It has happened to anyone involved in English teaching, at least once in their lives, to hear about “Globish”. It was pronounced as if it were something of no little importance, the “next big thing” in linguistics, the turning point between an antiquated method of teaching and a more progressive one.
But what is Globish?
Let us start from the beginning. All languages evolve. This evolution takes place for several reasons, but it is mainly due to a tendency to simplify complex elements and the influence of other languages. Some languages change more slowly and are called “conservative” – for example Icelandic, which is quite similar to its version spoken in the Middle Ages – and others are more “dynamic”.
English is very dynamic and always has been. To have an idea of this inclination for change, consider that it is a Germanic language, so it is a “relative” to German, Swedish and so on: it does not sound very similar to them, does it? The first speakers in Britain were in fact very quick to adopt terms from French and Latin, often discarding the correspondent word of Germanic origin in doing so.
To further complicate things, colonisation and decolonisation took place. These phenomena brought English to the mouths of Eastern and African people; people who had a completely different local language and often integrated the ‘language of the invaders’ with their own, with different degrees of balancing between the two.
Coming back to the present, is it also said that non-native English speakers from countries that have never been British colonies use English as a bridge language not because of the United Kingdom, but because of the United States; a country which is immensely influential in various fields – technology, politics and culture, to name a few.
All this is to say that, today, English is quite the melting pot: it is spoken as first language in a lot of countries, often with completely different accents, and as lingua franca in many parts of the world. What’s more, some of these speakers also came up with a sort of mix between a local language and English – think about tok pisin in Papua New Guinea or the dialect spoken by the Zef community in South Africa – a mix which has an influence in the way they speak regular English.
In the face of all this, in most Italian schools we teach British English as if the future of all Italians involves a job as butler or maid in Buckingham Palace. On the contrary, it is crucial that all learners, but especially today’s young learners, are exposed to various variants of the English language, and this is when the concept of Globish comes to play.
“Globish”, strictly speaking, is a term coined in 1998 by the French engineer Jean-Paul Nerriere and consists in a sort of simplified English used in information technology by both native and non-native English speakers. Globish is protected by copyright and, in fact, very few people speak it, making it nearly forgotten, as is Esperanto. However, the term “Globish” is now used, more generically, to denote the English language in all its variations, and in the light of the influence of non-native speakers.
Teaching English in a “Globish-friendly” way is a consequence of a vision based on the values of inclusion and multiculturalism. This does not imply that the English taught is not standard, but that this standard English is presented as some sort of abstraction. Therefore, standard English can be declined in different variants, which are not always the rule, but worth knowing nevertheless, since students are likely to meet them in real life. Consequently, the teacher does not have to be a mother-tongue speaker, but to have a mother-tongue level of competence and, equally importantly, to have the necessary skills and qualifications to teach a language.
This concept is counter-intuitive for most Italians. For some reason, we admit that someone can have the ability to send rockets to Mars, to perform heart surgery and to write a novel with literary merit, but when we come to people with a proficient level of English, we just don’t buy it. They must be a cheat: a perfect pronunciation can only be possessed by those who were born in an English-speaking household. Yet when we choose a doctor or a lawyer, it would sound silly to inquire whether or not their parents worked in the same field; it would belittle the doctor’s professionality and the years of study and sacrifice they spent to achieve it. The same thing should be applied to teachers: there are people in this world who, for some inexplicable reasons among which masochism may or may not be a part, study foreign languages and choose a curriculum in teaching. These people continue their education with extra courses and hands-on experience and become some of the best teachers you can ever hope to meet. These kinds of teachers also tend to be familiar with several variations of English, so there is no reason to discard them as second choice just because of their upbringing.
In conclusion, the word Globish is used today to denote a fast developing and varied English, which is the English most of us will use in our personal lives and careers. This language can be taught with an approach mindful of its ever-changing facets and giving culture equal importance as language. The teacher is not a “simple” mother-tongue, but a professional who can face the challenge of delivering one of the most complex languages in the world.
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