A Vietnamese Perspective on World Englishes Tran Thi Lan, M.Ed. What is...
A Vietnamese Perspective
on World Englishes
Tran Thi Lan, M.Ed.
What is global or international English? And how does it relate to
the Vietnamese classroom?
The world is presently witnessing a rapid increase in the
1988, p. 1). The spread of English can be represented in
use of English as a language of wider communication.
terms of three concentric circles: the Inner Circle, the
More and more countries are making English their lin-
Outer Circle, and the Expanding Circle (Kachru, 1985a,
gua franca to communicate with the rest of the world—
and Kachru in D. Brown).
not only with native English-speaking countries, but also
The Inner Circle represents the traditional bases of
with non-native English-speaking countries in interna-
English, dominated by the “mother tongue varieties” of
tional settings. It is therefore important for any course
the language (Kachru in D. Brown, p. 235 ). This Circle
dealing with English language education, including
incorporates various accents of native-spoken English—
teaching English to speakers of other languages
that is, English as it is spoken in such countries as Great
(TESOL), to inculcate an awareness of what is happening
Britain, the USA, Canada,Australia, or New Zealand.
to the language worldwide. Unfortunately, at the present
The Outer Circle may be thought of as country con-
time, little information about the roles and functions of
texts in which English was first introduced as a colonial
English as a world language is presented in English lan-
language for administrative purposes. Countries typi-
guage education programs in Vietnam.
cally listed in this circle include: Bangladesh, Ghana,
It is the intention of this article to provide an
India, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines,
overview of the relationship between a World Englishes
Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Zambia (Kachru,
perspective and language teaching. It also focuses on
1985b). English is used in these countries for intra-
several elements of a World Englishes perspective and
country purposes. In these places, varieties of English
different attitudes toward English as an international lan-
has evolved which possesses the common core charac-
guage. The article also attempts to identify the primary
teristics of Inner Circle varieties of English, frequently
reasons why a World Englishes perspective should be
termed as “institutionalized” or “nativized” varieties, but
infused into English language education programs.
in addition can be distinguished from them by particu-
Finally, some changes in the foreign language education
lar lexical, phonological, pragmatic, and morphosyntac-
policy of Vietnam are recommended. With these goals in
tic innovations (K. Brown, 1993).
mind, the Vietnamese educational context is kept in
The remaining circle, the Expanding Circle, may be
view throughout the discussion, and implications for
thought of as encompassing countries where English
interpreters and translator training courses in Vietnam
was introduced as a foreign language. Kachru (1985b)
are tentatively suggested.
lists as examples such countries as China, Egypt,
Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Korea, Nepal, Saudi Arabia,
Overview of World Englishes
Taiwan, the former USSR, and Zimbabwe. The uses of
English in such countries may be increasing, but by and
Circles of English
large English is not used for the same range of intra-
country functions as it is in Outer Circle countries.
A World Englishes perspective is characterized by
Similar ideas are expressed in other terms by Quirk:
three key elements: a belief that there is a “repertoire of
not “Inner Circle” but English as a native language
models for English,” that “localised innovations [in
(ENL); not “Outer Circle” but English as a second lan-
English] have pragmatic bases,” and that “the English lan-
guage (ESL); and not “Expanding Circle” but English as a
guage now belongs to all those who use it” (Kachru,
foreign language (EFL) countries. Through this three-
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fold division of English, Quirk observes: “English is a
Who Owns the English Language?
global language in each of these three categories: there
are ENL, ESL, and EFL countries all around the world”
The third element of World Englishes given above is
(Quirk & Widdowson). In brief, the concept of English
of particular sociopolitical interest: English belongs to
in its Inner, Outer, and Expanding Circles is equivalent to
those who use it. According to Kachru (1992), English
ENL, ESL, and EFL.
belongs not only to native speakers in the Inner Circle,
but to speakers in the Outer and Expanding Circles as
Vietnam and World English
well. For support, he draws upon Crystal’s suggestion
that by this year, there will be more individuals using
At the present time, after joining ASEAN
English whose first language is not English than individ-
(Association of Southeast Asian Nations),Vietnam can be
uals using English whose first language is English.
listed as one of the Expanding Circle countries, where
However, as teachers of English in Vietnam, it is dif-
English is taught and learned as a foreign language. The
ficult for us to think that English belongs to us even
new “open door”economic policy of renovation (known
though we use it every day in our teaching. Similarly, in
a 1980 case study, Baxter asked two questions of
as “Doi Moi” in Vietnamese) has resulted in rapidly
Japanese teachers of English: “Are you a speaker of
expanding economic and commercial activity, and thus
English?” and “Do you speak English?” Almost all the
produced a great need for the teaching and learning of
teachers responded negatively to the first question but
foreign languages in general, and for the teaching of
positively to the second.
English as a foreign language (TEFL) in particular. The
Nonetheless, in support of the World Englishes view-
government now officially requires all government
point, Suzuki claims that English, when used as an inter-
workers at all levels to attain certain levels of English
national language, is not owned by its native speakers,
proficiency in response to the new situation. Learning
and that native and non-native speakers everywhere
English is now considered essential for many job qualifi-
must become aware of the widespread shift in attitudes
cations or promotions, and teachers of Russian at all lev-
and assumptions about the language.
els have been required to retrain as English teachers.
Do English teachers believe this? It is interesting to
Socioeconomic change is the most influential factor
speculate on how English speakers in general and
in the development of English teaching and learning in
English teachers in particular would react to the follow-
ing tongue-in-cheek statement posted by Mark Mitchell
Vietnam. Due to the new government policy in general
to the TESL-L list discussion group in 1996:
and the foreign language education policy in particular,
the status of English language study and English lan-
Will someone please tell English that if it is going to
guage teachers has improved considerably. Public opin-
evolve, it must first get permission from either Ron or
ion holds that learning English is not only a “fashion” but
myself? Because there are some things we just do not
also a “passport” for people to travel, earn scholarships,
like and we simply will not TOLERATE them! And I
get better jobs, and so on.
think we can all agree that English should only be per-
mitted to change in countries where it is spoken as a

It is important for MOET (Ministry of Education and
native language. After all, it is OUR language. Thus,
Training) officials to be aware of the fact that
changes that naturally occur in America or Britain
Vietnamese education in general and foreign language
are potentially acceptable (Australians, however, must
education policy in particular are now facing a major
petition). But God forbid those Asians, Africans, or
turning point, and the decision as to which direction
nasty continental Europeans should try to effect a
should be taken will lay a foundation for the 21st centu-
change! If anyone should hear of this occurring,
ry. Not only will change take place in teaching content,
please notify us immediately. Ron and I will person-
but also in every other aspect of educational policy,
ally rap each and every one of their little non-native
reflecting changing social, economic, and political
conditions. Similar changes may be found as well in
In my view, English is not a language any better or
other Expanding Circle Countries, particularly other
worse than others. The reason it has become a nearly
Asian countries.
universal language and currently appeals to many
Teacher’s Edition
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December 2000

speakers of other languages is primarily because it is an
since they carry a double responsibility for not letting a
instrument to access the technology and civilization of
communication breakdown happen. They must be sen-
native English-speaking countries. The purpose is obvi-
sitized to the possibility of misunderstanding and pre-
ously specific and instrumental. In the future, if China or
pared to deal with it.
Indonesia, for instance, were to become the preeminent
It is reasonable to claim that when a language
world superpower, very likely people around the world
becomes international in character, it cannot be bound
would turn to studying Chinese or Indonesian. In that
to any one culture. An Indonesian does not need to
case, linguistics shows that these languages would also
sound like a Briton or an American in order to commu-
develop diversified dialects or variations. This view has
nicate effectively in English with a Vietnamese at an
been shared by L.E. Smith (1991, p. 32):
ASEAN meeting. A Japanese does not need an apprecia-
tion of an Australian lifestyle in order to use English in
Although the dominance of English in commercial,
her business dealings with a Filipino or a Malaysian. In
technical, scientific, and political spheres has led many
support of this idea, Smith further indicates: “The polit-
countries to adopt the language as the means of wider
ical leaders of France and Germany use English in
communication with the world, its use in these private political discussions, but this does not mean
contexts does not indicate a desire to imitate the
that they take on the political attitudes of Americans”
culture, philosophy, or lifestyle of native English-speak-
(1991, p. 34 ).
ing countries. It is argued that the use of English in
It is clear that in these circumstances there is no
these spheres should not be governed by the phonolog-
intention for an English speaker to be like a native
ical, linguistic, or cultural “chauvinism” of native
English speaker. English is used to express a speaker’s
speakers, but that English standards for international
business policy, government attitudes and position, or
or intercultural communications should be based
political convictions. It is the means of expression of
on intelligibility, grammatical acceptability, and the speaker’s culture,and not an imitation of the culture
social appropriateness.
of the United Kingdom, the United States, or any other
native English-speaking country. It is rightly said that
Implications for International English
language and culture are inextricably tied together, but
how can one define American or Australian cultures
The most basic concern is probably for intelligibili-
when there are many cultures in these countries?
ty. If a person does not speak clearly enough to be
Furthermore, when any culture can use English as its
understood, his message is lost. It should be emphasized
vehicle, language is tied to which culture? Language and
here, however, that responsibility for effective commu-
culture may be closely related, but no one language is
nication is shared by both speaker and listener. When a
inextricably tied to any one culture, and people do not
speaker and a listener speak different languages, the sole
need to become more like native English speakers in
responsibility rests on the interpreter, the only person
order to use English effectively.
who is able to make their conversation or negotiation
effective. It is fortunate that most speakers are able to
Implications for Vietnamese Education
attain mutual intelligibility after only a brief exposure to
a pronunciation different from their own. Therefore, it is
Realism in the Classroom
very important to infuse a World Englishes perspective
into English language education programs in general,
This certainly raises some interesting questions
and translation training courses in particular. Future
related to English language teaching and learning: Is it
interpreters should be exposed to different pronuncia-
necessary for ESL/EFL teachers to introduce only ENL
tion patterns of English during their training course,
varieties? Is it enough to introduce cultures and
It is very important to infuse a World Englishes perspective
into English language education programs in general,
and translation training courses in particular.
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December 2000

civilizations of native English-speaking countries to
tools: curriculum, testing, and resource materials” (in
future interpreters and translators of English? Is there
McKay and Hornberger, p. 98). Sharing this point of
any practicability or reliability in translators’ training
view, D. Brown states:“Three primary areas in language
courses in Vietnam, where only variations of English
teaching will be affected by research in World Englishes:
from the Inner Circle countries have been and are being
language education policies with respect to choice of
taught? Graduates of these courses become interpreters
pedagogical models, examination standards and stan-
whose clients are not limited to native English-speakers.
dardised testing, and materials development in listening
Since Vietnam has shifted its centrally-planned economy
and reading” (p. 239).
to a market-oriented economy, not only American or
British businesspeople come to the country to do busi-
National Policies and Programs
ness. Vietnam’s new Investment Law has provided busi-
nesspeople of all nations with opportunities to conduct
In Vietnam, the first area of the three mentioned
business and pursue investment in Vietnam.
above primarily concerns those MOET officials who are
It is high time for Vietnamese teachers of English to
responsible for foreign language education programs.
change their attitudes toward so-called “standard
Foreign language education policies in Vietnam today
English.” In Vietnam, only English broadcast on the BBC
have been changing fairly rapidly. For example, hun-
(British Broadcasting Company), VOA (Voice of
dreds of teachers of Russian have been retrained as
America), or ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company)—
teachers of English in order to meet the needs of learn-
in other words, only English used by speakers in
ers of English throughout the country. Although the
Kachru’s Inner Circle countries—is considered to be
Ministry of Education and Training in Vietnam makes
“standard English.”
plans by trying to foresee what may take place in socie-
Another problem is that there has been little
ty ten years ahead, it seems that changes in educational
attempt at determining what constitutes “standard
policies are often less progressive than changes in soci-
English.” Some say it is the English of the textbook, but
ety. In other words,Vietnamese society has been chang-
most people do not conduct business in that way. I
ing more rapidly and drastically than MOET’s policy revi-
often hear my former graduate students, who are now
sions. As the World Englishes perspective becomes more
working for Japanese or Korean companies in Vietnam,
recognized among educators, future policies and materi-
complain that it is difficult for them to understand
als developed for national language education must
Japanese English, that is, the variety of English spoken by
reflect these needs and realities.
speakers of Japanese.
Or they will say that their
“standard English” has deteriorated because of
Taiwanese or Korean supervisors who speak their own
varieties of English.
Concerning examination standards and standard-
I believe that the time is more than ripe to claim
ized testing, up to now the World Englishes perspective
that questions related to World Englishes should cause
has had no room in the English language testing system
Vietnamese educators, particularly trainers of inter-
in Vietnam. Lowenberg suggests that in much of stan-
preters and translators, to reconsider the existing TESOL
dardized language testing—for example, the TOEIC (Test
curriculum in order to meet the rapid changes in
of English for International Communication)—“on actu-
society’s demands.
al tests and in test preparation, materials do not reflect
usage norms in the non-native varieties and are there-
Curriculum Under the Microscope
fore not entirely valid indicators of proficiency in
English as a world language” (1993, p. 96). This view-
It is important to note that the spread of English
point, however, is absolutely strange to Vietnamese
provides language teachers with an abundance of data
testers and testees. Hanoi University of Foreign Studies,
for relating ESL/EFL issues to pedagogical concerns.
for example, sets a rule for test designers to use only test-
Kachru and Nelson suggest several ways to carry out
ing materials produced in Inner Circle countries. In
this difficult task:“This can be done...through the study
addition, texts for English-Vietnamese translation tests
of variation, the pragmatics of variation, varieties and
must be written by native English-speaking authors.
cultures, and varieties and creativity. These assumptions
Such rules are probably due to lack of information on
reflect at least three most powerful sets of pedagogical
issues relating to World Englishes.
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December 2000

As English language teachers and testers, how can
It is also reasonable to claim that internationaliza-
we react to Lowenberg’s questions about whether only
tion of the English language teaching (ELT) discipline
native speakers should determine the norms for “stan-
could serve an ethical purpose, since it works to abolish
dard English” as it is used globally? I strongly agree
ethnocentrism and English imperialism, defined by
with Lowenberg’s acknowledgment of the impact non-
Skutnab-Kangas and Phillipson: “English linguistic impe-
native English speakers have on the development of a
rialism, a subtype of general linguistic imperialism, oper-
language, and his calls for English language proficiency
ates when the dominance of English is asserted and
assessments to take into account how English is used by
maintained by the establishment and continuous recon-
speakers all over the world.
stitution of structural and cultural inequalities between
English and other languages” (in Phillipson, p. 47). By
Resource Development
contrast, when looking at questions about the cultural
and political implications of the global spread of
In the area of materials development in language
English, Pennycook argues that “the dominant discourse
teaching, in Vietnam we have witnessed the beginning
on English as an International Language (EIL), which is
of the impact of a World Englishes perspective. Even
of particular significance for English language teaching,
though the majority of materials prepared for EFL
considers this spread to be generally natural, neutral and
instruction focus primarily on Inner Circle norms,
beneficial and is concerned more with questions of lin-
recently, thanks to the government’s “Doi Moi” policy,
guistic description than of language, culture and poli-
students of translation training courses in Vietnam are
tics” (p. 35).
exposed to resources from different English-language
The infusion of a World Englishes perspective into
newspapers provided by foreign embassies in Hanoi.
English language teaching can help English teachers
These newspapers originate in Inner Circle as well as in
focus more critically on how English is used throughout
Outer and Expanding Circle countries.
the world. Explorations of World Englishes have the
potential of opening the eyes of English users to the
great array of cultures and civilizations in the world.
Clearly, a World Englishes perspective creates a
Clearly, both English language teachers and educa-
challenging opportunity! Internationalization of English
tion policymakers should bear in mind the worldliness
language teaching and the introduction of a World
of English. The notion of the worldliness of English was
Englishes perspective into English language education
introduced by Pennycook as “a term which is intended
programs is a long overdue and difficult task.
It will
to refer to the material existence of English in the world,
require not only hard work and cooperation between
its spread around the world, its worldly character as a
language teachers and education policymakers, but also
result of being so widely used in the world, and its posi-
the collaboration of researchers throughout the world.
tion not only as reflective but also as constitutive of
As language educators and researchers, we are facing
worldly affairs” (p. 36).
new paradigms and perspectives for linguistic and
To achieve positive educational goals in TESOL, it is
pedagogical practice, and we must respond.
very important to create not only teacher but also learn-
er awareness of the status and functions of Englishes in
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December 2000

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December 2000

Quirk, R. The English Language in a Global Context.
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Smith, L.E., and J.A. Bisazza. “The Comprehensibility of
Department journal at Hanoi Foreign Studies
Three Varieties of English for College Students in Seven
Countries.” Language Learning 32 (2), pp. 259-269,
Smith, L.E., and C.L. Nelson. “International Intelligibility
Tran Thi Lan (M.Ed., TESOL, Queensland University of
of English: Directions and Resources.” World Englishes
Technology; Dip. TESOL, Canberra University; Dip.
4 (3), pp. 333-342, 1985.
Translation, University of Foreign Languages, Moscow)
has been teaching English at Hanoi University of Foreign
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Studies since 1982. Her papers have been presented at
Gap: Second Language Acquisition Theory and
TESOL conferences in the United States, Australia, and
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Egypt, and she has also studied at the University of
pp. 3-14, 1986.
California-Los Angeles (UCLA). Her particular interests
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are global English, computer-assisted language learning
English Teaching Forum 15 (4), pp. 56-63, 1987.
(CALL), and interpretation/translation.
To borrow
another teacher’s brain,
look for this icon!
It’s not what is poured
into a student
that counts,
“Ideas on the Go”
provides you with
what is planted.
brief, creative teaching ideas,
– Linda Conway
which can be easily adapted
or expanded to fit your needs
and teaching style.
Teacher’s Edition
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December 2000