Since English is used globally as the international communication tool, the number of English users increased rapidly, Kachru (1992 cited in Andrews, A & Tsui 2007) says. “Even in the next few decades will witness an unprecedented rapid growth in the number of English users of English worldwide range from a rather conservative 700 to 800 millions to a more liberal estimate of two billion. Moreover, this fact evokes the number of English users from many different countries which draw impact to the various language styles, accents, dialects which is familiar with term of language variation “.
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Furthermore, recently the majority of English users and English teachers are not ‘native’ speakers of English, and they do not use the same linguistic forms (Henry, P 2009). Additionally she explains that understanding language variation is fundamental to understand the use of and teaching English in global context. Moreover, nowadays language variation becomes a main issue among linguists and sociolinguists because it has relationship with social communities. The use of the language is various according to social groups because they do not use the language in similar way, as the way language that is used to greet and compliment is distinctively expressed in a particular cultural group (Holmes, 2008 pp.3)
This paper will deal with the question of ‘How important does language variation toward language teaching?’ This issue will contribute some ideas for English teachers, especially for EFL contexts to generate awareness of English teachers to language variation in international communication. The consideration of this awareness will draw some ideas for teachers to design teaching materials appropriate with recent phenomena of the use and the users of language which are very various. Furthermore, the teaching aids are considered play important role to assist more understanding to the language variation itself. Besides, teachers will prepare the learners to be good English users with highly understanding to how to use language appropriately towards the diversity of language use and users to avoid miscommunication and maintain the politeness, and to support good career and study in the future.
Language can identify the person cultural background because the language and culture can not be in isolation (Sapir, E, 1920s cited in Hinkel, 1999). That is why, when someone speaks another language (English), the way he/she speaks will be influenced by the way he/she thinks in his first language. As claimed by Holmes (2008, pp.153) that “the way you speak is usually a good indicator of your social background with many speech features that can be used as clues”.
Moreover, culture is the domain of humanity that includes all social aspects such as activities, group systems and human behaviours (Hinkel, 1999 pp.1). Therefore, sociolinguists investigate what the connections between language and society are. Specifically, Holmes (2008,) asked three main questions in sociolinguistics that focuses on the reasons why do people in different social context speak differently, the concerns to the language in social functions, and it is used in conveying social meaning (pp.1). It is obvious that the different background of the language users will give impact to the variety of language.
Furthermore, in term of the use of language, Holmes (2008) states that “people use a language to signal their membership of particular group and to construct different aspects of their social identity; social status, gender, age, ethnicity and the kind of social networks people belong to turn out to be important dimension of identity in many communities”. For example, in term of gender, women tend to reinforce their own subordinate status; they were colluding in reinforce their own subordination by the way they spoke in the interaction which is considered more polite than men (Lakoff, R cited in Holmes, 2008, p. 284). Additionally, she illustrates the example of the use tags questions. Although the use of tags questions is slightly different in number of men and women to use it, females purpose to use tags questions to make her sentences softer and to sound more polite. Besides, the way between females and males in giving complement is different. Men tend to use short expression such as ‘you look nice’, in comparison females will use longer expression than males such as ‘oh dear, look at you, you look so gorgeous,’ In term of age, in Indonesia, younger people will address to older people or to people who have higher position by addressing them with some term of words such as bapak (sir), and ibu (madam). It is different with western culture where younger people merely address the older people by their name. This issue reflect to the way they communicate when they are not in their contexts which draw some confusion which is the correct way to address older people in western country. Indonesian students in the beginning will feel uncomfortable to address their lecture by name; they will feel they are rude and on contrary for westerners, who come to Indonesia, they will bring their culture or their way to address older people by name then Indonesian will think they are rude. That is why, by having good understanding towards language variation, it will help language users to have good communication from different countries.
What is more, according to Chaer & Agustina (1995 cited in Prasastie 2006), the term of language variation is based on two opinions existing: the first is language variation is language happens as the result of the variation in society and variation in language function. Further they explains that if the users of a language are homogeneous group in term of ethnic, social status or fields of job, the variation will not exist which means that the language itself become uniform. Additionally, the second opinion they mention that language variation already exist in order to fullfill its function as a mean of interaction in doing various community activities. The ways of teachers speak will be different to the ways of people who work in fish market. Teachers will speak better than fish seller because the image or their work place background determine to the ways they speak.
Based on Holmes (2008) in general language variation is divided into regional variation which covers international varieties, intra-national or intra-continental variation, cross-continental variation, social variation which covers social accent, and social dialects which covers standard English, caste dialects, social class dialects (vocabulary, pronunciation, grammatical patterns).
In order to make the idea of language variation clearer and why it is considered significant for language teaching, the writer provides one example of social dialects because the research of social dialects in many different countries has revealed a consistent relationship between social class and language pattern (Holmes 2008, p. 141). Moreover, she explains that in caste dialects case where the categorisation of people is based on the commonality of social and economy which generally reflects the use of social dialects (pp. 141).
Holmes (2008) takes Indonesia as the sample where social divisions are clear – cut. In addition, she writes about an Indonesian student who was trying to explain to her English friends about the complication of social dialects in Java and the ways in which Javanese speakers signal their social background. This student describes how almost every different word fit together in patterns or levels use which depend on who we are talking to. Further, Holmes (2008) presents some samples of words use in Java such as Padjenengan as ‘you’ in English to point someone from higher class social status, and kowe as ‘you’ to refer to someone for low class social status. Another sample which is similar to Java social dialects, in Aceh the use of different vocabulary also indicates the different social background of the speakers. The word ulon tuan (I) in English is considered from high social class and educated person compare to use the word ke which is considered rude and impolite and the speaker are assumed from low social class and uneducated person.
Despite of that, the variation of language does not only cover both the users and the use but also the contexts and the adressees of the language that affect the code variety (Holmes 2008, pp. 235). Consequently, some people are more aware of some factors like how they communicate to people who they often and will meet and what are the contexts of the communication whether it is formal or informal situation in order to maintain politeness or to show to what particular social class the speakers belong. Moreover, Fukada & Asato (2004, pp. 1994-1995) emphasises the intention of how polite the speakers are in certain situations by using the verbal strategies. Additionally,
Holmes (2008, pp.270) said that “The rules for polite behaviour differs from one speech community to another and it is culturally determined which different speech communities emphasize different functions and express particular functions differently”. For instance, the strategy of apology or request is different between China or Japan or Indonesia. In context of China, the Chinese speakers are not likely to use negative politeness in form of indirect request if face threatening act is not significant or the relationship between speaker and hearer are close.
Lee, C.F.K (2004) stated the result of report through her paper about it. She said that :
“since politeness is basic and essential in communication in many cultures, people are inclined to use redressive actions, for instance, the negative politeness strategy of being indirect, to avoid the face-threatening act or minimising the feeling of imposed on” (Lee, C.F.K 2004 p.58).
However, Brown and Levinson argue (1987 cited in Lee, C.F.K 2004, pp.58) that the use of redressive actions are different from one culture to another cultures because the consideration of relationship and social distance. For instance, in Japanese culture teachers are highly respected, hence while students or Japanese speakers are talking to teachers, they use of referent and addressee honorific forms to give rise to politeness that they acknowledge their addressee and this acknowledgement due to teachers’ place (Haugh, M. 2005, pp.63).
Beside politeness issue that teachers must aware in their teaching due to the language variation is to teach students how to interact with other speakers appropriately to avoid miscommunication or misunderstanding that usually occurred in intercultural communication. Leigh, J (2004) states that “we should not be surprised therefore, to see that the interaction of diverse parochial behaviours across cultural borders often leads to unintended misunderstanding even conflict. Furthermore, he explains that this misunderstanding may appear as the received meaning of the various exotic behaviours’ messages which are found offensive, even they were not meant to be so.” In another words, the miscommunication can be happened because of the different interpretation of the words or expressions or question used to convey the meaning according to different speakers. For example, the question of did u have a good weekend? This question gets different responds from different speakers like Australian speakers will respond the question with short respond such as ‘oh it was great’, while French speakers will give long respond by telling the whole story about their weekend that includes who were the participants, what happened, where did they spend the weekend and many other information. This case obviously shows that some typical conversational routines in French and Australian English, and the miscommunication that may arise between two speakers from different cultural backgrounds (Beal, C 1992, pp.23). Moreover, based on the sample above, Beal (1992) explains the indication that even the trivial daily phrase may accelerate various understanding related to the expected responses. In addition, Leigh, J (2004) states “It is no wonder, therefore, that language is a function of physical and social environment, and that there is great idiosyncratic in each of the numerous language around the world.
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In language teaching, teachers may not merely emphasise learners to acquire linguistics features or the how to use the language in communication without considering the important of culture from not only the language but also from the cultural background of the various English users all over the globe where English is as lingua franca for international communication. Moreover, Hinkel (1999) illustrates how teachers’ view of ourselves, our students, and relationship among cultures are represented not only through explicit instruction regarding cultural differences in rhetorical and aesthetic values for texts, but also implicitly in the course content, assignments, and class discussions which engage with the students. Furthermore, Hymes and Gumperz (1960s & 1970s) made explicit connection between culture and language and treated interaction and speaking as culturally defined practices, which means the emphasizes the need of studying to the social context that will influence the interaction of the language users.
Therefore, based on the teachers’ awareness of language variation to the diversity of language use and users from different cultural background, teachers should notice to what they must do in their teaching in order to arise the students awareness to the issue above to maintain politeness, to avoid the misunderstanding or miscommunication, and to improve their academic of language in order to get better opportunity of study or occupation in future. Research has proven that students who have language variation awareness, a positive attitude towards learning of variation, and a clear understanding of the role of variation and identity, culture and communication (Allen, B. H 1973).
Due to the facts, therefore the design of curriculum, teaching materials, aids, and techniques might be useful in preparing learners to encounter with English speaking community with the wide range of diversity. The development of teaching materials according to Hinkel (1999, p. 132) are from a variety of perpectives. It means that the development of teaching materials depend on what are the aims of teaching itself. Because in this paper the concentration is the language variation, teachers must think wisely what are the best material can be used to introduce the variation of language and to improve their ability to use the language in the diversity of language users. For example the use of movie as the materials and aids of teaching, in which students can analyse how the language used differently from different users. Moreover, movies (or other authentic media) will bring learners’ attention to the forms and sociolinguistic variables (Rose, K. 1999). Other possibility of teaching material is using leaflets or tourism brochure, advertisement, magazine, newspaper, radio broadcasting, TV news from different countries. And, perhaps teachers can provide preintermediate EFL text book that aims at international target cultures such as text book written by Priesack & Tomscha in 1993 titled ‘One World, Secondary English’ that was commented by Cortazzi, M, & Jin, L (1999, pp. 209) that this book “is accompanied by cassettes featuring not only a range of native-speakers accents but also some from non-native speakers from around the world” . Hence, students with the assistance of teacher can learn, analyse and compare how people from different countries use the language by also looking at the similarities and differences.
Apart from that, there are some advantages for learners in purpose of learning and understanding more about the language variation which can make students understand of how to use the language in different situations; formal and informal, and know how to use the correct expression or to answer the question properly due to whom they are speaking. Moreover, by learning and understanding the language variation, students will build up their confidence to use the language due to different contexts and language users appropriately and comfortably. It also can avoid miscommunication because to have a good communication can not solely depend on lexis and syntax. Therefore, the learners at least have to master intersectional competence that is clearly explained by Celce-Murcia, et.al. (1995 cited by Hall 1995, in Hinkel 1999 pp.137). They elaborated four points of this competence.
“This competence involves such context-specific knowledge as (1) the goals of the interactive practice, the roles of the participants, and the topics and themes considered pertinent; (2) the optional linguistic action patterns along which the practice may unfold, their conventional meanings, and the expected participation structures; (3) the amount of flexibility one has in rearranging or changing the expected uses of practice’s linguistic resources when exercising these options and the likely consequences engendered by the various uses; and (4) the skill to mindfully and efficiently recognize situations where the patterns apply and to use them when participating in new experiences to help make sense of the unknown” (pp.137).
What is more, teachers may not ignore the importance of learning standard language for their students because according to Andrews. S, & Tsui, M.B.A (2001, pp.1-3), recently the setting of standard as benchmark for accountability and quality is the main requirements for English education. Moreover, they explain that the increase of requirement of Standard English has increased, especially in economic sector. What is more, Holmes (2001) also mentions that the number of Standard forms in everyone’s speech increases in formal contexts like in schools or law courts, while vernacular forms increases in relaxed casual contexts such as play ground and the home. However the Standard English users are limited. Therefore, the linguist and the educationalist suggested that the curriculum should cover language awareness to enable the mastery of language standard variety in order to achieve the equality of educational opportunity (Hawkin, 1999 cited in Andrews, S, & Tsui, M.B.A 2001, pp. 1-12). Furthermore, Holmes (2001, p. 349) states the similar issue that “Standard English has an enormous legacy of overt prestige and for well over a century it has been promoted as the only acceptable variety for use in all official domains, including education compare to vernacular dialects.”
The issue of Standard language the writer assumes is not as a hot issue in Indonesia, what is familiar for both teachers and students towards teaching English merely formal and informal English. Even many Indonesian have no idea about what dialects they use whether British or American, because the dictionary which is used mostly mixed between British and American dialects. The dictionary author is Hassan Sadeli. Although many other dictionaries such as Oxford or Cambridge are also available, however, many Indonesian use Hassan Sadeli dictionary because it is probably easier to use and understand. In addition, it also presents the vocabulary in two different ways; English translated into Indonesian and Indonesian translated into English. That is why when Indonesian students want to continue to study abroad, and they have some difficulties in joining IELTS or TOEFL tests due to the Standard language used in those tests that Indonesian students are not really familiar with.
Additionally, attitude to language is one consideration that language planners must take into account when they select a suitable language development as an official or national language (Holmes, 2001, p. 343). Because if the language planners do not decide what language is formally used for certain contexts, official, education, and so on, hence it will draw some disadvantages for the language users who use vernacular dialects in their daily life without being told to also learn and master the Standard English which will offer more opportunities for future career or future study especially study abroad. So, it is not surprisingly, if it has also been found that attitudes to the way people speak affect employers’ decision about whom to hire (Holmes, 2008, p. 354).
Language teaching always brings some ideas to culture, it is not only culture of the language learn or taught (English) but as well as the culture of the users of language and the ways the users use the language which is widely range in diversity. That is why, the discussion of language variation which covers some aspects which includes language users social status background that shows how they use the language differently.
The language variation is considered important in language teaching because its contribution of cultural values regards to the different ways of using the language functions or other aspects of language like vocabulary, pronunciation and so far so forth. So that students know how to adjust themselves while interacting in intercultural communication in order to maintain politeness and avoid miscommunication.
The writer wish that in the future the language planner would decide which dialects as the standard language, whether it is British or American dialect, so teachers or educationalists would design the curriculum or books or teaching materials which can cover the differences of language (culture, users, and the use). Moreover, if the standard language has already decided both teachers and learners would perform better to achieve their aims in teaching and learning the language. In another words, it will give clearer goals of learning the language.
Some teachers who are from non-English countries face some difficulties in teaching cultural and pragmatic paradigm of face-to-face interactions because students would find problem to have direct contact with members of different communities around them (Hinkel, 1999, p. 134). What is more, the other problematic remained is the lack of teachers’ awareness to language variation, it is assumed because the limitation of resources and research of language variation which is considered not popular in Indonesia.
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