Sunday, February 18, 2007

NNS communicating with other NNS

By Dick Tibbetts, University of Macau, China

It may be that NNS (Non-native English speaking students) understand the English of other NNS better than they do that of NS but it might be worth thinking why. NNS have difficulty with NS who have a different dialect and hence a different accent so why should they experience less difficulty with NNS who also have strong unfamiliar accents.

It may well be that they find them easier to understand because they have a limited vocabulary and use a limited range of structures. If this is the case then there maybe a drawback to using a lot of NNS speech because it would set a ceiling on their English, limiting their exposure to a wider NS English. Is it really true that a Japanese NNS listening to 2 speakers absolutely fluent, both with a NS vocabulary but one with a Scottish accent and one with a German accent would find the German easier?

Take another case. Imagine a Chinese learner speaking to two Nigerian users of English. Mr Auses English as his mother tongue, While Mr. B. uses it intermittently and does not have such a full command of the language. If the Chinese learner understands Mr. B better than Mr. A it can't be a matter of accent, it must be a matter of limitations in the English of Mr. B.

When we teach we limit the input but I'm not sure I'd like to teach towards a limited English, with that as an ultimate goal. Even on a short course I'd like to leave things open at the end. If you teach towards the English of those second language learners who have a limited command of the language I think you are not teaching a whole language but something that has elements of Pidgin. Languages like Pidgins are not enough for us human beings. If we really want to communicate everything in Pidgin we pretty soon turn it into a creole and a full language. I think we would be better off teaching towards a long term goal of a full language.

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