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Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education
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Kachru’s Three Concentric Circles and English Teaching Fallacies in EFL and ESL Contexts
Betsy Hu Xiaoqiong & Jiang Xianxing
a a b

Foreign Languages College, Three Gorges University , Hubei, China

Shenzhen Polytechnic School , Shenzhen, China Published online: 29 Sep 2011.

To cite this article: Betsy Hu Xiaoqiong & Jiang Xianxing (2011) Kachru’s Three Concentric Circles and English Teaching Fallacies in EFL and ESL Contexts, Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education, 18:2, 219-228, DOI: 10.1080/1358684X.2011.575254 To link to this article:

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200–1. 219–228 Kachru’s Three Concentric Circles and English Teaching Fallacies in EFL and ESL Contexts Betsy Hu Xiaoqionga* and Jiang Xianxingb a Downloaded by [Universidad Nacional Colombia] at 22:54 28 November 2013 Foreign Languages College. there are over 2 billion people who can make use of it to varying degrees in their everyday lives. and use a criterion of ‘reasonable competence’ rather than ‘native-like fluency’.800 million. The number has now surely gone up further as English is increasingly used to communicate across international borders. it is an established fact that English has become the most important international language today. which are (1) English learners in the Outer and Expanding Circles learn English essentially to communicate with people from the Inner Circle. A ‘middle-of-the-road’ estimate would be 1. bShenzhen Polytechnic School. . Introduction The word ‘English’ is always associated with people from America. (2) a native speaker model is the only appropriate model for all learners of English. where English is their native language. As English has become ‘world English. June 2011. ISSN 1358-684X print/ISSN 1469-3585 online Ó 2011 The editors of Changing English DOI: 10. It is spoken everywhere. the Outer Circle and the Expanding Circle. Hubei. As we can see from the figures given above. EFL and ESL contexts 1.1080/1358684X. China This paper attempts to introduce and explain the famous Three Concentric Circles proposed by Kachru. Email: huxiaoqiong@yahoo. 2. global English or the lingua franca’. English should not be *Corresponding author. He says: If we go to the opposite extreme. English teaching fallacies. we shall end up with a grand total of 1.2011. Australia and New Zealand. the paper proceeds to discuss four fallacies in EFL and ESL contexts. Britain. namely. 61) Crystal estimated the number of English speakers more than 10 years ago. Crystal (1997) contends that a conservative estimate of the number of speakers of English today with a native or native-like command of English would be 670 million. 18. China.500 million. (Crystal 1997.Changing EnglishAquatic Insects Vol. international English. (3) all native speakers of English can go to teach in the Outer and Expanding circles.575254 http://www.informaworld. Based on Kachru’s theory. the Inner Circle. Therefore. English is now being learned and used worldwide. all told. Three Gorges University. Canada. Keywords: Kachru’s Three Concentric Circles. No. and this is now commonly encountered. (4) English is a tool for understanding and teaching American or British cultural values.

creole. 5) put it: ‘since 1967. are in fact but two World Englishes among many. Nigerian English. Canada. 356). . importantly. dialect. where English is the mother tongue and includes countries such as Australia. its varieties are increasing as well. the force of English in globalization is beginning to have a deep impact on English language teaching across the globe. and. Kachru’s Three Concentric Circles As English is being spoken by such a vast number of people. it should belong to all the people who use it. ‘World Englishes’ fall into three categories (see Figure 1): 1. world English is both shorthand for English as a world language and a superordinate term for Australian English. Hu Xiaoqiong and J. . mother-tongue and other tongue. Instead. Undoubtedly. Ireland. such “anglo-hybrids” as Hindlish and Spanglish. which have been traditionally regarded as the only two varieties of ‘standard’ English. . British English. We need to rethink some of our traditional aims and objectives of English teaching. the Inner Circle. As McArthur (2004. Downloaded by [Universidad Nacional Colombia] at 22:54 28 November 2013 2. Britain and America. Kachru’s Three Concentric Circles (1992. British English and American English. pidgin. . New Zealand. and the like’. Irish English. According to Kachru (1992). lingua franca. world English has meant all English: standard and non-standard.220 B. Xianxing the property of the native speakers any more. Figure 1.

Kachru (1992. Regarding the users and uses of English. Zambia and Zimbabwe. Saudi Arabia and several in South America. Kachru (1992) holds that the current sociolinguistic profile of English may be viewed in terms of these three circles. the countries being mainly China. the Expanding Circle. which uses English as an additional institutionalized. Malaysia. The wide use of English indicates that the varieties of English have multiplied. the Philippines. the patterns of acquisition. The implications of this sociolinguistic reality are not recognized. the expression ‘go abroad’ is synonymous with ‘going to the WEST’. Kenya. Those who speak English in the Outer and Expanding Circles have their own local histories. it is likely to become so in the not far distant future. From the above circles. it undoubtedly means that ‘I want my child to study in a western English-speaking country’. we can see that the Inner Circle is the smallest. 2): India and China apparently already account for at least half a billion users and learners of English. Sri Lanka. the heaviest ‘consumer’ of English in the world – and even if this is not so at the time of writing. The Expanding Circle includes the regions where varieties of the language are used essentially in EFL contexts. The circles represent the spread. official language. If only 10% of the population in the Outer Circle use English. 3. in demographic terms. if a parent says ‘I want my child to study abroad’. which refers to English as a foreign language. Korea. But the multiple identities of English haven’t caused consequent changes to English teaching in ESL and EFL contexts. Ghana. India. Pakistan. Kachru (1992) thinks the term ‘English’ does not capture this sociolinguistic reality. a total that (before seeking to bring in equally soft statistics from elsewhere in Asia) could make the continent. ‘When they were asked about their interest in Downloaded by [Universidad Nacional Colombia] at 22:54 28 November 2013 . based on Kachru’s thoughts. containing only five countries. 357–8) mentions six fallacies. literary traditions. whereas the term ‘Englishes’ does. the Outer Circle. Tanzania. and a number of fallacies are still in existence in ESL and EFL contexts.Changing English 221 2. 3. and the functional allocation of English in diverse cultural contexts. it accounts for about 110 million speakers. attempts to discuss four fallacies in terms of English teaching and learning in ESL and EFL contexts. People in these countries can use English fluently for virtually any type of communication. For many students in the Outer and Expanding Circles. As McArthur put it (2003. pragmatic contexts and communicative norms. The Inner Circle represents the traditional cultural and linguistic bases of English. while the people from the other two circles far outnumber the people from the inner circle. though not a mother tongue – the countries include Bangladesh. The Outer Circle represents the institutionalized non-native varieties (ESL) in the regions that have passed through extended periods of colonization. Singapore. with a total population of 350 million. This paper. Nigeria. Fallacies in English teaching in ESL and EFL contexts Fallacy One: English learners in the Outer and Expanding Circles learn English essentially to communicate with people from the Inner Circle In China. Nepal. Russia. South Africa.

Country South Korea Denmark Austria France America Total Number of exchange students 58 4 2 7 4 75 . who. Table 1. it is clear that much of the world needs and uses English for instrumental reasons. and argues that its true meaning is no more nor less than a proficient user of a language. 436–7). commercial pursuits and professional contacts. say. some CTGU students are sent to these exchange universities.3%) go to America. A typical example illustrates this phenomenon well. is the real native speaker of English who can use it accurately and appropriately? Paikeday (1985) in his book entitled The Native Speaker is Dead! shows native speakership as a linguistic myth. established exchange programmes with a number of countries. or the socially acceptable distance for conversation as properties of meaningful communication to Finnish and Italian academicians exchanging ideas in a professional meeting? (Alptekin 2002) Since English is so widely spoken by people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. are the conventions of British politeness or American informality to the Japanese and Turks. But given the lingua franca status of English. Therefore. it was usually the US. How relevant. From Table 1. Every year. has. the Inner Circle country. we can see that 71 (94. African and Central and South American countries are mentioned less often. then the norms and standards established by the so-called Received Pronunciation and General American should be questioned. Asian. So far. Xianxing Downloaded by [Universidad Nacional Colombia] at 22:54 28 November 2013 foreign countries. Hu Xiaoqiong and J. China Three Gorges University (CTGU). The first author’s university. such as academic studies. and they study there from half a year to one year. western European countries and Canada that were mentioned. 75 students have experienced study and life in the exchange universities (see Table 1). when doing business in English? How relevant are such culturally-laden discourse samples as British railway timetables or American newspaper advertisements to industrial engineers from Romania and Egypt conducting technical research in English? How relevant is the importance of Anglo-American eye contact. whilst only four (5. Germans with Danish and so on. Chinese with Vietnamese. more and more people learn English within the Outer and Expanding Circles to use among themselves. If people from the Outer and Expanding Circles learn English not necessarily to go to the Englishspeaking countries. Destination of exchange students from China Three Gorges University. then. English becomes the main vehicle for interaction among the non-native speakers with distinct linguistic and cultural backgrounds. then.222 B. such as Koreans with Japanese. and when they are. in the last five years.7%) out of the total go to study in the Expanding Circle countries. it is after students discuss North American and European countries’ (Matsuda 2002.

which have begun to be accepted and recognized. thereby avoiding stereotypes and prejudices against other English varieties. the native speaker will probably not retain his/ . In defining an international language. ‘Being monolingual. In the Outer Circle.Changing English 223 Downloaded by [Universidad Nacional Colombia] at 22:54 28 November 2013 Fallacy Two: A native speaker model is the only appropriate model for all learners of English This claim has no empirical validity. As a matter of fact. their awareness and understanding of the world also becomes limited. Teachers. When students are confronted with different types of English users or uses. Kachru (1992) holds that the Inner Circle is only in a very marginal sense a ‘model provider ’. Students may not desire to further explore those parts of the world they are not familiar with. when students are exposed to a limited section of the world. due to the millions of people in Asia. educators and researchers should integrate other Englishes into textbooks and other teaching materials and ensure that the content of English materials is not limited to the American or British cultures. Confusion or resistance may result from an incomplete presentation of the English language. English has become an international language. Given the native/non-native speaker ratio of 1:2. in various interactive contexts. No longer the model speaker of World English. the ownership of an international language becomes ‘denationalized’. Smith (cited in McKay 2003a. The concept ‘native speaker’ is not always a valid yardstick for the global uses of English (Christopherson 1988). and the educated varieties of such models have always been used in the classroom. they may lack respect for such varieties and their users. A monolingual speaker of English may actually turn out to be at a disadvantage when attempting to get by in World English. They should teach their students knowledge of World Englishes. the local model has been institutionalized. Viewing them as deficient. learners do not need to internalize the cultural norms of native speakers of the language. 139–146) suggests that in the acquisition of an international language: a. As Matsuda (2002) put it. and b. they are likely to be monocultural and carry with them prejudices about their own “Anglo” cultures’ (Kirkpatrick 2006). countries such as India and Singapore have already set up their own models and norms of English. In the world English context the uniqueness of the native speaker and his/ her mother tongue becomes totally irrelevant when we consider the spread of World English. so that students will not perceive American English and British English as the only two standard varieties. We believe it is time for English teachers in the Outer and Expanding Circles to realize the importance and necessity of their own varieties as well as other varieties of English. Therefore. the educational goal of learning the language is to enable learners to communicate their ideas and culture to others. Africa and Latin America eager to learn the language. one can imagine the native speaker ’s predicament when the ratio reaches 1:10 in the not-so-distant future. they may be shocked by varieties that deviate from Inner Circle English. the language teaching curriculum must expose students to local cultural content and its English variants in various parts of the world.

looking for native English-speaking English teachers. so those hired are usually young and have no prior teaching experience. please provide us the following: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) Your resumé. accommodation. When will you be available to start teaching. In China. The number of Chinese English teachers cannot satisfy this need. foreign teachers’ work schedule. Often they don’t know how to teach and have very little knowledge of Asian culture. As a practical matter. if any.esl-job-china. it is my pleasure to welcome you to teach in our school.224 B. are better paid and command greater respect than their local colleagues. But the reality is that many native-speaking teachers cause a variety of problems for their employers. The following information is all that the school offers: . However. Copy of your highest degree and teaching certificates. salary. However. In addition to the reasons mentioned above. even kindergartens now have English courses. native speakers of English are frequently given preference in English teaching. Being a monolingual speaker may actually turn out to be a hindrance. Hu Xiaoqiong and J. so a large number of native speakers from the Inner Circle are recruited. etc. the English teachers employed to teach English in the Outer and Expanding Circles are mainly from the Inner Circle. The reason most universities or schools hire a ‘foreign face’ is that the university/school will look better or more prestigious. foreign teachers don’t contribute much to an ESL/EFL programme. in particular in the Expanding Circle countries. One recent colour photo of yours. Copy of the first page of your passport.). China needs about 100. for example. The native speakers’ reasons for teaching in ESL and EFL countries may be motivated by the desire to travel. Although a large number of them are not professional and not well trained. at present. Fallacy Three: All native speakers of English can go on to teach in the Outer and Expanding Circles In many ESL and EFL countries. the acquisition of employment qualifications in their own country or an uncertainty about what career to embark on. it is often believed that having teachers from Inner Circle countries makes the teaching programme in a university or school appear to be of better quality. (after introducing the school. . Eastern China. looking for a native speaker: . native English speakers are still overwhelmingly welcomed in the Outer and Expanding Circles as a result of the rapid and vast expansion of the English language. China. Xianxing her former privileged status as an EFL professional. Nevertheless. . The following two advertisements were posted on the Internet for the recruitment of native speakers of English as teachers in China ( A school in Hebei. native speakers are often believed to be ‘experts’. Most professional and experienced teachers from native-speaking countries are not willing to teach in developing countries.000 English teachers every year. Downloaded by [Universidad Nacional Colombia] at 22:54 28 November 2013 Another school in Weifang city.

we can know more about foreign cultures from them.8%) of the teachers supported the idea. The author ’s university experiences this kind of problem very often. we can make friends with each other and get to know each other ’s cultures. Some of them never finish their contracts before fleeing back home. which saves time. saying that ‘a lot of foreign teachers are not professional and not well trained. away from their families for the first time. the native speakers have an insignificant role in the global spread and teaching of English. non-native English teachers in the Outer and Expanding Circles have more advantages over the native English teachers. foreign teachers can equip students with more up-to-date materials. spontaneously and fluently as native speakers. . One of the questions was ‘how do you. as a Chinese English teacher. introduce alternative teaching methods and provide the necessary insights into English-speaking cultures.’ The remaining 276 (47. we can be bilingual and help students do translations. giving as reasons that ‘both Chinese teachers and students can improve our English. students find it less difficult to understand our “China English” and vice versa. These ‘foreign experts’.’ When asked if they think it is necessary to hire native speakers for their country. They have not passed any examinations to verify their proficiency in the language. they know their own cultures. As Kachru puts it: ‘In reality. in the era of World Englishes. view your own strengths and weaknesses in relation to native English-speaking teachers? Do you think it is necessary to introduce native speakers to your university?’ The results show that. which is impossible for native speakers. we know English grammar better than native speakers and we can explain it to students more easily. The first author of the paper conducted a survey among 589 Chinese English teachers at the tertiary level (Hu Xiaoqiong 2005)..’ As a matter of fact.’ They view their weaknesses as ‘we can’t speak as accurately. help them to keep in touch with current affairs.2%) rejected the idea. sometimes we can use Chinese in class if something is difficult to explain in English. very soon find themselves in awkward situations due to cultural and language shocks..Changing English Vacancies: 3 Contract length: 1 year Students: primary schools Classroom hours: 20 hours per week Salary: 4500–6000 RMB per month Free well-furnished apartment offered Round trip airfare provided Requirements: Native English speakers Bachelor degrees finished. have not achieved the distinction . 225 Downloaded by [Universidad Nacional Colombia] at 22:54 28 November 2013 This kind of advertisement looks very attractive to those native speakers who have just graduated from universities and to those who are waiting for job opportunities or hope to travel to Asia and gain some work experience for their future careers. a total of 309 (52. in general. having a beautiful dream of ‘going to the east to travel’. They don’t know how to teach and students complain about their poor teaching competence. we can have the chance to learn different teaching styles. Chinese English teachers view their strengths as ‘easier to communicate with students as we share the same culture.

in which one acquires new cultural frames of reference and a new world view. but not the terrain that has to be crossed to get there: they themselves have not travelled the same route. tune and cultural values.226 B. McKay (2003b. 356–362). although it should be accepted and used as an important resource. In the course of doing so. It is thought that learners not only acquire accurate forms of the target language. on the other hand. those who have actually studied the language and achieved hard-won excellence in it may provide a far more constructive model for learners to aspire to’ (Kachru 1992. and effective meanings to the native speakers. Unfortunately. Hu Xiaoqiong and J. to learn English so that they can use English to ‘perform’ like the native speakers. Xianxing Downloaded by [Universidad Nacional Colombia] at 22:54 28 November 2013 of having learned English successfully themselves. by their teachers. This is simply a Utopian view of English teaching (Alptekin 2002. this situation is beginning to change. Students are required. Moreover. and may therefore lack a certain empathy with their learners. More and more people now begin to think that they learn English in the hope that they can have easy access to the outside world and can have more opportunities to introduce their local cultures to the world. We must value teachers according to their professionalism. Fallacy Four: English is a tool for understanding and teaching American or British cultural values In the multilingual Outer Circle. One of the questions was ‘Which type of cultural content would you prefer to use in your class and why?’ The three choices given were: (1) Content that deals with local Chilean places and people. Fortunately. English is used as an important tool to express and impart local traditions. Non-native speakers. many linguistic innovations are added to English which reflect the unique local cultures and the ways of thinking of the local people. 94) contends that ‘native speakers know the destination. as well as respect. but also learn how to use these forms in social situations in the target language setting to convey logically consistent. and regional and national boundaries. conventions and cultural values. this is due to the non-contextuality of English in relation to the local and national languages and the use of English in multilingual contexts. this is often perceived as a weakness. literary creativity and the media. McKay (2003a) made a survey of some of the Chilean English teachers about the role that culture played in English language teaching in the Chilean context. including their body language. their strengths as nonnative speakers. they will not focus only on American and British-oriented cultures. reflecting those of the target language culture and its speakers. If local English teachers know. In many places of the Outer Circle. They will attach more importance to the input of other cultures. In this manner. English is the language of higher education. not their place of birth. particularly the input of their own culture. Why does this happen? According to Kachru (1992). 58). learning a foreign language becomes a kind of acculturation. appropriate. Some people consider target language-based cultures to be essential in order that foreign language learners participate fully in the target language culture. The target language culture and its native speakers are considered to be elements that are crucial to the success of the teaching model. know the target language as a foreign language’. national and international business. (2) Content that deals primarily with aspects . English is the only language that cuts across languages. And in its localized variety.

as a Singaporean messenger announced at the United Nations: ‘I should hope that when I am speaking abroad my countrymen will have no problem recognizing that I am a Singaporean’ (Strevens 1992. the first author of this paper (Hu Xiaoqiong 2005. Three Gorges University. Her interests include applied linguistics. and ‘students have a global vision of the world in which they live’. teaching content and teaching methodology in ESL and EFL. Based on this change of perspective. . second language acquisition and cross-cultural communication studies. Most of the Chinese English teachers attached great importance to multicultural input in their classroom teaching in China. (3) Content that deals with the life and culture of various countries around the world. Coincidentally. teaching models and teaching contents to their own varieties of English and to their unique cultures. The majority of teachers preferred content that deals with the life and culture of various countries around the world. at the moment. Jiang Xianxing is an associate professor of Shenzhen Polytechnic. Conclusion The Three Concentric Circles have illustrated that English has now become an international language. English in these countries has begun to show its differences from ‘the Received Pronunciation’ and has established its own localized acknowledged varieties which reflect the cultural values. there were indeed some teachers preferring content that deals with local Chilean places and people by saying that ‘it is important to keep alive the Chilean culture in young people’ and ‘to reinforce the values of our culture’. 30–1) asked the Chinese English teachers similar questions. Therefore. 39).’ Notes on contributors Betsy Hu Xiaoqiong is professor of linguistics in the College of Foreign Languages. More than 40 of her papers have been published in a variety of Chinese and international journals. It is well worth recalling the fact that since the colonized countries obtained their political independence from Great Britain. As Kramsch and Sullivan (1996) have rightly pointed out: ‘an appropriate pedagogy for the teaching of EIL (English as an international language) depends upon local ELT professionals thinking globally but acting locally. China. but must adapt to the Outer and Expanding Circle cultures as well. It is regrettable that. and to our excitement. Her research interests include English language teaching. people from the Outer and Expanding Circles should adjust their teaching staff. this kind of change has not yet found its way into the teaching syllabus or the textbooks. She has had more than 20 articles published in different journals in China. and the answers shared some similarities too. we should abandon the current teaching fallacies. China. 4.Changing English 227 Downloaded by [Universidad Nacional Colombia] at 22:54 28 November 2013 of United States or British life and culture. These people even take much pride in speaking their ‘deviate English’. Those who supported the use of various cultures offered reasons like ‘this may help students feel that they can use English everywhere and in any situation’. English can no longer be linked only with the Inner Circle cultures. with a particular focus on Chinese culture. identities and unique ways of thinking of the once colonized people. Instead of using the Inner Circle norms and standards to instruct our teaching syllabus. teaching ESP (English for Special Purposes) and cross-cultural communication studies.

2nd ed. ‘International understanding’ through teaching world Englishes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. no. Peter.228 B. McArthur. Kramsch. no. 2003a. Teaching English as an international language: the Chilean context. 1992. T. English Today 21. Xianxing References Alptekin. Sandra. no. Paul. Sandra..M. World Englishes 21. no. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Crystal. no. 2006. The other tongue: English across cultures. Towards intercultural communicative competence. Is it world or international or global English. Christopherson. 2005. China English. 1996. 2003b. McKay. Andy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. and does it matter? English Today 20. no. Hu Xiaoqiong and J. C. January 20. No experience necessary? The Guardian Weekly. English as an International Language: Directions in the 1990s. The native speaker is dead! Toronto and New York: Lexicography Inc. T. Kirkpatrick. Appropriate pedagogy. 2: 139–46. Xiaoqiong. The other tongue: English across Cultures. 3: 436–7. English Today 4. Hu. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 2002. Cem. 1997. Kachru. 3: 31–2. David. ELT Journal 57. Sullivan. 2003. McKay. ELT Journal. 1: 57–64. English as a global language. 2nd ed. T. Teaching English as an international language: rethinking goals and approaches. Strevens. at home and in the world. 1988. 56 no. Braj B. 3: 15–8. The China syndrome. Downloaded by [Universidad Nacional Colombia] at 22:54 28 November 2013 . English Today 19. Matsuda. ELT Journal 50: 199–212. Aya. 2002. 2: 2. 3: 5. ‘Native speakers’ and World English. 2004. 1992. Paikeday. and P. McArthur. 1985.

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