Language Education beyond the Year 2000:
of Things to Come”
Inaugural and Keynote Addresses delivered by
at the International Conference on
Horizons in English Language Teaching”
organized by Chulalongkorn University
in honour of
His Majesty King Bhumibol
Adulyadej’s Golden Jubilee Year
November 27, 1995
It is with great pleasure
that I accepted to take part in this important event, not only because the theme
of the conference is a challenging one, but more so because it provides me with
an opportunity to associate myself with Chulalongkorn University and the distinguished
audience in commemorating the rare occasion that happens probably only once in
one’s lifetime – the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of His Majesty the
King’s Accession to the Throne. The entire nation rejoices, and Chulalongkorn
University has held, and will be holding, several events as part of the celebrations.
is only natural that a premier seat of learning such as Chulalongkorn University
would focus attention on an academic subject, and one with resounding futures
overtones. It is gratifying to know that in tune with the ever-increasing momentum
of the globalization process, the Language Institute wishes to look towards the
horizons where nations will converge, thereby making it imperative for peoples
from diverse linguistic backgrounds to be able to communicate in a World language
which is mutually understandable. In so doing, no nation will be at a disadvantage
by having to rely on translation or interpretation, that is to say, through a
third party, in an International setting. Even if translation or interpretation
is available, the rapid response time demanded in many International situations
would make the mode of translation and interpretation inadequate and inefficient.
I understand it, the organizers of this conference are searching for “VISIONS”
– a term which nowadays is becoming the in-word. Usually one talks about political
visions, economic visions, social visions, etc., in the context of national development.
The task before us to-day, however, is more concentrated on the attainment of
knowledge by individuals. In the topic “Expanding Horizons in English Language
Teaching”, we are challenged to forecast the content, the learning and teaching,
of a single language, English, in the years beyond 2000 – which actually starts
only five years hence.
I must mention at
the outset that I am not a linguist. In fact my school experience was that English
was not my forte. Although I attended a missionary secondary school, at the time
when it was generally taken that missionary schools provided better opportunities
for English or French learning in Thailand, I did not particularly enjoy English
lessons. Moreover, I found out later, when I first had to apply my theoretical
learning into practice in an academic setting in England, the citadel of the “Standard
English”, that the English I had learnt at school was quite inadequate.
understand that the audience today consists mainly of English language instructors
and researchers from several countries. This conference, therefore, provides an
excellent opportunity to exchange country experiences and pool together expertise
in English language education. Our Thai instructors, in particular, have a good
chance to learn from fellow English language instructors from other countries
whether problems are similar, what their strategies and implementation plans are
to cope with those problems, to ensure that future generations would find English
language learning more enjoyable, and that what is learnt is truly functional
in real life today and in the years to come. Let us unite our efforts and have
a good look at this important area of learning, which is of great significance,
academically and professionally, as well as in the domains of economic, social
and even cultural developments, for our future World, a World without frontier,
a World with International understanding.
have the pleasure to declare the International Conference open, and wish it success
in its undertakings.
The conference organizers
intend to make full use of the limited time available for the conference, which
I endorse. I have therefore been asked, and I agreed, not to leave this podium
to take a deep breath, but to continue to share my personal views and concerns
on the topic entitled English Language Education Beyond the Year 2000: the
Shape of Things to Come.
behind my choice of this topic is quite simple: it does not require linguistic
specialization or first-hand teaching experience, of which I have none. As a product
and user of English language education, and not the producer, I can avoid “teaching
fish how to swim”, as the Thai saying goes, which is equivalent to “carrying coals
to Newcastle”, since this is a gathering of English language instructors who are
more knowledgeable about methodology, process, content, assessment, etc., of teaching-learning
than I. But being at the receiving end, I can perhaps air my views and offer suggestions
for improvement of future products, in the light of emerging trends.
language, whether one likes it or not, is here to stay. In order to substantiate
my personal prediction of “the shape of things to come”, it may
be useful to look back at the English language in the past, how it leads to the
present, which in turn offers directions into the future. Before proceeding further,
let me mention that predictions cannot be completely accurate; more so when such
predictions involve human activities, in this case, attitudes, commitments, interests,
of human beings, learners and instructors alike. Also these predictions are being
made at a time when change is accelerating at a rate greater than at any other
time in human history.
English as a World
language is a comparatively recent phenomenon. In fact in the sixteenth century,
the language was confined to England and Southern Scotland, and not yet having
penetrated much even into Ireland or Wales, let alone into the World beyond. The
number of English speakers began to increase at the time of the Industrial Revolution,
when there was a growth of population in England itself. Concurrently, English
spread itself into the rest of the British Isles at the expense of the Celtic
languages, through the imperatives of political and economic power. It was further
encouraged by deliberate policy of a confident and aggressive government. It then
strengthened its position as a World language through its wide diffusion outside
the British Isles by trade, colonization, and conquest. The process expanded with
the English settlements in Northern America in the seventeenth century, and also
in the West Indies in competition with Spanish, French and Dutch colonizers. British
domination of the Indian sub-continent dates from the second half of the eighteenth
century, adding a further magnitude to the expansion of English. British settlement
in Australia, the British domination in South Africa, Singapore, British Guiana,
New Zealand, Hong Kong, West, East and Southern Africa pushed the geographical
and population frontiers of the use of English by vast magnitudes. In the Philippines
and Puerto Rico, the American form of English appeared at the end of the nineteenth
century, further magnifying the use of English. To this historical backdrop should
be added the population growth in the United States of America as a further contribution
to the increase in the use of English.
aforementioned historical base of vast populations using English, in proportion
more than any other second language, was the reality in the World even during
the first decades of the twentieth century. By the 1980s, there were an estimated
400 million native speakers of English, and about the same number using it as
a second language. Some 76 percent of all secondary school students were having
English as a second language.
It is not
surprising that new phenomena of the twentieth century took as its communication
foundation this vast base, and built upon it to push even further the use of English.
Statistical Year Book of 1994 reports that the number of book titles published
in English in countries where English is neither the mother tongue nor the first
language, came to over 10,000. By comparison, book titles in French came to only
1,800. Internationally circulated scientific and technological publications would
show an even greater proportion in English.
economic and political power of the United States, the need for a major lingua
franca for the scientific community, for International trade, for banking and
finance, for the electronic communications era, were but a few of the new twentieth
century phenomena that have built on the historical foundation of English usage.
These factors energized the raising of English to its present dominant position.
English has now become a near-global tongue, used by some 700 million speakers,
bulk of the World’s mail and 80 percent of electronic information.
addition, current pressures for globalization of the market place, of communication,
of the scientific and technological spheres, have placed English permanently in
its current eminent position as the lingua franca of International business and
politics. These same factors make it imperative that the learning of English be
given high priority, and that this high priority is placed unambiguously in the
context of functionality in the multiple uses of English in the multiple
facets of mega-trends for globalization.
emphasize that even good translation modes will become dangerously inadequate
over the next decade, may I quote an extract from the Bangkok Post Outlook Section
of 8 September 1995, titled “Greater Highways in the Sky”. It goes as follow:
“….To make sure nothing goes wrong, traffic controllers and pilots keep in constant
contact with each other throughout the flight. Since pilots come from all parts
of the World, air-to-ground communications have to be in one standard language:
English…ICAO is developing a new system, which will make use of satellites and
digital technology for aviation control. The system, which is expected to be ready
by the year 2000, will enable controllers and pilots as well as airport officers
– wherever they are in the World – to communicate, swiftly and correctly, via
This piece of information
on technology research and advancement certainly underlines further that beyond
the year 2000, the English language will be essential for World communication.
data presented earlier is important for our deliberations, not merely because
of the confirmation of the importance of English as a World language. The data
also stresses that many types of uses for the English language must necessarily
be a characteristic of the “shape of things to come”. The types
of uses arise from the diverse functionalities of English that are likely to be
demanded beyond the year 2000.
critical operative word functionality must have fundamental and far-reaching
implications for the development of curricula, methodologies, evaluation and other
processes in English learning and teaching. Indeed, in many countries, the antiquated
“Latin Model” of infusing huge doses of grammar, has been replaced already with
proficiency-based curricula for communicating in English.
wish to raise the issue of overall design for your deliberations. In the context
of the vastly increased types of functionalities indicated earlier, perhaps a
new and radical view of functionality itself needs to be developed, and with it,
new implications for curriculum development and other components of English learning
and teaching. One possible approach may be to shift the emphasis of the design
from the limited “supply” side to the
side. Given the varied and changing specific demands made on the use of English
nowadays, the stress on the “supply” aspect is clearly not valid.
to-day, the demands may range from mere knowledge of the Roman script, say, for
punching computer keys, to being able to understand and use technical brochures
for operating household items, or comprehending food labels, etc., to following
installation or repair manuals by technicians. Then there are Commercial English,
Scientific English, and even its use in literature and culture. The English proficiencies
required for each of these are naturally different. Should the educational provisions,
which are aimed at achieving those varied proficiencies, necessarily be derived
from the characteristics of each of the requirements? Should the proficiencies
be defined case by case?
Rather than presuming
what should be the foundational proficiencies that can serve all these highly
varied sets of individual proficiencies, it may be necessary to define carefully
and systematically first these varied and different sets of proficiencies,
and only then derive any common foundational proficiencies. These then could be
the common cores of proficiencies for beginners of English language learning.
on the design may eventually include a smorgasbord of learning sequences for learners
to select from, according to individual functional requirements. Some are likely
to be modular and additive; some of short, and others of long duration.
venture to indicate here examples of some initial questions that may arise from
such a concept of demand-side functionality.
- What are the situations in which English is to be used?
What are the language activities or environments in which the learners
will need to be engaged?
- What are the language functions, which
the learner will need to fulfil?
are the notions or concepts, which the learner needs to be able to handle?
will the learner need to be able to do with respect to each topic?
Of course such a design content
must be more complicated than ones in general use. This may well be as serious
constraint to effective implementations, if current modes of learning and
teaching are used.
In addition, in many
countries, other constraints may exist. Among them are inadequate teacher proficiencies,
and lack of, or inappropriate, or even negative environmental reinforcement for
the learning of English.
The former has
arisen not only from possibly ineffective teacher training curricula and methodologies,
but also from the very large number of teachers who have to be trained in a relatively
short period to meet the quantitative requirements of English learning and teaching.
The latter is an almost inevitable consequence of the social and cultural milieu,
which is devoid of suitable resources to support the reinforcement and application
of the initial learnings in English. Both aspects are likely to take a considerable
time to reach levels of adequacy.
the future of English language education is not too bleak. With the advancement
of information technology, one may look forward to the time, I believe, when technology
may be fully used to make up for the aforementioned and other inadequacies. We
already have language laboratories. Computers have been used widely to assist
in the learning and teaching process. It may not be too Utopian to predict that
one of these days, perhaps in a decade or so, something along the line of a Flight
Simulator may be available to learners of languages.
the field of aviation, integral to pilot training, flight simulators are now essential
training instruments for all airlines, air forces and space programmes. A trainee
is totally immersed in simulated real-life situations – involving the techniques
as well as the atmosphere, the environment, which have psychological effects on
the learning and behavioural processes.
we then think ahead, in the “shape of things to come”, to the development of corresponding
English Language Simulators, which are computer-assisted, complete with
audios and visuals, and interactive, and so on? Currently shared-time and on-line
computer-assisted simulation or instruction is not merely possible but economically
feasible for language instruction. It can provide language scenarios for a vast
number of situations. It can accommodate a large variety of learning styles and
other learning attributes. It would be relatively easy to alter curriculum learning-teaching
sequences, as and when needed, in contrast to the inertia of traditional “classroom”
Fortunately a substantial range
of software and hardware are already available in the market, and more will surely
appear. Some adaptations most certainly will be required.
may have to focus first on teacher trainees, as facilitators of learning through
the new medium. This may be followed by the introduction to schools with language
laboratories that could be converted into computer assisted language-learning
simulators. Then these may become resource centres for a cluster of schools. Finally
all schools may have such facilities. We may move on to even community learning
centres to meet non-formal learning demands not only for English but for any other
foreign language as well, as needed by the general population.
software and hardware development work must be encouraged, and it must take into
account local cultural and language-specific barriers and demand requirements,
vis-à-vis English learning and teaching, or of any other language.
would, no doubt, recognize that all three important issues, that is, (I) multiple
proficiency; (II) inadequate teacher proficiencies; and (III) non-supportive social
and cultural milieu, may find solutions in the suggestion of the user-friendly,
computer-assisted, language learning simulators. This aspect alone, I believe,
would make this suggestion worthy of serious consideration.
the aforementioned would involve the creation of innovative and sustainable designs
for English language curricula, and learning sequences, may I seek your tolerance
regarding a few observations I would like to make in this respect. These observations
have been derived from being a concerned consumer, and not, as I said at the beginning,
from academic expertise.
We have seen linguists
and linguistic experts designing classroom language teaching and learning materials
along lines conforming to their individual notions of linguistic structure and
theory. Sometimes one had the feeling that there is greater interest in promoting
those notions than in researching careful language learning effectiveness in pupils.
We have seen over-emphases on language as recurring structural units, with syntax
largely ignored. Such designs do not take into account the vital environment or
scenario for the language use, which the simulation situations require.
development of learning sequences may best be done, I believe, by active practitioners
in the applied field of teaching English, and not by theoreticians alone who may
tend to adhere to one aspect of language learning with which each theoretician
has best equipped herself or himself. Language communication is a behavioural
phenomenon in a real World setting, and not necessarily dependent solely on analyses
of language structures. The excessive devotion to grammatically correct linguistic
competence demands high skills abstraction totally beyond functional operational
skills of learners, in addition to being irrelevant to the kinds of language demands
I outlined earlier.
The point about a simulation
intervention is that language speakers and writers do not simply generate sentences
in the abstract, but in context. Language is for receiving and transmitting information
in context, across the wide scope spectrum, as fitting each particular
position in the spectrum. All else, including the nicety, grammaticality and elegance
of speech, can become subsidiary to this pragmatic use, and mere tools for the
purpose, not ends in themselves.
us can guess what the English language will be like in a hundred years’ time.
What appears quite certain, however, is that information technology and knowledge
growth is moving ahead at a phenomenal speed. It seems unlikely that any other
language will supercede the English language as a World medium of communication,
given its present head-start. If a nation is to keep up-to-date with developments
in all spheres of knowledge, particularly in scientific and technological research,
it has to be able to have an instant access to the World “knowledge bank:, through
electronic and other means. This requires proficiencies in English, which is the
dominant World language for International communication. The English language
will continue to be the major vehicle that drives us along the information superhighway.
The development of a nation, therefore, will make it imperative for the people
to learn and master the English language. Hence the education system-must seeks
ways to improve both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of this learning
We have also to recognize that societies
are organizing rapidly, having as focal points people who can innovate,
who can increase productivity, who can maintain sustainable development, through
knowledge. The co-ordinating and activating new economic nucleus is knowledge,
the resource with the highest value, the resource that has the highest “value
adding” potential. The traditional triad of capital, labour and materials as raw
components of progress is being replaced by knowledge in the new information era
– knowledge held and used by people, knowledge that people in countries must have
access to, acquire and expand, so that the countries themselves may progress.
Not preparing for this may even be called suicidal for our countries. The quickest
access may well be largely through the English language.
us pool our efforts and ideas together to make it easy, enjoyable and profitable
for our people to learn and to want to learn English and acquire sufficient proficiencies
to make it truly a tool for communication in a World without frontiers, and a
tool for the uninterrupted development of our countries beyond the year 2000.
us also remember that predicting the “shape of things to come” is exciting. But
shaping the shape of things to come is even more gratifying.