An Overview on the Study of English and Other Languages in Brazil

*Mirian Fuhr

This article briefly describes and discusses people’s attitudes towards both English and other languages, such as German and Spanish, looking at some aspects of their status and roles in Brazil, through my own experience as a teacher of English as a foreign language and learner of foreign languages myself. There are connections to some literature and some general reflection on the spread of English in South America in general. The text illustrates the issue of learning other languages in schools and in private language institutions. It also presents some reflection connecting the learning of another language to real-life needs, such as professional development due to working demand, and on the other hand, the learning of another language linked to personal desire. This reflection allows the conclusion that learning languages in Brazil other than the mother tongue is connected to social class and to each individual’s perception. Furthermore, there has been an increase in the demand for English learning, at the same time as there is a lack in the learner’s efficiency when communicating in the language.

Keywords: Brazil. Teaching. English. Status and roles of foreign languages.

Introduction

Brazil with a population of 204,260,000 (Ethnologue, 2016) is one of the largest countries in the world and the biggest in Latin America. However, it is the only country to have Portuguese as the official language, while the others around speak Spanish. Besides this, as many people migrated from Germany and Italy in the past, many regions have a huge influence of these cultures and languages. Some public regular schools, mostly in the countryside, where the German dialect Hunsrik is usually spoken by some people, equally to some private regular schools do teach Standard German in their curriculums. Besides, there are still some evidence of Indian natives who try to keep their cultures and the use of their indigenous languages inside their communities at least.

Last but not least, the spread of English can also be identified in South America as mentioned by Rajagopalan (2006). Although English was probably first introduced in Brazil in 1809, after Portuguese colonisation, especially for political reasons. This assignment then focuses on describing some aspects of the status and roles of English and of other languages in Brazil, reflecting also upon people’s attitude towards them based on some readings, and on my own reflection through my own experience as a teacher and as a learner of foreign languages myself.  

Other languages spoken and studied in Brazil

Differently from nowadays when only a few people study French, it was originally the first foreign language taught at Brazilian schools, as stated by Gil (2009). Out of the school context, there were other languages being spoken at that time, such as German and Italian. There are still many people who speak a Brazilian dialect of German and Italian languages, as confirmed by the National Curricular Parameters, a document known as PCNs (Brasil, 1998), especially people from the countryside. However, these languages do not have a high status in the country. On the other hand, because of the existence of many international companies, there can be some value given to German language speakers mostly, although those companies usually tend to use English as a lingua franca in order to communicate and to do business among their partners. There is a certain influence of Spanish at the borders with Uruguay, for example, and also because of the trade organization MERCOSUL (Brasil, 1998), people usually speak Portunol, defined by Rajagopalan (2006: 147) as a Portuguese version of Spanish that can be understood by people who speak Spanish. In reflection to this, teaching Spanish has become mandatory at regular schools (Brasil, 1996).

Continue reading

English and Other Languages in South Sudan

* Julius Onen Okot Daniel

Abstract

This article analyses the roles and status of English and other languages in South Sudan, the country which got independence in 2011. The author shows the position of English, what English did and is still doing in the daily activities of the government and other development partners, education and media sectors and what the population say about English. In the past, regional languages were not important, but is there a new policy after independence to address this issue? The article equally addresses this question.

Introduction

English has become the most widespread language in the world including in South Sudan which became the youngest nation to escape from the Arab colonial master five years ago. Before independence, Arabic was the official language recognised by the government, while English was only taught as a subject in schools and other languages were never mentioned in learning institutions. After several years of failed fighting between Southern and Northern Sudan, the referendum was held which was a part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the second round of Sudan’s prolonged war fought with an issue of marginalization in 2005 and a transitional government was formed under the watch of the United Nations. It was at interim period, parliament in the temporary government passed a motion declaring English as the official language (Abdel, 2012) whereas some regional languages would be used as medium of instruction at lower primary schools. Change of language policy from Arabic to English is meant to function as a medium of instruction in learning institutions and as a medium of communication in government sectors in South Sudan.

Status and roles of English

The English language in South Sudan took over the position of Arabic and became the official language in the country. The government declared it and gave English the legal status and special roles and duties. The roles of English became enormous. First, it turned out to be a major language of communication in government organs such as Parliament, Judiciary and the Executive, (ibid). Abdel further mentions, ‘English is also used widely by the officials of the government of Southern Sudan, especially when talking to the international media’ (2012: 133). English attracted the attention of the world, especially; the English-speaking countries, to support developmental projects. In addition, English transformed the education system and changed syllabi, learning materials and curricula to be designed and written in English. Again Abdel says, ‘English is used as a medium of instruction in most of the schools and universities operating in the South’ (2012:133). International communities therefore, brought in new teaching and learning methodologies and approaches to support teaching learning of the English language in South Sudan.

Thus, publishers of English learning and teaching materials expanded the market to supply South Sudan. (Brutt, 2002) gave the view about ‘the formation of domestic market’ in different sectors to supply learning logistics. Business partners of English speaking countries found their way into South Sudan to create wealth and employ new ideas to develop the country at the time, they earn their profit because of language uniformity and easy understanding of one another. The role of English did not only expand the market, government also invited foreign teachers and trainers of English to conduct English Language Training (ELT) for adults and transform graduates of Arabic pattern to become English users. For this case, ‘clerks with a good command of English could find job opportunities in the government’ (Abdel, 2012: 131). Continue reading

English in China: How do Chinese People Perceive?

*Shizheng Liu (Wallace)

Abstract

When the Chinese government innovatively issued the so-called ‘reform and opening up’ policy in the late 1970s, China, a country which used to be isolated from the modern world, set her feet on the road to the globalization. The globalization in China has impacted on many aspects of Chinese society, such as the economy, society and culture. Speaking of cultural globalization in China, one of its embodiments is that numerous foreign languages begin to be embraced by Chinese society. For instance, English, as a global language, is widely learned in China and even becomes a compulsory subject in Chinese schools. Also, there are some other languages such as Japanese and Korean becoming increasingly popular due to their cultural input in China. Therefore, having felt the significance of dealing with the status of these languages in China, this paper will explore the status and role of English and other languages like Korean in China, and discuss Chinese’s general attitudes towards these foreign languages.

Introduction

English as a language of word communications and trade, actually has influenced so many countries, and China is no exception (Gil & Adamson, unknown, p.23). Actually, the role and status of English in contemporary China has shifted many times. English was limited to most schools as a foreign language back in the early 1950s because the relationship between China and Russia was intimate and thus Russian-teaching was largely promoted at that time. Due to the political schisms between Russia and China in the 1960s, English went into schools, whereas Russian was abandoned. During the Cultural Revolution, English-teaching was illegal in most of places in China. From the end of Cultural Revolution to nowadays, the status of English in China has been constantly increasing (Gil & Adamson, unknown, p.25). As Gil & Adamson point out (unknown), English language currently has the unprecedented value in China. In addition, Bolton and Graddol (2012) also utilized “unprecedented popularity” to describe the role of English in current Chinese society. Specifically, the unprecedented importance of English mainly reflects on the language policies and education systems in China. According to Tsui & Tollefson (2007, p.18), Chinese language policymakers regard English not only as an essential tool for the nation to achieve goals, but also as the indispensable resource for individuals to accomplish personal progress. The revival of English teaching in China started with the “reform and opening up” policy, and grew rapidly throughout the 1990s and 2000s because of the official promotion of English by Chinese government. In the education system, the Chinese government lowered the age at which English is taught, and rendered English as a crucial part of key examinations in order to ensure the importance of English (Bolton & Graddol, 2012). More specifically, the Chinese government enacted a policy in 2001, saying that any school-age children above 8 or in Year 3 of primary schools must be taught English (Wang, 2007). Under such circumstances, numerous private kindergarten schools proclaiming the ability to teach Chinese preschool children English appear and grow considerably fast because Chinese parents across the nation try to offer their children as much educational advantage as possible by providing them early English education (Bolton & Graddol, 2012). Furthermore, English test is even included in the National University Entrance Qualifying Exam, namely GaoKao, which is taken by more than 9 million students in China every year, alongside with Chinese and Maths (China Daily, 2010). The importance of English does not reduce even at university since all undergraduates in China, regardless of their majors, are required to pass College English Test (CET) before graduation (Bolton & Graddol, 2012). Therefore, it can be seen that English has

English in Practice

Apart from education systems, English also has huge impact on academic researches, media, business as well as tourism in Chinese society. English has been widely utilized in international academic research conferences in China. Chinese scholars need to be proficient in English if they intend to undertake academic exchanges, publish articles in international academic journals (Gil & Adamson, unknown). Also, some highly ranked educational institutions such as Tsinghua University publish their academic journals in English (Gil & Adamson, unknown). With regard to Media, the importance and presence of English has been constantly increasing as well. Many English publications such as People’s Daily, 21st English, and China Daily are well known and enjoy a large number of consumers (Gil & Adamson, unknown).
Continue reading

 Foreign Language Education in Iran

*Mehdi Gholikhan

Abstract

This article explores foreign language education in Iran connecting to Iranian education history and some socio-political changes that occurred in Iran which brought some impact on education. Of course, it seems impossible to give a critical assessment of the Iranian education system which is beyond the scope of this paper; however, the article tries to provide some preliminary information about the educational system of Iran before the Islamic revolution in 1979 to provide a background for the post-revolutionary foreign language education. At the end, the problems of English as a foreign language (EFL) education in Iran will be discussed and some suggestions will be proposed.

Historical Overview

Education has a long history in Iran. The documents from ancient Persia and the Achaemenes which date back to 550 BCE indicate that people were advised to acquire knowledge to understand the power of God and aide by his rules to achieve prosperity in both this world and the next. This religious orientation encouraged the governments to establish the first religious schools in specific areas and for government affiliates. Along with the expansion of education in the country, other schools were founded in residential areas for the middle-class. Although the schools mainly aimed at teaching religious principles, some other areas were also covered. They included political affairs, technical skills, military training and sports Davari Ardekani (2006). The first higher education centre, called Gundeshapour or Jondishapoor (currently a university with the same name in the south-western Iran) was founded in the third century. This place became a centre for some disciplines such as advanced medical and veterinary sciences, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, logic, and technology and remained so for a long time (UNESCO documents,1995).

As Islam emerged in Saudi Arabia in the seventh century and it expanded to countries like Iran, education blended with Islamic values and there was considerable progress in many scientific areas. Modern education began with the Safavid Dynasty (1502-1736) and continued during the governments. The first European-modelled school, Darolfonoon (The Home of Vocational Skills) was established by the Prime Minister Amir Kabir in 1850 Britannica (2008). It was the source for the continuous progress and modernity in Iran Akrami (2004).

Based on this short chronology, modern education is relatively young in Iran. Apparently, the first modern school is no more than one-hundred-fifty years old. It is noteworthy to mention that the modernisation continued faster during Pahlavi Dynasty (1925-1979) with a systematic educational system developed by the ministry of education and implemented at public schools and some higher education centres and institutions (Farhady et al. 2010).

Public Education after the Islamic Revolution

After the Islamic revolution in 1979, Islamic values were implemented in the government’s infrastructure and almost all personnel were replaced. This led to bringing about new and sometimes inexperienced staff who were committed to bring about Islamic values in the education system as soon as possible. However, this reform could not be implemented due to the political, economic and social context of the country, especially the long-lasting war between Iran and Iraq.

Indeed, Islamic values were brought into the school which included segregation of males and females, Islamisation of textbooks, and observation of Islamic rules inside and outside of the school environment. Religious ceremonies were obliged at schools and students had to obey Islamic values (Secretariat of Education, 2006).

Foreign Language Education in Iran

Choosing which foreign language for teaching in the education system of a country is a matter of policy motivated by political, social, economic and educational factors. For example, when the first modern school in Iran was first established by a French priest in 1839, his main motive could have been religious though he claimed that he intended to promote modern sciences and French among Iranian community. French language gained a social prestige in the society and influenced the choice of foreign language teaching in the country, although this school was neither established nor managed by the government (Mahboubi Ardekani, 1975).

English spread out after the second world war and it reached to Iran too. Riazi (1995) says, ‘During the Pahlavi Dynasty (1925-1979), close political, social, economic and military relationship between Iran and the US helped westernisation develop fast.’ Knowledge of English was an essential requirement for many job opportunities for the young generation.

Iran was conservative toward the bilingual and multilingual education system whereas countries such as Hong Kong, India, Japan and China had already responded positively to the issue of globalisation. One main reason was to keep national identity and unity among young school generation. This conservative view was even politicised after the Islamic Revolution due to the threat to Persian culture and Islamic values (Khubchandani, 2008). Moreover, later due to the political tensions between Iran and the US on one hand and the relationship between Iran and European countries on the other, the educational policy makers formulated teaching and learning in five other languages including German, French, Italian, Spanish and Russian. However, due to insufficient number of teachers and low number of applicants for such languages, English continued to be the most dominant foreign language taught at high schools (Farhady et al, 2010).

Private schools and language institutes expanded after the public schools were closed due to the revolution. They continued to work under labels such as non-profit and promoted teaching English. They allocated time in the absence of English language teaching for elementary, junior and senior levels at education system (ibid). In the subsequent section, I will deal with the assessment system in public schools and universities.

Assessment of English at Public Schools

All assessment tools used in English are related to achievement test. At the junior high school, oral and written skills are treated as different subjects, and there are two separate scores on a scale of twenty. The oral exam includes memorisation of dialogues from the book, reading aloud test to assess pronunciation and intonation and short conversations in question and answer form based on the grammatical and functional points taught in the class. The written exam includes sections on spelling, vocabulary, grammar and reading comprehension. There have been formative assessments too targeting the enhancement of students’ performance and progress on language components and skills. Teachers record the results in students’ educational files (Farhady et al., 2010).

The Central Office of Education is responsible for design, administration and scoring exams for grade eight which is the final year of the junior high school. But at grades six and seven, the local teachers should take care of the assessment (Secretariat of Higher Council of Education, 2006).

The assessment system of English at high schools is related to junior high school. There are some differences, for instance, teachers should give a diagnostic test at the beginning of each grade and several formative tests during the course. The diagnostic assessment aims to identify students’ weak points so that teachers can help their students. On the other hand, formative assessment aims to monitor active class participation, quality of student performance on assignments and informal assessments. There are 20 points allocated for the formative assessment related to activities like peer work, team work and outside-the-classroom projects. The scores are reported to school officials one week before the summative exam. The result is the combination of formative and summative assessment results. The summative exam is in the form of a written test. It tests vocabulary, grammar, spelling and reading comprehension. Speaking is assessed by making the students read the written text for pronunciation. Despite the mandatory nature of diagnostic and formative assessments for grades nine to eleven, teachers rarely use them due to lack of monitoring by the officials.

Local teachers at grades nine to ten are responsible for development, administration and scoring of written exams at private schools. But the final exam of grade eleven is prepared by language testing experts at Central Office of Educational Measurement and Evaluation. It is administered under the supervision of Central Offices of Education across the country. Because the test leads to the high school diploma, all necessary measures are taken into consideration by the Central Office of Educational Measurement and Evaluation to ensure test security and fair scoring of the test papers (Farhady et al., 2010).

Teaching and Assessment of English at Universities

There is usually a three-unit credit requirement for all university students of all majors. In addition to this general course, students may take up to four units of English for Specific Purpose (ESP) courses. The approach to teaching English at universities is translation-based. Because the main objective is to enable students of various majors read and understand materials written in English in their majors (Farhady et al., 2010).

The instructional materials at this level are prepared by an organisation called ‘Centre for Research and Development of Textbooks for University Students’ established in 1981. The English department at this organisation is responsible for preparing English textbooks for non-English majors.

Problems in Foreign Language Education and some Solutions

It seems that the major problem in foreign language education in Iran is a major change in the perception of educators regarding teaching, learning and assessment, but a concrete address to all these changes at the level of implementation in education requires much time. Moreover, these changes have brought dilemmas in the educational context. In addition, there is usually a large gap between the assumptions that the theory embodies and the real classroom practice. To be more specific, if there is a need to change instructional materials by a theory, it takes planning and time. Also, based on the effect of context of instruction, each environment has its own features. Every community has its own cultural and educational beliefs and it is managed by different people. Therefore, implementing the same theory in different contexts would require different procedures and yield different outcomes. Despite these differences, there are similarities regarding experience among members of communities; therefore, exchange of ideas among these communities would help them utilise successful strategies and avoid unusable ones (Farhady et al., 2010).

Conclusion

Language instruction in Iran is relatively seen successful as there is a huge amount of investment on teaching of foreign language in Iran. Research findings show that at junior high school level, where there are appropriate instruments for evaluation of learners’ language ability, they perform well above the ideal means of a sound educational system (Farhady, 2000).

Indeed, on the other hand, there is still a problem with the quality of teacher training programmes in the country. There are factors involved in language education that should be considered within the context of an educational community. To reach this, firstly, the community should feel responsible for the change from quantity-oriented to quality-oriented language education. It involves raising the culture of new trends for learners, teacher and parents, authorities and administrators. Secondly, the government need to feel responsible towards providing clear, practical and reasonable educational policies and support implementing them. This require funding, and quality personnel to achieve the change in the education system. Thirdly, teacher education centres should feel responsible for training teachers as the main sources of teacher education. They should promote practical ability of teachers in different contexts. Finally, universities should feel the responsibility to provide the future educators with a deep feeling of dedication, and commitment towards flourishing the nation. This requires a change in the concept of education in the country.

References

Akrami, S. K. (2004). Higher education and Islamic Revolution. Encyclopedia of higher education1, 45-52.

Davari Ardekani, A. (2004). Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology

(translated. In Encyclopedia of Higher Education (Vol. 2, pp. 1260- 1268). Tehran:

Great Persian Encyclopedia Foundation.

Farhady, H. (2000). Evaluating students’ language achievement at junior high

schools in Iran. Research report delivered to the Ministry of Education.

Farhady, H., Hezaveh, F. S., & Hedayati, H. (2010). Reflections on Foreign Language Education in Iran. Tesl-ej13(4), n4.

Khubchandani, L. (2008). Language policy and education in the Indian subcontinent.

In Encyclopedia of Language and Education, 2nd Edition, (Vol.1, pp. 393–404). New

York: Springer Science + Business Media LLC.

Ministry of Education (Official site): http://amar.sci.org.ir/Detail.aspx? Ln= E&

no=988884&S=TP

Qajar Dynasty (2008). In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved September 28, 2008,

from Encyclopedia Britannica Online:

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/485405/Qajar-dynasty

Riazi, A.M. (2005). The Four Language Stages in the History of Iran. In Angel M.Y.

Lin and Peter W. Martin(Eds.), Decolonisation, globalisation: Language-ineducation

policy and practice (pp.100-116). Multilingual Matters, Ltd.

Safavid Dynasty (2008). In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved September 28, 2008,

from Encyclopedia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/516019/Safavid-dynasty

Secretariat of the Higher Council of Education (2006). Collection of regulations by

the Higher Council of Education (translated). Tehran: Madrese Publications.

UNESCO Documents (1995).  National profiles in technical and vocational

education in Asia and the pacific: Islamic Republic of Iran.

mehdi*Mehdi Gholikhan is a postgraduate student in the University of Warwick. He has taught in different private and public language schools/ institutes/ organisations in Iran. During the past 2 years, he has been involved in designing and implementing an English course for Senior Managers in Iran. He was also responsible for an English Department at a private school in Tehran. He has successfully achieved his Certificate IV in TESOL form LTi, Australia back in 2013. He has also gained his ToT (Training of Trainers) Certificate form the British Council in 2015. He is currently a Hornby scholar at the University of Warwick.