Is the English language getting stronger or falling apart?
I just read an interesting Newsweek article that one of my students brought to class for me. It’s about English becoming the lingua franca of the world and how it no longer belongs to England or America, but to the world at large. This new form of English is thus appropriately coined Globish.
See the article here: All the World Speaks Globish
I must admit–I have mixed feelings about this. I do think it’s wonderful that the world is finding a common means of communication. It’s part of why I’m teaching English in Japan. It’s not that I think everyone should speak English–not at all–but I do believe in the potential and opportunity to be gained by the world being able to communicate in one language. The fact that it’s English is convenient for me but I’m also apprehensive that mother tongues will be lost–especially the mother tongue that is English.
This article acknowledges that, “native speakers still cling fiercely to their mother tongues, as they should.” But, what of the English language? Already, English seems to be butchered and neglected by its own native speakers. It seems to me that unless one majors in some form of communication in college, be it Literature, Journalism, or so on, one will only have a meager grasp of grammar and a limited vocabulary. Having taught English as a second language for one year, I’ve realised how little I truly know about the language. The scary thing is that my studies and career revolve around knowing the English language through and through. Most Americans I know who never spent a lot of time studying the English language constantly make mistakes that I can only cringe at as though they were nails on a chalkboard. If I correct these persons, they look at me like I’m crazy and ask me why it even matters. The fact that anyone has to ask why grammar matters is just deplorable, if you ask me.
At the same time, I can say that having a serious lack of grammar is admissible if you’re still successfully communicating. There’s a point in my lesson everyday where my students have to practice a dialogue. First, they read it out loud, and then I have them do it again while standing and leaving the books on their desks. I want them to practice making eye contact and using intonation. Most of my students think this means they have to memorise the conversation before class but this is all wrong. I have to remind them that I don’t want them to remember every single word; I just want them to understand the situation and act it out. If that means they end up changing some words or using a different sentence altogether, so be it. The point is for them to communicate with each other in a natural way, using body language and intonation. They can use whatever words they know as long as they are communicating the right ideas and understanding each other.
It doesn’t take more than a semester of linguistics to know that language is a living thing and constantly changes. New words and phrases are invented all the time. Definitions get switched around from word to word as though they were pieces of furniture at a feng shui convention. I suppose I feel this is a necessary evil if we want to keep up with the changing world. Or perhaps it is just result of a changing world. But I still think it’s important that we hold on to the language whence our modern words came. There are histories and knowledge to be had from our predecessors’ parlance. We shouldn’t underestimate that.
The bottom line? Speaking Globish is a fine skill to have as long as we remember our mother tongue, English. Otherwise, I’m afraid we may lose one of the world’s most dynamic and wonderfully colourful languages.