expense in learning the language. English now has become a status symbol rather than merely a communicative skill for so many people. Sarcastically, the desire to reach a higher social status is so strong that a large proportion of the young
generation often pretend code-switching between English and their mother tongue, in order to prove their proficiency in the so-called noble language and thus hope to gain more respect from the society.
In one of her studies on the relationship between language learning and identity, Norton (2013) points out young individuals in underdeveloped and developing countries have a strong belief in literacy practices, in which literacy and English proficiency would become important tools for the advancement of the society and they strongly believed they would have appropriate identities as “educated” people living in a “developed” country. This might lead to a crisis of expectation and wrong assumption: Those who are more literate in English are more rational and capable than those who are not. At this point, the privilege of learning the target language has extended to complex relationships within the communities and transnationally, and increasingly expanded the gap between the rich and the poor. In other words, English has contributed to intensifying inequality (Lin, 2013).
Pennycook (1994) critiques it is this promotion of English that has turned the language into a global commodity, and this is a promising bait for many capitalists as well as local entrepreneurs. The English Rush results in the birth of many mediocre English agencies. Plus, the price of hiring qualified workforce from developed countries is not cheap; therefore, to meet the demand, policy-makers, even those from prestigious English agencies, resort to recruiting under-qualified workforce, say, native English-speaking citizens with irrelevant education background, who are very likely to compromise the quality of language teaching and learning process. To shed light on this phenomenon, as well as to examine the teaching quality of recruited native teachers, let’s go over some excerpts of the surveyed teaching assistants, who have the most frequent contact with the foreign teachers as well as their pedagogical practices:
“…Some of the native teachers are great. I see their hard working and enthusiastic. But some are not good enough, they are somehow lazy in class, just let the students play games, which is totally not the purpose of study…”
“Most of them are tourists and don't have intention to stay for long, so some of them don't really "invest" in their teaching skill, therefore the classes that they teach usually don't have many activities/ games. Also some of them are hot-tempered and sometimes leads to unexpected situations with (naughty) students…”
“…Not all of them. Just a few are sufficiently-qualified. Most of the native speakers I work with are quite irresponsible and not really capable for teaching and working with children. They usually don't plan carefully for the lesson. They just come to the classroom, organize some entertaining activities and then just randomly teach some simple grammar points and vocabulary…”
“…I don’t think all of them have sufficient quality. Many of them just simply speak English with the children, which needs TAs' translation. That's absolutely not teaching. A well-qualified native teacher should know how to teach vocab/structure, even give instructions by eliciting and modelling so that children still understand without TAs' interpretation, except for too difficult words. However, during my 7 months working as a TA, there are just a few good native teachers I have met…”
“In my case, there are some native teachers who are well-qualified and are very enthusiastic about their jobs. However, there are some who do not put all of their efforts into the work, and go to class without preparing anything.”
“They're not always qualified. I don't have a specific story but in general, they don't have a real teaching method.”
“…there is one time that the teacher working with me misspells some simple words.”
Although the survey was conducted within a micro setting among a small number of teaching assistants (14), their words seems likely to illuminate some issues concerning the quality of language teaching by the foreign teachers as depicted above. By and large, the teaching quality is compromised by their lack of investment, commitment, discipline, pedagogical foundations and constructs. One teaching assistant even claimed many of the recruited foreigners are in fact “tourists and don't have intention to stay for long”. The claim is very likely to hold true since many ESL forums and websites describe Vietnam as the most promising land for searching a high-grossing English teaching job, let alone the fact that the TELF (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) degree – a required certificate to be eligible to teach English in developing countries – can be easily earned online with a negligible amount of fees. As can be inferred, language teaching qualification has been turned into a cheap commodity for native speakers to afford; as a result, more and more can obtain the so-called international standardized degree to be qualified to teach English around the world.
In terms of pragmatic pedagogical practices, in order for the underqualified foreigners who are not originally majored in teaching profession to meet the global standards and thus improve their pedagogical skills, administrators have a tendency to organize in-service workshops with strong focus on modern ESL teaching methodologies. Does this solution work? The answer can be inferred from the teaching assistants’ stories. The short-term ESL certificates and “quick-fix” in-service training are in fact pre-packaged proscriptions “spoon-fed” to prospective ESL native teachers, which eventually leads to their rigid pedagogy and lack of commitment. Nieto (2010) addresses this issue beautifully:
…new ideas, especially those that come attractively packaged, are spoon-fed to teachers and administrators through articles, programs, kits, checklists, short courses or in-service workshops as if they were the answer we had all been waiting for. Some of these ideas may have merit; they often do. But quick fixes never work…as if a checklist could determine what it means to be an excellent, caring, and committed teacher… (Nieto, 2010)
Strictly speaking, these phenomena are distorting the whole ELT industry. Above all, it seriously disturbs the social balance and constructs, considering how nonnative teachers and native teachers are differentiated, which will be further discussed in the next part.
b. How the local teachers view the trend and perceive their social standing
Compared to a native speaker who only needs to spend 120 hours to obtain a Master’s degree in TELF, nonnative teachers have to study for 4 years in universities to get a Bachelor’s degree. What is worse, they are not allowed to work internationally. In the English center where many of the participants are working, the average wage of a local ESL teacher is approximately 5-10$ per hour, while that of a teaching assistant is around 2-3$ per hour, and of a native-speaker teacher around 25-35$ per hour. One of the interviewees even disclosed the fact that experienced native teachers can be paid up to 100$ per hour. Needless to say, these treatment policies reflects the social demotion of nonnative teachers’ roles as well as their being discriminated within their own country, thereby inhibiting their sense of pedagogical commitment and affecting the whole process of language teaching and learning.
When asked how they view the trend and whether they think native teachers have higher social status than the local colleagues and thus deserve more perks, all the interviewed teachers strongly disagree. For example:
“This tendency is somehow not very good. It's nice to have a native teacher for english learners to practice pronunciation and speaking skill, but people tend to look for that like a trend so some English centers don't care about the quality. They just hire a backpacker to work part time in order to attract students without teaching knowledge. I totally disagree with that… …We must be treated fair in every way. Native speakers in some English centers in Vietnam have their salary paid in USD but a very excellent Vietnamese teacher still receives his/her salary in VND. Also the salary of a foreign teacher is always double in comparison with a Vietnamese one. Totally unfair!” (Truc)
“…recruiting native speakers may cause negative drawbacks both economically and socially. First, native speakers are known to have higher salary compared to a local English teacher who is well-educated and qualified in terms of English proficiency. As a result, there will be gaps between the locals and the natives, meaning that citizens of the city have to work harder in order to afford opportunities of native input for their children.” (Minh)
She also critiqued the “bad habits” the native teachers bring to the society and affect the young generation’s lifestyles: “…the more natives dominate the society, the more cultures and habits they provide to the citizens. Those new waves will sooner or later be absorbed by the young, and thus some of the traditions of the society may fade away. For example, in Vietnam, especially in Ho Chi Minh City, the native speakers have their own community and are having influence on the lifestyle of the young thoroughly.”
She then added: “…I think that all teachers should be treated in a same way, meaning that we should be received the same opportunity, fair treat from organizations, and appropriate respect from the society.”
Quyen concurred: “…the native speakers have higher payment than most of us, Vietnamese ones, for the fact that they have the native pronunciation and intonation… I just want to emphasize that we are under the same pressure of workload from work, then we should be equally treated and paid.”
An’s words appear critical: “I think the development of economy in Vietnam nowadays has opened doors to a lot of international schools, along with their updated textbooks and foreign teachers. The recruitment of native speakers is an understandable and somehow 'fashionable' trend… only a few students can afford studying or traveling abroad, so the recruitment of native speakers is a good idea. However, not all native speakers are qualified in ESL teaching. . This obviously raised another problem in ESL learning. The fact that you speak a language as your mother tongue does not mean you can teach it!... …We were all the same in the education path. Some people may go first, and go further than us… Let’s think that my native colleagues had the 'privilege' to get access to the language sooner than me, in a more authentic ways but it does not make them a better one, or a more respectful person than me. If we think that native speakers should have a higher status, then when they learn my language, would I be the one with higher status than them? It is not the language that we speak that define who we are at school or in the eyes of students.”
As can be inferred, one common thought shared by these teachers is that they are treated unfairly in terms of perks and social status, and that “nativeness” is not a legitimate benchmark for measuring one’s power position in the society. According to Larsen-Freeman and Anderson (2011), it is not whether or not they are native speakers of the language they are teaching that makes them qualified teachers. The teacher’s status is a political issue, then, not an issue of competence. In the same vein, to address controversial issues of racism and linguicism, Urcioli (1996) critiques English as an identity marker often leads to traditional erasure of social class and traditional racial divisions and hierarchies.
An said local teachers’ discourse conventions are even judged “in the eyes of students”, which seems consistent with Ortega’s point of view: people adopting idealized monolingual ideologies are likely to hold a falsified view on linguistic birthrights, which makes late language competence become less legitimate and less pure (Ortega, 2010). From the researcher’s point of view, the ubiquitous, massive popularity of English textbooks and standardized testing systems established by Inner Circle countries have also reinforced the ethnocentrism of original English users via the practice of inferiorizing and judging other cultures, languages and social conventions by the standards of their own. For instance, drawing on Poststructuralism as a pioneered philosophy in language teaching, even the prestigious testing systems such as IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) have tremendous drawbacks, concerning the fact that most of their test content is decontextualized and often inextricably linked to native-like norms and usage. The phenomenon even goes further in many cases in which students who identify themselves as native-English speakers are being placed in ESL classrooms because they do not speak the standard variety, e.g. students from post-colonial African and South Asian countries. Therefore, the standardized testing systems cannot measure language learners’ true linguistic competence. If we look further, this widespread, long-standing obsession
with native-speaker standardized norms unintentionally maintains and legitimates the high status of countries or individuals that have already been politically and economically privileged, thereby rejecting the fact that English is a lingua franca and above all, the very existence of countries where New Englishes are used as vernaculars.
Notwithstanding, there exists a major conflict: though the interviewees do perceive themselves as equal to their native colleagues in terms of social standing, most of them feel overwhelmed by the idealized native norms of linguistic usage and cultures. As an illustration, below are the teachers’ responses to two interview questions: “What do you think students expect from you as a local English teacher?” and “Do you believe you can compete with your native-speaker colleagues in terms of teaching communicative competence?”:
“I think the students usually look up to us, local English teachers, as someone who is very good at grammar using. Therefore, when they come to class, they often expect us to teach them grammar in a way that they can understand the point easily and can use that grammar point to do the assigned exercises. …if it is about the pronunciation, I cannot be compared to the native ones because I do not have the native accent or be natural when speaking.” (Quyen)
“They want to understand fully grammar use and some techniques to pass their examinations… …I'm not quite confident in competing with a native speaker colleague in teaching communicative although I have my teaching skills but somehow the language use in real life can be different than what the students learn in the books…” (Truc)
“…learners normally cannot make clear what their native teachers explain and usually ask for explanation from local ones… I think that in terms of teaching
communicative competence, I myself will have lots of difficulties if I am compared to an experienced native English teacher.” (Minh)
“…to teach them about grammar and make sure they understand the grammar point/ rules...” (Tu)
Obviously, although formally trained and working in the ELT environment for years, most of the local teachers still find themselves in inferior position to their native colleagues in terms of teaching communicative competence, mostly due to “native accents” and conventional norms of language usage. As can be seen, they attribute their roles to merely teaching grammar or clarifying unclear points to students. There are two possible reasons: (1) they want to please the educational policy makers, or (2) they actually, or subconsciously, feel that way. According to Alptekin (2002), the obsession with monolingual speakers and the feeling of being intimidated by native norms directly hinder nonnative teachers from raising multicompetent minds and thus from implementing effective classroom practices. If these ideological roots continue to exist, isn’t it the local teachers who subsume their identities and their power status as inferior to those of native speakers in terms of communicative competence alone? Isn’t it a paradox concerning how they perceive their social standing as mentioned earlier?
As a plausible explanation, one of the common misleading beliefs ESL practitioners often have regarding communicative approach is that they often associate it with only speaking skills, undoubtedly an unparalleled advantage for native speakers. From this perspective, communicative competence is essentially equalized with native speaker competence. This misunderstanding usually makes many ESL educators teach their students how to act and think in accordance with the Inner Circle countries’ sociolinguistic and sociocultural contexts. Canale and Swain (1983) argue communicative competence falls under four components: grammatical
competence, sociolinguistic competence, discourse competence, and strategic competence. Plus, considering globalization and the current lingua franca status of English, language learners are thus expected how to utilize the target language appropriately, cohesively and strategically in any specific social situations to convey meanings to other English-speakers. And “English-speakers” do not only mean speakers from Inner Circle countries, but they can also come from any part of the world.
As a way to address this problem, an English center founded in 2010 with the purpose of preparing students for studying abroad hires young adults who graduate from Inner Circle countries’ institutions by offering them decent wage. Some of their current teachers even graduated from highly-prestigious institutions such as Yale, Stanford and Harvard. At the first look, this policy may resolve the situation by the recruitment of Vietnamese teachers with native-like and bilingual competence. However, once again, most of them are not majored in education, let alone ESL teaching. This leads to an ugly truth: the social workforce is wasting a number of quality human resources. Besides, regarding the monolingual bias which remains at large in the society, how can one expect teachers trained domestically compete with those trained exotically? Hence, students who are majored in ESL teaching have to seek other jobs that are not related to their fields. Obviously, this is another social conflict in the current ELT contexts in the country.
Turning back to the local teacher’s points of view, the situation is not hopeless when not all the surveyed teachers see themselves playing subordinate roles when it comes to teaching communicative competence.
Tu pointed out: “Vietnamese teachers of English have their own advantages and disadvantages compared to native teachers. They understand the difficulties and differences of the
two languages, so they can choose the teaching method that is most suitable for their students.”
Minh said: “…native teachers…should be recognized by their teaching methodology, but not for their native language.”
She then added an insightful remark: “…teachers should be assessed through their experiences, their devotion to teaching, and their attitudes towards teaching English. For this I mean: people should not consider the "nativeness" or status as utmost important. It would be better for learners to work with enthusiastic local teachers rather than irresponsible native ones.”
An shared her revolutionary thoughts: “…I even have an advantage that my native colleagues rarely have: I can speak two languages, my native language and theirs. I can switch sometimes between the two languages to help my students understand the lesson thoroughly. The thing is I need to explain to my students what it means by 'communicative competence'. It is not 'pure pronunciation or native-like styles,' it is about understanding people and make people understand us.”
The insights provided by Tu, Minh and An have sparked some new directions for the current deteriorating ESL learning and teaching contexts, which will be discussed in the next part.
5. Conclusion & Ways forward for Vietnam’s ELT contexts
This study raises the researcher’s thoughts on the issue concerning globalization and language learning, in which ELT has become more and more complex due to increasing cultural hybridity, migration and media expansion. In this respect, the domains of TESOL are no longer restricted to linguistic elements and pedagogical methodologies, but it also encompasses cultures, technology, psychology, anthropology and above all, politics. ELT is thus not a neutral process: the predominance of Inner Circle countries undermines the potential for global communication to transpire in terms of linguistic and cultural equality, and their English is a political tool to reinforce their high status. Therefore, as prospective linguistic educators, first of all we need to change our ideological roots and go against the flow of mainstream values and discourses to defend the ELF ideals. In other words, ESL teachers should take into account the fact that English is supranational and it can thus be taught as a local vernacular code. Furthermore, Wallace (1992) points out English is in need of universality that combines diverse Periphery and Centre communities, with the aim of dismantling the hegemonic status of Inner Circle countries’ standardized, predominated version of target language in terms of its use, norms, and cultures. In this respect, English is no longer reduced to American, British, or Australian English, but its role has been extended to a much broader macrocosm, in which language learners and teachers alike have to constantly reconstruct and renegotiate their roles as well as their identities, in order to truly become a conscious part of this globalized world.
Secondly, as a matter of fact, the nonnative teachers are the ones who able to bring a great number of strengths to language teaching, let alone the truth they are role models of successful learning themselves (Larsen-Freeman & Anderson, 2011). Also, Bax (2003) argues language teaching and learning will be promoted if ESL educators account for the contexts in which it operates, which is termed the Context Approach. Isn’t it the nonnative teachers who are likely to implement this approach far more effectively than their native colleagues? More interestingly, An claimed she can code-switch “between
the two languages to help students understand the lesson thoroughly”. Jenkins (2009:42) also considers code-switching as a potential bilingual resource to promote speaker identity, solidarity with interlocutors, and so on. Thus, nonnative teachers as successful bilinguals or emerging bilinguals with more intercultural insights, sense of plausibility, knowledge and experience should reimagine their roles as pedagogical models in ELT rather than monolingual native teachers.
Last but not least, Jenkins (2006) emphasizes that the ideals of ELF do not discourage speakers from learning and using their local variety in local communicative contexts, regardless of whether this is an Inner, Outer, or Expanding Circle. Plus, the emergence of New Englishes has been recognized and accepted by many scholars (e.g. Bamgbose, 1998; Kachru, 1992a, 1992b, 2005; etc.) and it has been proved that these new forms of English have their own sociological, linguistic, and literary manifestation (Lin, 2003). In this respect, English no longer belongs to Inner Circle countries and its ownership has been extended to nonnative speakers in the Outer Circle countries. Following this spirit, many linguistic researchers propose a paradigm shift in which English should be taught as a lingua franca rather than English as a native language, and ELT curriculum/instructional materials should integrate familiar, peculiar features from local settings, thereby promoting students’ intercultural awareness and enhancing their language learning experience (Alptekin, 2003; Seidlhofer & Jenkins, 2003; Hyde, 1998; Widdowson, 1998). Though on a small scale, this approach has been successfully implemented in a number of countries. Let’s have a deeper insight into the case of Singapore – an Asian Dragon:
Like Vietnam, Singapore is a country in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), but its socio-economic, socio-political position and education system are comparable to any top developed countries worldwide. What is unique about Singapore is that despite the increasing strong force of globalization, Singapore has a National Ideology and its own vernacular codes, fostered through its bilingual education policy and national
language campaigns. As a matter of fact, globalization and Inner Circle countries’ influence have provoked concerns regarding a state’s ability to stop the preeminence of English, which might dominate mother tongues and thus disturb the linguistic ecology of non-English speaking countries (Phillipson 1992; Phillipson & Skutnabb-Kangas, 1997, 1999; Pennycook 1998). In Singapore, there is also concern in which if more and more Singaporeans speak English, the phenomenon might threaten the position of local mother tongues and therefore compromise the Indian, Malay or Chinese identities, which are peculiar to being a Singaporean. As a way to address this issue, The Ministry of Education in Singapore has adopted bilingual education in its education system. A brochure in 2012 states:
Bilingual advantage is a key feature of Singapore’s education system. The main medium of instruction in school is English, but all students must learn an official Mother Tongue Language. Our bilingual policy aims to equip our students with the language competencies to access Asian cultures and develop a global outlook. This will give our students a competitive edge, enable them to appreciate their culture and heritage and connect with people from different backgrounds, so that they can thrive in a globalized world.
Amazingly, the legacy of English in Singapore has grown in contact with other languages, making it a hybrid language, Singapore English (Singlish), which is evolving to a new culture to meet communicative needs in the globalized future. In fact, hybrid forms of language like Singlish are used as a lingua franca among diverse ethnic groups, as can be seen in post-colonial countries such as India and Malaysia (Vaish, 2006). These emergent forms of language also indicate new hybrid forms of identities rather than a monolithic identity which is only confined within monolingual competence. Thus, Singlish has become one of the identity markers of being Singaporean. According to Yap (2000) of the Institute of Policy Studies, Singapore, “there are clear signs that a uniquely Singaporean identity is emerging. One of these is the growth and use of Singlish…”
In one of his studies, Dixon (2005) admits Singapore’s bilingual education policy has succeeded in educating bilingual students who perform as well as or surpass students in other predominantly monolingual developed countries. What is more, this achievement seems considerably remarkable considering English as a nonnative language for the majority of Singaporeans when the policy was initially implemented. Currently, although a much greater percentage of students now report English as their predominant language, a majority still regard Mandarin, Malay, Tamil or other languages as their mother tongues, and they are able to maintain their Chinese, Malay or Indian identities. Considering local faculty as a basis for developing literacy skills in another language (Snow et al., 1998), Singapore’s success in producing students who are academically successful in an orally non-dominant language other than English is impressive. At this point, one may wonder: “With just the instructions of the local ESL and CLIL teachers, how can the Singaporeans, Malaysians and Indians achieve their multilingualism so effectively that they can even compete with skilled native-speakers in the job market?” More importantly, how can they break away from the idealized native-like bias to make English one of their vernaculars? The Singapore case, therefore, will continue to offer fascinating data to educational policy makers, linguistic researchers, scholars and educators for years to come. Needless to say, Singapore’s language learning policy can be totally applicable by any other Outer Circle countries, as a way to go against the hegemony of English, thereby putting an end to linguicism which is still at large.
All in all, to ameliorate the current paradoxical situation, in which native-likeness bias is remarkably ubiquitous, both ESL administrators and educators in Vietnam must take the courage and seek answers to these questions: How to replace predominant monolingual theories, constructs and practices and how to break away from it in the same manner as Singapore did? What might be possible for both teachers and students to imagine/reimagine their identities to create an effective, intercultural teaching and learning environment? How can the local ESL teachers empower themselves to go beyond the
obsession with idealized native-likeness? What can we do about the politics of language? What do we need to redefine the terms “authentic input” and “native speakers”?
The researcher believes it is when the answers are found are we able to bring about a paradigm shift to substantially promote ESL learning and teaching, and above all, to bring about social justice and egalitarianism on global scale.
Note:  Tu is a pseudonym.
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