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Standard English in the E F L Classroom
Lynn Zimmerman
Downloaded from eltj.oxfordjournals.org at INFLIBNET N List Project (College Model) on December 18, 2010

Comment is a feature which allows contributors to express a personal, and sometimes controversial, view about a matter of current concern in the profession outside the format of a reviewed academic article. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Editor or the Publisher. Reaction to Comment features is especially welcome in the form of a letter to the Editor. Standard American English is at the centre of a heated debate in American education. At issue is whether Standard American English, the English of middle-class White America, is the ‘correct’ form of English, or whether other forms of English, dialects, and language patterns, are equally valid. A number of American educators see this issue as not just an educational issue, but also as an ethical issue. They assert that an insistence on the superiority of Standard American English is an exercise of power by the dominant White culture which devalues minority languages, denying equality and dignity to minority cultures in the United States (Delpit 1994). I would like to propose that the issue is even broader than the debate within American education. Whose English is being taught is also an important issue in the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classroom. Teachers in formal settings, especially public schools and universities, are expected to adhere to certain curricular guidelines, resulting in Standard English being the English that is brought into the EFL classroom by teachers. However, with the influx of native English speakers as teachers, some of whom speak ‘non-standard’ English themselves, and with the increased availability of English-speaking media and popular culture worldwide, many students of English are being exposed to ‘non-standard’ and informal English, which they perceive as authentic language. What is the teacher’s responsibility to students wanting to learn and use informal English in the EFL classroom? Where does the teacher draw the line when students, especially teenage students, want to use and practise the informal English that they have learnt from popular culture, English which they perceive as the language that native English speakers use to communicate in everyday life? School systems internationally offer English to students to help them participate in the global marketplace. English learners of all ages want to communicate and connect with others who speak English. Young people, in

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E LT Journal Volume 61/2 April 2007; doi:10.1093/elt/ccm010

ª The Author 2007. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.

explaining that such informal language was out of place in written communication. Still. and often profane. I am thinking about my own reactions to the language these students were using. a possibility not covered in nine weeks of Peace Corps teacher training. However. Many teenagers think that the colloquial. and were not appropriate to use in all situations. Downloaded from eltj. to return to the broader issue of Standard English. I wonder what are the motives for and consequences of imparting to them my White American middle class values of ‘correct’ language? Is the insistence that they learn formal grammar and pronunciation. I discouraged students from using forms. such as heavy metal. the English of my White Standard English in the classroom 165 . so they needed to develop the habit of using formal English in their writing. the issue of non-standard English was more evident. want to learn English so that they can communicate with other teens in the language of their music and movie icons. and American music. the students are learning a colloquial. beyond the issue of profanity. As English teachers struggle to teach their students formal grammar and pronunciation and the vocabulary that is deemed appropriate and necessary. first as a Peace Corps volunteer in a Polish high school.org at INFLIBNET N List Project (College Model) on December 18. language that they hear in American popular culture is ‘Standard’ American English. I taught formal grammar and vocabulary according to the Polish secondary educational curriculum. As I write this. I do. There were also a few instances when students used profanity. and several of which contained profanity. such as ‘coz’. vernacular English that never appears on any school examination. denying them ability to communicate effectively in English with many native speakers? More importantly.oxfordjournals. rather than the colloquial. and explained that although they heard these words in movies and in music. I focused on the profanity. One morning. is this insistence on the use of Standard English. Such constructions would not be allowed on a formal standardized examination. rap. students prepared skits to perform in class. I would be lying if I said I never use informal English. and will continue to tell my students that despite what they hear. and the vocabulary that is deemed appropriate and necessary. and ‘gonna’ in their writing. and later teaching in English summer camps for Polish high school students. and I addressed the immediate issue and moved on. Several of the students tried to persuade me that they would use the equivalent Polish words in any situation. but such instances were rare. 2010 The difference between student and educational goals for language learning has become apparent to me over the years that I have taught English in Poland. most of which contained informal English. including profanity. not all Americans approve of cursing as a form of regular communication (Dolliver 2002). When I began teaching in Poland.particular. and hip-hop. Especially popular are American movies depicting ‘normal’ American life. Ten years later. vernacular English that never appears in school examinations. which give voice to American youth culture. at a summer camp for high school students from all over Poland. I believe that it has no place in an E F L classroom. they were not used by all Americans. but I cannot see some of my Polish teacher friends allowing students to use such language in their classrooms.

and around the world? References Delpit.oxfordjournals. concentrating on diversity and multicultural education. Dolliver. M. Adweek 43/3: 26(3). L. presenting English learners with too narrow a view of what it means to be an American? Is it teaching the students to deny the equality and dignity of minority cultures in the United States.org at INFLIBNET N List Project (College Model) on December 18.American culture. 2010 166 Lynn Zimmerman . PhD is an Associate Professor of Education at Purdue University. Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. The author Lynn Zimmerman. New York: The New Press. ‘Wash your mouth out’. 1994. 2002. Downloaded from eltj.

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