The (near) impossibility of taking climate change seriously (enough)

I step away from the climate change demonstration and stroll down the street past the Queen Elizabeth Centre, where dozens of people are sunning themselves in the warm late February sunshine.

No, that doesn’t work.

I leave the global warming protest and amble down the road past the Queen Elizabeth Centre, where scores of individuals are enjoying the warm early spring rays of warmth from the warm late February sun.

I think I see the problem. It can’t be spring in February. Spring begins round about Easter, which this year (and I don’t think this has anything to do with climate change) isn’t until late April. Speaking of which, the 22nd isn’t really mid February either; as TS Eliot would no doubt agree, February is the shortest month, so it’s actually mid-to-late February right now.

Naomi Klein wrote that climate change “speaks in the language of fires, floods, storms, and droughts”, which is certainly the case, but it also says things like “this is lovely” and “it’s like being in Greece!”. Given that I know several people who were planning to spend half-term skiing in Switzerland, this February warmth actually feels a little…chilling. All the same, there are people on the steps outside the ICA eating ice-cream, and it would be to begrudge them their day in the sun. Hannah Arendt famously wrote about ‘the banality of evil’; few would have anticipated how pleasant the Apocalypse would turn out to be.

There’s a standard question that gets posed in EFL classrooms: what would you do if someone told you the world was going to end in seven days? The obvious answer, one that rarely comes up, is I wouldn’t believe them. What if we reframe the question: what are you doing in response to the overwhelming evidence, brought to us by all non-corrupted scientific authorities over several decades, that our way of way is destroying our habitat? The answer, if we judge our actions rather than our words is the same. We don’t believe them.

Sven Lindqvist wrote, “It is not knowledge we lack. It is the courage to understand what we know and draw conclusions”. As it happens, I’ve just witnessed an example of such bravery. Someone I’d been talking to just a few minutes before, the organiser of a protest at the almost total lack of climate change information contained in the National Curriculum, daubed the message TEACH THE TRUTH in red paint all over the entrance to the Department of Education, and then sat quietly in front of it waiting to be arrested. In doing so, he put his livelihood as a teacher at risk.

Billions of dollars have been spent covering up the causes and consequences of climate change. It’s only now, with the first generation to directly, unambiguously face its consequences coming of age, that the resultant taboo on taking it seriously is starting to break apart. Adult society is very adept at living amidst the starkest contradictions and most brutally unjust realities, whether it’s our own society’s vivid legacy of racism and imperialism, or the staggering physical, psychological and social damage wrought by consumerism, we ignore a very great deal which should make us change how we think and behave.

What’s an appropriate response to Lindqvist’s exhortation to draw conclusions and behave responsibly? How much courage do we need to take such actions? A couple of weeks ago in Bristol I came across graffiti reading “Anna lives!”. This is presumably a reference to the local woman who went to Kurdistan and gave her life fighting for the YPG. Reading about her life and her father’s tribute to her bravery put me in mind of the tribute in the Turner Prize show of 2017 to the philosopher Simone Weil, who lived a profoundly ascetic existence in line with her principles. According to Wikipedia, some claim that the refusal to eat which led to her death, at the age of 34 in 1943 came from her desire to express solidarity toward the victims of the war.

If the alternative to quietude is too terrifying for the vast majority of us to contemplate (and I absolutely, but not proudly, include myself in that category), what are the broader consequences of passivity? We all, I presume, experience a sense of frustration with the world as it is, lashing out in various ways at random people and objects, usually through a screen, often (in my case) at the screen itself when some process gets in the way of my venting of my pent-up annoyances. Many fall for the oldest trick that power has up its sleeve: taking out their frustrations on conveniently-placed scapegoats. The Big Idea that inspired this website – more than a hunch than a theory – is that our civilisation’s response to the knowledge of its impending self-destruction is: racism. It can be no accident that all prominent far-right demagogues, from Trump to Farage to Salvini to Bolsonaro ad infinitum, have lying about climate change as a core principle.

But then, it would be attribute all the blame for our complacency on those in political power, or to pass the buck to the media for their incessant insistence on the nonsensical word ‘unprecedented’. We all (myself very much included) deny climate change by rarely bringing it up and changing the topic when it does. My project the next few months, and the impulse for coming to the protest today, is to carry out academic research to find out how this works in classrooms. I need to make contact with climate-aware teachers who’ll let me observe their lessons and talk to me on record about what happened and happens in class. Would I have come to the demonstration had I not had that aim in mind? I’d like to think so, but then much like anyone else I do like to interpret my own (in)actions in a positive light. Had I stayed at home, I’m sure I would have been able to think of some plausible excuse to tell myself.

*****

I walk in the door to the sound an extremely high-pitched and insistent be sound. I recognise it at once: it’s that bloody smoke alarm bleating for a new bloody battery. When we first moved in here the same thing happened and it took a lot of cursing and banging to get it to shut the fuck up. I managed to get the battery out and stick it back in place. When the Grenfell Fire happened, and we were living in Rome, I remembered that incident and wondered whether our then-tenant had ever had cause to need the smoke alarm. It must have been him who replaced the battery which is now expiring.

Unfortunately the beeping noise I’d being accompanied by another insistent cry: the baby is demanding something called bettabetta. She’s in the kitchen pointing at the cupboard and her demands are almost, but not quite, in perfect synch with the bloody beeping of this nightmare of an object, the design of which makes it very, very hard to access the battery. I can’t remember what bettabetta is and I’m trying desperately to hack the battery out of the device whose beeping is becoming more and more insistent.

The whole episode takes a full two minutes, less a Two-Minute Hate than a Two-Minute Extreme Frustration. As the battery finally pops out I manage to remember that bettabetta is the baby’s name for Weetabix. She calls it that because I’ve always referred to it weeta-beeta, which is actually, it’s turned out, too complex for a two-year-old old to articulate. (It subsequently turns out that she also calls it Weetabix.) I quickly stuff the smoke alarm but into its fitting on the ceiling and get out the milk and cereal. Once things are becalmed the baby remembers that I promised we could have a Friday night disco while we wait for her mum to arrive. I plug in the disco lights I bought for £9.99 on Amazon and, obedient to the whims of the iPod shuffle, we joyously frug around the living room to this.

Citizenship, securitisation and scapegoating

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I don’t know much at all about guns. I wouldn’t be able to name the weapons that the two policemen are holding just five feet away from me on this tube train. (I’m not even sure about the difference between feet and metres.) When I saw them I gave a start, partly because I’m not used to seeing such a sight but also because I’ve just been reading in The Guardian about the status of Shamima Begum, born just a few miles (or slightly more kilometres) away but now languishing in a refugee camp in Syria, so terrorism, state violence and my immunity from it (or otherwise) have been very much on my mind. If I continue on this train for one more stop I’ll reach Parliament, but I’m getting off at Waterloo, partly because I want to research the topic of citizenship and securitisation in the library of the university where I’m doing a module in Multilingualism, Migration and Diversity. The course tutor sent us an email this morning asking us to prepare for a seminar next month on that theme.

I don’t know whether Shamima Begum has ever handled a weapon, but I do know that she holds a British passport which is presently null and void. She has no other passports, and since the UK has no formal constitution if you don’t have a passport you’re not a citizen. The Home Secretary’s decision thus makes her stateless, which is illegal under international law. Strangely the focus of the Guardian article is not on the fact that the Home Secretary, whose parents migrated here from Pakistan, is attempting to break international law. Maybe if a previous government had respected international law there wouldn’t be a war in Syria and there wouldn’t be armed policemen on the tube. Just a thought.


We used to live in Rome, where armed soldiers were a common sight around metro and train stations. Those soldiers are now under the direction of the de facto leader of a coalition government of neofascists and internet trolls who is the same person who will next year be signing my Italian passport, unless someone reads this first and decides to turn me down because they don’t agree with my political opinions. (I’m not about to go to Syria to cut people’s heads off, but at the same time I don’t think it was wrong for George Orwell et al to take up arms against a previous generation of European fascists.) One purpose of getting an Italian passport was to remain an EU citizen in the wake of Brexit, but that may be moot in any case if Salvini’s cohorts take over the EU Parliament in May and destroy the EU from within. The prospect of the people in Westminster prolonging Article 50 to keep the UK in the EU temporarily is becoming less likely because the UK mustn’t be allowed to participate in those elections. This ungodly mess helps to explain why everyone is talking about the damage Shamima Begum might do to vital national interests instead of the incalculable harm our own government is doing to all of our life chances. Yesterday a friend whose wife is also Italian got a letter from their child’s nursery specifying that vouchers for 3 year old children of EU parents won’t yet be stripped and “any future changes will be in line with the future immigration system”, which is less than reassuring in that we know that our government will readily take away people’s most basic rights whenever doing so might stop people talking about what’s happening to the economy as a result of the ongoing civil war in the Conservative Party, a war which David Cameron decided to try to resolve once and for all by spreading it to the entire country.

Who radicalised Shamima Begum to the point where she didn’t even blink at the sight of a severed head and thought the motives and means behind the Manchester attack understandable? What sort of people seek to promote politically-inspired violence against defenceless civilians, including children? Surely whoever encouraged impressionable young women to join a war against their fellow Muslims and their country of birth must be identified and brought to justice as soon as possible…

Here’s a Martin Amis-style thought experiment: Could there be some sort of connection between her youthful indiscretion and the decision of our Government in 2003 to flout international law and take part in an illegal invasion which left hundreds of thousands of people dead, destabilised the entire region and created millions of refugees? Some very powerful people in the government and the media are determined that such questions not be asked in the rush to condemn and castigate such a perfect scapegoat. According to another article in today’s Guardian, today marks 50 years since Rupert Murdoch, who was born in Australia and also holds an American passport, took control of The Sun newspaper.  I see this morning on Twitter that one of his protégées, Stig Abell, is applauding the Home Secretary’s decision. Abell was Editor-in-chief of The Sun when it published (that is to say, he published) a column by Katie Hopkins in which she called for boats full of refugees fleeing Isis to be bombed and advocated another “final solution”.

Now that’s pretty radical. Surely someone – the Home Secretary, perhaps – must be demanding that such an inhuman creature be brought to justice and his passport be removed? Er, no. He’s currently the Editor of the Times Literary Supplement.

I think I’ll stick with the LRB, thanks.

If anyone is to be forced out of Labour, it should be these no-deal nutcases

I’ve speculated here before about Jeremy Corbyn’s political rapport with his professional climate-liar/ devout Brexit enthusiast of a brother Piers, but maybe it wasn’t fair or right of me to do so. After all, internet conspiracy mongering already has far too much influence in Corbyn’s Labour Party – it is, I believe, the channel through which anti-Semitic effluence is flowing. There is far too much of the same radical-sounding but not actually all that progressive sentiment that lay behind the rise of Italy’s 5 Star Movement, which for all its railing against the insipid neoliberalism of the Democratic Party and its talk of a basic income is now happily ensconced in a neofascist government. In the UK, a loose anti-establishment politics has proven to be a wholly inadequate rival to the far more energised populism of Brexit. Labour hasn’t been able to frame its agenda in a way which makes a connection both with voters who value the social liberalism embodied in the EU and those who want to make sure their fury and frustration at neoliberal austerity and inequality is heard. Maybe the internet compels people to think in terms of easy answers, to respond in a Pavlovian manner to simplistic slogans. Corbyn’s Labour should have stood against that, coming up with nuanced alternatives and using clear messaging based on detailed research into what connects with people beyond vague catcalls against the shadowy ‘elite’. Corbyn should have used his political capital after his second victory to persuade those unconvinced of his leadership of his competence and to win round those who have fallen under the sway of Farage’s Pied Piper act. In this sense, the internet is both Labour’s strength and its weakness. For all that it galvanised Corbyn’s supporters around elections and rallies, it has also left many Labour supporters prey to the insidious propaganda of the far-right, via Facebook groups spreading conspiracist memes about Soros, the “bosses club” of the EU, in favour of a chimeric “WTO Brexit” etc etc etc. Instead the forlorn cheers of his core supporters hark back incessantly to late 2015 and to June 2017, when Corbyn seemed, much more by default that by design, to have brought together a temporary coalition of Leavers and Remainers. Unfortunately that was never destined to hold together in the face of his tactical prevarication.

Or was it, as so many of us so generously assumed, tactical? According to some people in the know, Corbyn’s Brexit policy is actually being dictated by Communist Party hacks. This article on the Socialist Resistance website, written by someone who clearly knows the territory of the British Left intimately, explains:

Corbyn’s most trusted cardinals are Andrew Murray and Seumas Milne, graduates from the seminary of British Stalinism, an order not renowned for its tolerance of dissent.

They were both in the Straight Left faction of the Communist Party (CP), an organisation which proudly says in its own official history that its famous British Road to Socialism programme “had been extensively discussed and agreed with Stalin”. It says of the European Union’s (EU) predecessor:

“In the 1975 referendum campaign, the CP fought hard as part of the broad alliance for a ‘No’ vote against Britain’s continuing membership of the European Economic Community. The Communist position had been consistent since the 1957 Treaty of Rome: based on the free movement of capital, goods and labour, the Common Market was a ‘bosses’ club’.”

And it’s not just Milne and Murray. Len McCluskey of Unite is dead set against a new referendum and so is Karie Murphy, Corbyn’s chief of staff who accompanied Corbyn and Milne to the recent meeting with Theresa May.

“A bosses’ club.” Fuck that phrase. Those who reduce the EU’s role in relation to British society to no more than that of the executive committee of the European bourgeoisie have done far more than most to bring to this point, where a slow-moving far-right coup is going to reduce their beloved proletariat to a penury none of us has seen in our lifetimes. Of course Berger, Umunna and all the rest have no more alternative to the implosion of neoliberal globalisation than did their Italian counterparts. To paraphrase Tina Turner in relation to an altogether more entertaining dystopia, non abbiamo bisogno di un altro Renzi, nor another maledetto Blair. We are in almost all certainty heading for a period of far-right authoritarianism in some form, just like Italy, Brazil and elsewhere. And this so-called opposition party, with this leadership, far from trying to halt this slide into reactionary dictatorship, is, particularly as it runs down the clock much as May is doing, doing a great deal to make it even more inevitable.

As for what Corbyn could and should do now to respond to the democratic will of his party membership before the situations gets any messier: expel all those MPs and prominent Labour members who support a no-deal Brexit, and accept that a second referendum is a preferable option to total chaos. It’s been clear for some time that for various reasons, Umunna et al didn’t want to stay in the Labour Party; Kate Hoey, John Mann, Caroline Flint and all the rest shouldn’t be given the choice. All conspiracy theorising aside, the fact that one noteworthy Labour member advocating a no deal final solution is Corbyn’s own brother should actually be a cause for widespread public concern.

Govt to launch “LOOK OVER THERE!” initiative

A new nationwide campaign to encourage UK citizens and station visitors to stop paying too much attention to how Brexit is going has been launched tomorrow by Rail Minister Paul Maynard at London Waterloo.

Designed by government, police and the Associated Newspapers organisation, the new campaign aims to persuade people not to think about what their Government is up to and to raise awareness of the vital role the public can play in keeping themselves and others uninformed about the devastating effect Brexit is already having on their everyday lives.

Passengers arriving at major train stations tomorrow morning in London, Birmingham, Glasgow, and Manchester will be among the first to hear updated security announcements and see posters promoting the new “LOOK OVER THERE!” campaign message.

Everyone who uses the rail network is also being urged to pick up a copy of Metro newspaper and concentrate instead on whatever distraction Sajid Javid has come up with that morning.

Rail Minister Paul Maynard said:

“We want to send a clear message to anyone starting to realise that they have been lied to that there are thousands of pairs of eyes and ears ready to anticipate any potential threat to Brexit and pretend journalists working for a pretend newspaper who are prepared to write whatever shit those in power want them to.

“Today’s campaign is aimed at our railways but the recent incident at Charing Cross station, where a Leave voter from Kent on his way to work finally put two and two together and realised this whole thing is a massive fucking con, reminds us just how important it is to be vigilant.

“If that individual had merely glanced at the headline of that day’s Daily Mail-owned freesheet, their anger would have been displaced from how atrociously Theresa May is handling this utterly misconceived project onto an appropriate Government-approved scapegoat. I would urge anyone who spots anything unusual to glance at the headlines of the most-read daily newspapers and to allow their attention to be deviated.”

BTP Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Alun Thomas said:

“Don’t be afraid to believe anything that feels out of place. We rely on misinformation from the tabloid press, Sky and the BBC to help us keep Brexit even remotely credible.”

School children can see what adults won’t: Brexit, Trump etc are fuelled by collective denial of climate change

I was once on an Overground train in East London where every one of the other passengers, nine of them in total, was staring at their mobile device. My first impulse was to take my own phone out of my pocket and tweet about how appalling the situation was.

It’s very easy to criticise other people’s bad behaviour when it comes to phone use – it’s much harder to notice and control our own bad behaviour. We all have a blind spot when it comes to our own culpability. As a teacher and the parent of a young child, I’m conscious that when it comes to educating younger generations, I’m in no position to pass on any grown-up wisdom.

This is true in a broader sense when it comes to the climate. I don’t know what a proportionate individual response to global warming is, so I dread to imagine how I’m going to address the issue when my daughter’s a bit older and starts asking the obvious questions. It would be morally abhorrent for my generation or those above and below mine to sit back, praise what Greta and her cohort are doing to demand climate action, and feel complacent about the future of humanity. To do so would be to completely ignore the content, tone and urgency of their message.

It’s a central tenet of this blog that our refusal to face up to our responsibility to keep our planet habitable and the global upsurge in racist sentiment are intimately connected. Repressed fear returns as displaced anger against whatever targets are conveniently made available. In very much the same way, while our Government is now in utter turmoil in response to the predictable chaos caused by a pet project of a cabal of xenophobes who also all just happen to be dedicated climate liars, people around the UK are hunched over their/our stupid devices furiously demanding the actual head of a definitely very stupid and clearly extremely traumatised teenage mother who found herself involved in aspects of the adult world she clearly had little or no meaningful comprehension of.

Meanwhile, in the face of open contempt from a Government which makes no pretence whatsoever to represent their interests, thousands of young people have walked out of their schools to try to break the adult taboo on taking climate change seriously. Either we respond to their call and finally start to own up to the absolutely urgent absolutely fundamental changes we have to make to our economic systems and our everyday lives, or the central organising principle of our reality will be systematic programmes of scapegoating which will make Orwell’s Two-Minute Hate seem like a harmless game of Angry Birds. To paraphrase the same novel: if there is hope, it doesn’t lie on our phones.

Voted for Brexit? May is your PM, and her deal is the shit sandwich you ordered.

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Can anyone identify the missing ingredient?

The day after the Referendum Jeremy Corbyn went on TV and called not for a moment of national reflection or for a countrywide debate on what sort of Brexit ‘we’ might want, but for the immediate implementation of Article 50. Farage et al demanded much the same thing, and when the new PM uttered the phrase ‘Brexit means Brexit’, it was clear there would be no discussion as to what sort of future relationship the UK would have with the EU and how the process of leaving would be managed.

As we know, this suited those who had manipulated the vote perfectly. Dominic Cummings had based his strategy on avoiding at all cost any specific details of what ‘leaving’ would mean. Thus both campaigns, with their sad polar bears and fake NHS pledges and lies about Turkish adhesion, were little more than a Rorschach blot made not of ink but of pure horseshit (on toast).

However, this goes both ways. Brexiters have so far been given carte blanche to interpret the vote as freely as they like, even to the point of arguing from very early on that a mature democracy with an advanced economy should not even bother to negotiate the process of disentangling itself from a bewilderingly complex set of relationships, agreements and arrangements. May’s appeasing of the hard-right fanatics now leads us to the point where we are effectively being held with a gun to our collective head by our own Government. It’s like a shopping centre siege; cameraphone footage smuggled out showing the damage already done indicates that parts of the complex will have to be rebuilt from scratch. And the reason May won’t stand up to the ideological terrorists of the ERG is that she’s actually quite sympathetic to many of their core values.

Here’s the thing: May is the Brexit Prime Minister. She’s theirs. Her Brexit is their Brexit*. There is no other possible version. They had two years, and this is where they got to. They may not like the destination, but it was their idea to take this trip in the first place. Of course, we know that no Actually Existing Brexit agreement would have been acceptable to Cummings, Raab, Farage, Francois, Rees-Mogg etc. Their bluff has been called. It’s a tragedy and a disgrace that both Labour, what’s left of the Left and (although I hate the phrase) the mainstream media (particularly the BBC**) have given any credence whatsoever to the notion of a “no deal” final solution. This point should not have to be made on a bloody blog, but it’s one that I’ve rarely seen elsewhere: this must come down to a choice between May’s deal, or no Brexit. Whether that takes the form of a ‘people’s vote’ is to some extent moot: there are more than enough lunatics and cowards in Parliament to block a second referendum. Why that campaign has not called a mass demonstration so far this year remains an absolute mystery. If I had the power to do so I would gather as many people as possible together under the slogan ‘OH, WE THOUGHT YOU WANTED BREXIT, BUT IT SEEMS YOU DON’T. #OHWELL‘. After all, someone who ordered a shit sandwich from room service for a late-night drunken joke would be unlikely to want to eat a real one in the morning.

* There is, of course, inevitably, a conspiracy theory that’s popular on the far-left/far-right/who-can-tell-the-difference-these-days, according to which Theresa May is a secret remainer, which is why she appointed her top-secret undercover agent David “Destiny!” Davis to negotiate on the Government’s behalf. Cunning creatures, these (cough!) “lizards”.
**And particularly Question Time, which has been getting pretty bloody Nuremberg-y of late.

Is it possible to speak ‘without an accent’?

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This is another essay I wrote as part of my MA in Applied Linguistics. It got a very very generous mark (YAY!!!) but is unlikely ever to be published elsewhere as it doesn’t offer anything massively original and also probably has a few typpos.

Is it possible to speak without an accent? Discuss this question with reference to the relevant literature (pronunciation, World English(es), English as a Lingua Franca and others you want to include). Consider the implications of the issue of ‘accent’ for language learning, teaching and testing, and for the role of English speakers more globally.

Mention native and non-native accents and discuss whether it is useful to differentiate between the two.

Introduction

It’s common to hear ‘native speakers’ of a language praise ‘non-native speakers’ who have achieved mastery of it on the basis that they ‘speak without an accent’. However, an informed view of language rejects such a notion: the first fact about accents that Riney, Takagi, and Inutsuka (2005) list is ‘Everyone has an accent’, while Lippi-Green (2012) calls one of her chapters ‘The myth of no accent’. However, not all accents are granted equal status: prejudice exists against varieties of ‘native speaker’ accent, on the basis of geographical or social variation, and as for ‘non-native speakers’, discrimination on the basis of a non-standard accent can have profound personal and social consequences. This should lead us to question who any given language ‘belongs’ to and who is in a position to make judgements as to ‘correct’ use.

Notions of what an accent is are by no means fixed. Lippi-Green even argues that the term has “no technical or specific meaning” (1997, p44). Riney, Takagi, and Inutsuka define it as a “perceived degree of native or foreign accent in someone’s speech (…) determined by (or at least associated with) the speaker’s regional, social, or linguistic background” (2005, p442), which seems sufficiently nuanced, if a little circular. A common theme of academic definitions involves variation from a standard: in the words of Derwing and Munro (2008), “we understand accentedness as how different a pattern of speech sounds compared to the local variety” (p478). The term ‘local’ is of course deictic, and together with Riney, Takagi, and Inutsuka’s invocation (2005) of perception indicates that we only ever experience accents subjectively; Derwing and Munro state that “Listeners’ judgments are the only meaningful window into accentedness and comprehensibility” (2009, p478). Certain sounds are prestigious, but only for socially-determined reasons; they differ along geographical and social lines rather than aesthetic ones. As Giles and Niedzielski (1998) argue, no accent is inherently more beautiful than another.

However, since our focus here is English language learning, we must consider several aspects related to what are often called ‘L2’ accents, which Lippi-Green defines as “the breakthrough of native language phonology into the target language” (p46). The phenomenon of variation from a norm has profound implications for how languages are taught and learnt. Is it possible for ‘native speakers’ of another language, or for that matter bilinguals, to achieve a full ‘native-like’ phonological range? Assuming such a goal is achievable, should learners be encouraged to aspire towards a ‘native’ accent? If so, which one should serve as a model? Does the notion of a Lingua Franca Core (LFC), focussed on intelligible communication between non-native speakers rather than the acquisition of native-like pronunciation, have validity, and should teachers lead their learners in that direction instead? Are there circumstances in which ‘native-like’ pronunciation is a valid goal? Drawing on insights from Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition theory (SLA), this essay will examine the contemporary context for the notion of accent elimination, before looking at why the subject of accent is so important in the concerns of learners and why they might see it as a priority. It will then look at the context of English today, in terms of debates about World Englishes and English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), and the final section will set out some pedagogical implications.

The phenomenon of ‘accent reduction’ courses

There are bountiful resources to help learners who aspire to eliminating their L1 accent, not all of which are based on sound linguistic principles. Lippi-Green (2012) constructs an elaborate metaphor (a ‘sound house’ (p48)) to demonstrate how intricate, time-consuming and frustrating the process of developing a separate phonological structure can be, and stresses that the successful acquisition of a new accent does not necessarily have significant impact on one’s communicative competence. She highlights two questionable claims made by promoters of accent reduction courses, namely that foreign accents can indeed be eliminated, and that accent is the main cause of social marginalisation. Derwing and Munro also critique the claims made by the accent reduction/elimination industry, arguing that they are based on “pseudomedical jargon and mysterious techniques with no known empirical basis” (2008, p483).

The importance of accent to English language learners

One key element of the appeal of ‘unaccentedness’ is the notion of belonging to a particular speech community that ‘owns’ the language and literally gives voice to the ‘correct’ standard, thus rendering its own phonological characteristics appear ‘natural’. This can be demonstrated by an anecdote from my teaching experience. In an EFL lesson in London several years ago I showed my class a clip from the US TV chat show ‘Ellen’, and asked what accent the presenter had. ‘American’ was the immediate response. I then played them a part of the first interview with the British actor Hugh Laurie, whose accent is fairly close to RP, and repeated my question. This time the students were nonplussed – they didn’t consider his way of speaking an ‘accent’. In the words of one student, they were in the ‘home’ of English, and Hugh Laurie was, by extension, (and echoing Lippi-Green’s metaphor), a homeowner. It may well be that the class taken place in the US, the students may have seen the presenter’s accent as the ‘unmarked’ one. Thus is the notion of ‘no accent’ inherently connected to national identity, belonging and status.

However, we might want to pause before dismissing the desire for accent reduction as the result of misconceived notion of the role of the relationship between a language and ‘its’ speakers. In a classic study (described in Tagg 2012 p299), Lambert found that people speaking with ‘native’ Canadian English accents were ranked higher by both English and French-speaking Canadians for “likeability, ambition, dependability, self-confidence, sense of humour, good looks and height” than ‘non-natives’. The research took place in a lab rather than in a natural setting, but its results have been replicated elsewhere (see Tagg, 2012 p301 for a list). Thus can accent imply not just a positive image of others, but a negative view of oneself, and in this way can linguistic value systems “reflect and reinforce class, ethnic and gender inequalities” (ibid; see also Lindemann, Litzenberg and Subtirelu, 2014, p171). Those who speak with a prestigious accent possess what we might, following Bourdieu’s notion of ‘linguistic capital’ (1977), call phonological capital.

Sociolinguists concur that the categories of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in relation to language use are of little relevance (see for example Trudgill 2000). But as users of language we are nonetheless very quick to categorise and judge people – literally so, in fact. Flege (1984) showed that people can recognise a ‘non-native’ accent in only 0.03 seconds, while Major (2007) demonstrated that we can identify one in a language we don’t speak. Munro, Derwing and Burgess discovered that we can even detect a non-native accent when the speech is played backwards (2003). As we saw in the previous paragraph, and as Lindemann (2005) detailed in her study of US undergraduates’ categorisations of ‘broken’ English, recognition of ‘non-native’ speech patterns often leads to social discrimination and prejudice. It might be considered reasonable to try to escape judgements which, as Gee wrote in another context, “implant in thought and action unfair, dismissive, or derogatory assumptions” (2014, p96).

However, an L1 accent can also be beneficial to the learner. Some accents have other currencies which serve to offset the disadvantages (Lippi-Green, 2012, p239) such as the cache attributed to French accents. Dalton and Seidlhofer (1994) also point out that language is used to establish a sense of community. Some may prefer to preserve their accent out of a sense of wanting to indicate their membership of a separate community. The phenomena of convergence and divergence, developed as part of Speech Accommodation Theory by Giles, Coupland and Coupland (1971) explain some of the dynamics of this not-always-conscious process, while Gardner and Lambert (1972) highlighted the importance of identification with the target community. Hence one reason why ‘non-native’ speakers of a language may want to reduce their accent is, as Jennifer Jenkins acknowledges in her work on the Lingua Franca Core (LFC) (1998; 2000; 2003), not to be intelligible but to fit in socially. As Levis (2005) explains, accent is an essential marker of what social groups the speaker belongs to and would like to belong to (p374-375). In addressing the difference between the need to communicate and the need to assimilate, Dalton and Seidlhofer make a useful distinction between accessibility (ie intelligibility) and acceptability (access to social groupings) (1994 p9-10). As we shall explore later, the particular setting for language learning will help determine the extent to which the learner wants and/or needs to ‘fit in’. This issue has different implications for English speakers in Inner Circle, Outer Circle and Expanding Circle contexts (Kachru 1992).

In arguing for the importance of sociolinguistic factors in the formation of accent, Levis (2005) argues that “the role of identity is perhaps as strong as the biological constraints” (p375). The degree of social allegiance, whether conscious or unconscious, is certainly a powerful determinant. But what about other aspects?

Is it possible to get rid of one’s accent?

A long-standing principle in ELT is what Levis (2005) calls the ‘nativeness principle’, which holds that it is both possible and desirable to achieve native-like pronunciation in a foreign language. Piske, Mackay and Flege (2001) identify several aspects as crucial in determining how successful or unsuccessful a learner may or may not be in mastering a different set of phonological features: their L1; the age at which they started to learn; how long they have lived in the L2 environment; their gender, formal instruction, motivation, and language learning aptitude; and how frequently they have used the target language. That is a formidable list of challenges, and together with the sociolinguistic factors helps explain why, as Rampton discovered, people who are indistinguishable in other ways from native speakers can still have accented speech (1990). Levis also confirms that “in practice very few adult learners actually achieve native-like pronunciation in a foreign language” (2005 p370). Even in relation to bilingual speakers, Mack (1984) confirmed that early bilinguals demonstrate minor differences from monolinguals. This has been attributed to various attitudinal and psychological factors (Dalton and Seidlhofer, 1994, p8), and debate continues with regard to the ‘critical period’ for language learning, with plasticity of the brain thought to be a factor (see for example Birdsong 2018).

Is it desirable to get rid of one’s accent?

Now we return to the question of its desirability of acquiring native-like pronunciation. Jenkins not only argued that “the whole concept of ‘accent reduction’ is flawed in the context of English as an International Language (EIL) accents” (Jenkins, 2000, p207), but also developed an alternative, based on research into mutual intelligibility between non-native speakers, reducing the range of phonological features of English to ones that learners are able to master and which make a difference to their ability to understand one another (Jenkins, ibid). There have been a number of critical responses to her model, but in essence it provides a formidable challenge to the ‘nativeness principle’ by supporting what Levis (2005) called the ‘intelligibility principle’, which “recognizes that communication can be remarkably successful when foreign accents are noticeable or even strong” (p. 370). Seidlhofer (2005) argues in favour of the latter model on the basis that is based not on a notion of deficit but of divergence. Firth and Wagner (1997) rightly criticised the notion of the foreign language learner as a “deficient communicator struggling to overcome underdeveloped L2 competence, striving to reach the “target” [L2] competence of an idealized native speaker”.

The ‘Lingua Franca Core’ and World Englishes

Jenkins draws on drawing on existing SLA theories in arguing persuasively for an enhanced focus on EIL: for example, she argues that convergence is a factor, but that learners should not be encouraged to converge towards a ‘native speaker’ model. She argues that ‘L1 speakers have…forfeited the right to dictate standards of pronunciation for L1 use’ (p16). There are valid arguments against her reasoning. For example, as Trudgill (2005) points out, although the number of non-native users of English long overtook the number of ‘natives’, there are few non-natives who use English 100% or even most of the time. Jenkins’ model is also based on observation of learners from a limited range of language backgrounds, and so can be criticised for limited coverage. Trudgill (ibid) also comments that successful intelligibility partly depends on the level of speaker and the listener. I know from personal experience of learning languages that it is often easier to understand a fellow non-native speaker with a better command of the language, although this may have more to do with the relative absence of idiomaticity and pragmatic difficulties. Trudgill also evokes the Shortfall Principle, which holds that whatever model is used, it is not expected that learners will fully achieve their goals. He uses it to argue persuasively that if EIL is used as a model, any failure to attain its targets will result in a breakdown in communication (2008 p92). It might also be argued that there is also element of embracing pidginization to the LFC/ELF projects. That may be not such a bad thing, given that the role of English internationally as a medium of trade and exchange (a ‘contact language’) is not dissimilar to the functions which pidgins have played throughout history. However, that same historical development also suggests that Jenkin’s call for ELF to be taught as a subject (including to ‘native speakers’ of English) (Jenkins, 2000), may be misguided, as it is destined by definition never to be used as a mother tongue and thus never to stabilise into a creole (Wardhaugh, 2002).

Another issue with particular implications in relation to accent and English teaching is the phenomenon of World Englishes. If we are to retain the model of Received Pronunciation or General American for English language learners, what does that imply for the status of Singaporean, Nigerian or Indian speakers of English, who may easily satisfy almost all definitions of ‘native speakers’? This returns us to a set of political issues as to who can claim ownership of English. Seidlhofer dismisses the notion that English will be forever subject to the rule(s) of monolingual native speakers as “naïve” (2005, p61), while Jenkins herself states that neither GA and RP can call itself standard, in that neither is “intrinsically superior” (2000, p204). Phillipson (1992, sets out a number of fallacies which he argues exemplify an essentially imperialist attempt to maintain control over the language, although his critique has rightly been taken to task for failing to acknowledge that learners of English also have agency and may well wish to use English to suit their own communicative and social purposes (Holborrow 2016); this may include, for example, desiring to adopt another accent.

It’s also important to note that, as Jenkins (2000) acknowledges, the degree of usefulness of the LFC framework depends on the specific teaching and learning context. As mentioned previously, it is true that in many cases assimilation is the goal of learners, and in many contexts (for example, in the case of migration from Expanding Circle to Inner Circle countries (Krachu 1992)) that is entirely understandable. Some learners are likely to do more than merely communicate functionally with L1 speakers of English. In most EFL contexts, in which the language and culture of Inner Circle countries is paramount. One valid criticism of the whole approach is that it’s not always clear to learners what their goals, targets and models should be, and therefore the LFC may not suit them. As Seidlhofer (2005, p70) points out, this relies on judicious decision-making by the teacher.

Pedagogical implications

Despite all the difficulties and misconceptions that we have looked at, Derwing’s discovery that 95% of students want to get rid of their accents suggests that this (self-)perception is still prevalent (2003). It would be interesting to see similar statistics regarding teachers’ attitudes, especially with regard to native and non-native teachers: although Trudgill’s negative reaction to Jenkins’ work seems to suggest that he is partly concerned to preserve his own identity and status as a ‘native’ (Trudgill, 2008), the same cannot be said of the several Polish (i.e. non-native) teachers who contributed to two conferences on the value of the LFC, many of whom expressed indignation at the notion of a reduced inventory of phonological features, feeling the LFC to be condescending and of limited relevance to their teaching contexts (see Dziubalska-Kolaczyk and Przedlacka, 2005).

However, it seems to me shortsighted to reject out of hand the notion of a limited set of manageable priorities for teaching intelligible pronunciation. I agree with Smith and Nelson (2006) that while good pronunciation remains the focus in EFL classrooms, it is situational, social and cultural awareness that actually causes learners more difficulties. In any case research has shown that despite the academic attention it has received, the notion of an LFC has only had a limited impact within the word of EFL, partly as it has received “low status and low priority” on teacher training courses (Spicer, 2012). As a result, most pronunciation classes I have taught and observed have maintained the same focus on the full range of phonological features of English. It it takes a concerted effort to remember to consider carefully how a pronunciation activity will develop learners’ ability to communicate with each other. Thus all teachers would benefit from being made more aware of these debates and resources, especially on CELTA courses. Lindemann also argues that the case against misconceived ideas about accent should be made outside the classroom, in society more generally (2008, p41).

Walker (2011) makes a number of specific suggestions for teaching the LFC. But what general lessons can be learned from all the research we have surveyed? Firstly, it is essential that learners be made aware of issues and debates around identity and ownership of English. The notion of English as a Lingua Franca should not just be discussed by teachers in relation to their learners. The coursebook series ‘Global English’ (Clandfield, Benne, and Jeffries 2011), produced in consultation with David Crystal, explicitly addresses these issues in a way that helps learners to make informed decisions about their own needs and identity as users of English. Learners should be helped to understand that their difficulties are not necessarily caused by Communicative Competence (Lindemann 2006 p43). Similarly, teachers should be aware that not all problems can be solved by better language teaching (Lindemann ibid).

Given that there is no single ‘native speaker’ model, more ‘non-native’ ones should be used in listening exercises. Very few coursebooks do this at present, with ‘Outcomes’ (Dellar, Walkley and Maris, 2010) a rare exception. In addition, Cauldwell’s book ‘Phonology for listening’ (2013) uses spoken texts from native speakers not as a model to teach accent, but to develop listening skills. In addition, English is spoken with a wide range of accents, not just ‘native’ ones, and this includes those of the students themselves, or others from the same L1 background. They make more appropriate models in most cases than ‘native’ accents.

Another adjustment that the whole TEFL industry should make with regard to the insights and tools developed by Jenkins and others is to employ non-native teachers. Seidlhofer (1999) points out that they have privileged insights based on having learned the language (p221), while Widdowson (1994) emphatically demolishes the theoretical justifications for ‘native’ teachers being employed over non-native ones. The tradition of doing so is ultimately a matter of marketing rather than a rationale based on pedagogical principles.

With regard to language testing, the IELTS band 9 descriptors rightly specify not ‘native-like’, but a ‘full’, ‘precise’ and ‘subtle’ range’ of pronunciation features. All such exam criteria should have a strong emphasis on accessibility over acceptability and any mention of ‘native-like’ should be replaced with ‘expert’, ‘proficient’ or some other term. IELTS even requires that candidates show their passports to the Speaking examiner. Such procedures serve to activate discrimination, whether conscious or unconscious, on the part of the tester, and thus the procedure should at the very least be anonymised wherever possible. Lindemann also argues that it is wrong for universities to make a blanket distinction (on the basis of nationality) between ‘native and ‘non-native’ students when it comes to language ability (p41); as she points out, there is” no simple definition of what constitutes a non-native speaker”, and it is simply not the case that everyone with a particular passport has a C2 command of their ‘national language’.

Conclusions

As we have seen, the issue of accent is an extremely complex one and the notion of a ‘native accent’ is deeply problematic. Everyone has an accent, and those who learn to speak another language will almost inevitably do so with traces of their own phonological background.

Learners should be encouraged to work towards pronunciation that is, as Block (2009) wrote of ‘Wes’, ‘good enough’ for their purposes. There are vanishingly few social circumstances wherein a ‘non-native’ accent should be regarded as a problem, and once they have mastered intelligible pronunciation learners of English should be encouraged to focus on other areas such as pragmatic and lexicogrammatical competence in developing their language skills and knowledge.

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Why is it sometimes stressful to speak to ‘native speakers’?

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This is an essay I wrote as part of an MA in Applied Linguistics in response to a question I came up with. It got a very good mark (yay!) but is unlikely ever to be published elsewhere as it doesn’t offer anything massively original and also has a few tipos.

Engaging in fluent real-life conversation with a native speaker is one of the most demanding and stressful experiences for a non-native speaker, especially when that person is a newcomer to a country where the target language is spoken. a) Discuss the above claim, using your own experience or that of your students. b) Explain possible causes of the difficulty with reference to the literature. c) Discuss how you would support learners experiencing this problem.

Introduction

Languages regulate access to communities, in theory allowing all those with sufficient mastery to form relationships with other people and to participate in social activities. However, learning requires some measure of interaction (Long 1985) and/or immersion (Swain 1993), and in the case of newcomers to an English-speaking Inner Circle country (Krachu 1992), their efforts to communicate, no matter how competent, are not guaranteed a friendly reception. Thus for someone learning English, interaction with ‘native speakers’ (NS), whether through formal or informal channels, can feel perilous and daunting, with not only visas and livelihoods but also self-esteem and identity at stake. Some choose to remain silent, and experience nervousness and ambivalence towards interacting with ‘native speakers’. This anxiety and inhibition, and its causes, is rarely addressed in EFL materials. Most coursebooks which teach conversation tend to assume the participation of a sympathetic and patient listener and to ignore social contexts where interactions are conditioned by unhelpfulness or even hostility. Rarely do they address the fact that “the gender, race, class and ethnicity of second language learners may serve to marginalise them” (Norton, 2000, p7).

Until relatively recently, research had tended to focus on the individual traits and cognitive challenges that can generate linguistic reticence, and less on social and affective factors. Most Language Anxiety (LA) research has also focussed on interactions inside the classroom (Gkonou, Daubney & Dewaele 2017 p17). This essay will draw on the work of Lindemann and also on Norton’s research into identity and language learning in the context of female immigrants to Canada (Norton 2000). To quote one of her subjects, “I feel uncomfortable using English in the group of people whose English language is their mother tongue because they speak fluently without any problems and I feel inferior” (Norton p93). This sentiment echoes and presumably helps explain the results of a survey of advanced adult learners in which only 38% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I would not be nervous speaking the foreign language with native speakers” (Marzec-Stawiarska , 2014, p111). In this essay I shall draw on my experiences of language learning and teaching along with relevant theories and research. I will problematise such terminology as ‘mother tongue’ and ‘native speaker’ and propose that one way for teachers to address linguistic reticence with regard to interactions with ‘native speakers’ is to encourage learners to question such categories and thereby challenge the subaltern status that they reduce them to. I will also suggest several ways in which teachers can help learners gain awareness of and overcome these challenges.
The differences between understanding native speakers and non-native speakers

Although this essay focuses on affective and social aspects, there are numerous cognitive factors which can cause learners stress when interacting with more proficient users of a language, for example making sense of speaking speed, pragmatic inferences and connected speech (for lists of such factors see Trudgill (2008, pp80-82) Hedge (2000, pp263-267) and Ur, (1996, p111-112)). Studies of how English is used as a lingua franca have investigated both the reduced range of phonological features necessary for intelligibility (Jenkins, 2000) and the less complex range of lexicogrammatical and phraseological features of NNS speech (Seidlhofer, 2005), all of which can make interaction less fraught. It has also been found that in ELF communication partners do not obey native-speaker norms but “negotiate meaning as conversation unfolds by adapting their skills to those of their partner and to the purpose of communication” (Hülmbauer, Böhringer and Seidlhofer, 2008). This encompasses such features as speaking speed and level of vocabulary, reducing much of the cognitive burden. We must of course acknowledge that a non-native speaker may simply not have the communicative competence to hold up their share of the communicative burden (Lindemann, 2006), regardless of who their interlocutor is, and also that, as Norton (2000) explores in relation to her subjects, anxiety can be overcome with increased competence.

My own experiences as a language learner over the last 20 years living in a variety of foreign language environments have indicated that speaking to other L2-competent foreigners can be less cognitively and emotionally demanding than interacting with ‘native speakers’. There can be a sense of solidarity with other ‘outsiders’, but the reduced level of stress occasioned by the relative lack of unfamiliar cultural reference points and conventionalised pragmatic meanings is also a factor. However, this is not just a question of objective factors, but also of my anxiety about my legitimacy or otherwise as a speaker of those languages, i.e. affective factors which cause apprehension. It is important to distinguish between aspects of individual factors in linguistic reticence and factors which more are socially generated.
Individual affective factors causing anxiety when talking to ‘native speakers’

Ever since Horwitz’ seminal 1986 article gave birth to Language Anxiety as a discipline (Horwitz, 1986), research and theory has almost exclusively focused on classroom participation and performance and has been more concerned with the individual experience of anxiety than on the social circumstances that contribute to it (Gkonou, Daubney & Dewaele, 2017). MacIntyre et al’s (1998) Willingness to Communicate (WTC) model makes the seemingly unproblematic assumption that “frequent and pleasant contact with the L2 group” will inevitably lead to an improvement in L2 skills and confidence. However, as Norton explores in detail (Norton 1995 and 2000), pleasantness is not a feature of all such interactions. Lindemann supports this, demonstrating that in some circumstances the native interlocutor may effectively “refuse to listen” (2006, p24). There are clearly more than individual factors involved.
Problems with contextualising Language Anxiety only at individual level

Many theories of effective second language learning (including, for example, Krashen 1982; Wong Fillmore 1979) have claimed that language learners’ success in aligning with the target language community depends on their motivation versus the affective and cognitive challenges they face. However, individual motivation is complex, partly because it is not entirely conscious and is more dynamic than fixed. Norton’s alternative notion of ‘investment’ is helpful here, in that it takes account of the post-structuralist notion of subjectivity as multiple, contradictory, and dynamic; as she puts it, “Learners are constantly organising and reorganising a sense of who they are and how they relate to the social world” (Norton, 2000, p11).
The importance of social factors

As Norton points out, “relations of power in the social world impact on social interaction between second language learners and target language speakers” (Norton, 2000, p4). Anxiety related to so-called ‘Language shock’ (Agar 1996) and challenges faced by the ‘language ego’ (Guiora, 1972, quoted in Brown 2007 p69) operate in a social context conditioned by power relations particularly affecting women, different social classes, and immigrants. If we take the latter, one influential thesis, Schumann’s influential concept of Acculturation, fails to account sufficiently for power imbalances (Schumann 1978). Individuals may experience fear of rejection and anxiety regarding status and identity, and these factors operate in a social context. However, as Norton argues, Schumann’s puts the blame on the language learner rather than on society if he or she succeeds or fails (Norton, p114). In suggesting that it is the job of the new arrival to make up the ‘social distance’, Schumann’s model does not account for the role of social inequality in establishing and maintaining that distance in a way that is very hard for any individual to overcome. It may not be a matter of Alberto’s ambivalence towards his new culture (Schumann, ibid), but his new culture’s ambivalence towards him.
Bourdieu’s ‘legitimate speaker’

Norton (2000, p8) draws on Bourdieu’s concept of the ‘legitimate speaker’. Bourdieu argues that the preconditions of social communication are unequally structured, and that it is a condition of establishing communication that each participant regard the other as worthy to listen and speak (1977, p648). One factor that may make it difficult for a language learner to establish themselves as a ‘legitimate’ speaker is the higher degree of possibility of making pragmatic errors when speaking or listening and thus exposing themselves to potential ridicule. For example, in western societies, TV comedy shows systematically mock outsiders’ use of language, thereby policing the boundaries of a particular linguistic community. This example demonstrates that contrary to Schumann’s model there is not just distance between an individual and the new society, but also socially-generated linguistic barriers which anyone belonging to the social category of outsider must try to negotiate.
Immigration and inequality

It is essential to bear in mind that in conversation participants jointly construct meaning, therefore any failure in communication is not just of the speaker. Yet, as Norton argues (p119), “Immigrant language learners are generally more invested in relationships with target language speakers than the reverse situation…The immigrants are the ones who need to make contact with members of the target language group if their language learning is to improve, and they are far more vulnerable to the attitudes of the dominant group than the dominant group is vulnerable to them.” This is backed up by Lindemann, who found that in some cases native–non-native communicative difficulties can clearly be seen as stemming from the native speaker, rather than from the non-native speaker (2006). Research by Lindemann, Rubin and others demonstrates that target language speakers may be reluctant to negotiate meaning with language learners and the onus is usually on the learner to understand and make themselves understood. However, second language learners may not get much opportunity to practise with target language speakers, partly because “the social meaning of immigrant [is] not newcomer with initiative and courage, but uneducated, unskilled minority.” (Norton 2000 p117). Social status may affect their linguistic progress; newly-arrived immigrants to Western countries are often obliged to take low-status jobs which offer little access to social interactions and the content-rich input necessary for acquisition to take place (Norton 2000 p73).

Although as Smith and Nelson point out, “Intelligibility is not speaker- or listener-centred but is interactional between speaker and listener” (1995, p333), Lindemann found that the attitude of the native speaker was crucial in determining the perceived success or failure of an interaction (2016). Successful communication requires a positive attitude, cooperation, and patience, but this is not always guaranteed. There is also the phenomenon of accent discrimination. Rubin’s classic 1992 study found that “if listeners merely thought that a person might be from a different language background, they understood less of what was said” (quoted in Derwing & Munro, 2008, p486). Such discrimination is not necessarily conscious or malicious, but it will inevitably have an effect on the confidence of the interlocutor.

Language learning thus involves investment in social identity in an unequal or asymmetrical context. Graddol remarks that “English has become one of the main mechanisms for structuring inequality in developing economies”, and this can also be true in Inner Circle ones with regard to immigrants. In Norton’s study (2000), immigrant women in the workplace found that their colleagues were organised in social networks which the women in the study struggled and often failed to gain access to. One of her subjects tried to engage anglophones in conversation but they “ran away”. One felt inhibited by “fear of appearing incompetent”; co-workers explain they stopped talking to her because they “felt tired”. Resort to silence can be a form of resistance to inequitable social forces: “If people treated her with disrespect, it was their problem and not her problem”. Thus can formal and informal workplace hierarchies result in a sense of linguistic alienation and lead to reticence.
The notion of the ‘native speaker’ as a cause of anxiety

As Oxford (1999) explores, certain beliefs about language may be anxiety-inducing, and this is particularly true with regard to beliefs regarding correctness and ownership. To quote a Spanish speaker of English commenting on a course he is taking which involves interacting with ‘native speakers’, “now it’s more difficult for me to understand the real English”. It is my contention that the concept of the ‘native speaker’ itself can play a significant role in generating psychological stress in NS-NNS interactions. The notion of the ‘native speaker’ (usefully defined as someone with “a complete and possibly innate competence in the 7 language” which is perceived as being “bounded, fixed to a homogeneous speech community and linked to a nation-state” (Doerr, 2009, p1)) has long been challenged in linguistics. Ferguson (1983, pvii) argued that “the whole mystique of native speaker and mother tongue should preferably be quietly dropped from the linguist’s set of professional myths about language”; Rampton argued that the category unhelpfully conflates three separate categories that by no means always coincide: expertise, affiliation, and inheritance (Rampton, 1990, p101).

However, 20 years of teaching have taught me that this it remains a widespread notion, especially among learners, partly as result of the TEFL industry’s perpetuation of a misconception of the monolingual native teacher’s centrality to the learning experience. Linguistic anxiety is generated by the notion of a particular caste of people (‘native speakers’) who have perceived ownership of and authority over language. However, as Davies points out (2013) and Jenkins explores at length (2000), the role of English as an international language and the existence of numerous varieties of English in post-colonial societies language makes English a special case and indicate that it should no longer be seen as the property of people from Inner Circle countries. This reality must be reflected in classroom practise, to which I will now turn.
Application to practice

How can EFL practitioners respond effectively to these issues? How can we best prepare our learners for the inevitable language shock and cognitive, affective and political issues that real-world NS<>NNS language interactions imply?

Firstly, more attention should be paid to specific needs and identities of learners, in particular contexts. Seidlhofer (1999) emphasises that in inner and expanding circle different conditions apply. In any specific English-speaking context particular configurations of language(s) prevail. Respecting this is one aspect of what Kumaravadivelu (2006) called particularity: the need to be sensitive to the institutional and sociocultural milieu. This is supported by Bax (2003), who argued that CLT approaches (for example, the imposition of English as the only classroom language) should not simply be rolled out regardless of the teaching and learning context.

Another priority is to address beliefs. Students should be made aware of the role of English and issues around identity, authority and ownership, including the widespread recognition (in English teaching contexts) that in most English-speaking contexts the concept of the ‘native speaker’ is at best problematic and can even be (like some native speakers themselves) actively intimidating and unhelpful. One useful tool to help learners respond to this reality is Jenkin’s Lingua Franca Core pronunciation model. Such tools can help learners see themselves as users rather than learners and understand that, as Lindemann, has it, their problems are not necessarily related to Communicative Competence (Lindemann 2006 p43). This is part of encouraging L2 users of English to see their identity and their competencies not in terms of deficit but in terms of divergence (ibid, p42).

Language classrooms should also be therapeutic places, where learners are encouraged to reflect on the affective experience of language learning, allowing them to reframe negative experiences in terms of the new understandings of identity that successful language acquisition implies. Learners should develop their identity (including particularly their online identity – see Lam 2000) and ‘voice’ (Bailey, 1996) as well as their skills and knowledge.

Another way to help learners anticipate and overcome stress and anxiety in encounters with ‘native speakers’ is to encourage them to reflect critically on who they’re speaking to about what, and how such how power imbalances can affect the success or failure of cross-cultural encounters. Learners can be encouraged to write about their own about affective experiences in class (Norton 2000 p 153) and share it with one another, thus creating a learning community offering mutual support. Thus can they be helped to recognise that failures in communication may not be their own fault.

There should also be more value given to code-switching and language crossing in EFL. It is underacknowledged in EFL that such language play is central to how speakers (not just ‘language learners’) break down social boundaries (see Rampton 2017). This could help learners speak more freely without feeling that they are restricted to ‘correct’ forms of the target language. ‘Linguistic Imperialism’ (Phillipson, 1992) is certainly at work in the EFL classroom that bans all recourse to other languages. The use of the term ‘monolingual’ to categorise a language classroom is almost always a misnomer: students always have a range of linguistic resources to draw upon, and they should be encouraged to do so rather than being constrained within linguistic straitjackets.

Finally, there is great potential in the enhanced use of drama. Typical EFL role-plays can allow learners to experiment safely with new identities, but one form of theatre which I believe has a great deal to offer is Forum Theatre, as developed by Augusto Boal (Boal, 2008). In this format participants reenact encounters they have experienced, reflecting in the process on other possibilities for what they could have said and done and seeing for themselves how other outcomes were possible. This form of reflection on and rehearsal for real-world interaction involves developing learners’ own resources of initiative and their own protagonism as fully-fledged users of the language, active subjects creating their own meanings rather than passive recipients of linguistic input. Thus are learners empowered to assert their own identity as users of the language. It is also a useful means of encouraging reflection to help overcome demoralisation resulting from less successful interactions.
Conclusion

This essay has argued that social factors, such as discrimination on the basis of accent, play an important role in generating anxiety in real-world interactions between native speakers and non-native speakers, and that the very concept of ‘native speaker’ can be psychologically intimidating. It has suggested that teachers address these issues by raising students’ awareness of issues of ownership of and authority over language in order to empower them as speakers of English as a global language. Space has limited the discussion of a vast and 9 complex area, but further research could look into the effects of the ‘native speaker’ concept on language learners’ sense of language anxiety, taking an emic, qualitative approach.
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The grammar of Brexit

Countable nouns, verifiable items: Body bags, stockpiled cans of powdered milk for the baby, lost jobs, empty shelves, closed shops, bankrupt businesses, soldiers on the street, companies relocated overseas, skilled individuals forced to emigrate, food riots, jars of mouldy jam, percentages of GDP, dollars against the pound, days left til Farage can open the champagne, MPs with the courage to stand up and call Theresa May a liar…

Ineffable, abstract nouns, impossible to define, quantify or measure, thus open to abuse by demagogic politicians and media representing selfish hidden agendas: Destiny, sovereignty, national renewal, freedom, independence, control…

It’s not Ireland that craves colonial humiliation – it’s Brexit Britain

As a rule it’s best to avoid heeding whatever Brendan O’Neill writes on his mercenary trollsite ‘Spiked’, particularly as he only says such monstrously silly things in order to get attention, rather like a toddler triumphantly upending its own potty. His cabal of junior psychopaths are so very keen to promote themselves as contrarian iconoclasts that (as I found when I happened to be in the building which hosts their office a few months ago) one of them apparently subscribes to a magazine dedicated to private car registration plates. Chortle, chortle, what japesters they must be.

The reason it’s worth briefly lingering in the fetid afterstench of O’Neill’s latest brainfart is suggested by Fintan O’Toole’s book ‘Unheroic Failures: Brexit and the politics of pain’, in which he convincingly argues that two perverse fantasies swirl inside the Brexit nightmare: one, that the UK actually lost the Second World War, and two, that Britain was actually the victim, not the protagonist, of its Empire. Anyone who’s remotely concerned about Brexit needs to get hold of a copy and and read up on the psychopathologies that led us to this sad, sorry, borderline suicidal point.

Another very great book on the subject of Ireland, England and identity, one which I read several decades ago, was Declan Kiberd’s ‘Inventing Ireland’, in which he makes the case that the UK’s perceptions of its neighbour and oldest colony consist of projections of those aspects it most dislikes and/or fears in its own character: venal, lazy, superstitious, whimsical, drunken, alternately violent and docile, etc. This odd dynamic meant that Oscar Wilde was able to satirise the affectations and mores of the English upper classes in a way that no English writer could have done.

The notion, then, that Ireland wants to go back to being a colony, to be dominated by a more powerful political entity, is a projection. There is, it seems, a wish buried in our national psyche, a desire far too traumatic to ever be openly confessed to, of which Brexit is a perverted expression: Britons do actually want to be slaves. It’s not a case of the UK elite wanting to regain the Empire, but rather to relive it as reviled, humiliated and abject – as the Irishman O’Toole says, and the Englishman O’Neill would (pathologically) deny, the British (or at least the English) are not nostalgic for glory and heroically chasing their destiny, but rather drowning in resentment and craving self-pity.

Now given that this is exactly the sort of no-holds-barred contrarian hot-take that Spiked are celebrated for, it can only be a matter of hours til it appears on their front page. After all, they love free speech and challenging their readers almost as much as they do private car number plates. Amiright, “Breandán”?!