[lg policy] book review: English in Europe Today: Sociocultural and educational perspectives

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun Dec 4 17:23:15 UTC 2011

English in Europe Today: Sociocultural and educational perspectives
SERIES TITLE: AILA Applied Linguistics Series 8
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2011

Marc Deneire, Nancy Université, France.


''English in Europe Today'' is a collection of articles dedicated to Karlfried
Knapp on the occasion of his official retirement from the University of Erfurt
in 2011. As noted by the editors, the contributors to the volume all have a
personal and/or professional connection with Knapp, whose research focused on
intercultural communication and English as a Lingua Franca.

In their introductory chapter, Wilton and De Houwer point to the fact that
Europe has always been a multilingual territory, where power relations have had
an influence on the nature of language contact. However, in spite of the
ambivalent attitudes toward high prestige languages and linguae francae -- Greek
among the Romans, Latin in the Roman Empire and in the middle ages, French as a
language of diplomacy, English as a lingua franca today -- none of these
languages has ever threatened the linguistic diversity of Europe. On the
contrary, internal migrations and the vitality of lesser-spoken languages have
greatly added to that diversity in all European regions.

In her article on ''The increasing role of English in Basque education,'' Jasone
Cenoz looks at the impact of two main trends in the Basque country: the
introduction of English in pre-primary education and the use of Content and
Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) with English. 90 percent of schools there
teach English from the age of 4 and 25 percent of primary schools participate in
CLIL programs, which makes them an ideal testing ground to measure the effects
of these variables. Results for both factors are mixed: Children who start
learning English early do not perform better than those who start later (age 8)
and CLIL programs only outperform traditional programs when traditional English
classes are maintained. Cenoz concludes that the amount of exposure may be more
important than age or CLIL, if the purpose is to raise the English proficiency
of Basque learners.

In the third article, Susan Gass and Daniel Reed chronicle the development of an
English test in Greece. They show that the main difficulties they encountered
were not related to language issues but rather to intercultural sensitivities
linked to differences in political and administrative contexts, to cultural
content, to different testing cultures, and to the role and importance of
different stakeholders. They conclude that in any collaborative approach,
contexts and cultures contribute to shaping the final product in a way that
cannot be fully predicted at the outset.

In her analysis of English-Medium-Instruction (EMI) in German universities,
Annelie Knapp reports that even though 50 percent of her sample had studied at
foreign universities, there is a notable tendency for students to avoid EMI
courses at their own German university. More than 70 percent of the students
report occasional or frequent problems in understanding, which results in less
participation and discussion and a reduction in the amount of course content.
Knapp further discusses samples from an applied chemistry class in an ELF
context and notes that instructors tend to have difficulty using everyday
language to explain technical concepts and often make false assumptions about
shared knowledge. She concludes that the technique of ''letting it pass'' (Firth
1996) is often inappropriate in academic contexts and that adequate support
needs to be made available by administrators if they want to use EMI to attract
international students.

Kurt Kohn's article explores the conflict generally perceived between non-native
speakers' claim of ownership of English and their preference for Standard
English models. Using a social constructivist perspective, Kohn explains that
all non-native English speaker-learners develop their own English (which he
calls ''the My English condition'') depending on the communities of
practice they
belong to and the requirements of performance they impose on themselves or that
are imposed on them. Kohn also uses Karlfried Knapp's distinction between
participation and membership to argue that while individuals participate in
certain communities, they may also develop a communal identity, which resides in
''attitudes and values that form part of the speaker-learner's construction of
otherness'' (p. 88). Thus ELF speakers may well develop their communicative
contacts with other non-native speakers while feeling communally attracted to
native speakers and Standard English values.

In chapter six, Li Wei observes and documents the early acquisition of English
by three Chinese children who were one year old when they arrived in Britain.
His study supports the view that context of acquisition should be fully taken
into account in explaining early bilingual development. There is, for example, a
clear link between parental discourse and children's development. In his
conclusion, Li Wei proposes two hypotheses for further research: the
comparability hypothesis, which assumes that structures that are completely
similar or completely different are acquired more easily than more ambiguous
structures, and the input style hypothesis, which states that the quantity and
variety of input have a direct impact on the number and type of words structures
the children learn to produce in spontaneous conversation.

The title of Jacomine Nortier's article, ''The more languages, the more English:
a Dutch perspective,'' summarizes her main argument. In the
Netherlands, today 75
percent of the people speak two or more languages and in a city like Utrecht, 77
percent know three or more languages. The author addresses the question of
whether Dutch is, as some people argue, in danger of being displaced by English
as a result. She answers with a firm ''no.'' She notes that (1) the influence of
English on Dutch is superficial and mainly lexical, the grammar remaining almost
completely unaffected; (2) loanwords have been integrated into Dutch as far as
morphology and pronunciation are concerned; (3) English is widely used in Dutch
advertising, but so was French for most of the 20th century, and (4) most
surveys are based on self-reporting, but real proficiency is rarely tested.
Nortier reports some examples of embarrassingly poor English that show that in
EU meetings, the use of translators may be more appropriate than the use of
English by Dutch and Flemish delegates.

Like Kohn, Barbara Seidlhofer argues that ''ELF gets appropriated by its
non-native users, who then become agents in the processes that determine how the
language spreads, develops, varies, and changes'' (p. 140). It is precisely
because it is emergent in nature that ELF does not enter into competition with
other languages and can serve as an intercultural tool in the shaping of the
European Union. Unlike other languages, ELF is not attached to a specific
territory, culture, or set of values. Thus, rather than reducing diversity in
language choice, it actually enhances it.

In the final contribution Marjolijn Verspoor, Kees de Bot, and Eva van Rien
discuss an attempt to measure the effect of language input outside of school on
L2 acquisition. Because most TV programs are not dubbed in the Netherlands,
Dutch audiences are exposed to an average of one hour of English a day. However,
the authors found a group of Dutch people who for religious reasons are not
exposed to the media, which allowed them to make a comparison between ''media
groups'' and ''non-media groups.'' In each setting, tests conducted in
and in bilingual schools show a positive effect of media exposure in both
settings with bilingual schooling compensating for lack of exposure.


The nine chapters in this book testify to the many different facets of English
in a multilingual and multicultural Europe. I personally found every single
contribution interesting and valuable, a rare experience in this type of

It is of course impossible to comment on all the issues raised in this book.
Therefore, I will limit myself to the question of language policy, an issue
raised by Seidlhofer and introduced by the editors, who argue that ''patterns of
linguistic change reflect power structures and societal realities'' (p. 1). Even
though Seidlhofer concludes her paper by saying that ELF enriches the European
linguistic repertoire and contributes to linguistic and cultural diversity, she
seems to take issue with the official multilingual and multicultural policy of
the EU. ''The rhetoric of the protectionism of linguistic diversity persists,''
she writes (p136), and ''[t]he forceful and enforced promotion of
as an official policy is in stark contrast with the actual practice of European
citizens and institutions alike increasingly converging toward one lingua
franca'' (p. 137). Finally, citing Coulmas, she suggests that
establishing a link
between political and linguistic loyalties and between language and culture
represents ''the ideological dead weight of the nineteenth century''
(p. 137). It
might be helpful to remember that even though the ELF perspective may have
liberated non-native speakers from the yoke of the native speaker, English
remains the language of power all over the world. In most European countries, it
may not be the language of politics and administration, but, as recent crises
have shown, the seat of power has shifted from the political to the financial
world. ''Learn English, Wall Street English,'' is not only the slogan of a
well-known private school, it reflects that shift of power and reminds us that
English remains the ''language of authority'' (Bourdieu, 1991: 48) in
the European
linguistic market. As noted in some contributions to this volume, the number of
speakers of English may be high in Europe, but the number of people who master
the language remains small. This may be due to the fact that, just as in the
outer circle, ''opportunities for practicing English remain urban and associated
with white collar jobs'' (Mufwene 2010: 57). As a result, many people lose their
job or don't get one because of a lack of knowledge of English. It is, I would
argue, the role of the political sphere to protect the weaker citizens against
economic and financial instability. In short, not promoting multilingualism not
only leads to a massive rejection of European institutions, but it ultimately
means that the EU refuses to protect its citizens against the financial powers
that govern today's world.


Bourdieu Pierre. 1991. Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press.

Firth, Alan 1996. The discursive accomplishment of normality: On
''Lingua Franca''
English and conversational analysis. Journal of Pragmatics 26: 237-259

Mufwene, Salikoko S. (2010) Globalization and the spread of English: what does
it mean to be Anglophone? English Today 26(1). 57-59.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Marc Deneire received his PhD degree in Second
Language Acquisition and Teacher Education (SLATE) from the University
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1994 and is presently Associate
Professor of English at Nancy Université. His research interests
include sociolinguistics, World Englishes, language policy, and second
language acquisition.


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