Teaching English as an international language: voices from an Australian university classroom.

2017-02-28T23:45:51Z (GMT) by Marlina, Roby
This PhD is a qualitative case study investigating the development and implementation of a new ‘English as an International Language’ (EIL) course in a large university in Melbourne, Australia. Grounded in and informed by recent debates about the theory and pedagogy of EIL curricula (Alsagoff et al.,2012; Matsuda, 2012a; Wee, 2013), I explore (1) how EIL educators over a period of three years at a particular institution in Australia engaged their students in learning about and learning to appreciate the diverse forms, users, and cultures of English through their curricula; and (2) how students responded to the values, beliefs or perceptions advocated by these curricula. To explore the above, I examine and inquire into the curricula (syllabus materials and pedagogical practices) of an undergraduate EIL program at Urban University (pseudonym), and the experiences of three teachers and five students (three first year and two third year students, two of whom were born and raised in Australia; the others were born overseas). Data were collected through classroom observations, artefact analysis, and interviews. Since I also developed and taught the EIL program in question, my research design included ongoing critical reflections on my own experiences and practices, some of which I present in the form of reflexive narratives. Drawing on detailed accounts of lecturers and students who taught and learned in the program, the study investigates the ways in which the teaching of EIL in this setting was grounded in the diverse experiences, cultures and existing knowledge of the students. Since there were little commercially available materials to teach EIL, the lecturers in the EIL program at Urban University used a wide range of sources and resources to expose students to diverse forms, users, and cultures of English, to engage them in understanding the nature of language variation, and to engage them in learning to be metaculturally competent. I show how debates concerning the politics of difference were incorporated in the curricula at Urban University, and in that respect the study shows how the teaching of EIL at Urban University has a strong social justice agenda. The accounts of students learning in the EIL program reveal that students have been prompted to challenge (for some) their self-deprecating perceptions and (for others) their native-speakerist and/or ethnocentric perceptions. Additionally, they have been inspired to advocate for certain values and perspectives associated with the EIL paradigm outside classrooms, and to continue learning and updating their knowledge of the English language in all its diversity. To some extent, the study is describing and evaluating the new EIL curriculum and the worth of these particular approaches, and it finds them to be successful in many respects. However it also critiques areas of the curriculum that are still somewhat problematic. For instance, my study presents accounts of teachers and students grappling with some of the values or beliefs advocated by the EIL paradigm. Some students, regardless of their duration of engagement in the EIL curricula, sometimes express views that could be interpreted as native-speakerist, and/or they may be uncertain about taking the values or perspectives advocated by the EIL curriculum outside classrooms where diversity is not always understood or celebrated. By drawing attention to some of these problematic responses, the study does not suggest that the EIL curriculum is failing. Instead, I argue and propose that some of the value of an EIL curriculum is realised when those struggles, tensions, or uncertainties are conceptualised and approached differently. The study presents these kinds of tensions and struggles as a consequence of students (and their teachers) being invited into a ‘discourse battle arena’ in which they are cognitively debating with a range of conflicting discourses on the subject matter with which they are dialogically engaging. In light of this, this study revises and proposes an alternative framework or set of principles for teaching EIL which emphasises the importance of engaging students in learning about diverse forms, users, and cultures of English; recognising the influence of the ‘the political evils and ideological temptations’ (Canagarajah, 1999b) on the teaching and learning of EIL; providing a space for inquiring into the struggles and tensions prompted by those temptations; and envisaging versions of a more just world for the future.