English and multilingualism in China’s universities

Post written by Werner Botha, based on an article published in the latest issue of English Today.

With such a large number of English language learners, as well as an increasing use of English as a medium (or additional medium) of instruction in China’s universities, one wonders how this is impacting the ordinary lives of university students in China. This issue is of particular interest because very little is currently known about the impact of globalization on the spread and use of English in Chinese university students’ linguistic repertoires. A large number of these students are not only acquiring English at school and university, but increasingly outside of their formal education, through the Internet, music, computer games, movies, and television series. Indeed, many of these students have also been shown to be highly mobile, and in most cases migrate throughout Greater China (and abroad) in order to pursue higher education degrees.

Despite the lack of studies on the use of English in the educational as well as personal lives of Chinese university students, attention has recently been drawn to the fact these students are surprisingly multilingual, and constantly switch between different languages and language varieties as they move between various communicative worlds (e.g. socializing with their friends, using online chats, etc). Not only does English offer many of these students better career prospects and tangible success in an increasingly globalised world, but the English language is for many of them a means to explore new spaces, and offers them new ways of expressing their individual identities to others in the worlds they percieve themselves to live in.

It also appears that the increasing use of English in these students’ formal education is having an impact on the ways in which Chinese students are learning their course materials, and even more strikingly in the ways these students are using multiple languages to negotiate their everyday lives. As university students in China become increasingly bilingual in English and Putonghua (Mandarin), they increase their ability to move across spaces, both in the ‘real’ world, as well as in their Internet and entertainment lives. The varieties of English these students are exposed to no doubt also effect the ways in which they can use different varieties of English to construct and reconstruct personal identities. Not only this, these students also open up opportunities for others to share in their physical and virtual lives by using English in novel and unpredictable ways. Research on the spread and use of English in mainland China needs to keep pace with these shifting, multilingual contexts of language use in the Greater China region, and especially with the rich and multivaried multilingual worlds of students in China’s higher education.

Read the full paper English in China’s universities today‘ here

‘The Mummy Returns’ – or what did the prince say to his monarch?

Blog post written by Suzanne Hinton based on an article in the latest issue of English Today 

Who cares what the Prince of Wales calls his mother?  Well actually, as he is a well-educated English speaker, he might be a good role model for many people who are learning English, teaching it or who are simply curious about the way English is used.  “Everyday” language is often the most difficult to use correctly if you do not live in the relevant country.  I speak fluent French, but live in England.  My friends (and it is the sign of a true friend if he or she will comment on your use their language) say my style is correct “but rather literary”.  Not surprising.  I am a literary translator.

I treasure a letter from a French friend who begged me to provide her with the vocabulary for potty training;  she was caring for her tiny neice and wanted to speak English to her, but did not have the correct register of language.  I was delighted to be able to pass on to her a whole range of expressions – at least those used in our family  – referring nappies and collquial “baby” references to bodily functions.

Why is it so important to get the register of vocabulary “right”?  Alas, English speakers are still quickly judged as soon as they open their mouth to speak.  Our prejudices are more often aimed at our countrymen than at our new citizens or visitors from overseas.  Both accent and vocabulary will quicky place, both geographically and socially, any native English speaker.  If English is not the speaker’s first language, an overseas accent is often considered charming.  An educated English person will enjoy the challenge of guessing which part of the world the “stranger” comes from.  However, an element of lexis, especially if it is inappropriately associated with the nursery or the classroom rather than the lecture hall or workplace, can relegate the speaker to the ranks of the “stupid”, the “ignorant”, the “boorish” and possibly worse.

English vocabulary is a game of social snakes and ladders.  Get it right and you slide up, get it wrong, and down you go.  Where does that leave Prince Charles?  In a few year’s time (many years in the future, I hope), he will, unfortunately, lose his mother.  At that time, he is going to be right at the top of the “best” British ladder of all.  He speaks, and will continue to speak, as he deems fit.  However, he may not be the best role model after all.

Read the full article ‘‘The Mummy Returns’ – or what did the prince say to his monarch?” here

An interview with the new Editor of English Today

Clive Upton, Editor of English TodayThe new Editor of English Today, Emeritus Professor Clive Upton of Leeds University, answers a few questions about the future direction of the journal as it takes on a new editorial team and introduces new features.

Please tell us about editorial changes at English Today.

This year sees a new editorial team taking over the journal.  In my role as Editor I’m supported by Associate Editors Nicholas Groom and Justyna Robinson.  We are also now accepting book and multimedia reviews, which are handled by Reviews Editor Jonathan Robinson.  In addition, while the look and ‘feel’ of the journal will remain essentially unaltered, new features are planned, and there will now be an additional option for external peer-review of articles, alongside the normal editorial review.

How will the two-tier peer-review process work?

As signalled in the Notes for contributors, authors can now tell us whether they would like their submissions to go forward for external peer review, instead of the current system of editorial review.  Peer-reviewed articles should be up to c.6,000 words long (as distinct from those up to c.4,000 words which has long been the norm for the journal), and should be the result of detailed research which will stand up to the highest levels of scrutiny.

Please tell us about the journal’s proposed new features.

As mentioned above, English Today is now publishing book and multimedia reviews.  We are happy to have readers’ suggestions for items to be reviewed, and offers from colleagues willing to act as reviewers.

We are also keen to feature ‘English Language Initiatives’ (ELIs), which  will give anyone who is promoting the English language in a new way (for example through an unusual educational or commercial activity) a chance, in around 2000 words, to inform a wide readership about their work.

Finally, with the ever-growing popularity of English Language studies as a university subject, ‘English Language Bachelor of Arts’ (ELBAs) will give colleagues worldwide an opportunity to outline a particular undergraduate degree programme with which they are involved, again in around 2000 words.

We invite suggestions from readers for bothELIsand ELBAs.

What content can be found in the most recent English Today?

In this issue, we feature articles with the usual wide global and subject spread. Contributions come fromColumbia,Hong Kong, Kenya, India, Japan, Macao, Malaysia, the USA, and the UK, and cover such diverse subjects as popular music lyrics, spelling pronunciation, attitudes to accents, and the language of cookery.

Stephen writes on how English is regarded in Malaysia, Zhang considers Hong Kong speakers’ views of accents, and Sung investigates who provides useful role models for pronunciation.

Readers interested in connections between spellings and pronunciation should find Huber’s argument on French loans telling, while Waitiki sets out evidence of spelling-speaking interaction fromKenya, and Shipley’s book review continues the spellings theme.  Kazim speculates on the place of Tamil-English code mixing following its use in a spectacularly successful song, and Dunnett’s article also follows the thread of foreign influences on English with observations on the ever-interesting matter of food.

ELT issues also feature: Martinez focuses on English for Academic Purposes in Columbia; Abe presents the fruits of a specifically Japan-oriented investigation into Communicative language teaching; Kun considers the influence of different mediums of instruction in the acquisition of English.

Visit the English Today homepage here.

Englishes in a multilingual South Africa

South Africa is well-known as a country that has undergone enormous political, social, educational and economic change since the days of apartheid.  Independence and democracy can only be said to have arrived as late as 1994, with the negotiated settlement that led to a new non-racial constitution.  The constitution recognises eleven of the country’s languages as official; and multilingualism remains a strong force in South African life.  Yet while indigenous languages like Zulu, Xhosa and Sotho continue to grow as the majority languages of the country, so too has English, as a first language and – to a larger extent – a second language.

A special issue of English Today focuses on the sociolinguistics and linguistic characteristics of the main varieties of English in the country.  The initial article discusses English as a first language offshoot of British English and the role played by the gold-mining city of Johannesburg in the development of a distinct South African English in the late 19th  C.  Subsequent articles focus on the spread of English and its characteristic features in different communities.

Black South African English is the variety that has prospered the most since 1994, being a major variety to be heard in the media, in parliament, at public gatherings and so forth.  The major grammatical characteristics of this variety spoken as a second language are discussed from the vantage point of corpus linguistics in two of the articles.

Social change evident in the deracialising schooling systems has brought about immense changes in young peoples’ speech repertoires. In this regard one article explores the attitudes of young Black students at high school in relation to cultural and linguistic diversity.  Another documents a shift in dominance amongst young Coloured people in the Western Cape from a bilingualism that previously had English as a second language to one that plays down Afrikaans in favour of English.

Two studies focus on Asian migrants in South Africa.  The first discusses lexicographical work pertaining to the country’s Indian community; the second discusses adaptations made by new Chinese migrants in South Africa, showing the importance of Xhosa as well as English in rural Eastern Cape settings.  Other articles examine the nature of literary translation using South African English as a medium.  Three short book notices on varieties of English in South Africa round off the issue.

Follow this link to read the entire special issue of English Today

Blog post written by Rajend Mesthrie.

The great China English puzzle

The most recent issue of English Today (28/3) is a special issue on the topic of ‘English in China today’. It includes ten articles dealing with different aspects of the spread of English and the uses of English in contemporary China, with contributions from leading Chinese academics as well as commentators from outside the country.

The articles in this special issue provide a fascinating insight into the uses of English in today’s China, with articles on the demographics of English learning, English in the academy, creative writing, English on the Internet, and much else. Nevertheless, in spite of the insights that these articles provide, my own feeling is that the current spread of the English language within the borders of this most populous nation actually still present us with a Chinese puzzle of quite some proportion.

This is for a number of reasons. According to Chinese government sources, the number of English learners/knowers in the Middle Kingdom is now around 400 million, which represents around one third of China’s population. But here, the essential questions are who actually uses English in China on a regular basis, and for what purposes? This is a puzzle because most of those millions of learners believe that English is somehow an important part of their future, but the reality within China is that few workplaces actually require much in the way of spoken English. The reality is that most people are learning English because they need it to pass the endless ladder of competitive exams. But spoken English is not assessed.

A second puzzle is the aspiration to study overseas. In the mid 2000s, the outflow of students from China appeared to be holding steady, but then suddenly started rising. According to the latest statistics, there are 158,000 students from China studying in the US, and a similar number in Europe. Here a central question relates to the role of English in these young academic emigrant lives. Will such students remain overseas, or return to China? What then will the impact of the current fashion for international education be on the cultural and social life of China as it continues to develop as an economic world leader? It is not just the number of Chinese students going overseas which is increasing, but also the number returning.

These are not purely linguistic issues, but English does play a key role in such processes, and is likely to do so for many decades to come. The articles in the special issue help us at least see the puzzles a little more clearly.

You can read the entire special issue without charge until the 31st October here

Post written by David Graddol, Co-Editor English Today

Access free articles to celebrate 15 years of CJO


Cambridge Journals Online launched in 1997, and one and a half decades later continues to evolve. At Cambridge Journals, we’re extremely proud of what we’ve achieved over the past fifteen years. CJO is arguably as close to a tailor-made resource as you’ll find in academic publishing. Developed, built and maintained by a crack team of software developers based in Manila. Nurtured and specified by in-house editors, marketers and production staff. Informed by consultation with journal editors, societies, academics and librarians. CJO is loaded with fresh new features three times a year, available on all platforms (including mobile), twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

For the next fifteen days (until the 3rd October) we’ve decided to make a birthday gift. Go to any journal homepage, and you’ll find a new, golden tab. There, the fifteen most-downloaded papers from that journal are available to read for free. We’ve done this for every single journal we publish. Make your way there by browsing our full list of Language and Linguistics journals. As well as being able to download papers to your desktop, or read them on your phone or tablet, you’ll be able to send papers to your Kindle to read at your leisure. Just look for the Send to Kindle links in the left hand article menu and in the headers.

We’re sure you’ll find something amongst all that free content to illuminate and inspire. By all means, spread the word. We’ve introduced some handy links on most pages to tweet, like, +1 or otherwise share articles or this post.

So feel free to explore CJO and let us know what you think. We’re extremely keen to make CJO the best resource that we can, and your input is absolutely invaluable. Post a comment below, tweet us at @CambridgeJnls or drop by our Facebook page.

Here’s to the next fifteen years!

Grammar on the go

During a recent research project at UCL a number of motivated English teachers were invited to attend a series of ‘grammar days’ where they were provided with training in basic concepts of English grammar. The event highlighted the fact that only two out of the twenty attendees could recall being explicitly taught English grammar with a majority being self-taught. This re-affirmed the belief that teachers do not feel confident teaching English grammar.

What came out of the feedback discussions was that teachers need an accessible and enjoyable way to learn about grammar and to teach it to their students. Information technology had previously offered this opportunity in the form of the hugely popular ‘Internet Grammar of English’ which since its publication in 1996 has received well over three million hits.

Enter the app…

So-called ‘smartphones’ offer a new way of studying grammar on the go. Launched in late August 2011 the interactive Grammar of English (iGE) App is based on the ‘Internet Grammar of English’. Specific considerations were made for smartphone users such as using digestible text, which was split and simplified to make explanations readable on a small screen. The mechanisms of tapping and swiping were also implemented. The set of exercises that was already present in the earlier web resource was expanded and supplemented to ensure they are dynamic, responsive and interesting.

Article written by Bas Aarts, Dan Clayton and Sean Wallis, University College London

Read the full article from English Today here

NB. This app is a spin-off of a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) entitled Creating a Web-Based Platform for English Language Teaching and Learning

interactive Grammar of English (iGE) Appinteractive Grammar of English (iGE) Appinteractive Grammar of English (iGE) App