Role of English in Today’s Globalised World

Martina Karpetová

In my thesis, I looked at the role of English in today’s globalized world. I wanted to discover how authors of textbooks react and respond to ongoing changes happening with English in today’s world, where we are connected across the entire planet within seconds, and the language we often choose to do it in is English. The role of translators and pidgin languages, for people who would otherwise not have understood each other, is now diminishing. For various historical-geographical and socio-cultural reasons, English is now the most spoken second or foreign language in the world, resulting in its having more non-native speakers than native speakers.

Statistically speaking, this means that we are now more likely to communicate with another non-native speaker than a native speaker. Many countries have recognized the potential English has, and started to devote more time for students to learn it in. However, the cultural aspect of a language is an inseparable part of it, which means that when we are learning a language, we are both consciously and unconsciously acquiring a certain degree of knowledge in terms of the so-called target culture. If English is now a language that is not tied to a specific number of English-speaking countries, which culture is actually being learned and taught? How should the cultural aspect of the language be represented in English classes so that it fulfils the needs of learners in today’s world and reflects the language reality? My proposition was that textbooks which carry these cultural messages, and which are often printed in inner-circle countries, should be viewed critically by every teacher of English. Also, my proposition was that the ratio of cultural references in textbooks should respect the ratio of native and non-native speakers in the world, which means approx. 2 non-native speakers per native speaker.

The reason behind this is that ESL and EFL learners are often seen and evaluated as better or worse imitations of a native speaker, rather than being appreciated for their multilingual ability, as an independent group of speakers of the language. The same issue is connected to teachers of English, where a native speaker is seen as more competent than a non-native teacher. However, it is possible for a non-native speaker to be a more proficient user of the language than the native speaker. In terms of EIL, the difference should not play a role. If the teacher is a competent speaker of the language and respects the role of English in today’s and probably tomorrow’s world, his or her mother tongue should not be at the centre of our attention.

In the practical part of the thesis, I did a content analysis of a selected sample of ELT textbooks used in the Czech Republic at lower-secondary level. Firstly, I analysed three major aspects of the language – I calculated cultural references with regard to two groups of countries where English is used as either a second language (1) or is widely taught as a foreign language (2), as opposed to English-speaking countries. Secondly, I calculated cultural references with regard to the linguistic aspects of the learners’ mother tongue, which are references that make the learner compare English with his or her mother tongue. Lastly, I calculated the ratio of audio representation of RP pronunciation, other accents of English-speaking countries and all other accents present in the audio materials accompanying the textbooks.

The aim was to observe and describe how close the representation of non-native speakers to the real ratio between L1 and L2 speakers in the world is, as well as how EFL and ESL learners are viewed as competent bilinguals capable of using their entire linguistic repertoire by comparing the structures of the language with their mother tongue. The research question was “Are L2 speakers and their culture depicted in the currently most popular ELT textbooks for lower-secondary schools in the Czech Republic? If so, how are they and their home culture represented?”

One textbook each from the three most popular ELT publishers in the Czech Republic was analysed, after consultation with their publishing houses. The textbooks were published by OUP (Project), CUP (Prepare!) and Fraus (Your Space). OUP and CUP were chosen due to their popularity, Fraus because differences between inner-circle publishers and a Czech publisher were anticipated.

The first task, as I have already outlined, was the calculation of references towards inner-circle countries (= English-speaking countries), outer and expanding circle countries (ESL and EFL countries) and also, global issues which were related to global-relevant topics, such as world institutions and sports events. I divided the references into several categories: social, personal, humanities, science, sports and famous people in their fields, politics and institutions, and the environment. Each category had several subcategories as well. The references were calculated from the textbooks, the workbooks and the audio materials. Thanks to the data, I was able to provide several graphs showing us the results in different points of view. I provided a graph showing how culturally dense or sparse each textbook is. Another graph showed us which categories are most commonly represented in the textbooks, both in general and as individual publications. We observed which textbooks deal with global-relevant topics, and, of course, we observed which subcategories are represented in each textbook. The thesis contains graphs showing us the ratio of the inner circle, outer and expanding circle and global matters in each of the textbooks, and a graph showing us how close each textbook is to the desired realistic ratio between L1 and L2 speakers in the world. Although interpretation is, of course, provided for each of these graphs, the thesis aimed to be descriptive, not prescriptive, and since there are obviously many points of view on each of the graphs, no clear winner was named in the research.

The second part of the research was the variety of audio input in the audio materials accompanying the textbooks. I calculated the number of seconds or minutes devoted to Received Pronunciation, other inner-circle accents and any other accents. Then three graphs (one per textbook) were made, showing us the ratios between the accents represented. In conclusion, we may say that RP is still very strongly preferred; sometimes there is very little representation of any other accent. The representation of L2 speakers is almost non-existent, which indicates a very conservative approach towards English as an International Language (EIL) in its spoken form and an inaccurate representation of the language reality.

The last part of the research was devoted to links made with the L1 of the English learners. We focused on linguistic links only. Project turned out to be the most successful textbook in this regard, although all references related to direct translation only.

We may conclude that L2 speakers and their culture are present in currently popular textbooks in the Czech Republic, albeit to a limited degree which does not reflect the reality of the current status of English in the world. Each textbook registered strong and weak points in the different areas of research; each has its own areas open for improvement. References to L2 speakers are often of either a geographical (places native speakers visit or where L2 speakers live or come from) or personal nature, where an L2 speaker interacts with an L1 speaker. The interaction between two L2 speakers is absent, which is seen as strongly negative.

The thesis also contains suggestions for further research in the area. To my knowledge, no similar study has been conducted in the Czech Republic, so thorough mapping, including historical development of different publications, might provide us with a complex view of the tendencies and choices publishers make in terms of how they represent the role of English in the world and offer space for interpretation of such choices.