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GLOBAL ISSUES IN LANGUAGE
EDUCATION NEWSLETTER
March 2006 - Issue No. #60

English as a Window to the World

by Else Brendholdt

Skive College of Education, Denmark

The English Language in Denmark

In Denmark, English has been taught as a second language with a strong focus on first Great Britain and later the USA. When in the 1950s English-Danish trade contacts were extremely strong, English was a very popular language. In schools, children would learn about the English Bobby (policeman), Big Ben and English breakfast as part of their learning the language. In the 1970s, when American TV programs started flooding Danish homes, the American way of living in programs such as Beverly Hills for youngsters was conquering the market for influencing young people and their ideas and pronunciation of the English language. In Danish classrooms, the English language, especially pronunciation and vocabulary, was strongly influenced by American English while in some schools, e.g. grammar schools, American English was not accepted or highly valued. Today mass media and easy travelling have made this distinction impossible, let alone something to wish for.

Expanding the Scope of English

In the Danish national curriculum, English in middle school is still focused on the two big mother countries for the language, but there is a change to a much broader focus so that children should get to know many different varieties of English in their English lessons. This can, of course, only be fulfilled through the use of media, as it is still not possible for many classes to make study trips abroad.

English in Europe

As a college teacher who is training students to become teachers of English for youngsters in the 21st century, I strive to teach English as a lingua franca combined with the use of English as a window to the world.

What do I mean by that? In Europe (the EU = the association of European countries with its parliament in Brussels, Belgium), English has won the battle to become the lingua franca that every nationality uses when in contact with foreigners whose language they don’t speak – and the other way around. English has become the lingua franca of Europe. French and German, although with a larger population, must play the second part in the language game. This gives English native speakers an advantage when applying for EU jobs and in other business areas – so power structures are still linked to a language and its culture. This question or issue is a continuing problem discussed in the EU at the moment. For instance, in higher education, all the English programs taught at universities are not always up to the high standards of programs taught in the national language. Universities have a problem to solve and are working hard at it to keep their standards in the global struggle to be winners.

English as a Window to the World
Still, what I really want to focus on is a little different. In English course books and English courses around the world, the content of the lessons are either non-national or English/American. For instance, the characters, the settings, the problems raised in the text. Quite certainly very good material, if that is what you want to teach. If you as a teacher of English would like to use the English language as a window to the world, you have a problem. Not many course books deal with international affairs, and certainly not many with the lives of children and youngsters in other countries. This should not, however, keep you from doing this. As many schools have access to the Internet, it is possible to find material that will:
  1. interest your children
  2. be relevant and up-to-date
  3. equip them for communication in an international world.
Dreams and Hopes

Here follows a suggestion. First of all, a poem by a very well-known and celebrated American poet, Langston Hughes:

DREAMS

Hold fast to dreams
for if dreams die
life is a broken
winged bird
that cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
for when dreams go
life is a barren field
frozen with snow.

Ask the children in your class ……

What are your dreams and hopes?

Then let them ask children from other countries – by e-mail – what are their dreams and hopes. At right are listed some answers to this from children around the world. Have fun while you try to make friends across borders!

Dreams and hopes of Young People from around the World

On the TV news, I see war, war and more war. I dream of peace. I want all children of the world to have a home and a family and to feel safe in their own country.
- Amy (14) Canada

I dream of a clean, green Earth. No more extinct animals! No more pollution! There should be clean air and fresh water for everybody!
- Roberto (13) Peru

I work 12 hours a day. My dream is to go to school, but I work so much I don’t even have time to play.
- Aneesh (12) India

I hope to get a good job when I grow up. Then my dream is to get married, buy a house with a garden and have four children.
- Vincent (12) Belgium

Two years ago, I ran into a field to get my football. I didn’t know there was a landmine there. Next day, I woke up in hospital and my leg was gone. I want an artificial leg. That is my dream.
- Sanid (13) Kosovo

Last year, there was a famine here. My baby brother died a week before the Red Cross trucks came with food for us. This year, many children have died of measles. My dream is of food for all children and doctors to help us when we are ill.
- Sarah (11) Ethiopia

This article is reprinted with permission from International Teacher newsletter. See their website: http://www.international-teacher.dk/

Else Brendthold, Skive College of Education, Denmark: else_brendholdt@skolekom.dk

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