“Welcome to Writing World Englishes” by Elizabeth Baertlein, YouTube.com
No matter what languages you speak in addition to English, the very fact that you are now reading this shows that you have reached an advanced level in your English language studies. Congratulations!
In my career as a college-level English language teacher, I have often had students say to me, even at the advanced level, “I can’t speak English.” I’ve often joked with these students and said something in return like, “What do you mean? You’re speaking English right now!” But, in all seriousness, this statement makes me a bit sad as an English teacher. I can see students advance from the beginner level to a high level of English language proficiency, yet they still do not have enough confidence to proclaim themselves English speakers.
I ask myself why students do not have confidence, and I think that answer lies in how English learners are often judged in the United States. So many people who grew up in the United States are monolingual English speakers and have little understanding of the effort it takes to learn a new language. Those who have no experience learning a new language themselves may judge those who learned English later in life harshly, focusing on an accent or grammar errors rather than focusing on the communicative accomplishment of the person speaking or writing in English. This negative judgment can lead to the conversation being shut down. Maybe rather than making the effort to understand, the monolingual English speaker claims that it is too difficult and stops listening or reading.
These types of negative interactions sink into the psyche of multilingual English speakers and lead them to believe that they do not really speak English well enough to proclaim themselves English speakers. I want this book to challenge this mindset. If you are reading this, you are an English speaker! Do not let anyone’s reaction to you or the variety of English that you speak or write convince you otherwise.
This is part of the reason that I chose to title this book Writing World Englishes. Perhaps you found this title confusing. You may have wondered, “What does she mean by “Englishes? Isn’t there just one English language?”
This is where I’d like you to stop and reflect on your own experiences with English, and I bet that you will recognize that you have encountered at least several different Englishes in your life. To begin, many students gain exposure to both British and American Englishes when they are learning English. Maybe you learned British English at school but watched American English movies. Maybe since you’ve moved to the U.S. you’ve had interactions with Black American descendants of enslaved Africans, and maybe you’ve been surprised that the English that they speak doesn’t match with the American or British English that you learned in school or saw in movies.
Those are all examples of Englishes from mainly English-speaking countries. But what about other countries where English is commonly spoken due to a history of British colonization, like India and Nigeria? Indian English and Nigerian English both have some unique pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammatical features. Other countries like China are also developing their own unique Englishes as they do business with English-speaking countries and cultural exchange occurs.
Perhaps some people would claim that Indian English, Nigerian English, Chinese English, or even Black American English are less “real” than the varieties of American English or British English that are commonly taught and used in academia. But what makes a language “real”? The Britannica Encyclopedia defines language as “a system of conventional spoken, manual (signed), or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, express themselves. The functions of language include communication, the expression of identity, play, imaginative expression, and emotional release.” Based on this definition, you can see that all of the Englishes spoken in countries and communities outside what is typically considered the “inner-circle” of English-speakers are just as much real languages as American or British English.
Whatever varieties of English you speak currently, I hope you will begin to see all varieties as real Englishes. As you engage in the writing projects in this book, the primary objective is not to write with grammar that perfectly matches the variety of American English typically used in academia. The primary purpose of the activities and writing projects in this book is to help you gain confidence in expressing yourself in English writing.
The activities in this book will guide you in thinking about the audience and purpose of various writing tasks. You will then make informed decisions about what English to use based on what you are trying to communicate and whom you are trying to communicate with. In some writing situations, you may want to play it safe and stick with English that is as close to conventional American academic English as possible. Sometimes you may want to get more creative and engage in what linguists call “code-meshing” or “translanguaging,” which means merging elements of various languages and varieties of language together in a single piece of writing. These decisions are up to you as a writer. Your teacher can guide you, but, ultimately, writing is a form of self expression, and I hope that as you work your way through this book you become increasingly confident in your ability to express yourself in English writing.
If you haven’t yet, I hope by the time you finish this course, you will proudly proclaim, “I am a writer and speaker of English,” or, better yet, “I am a writer and speaker of Englishes!”