British English, American English, International English or World Englishes?

English reigns supreme as the international language for business, media culture, and academic research in 2009. Some experts even estimate that more individuals speak English as a second, third, or fourth language than as a native tongue. What are the practical classroom applications of this situation for English teachers?

Let me be more specific. Should British English or American English be the standard for English language learners? What about an International English with a focused vocabulary of perhaps only 3,000 practical words? Or are we drifting toward a wide diversity of different English dialectics, perhaps even separate languages that some scholars call World Englishes? Would the location of the classroom matter? Do the goals, ages, and perceived needs of the English language learners determine the answer? As TESOL members know, this topic has become a very hot debate in the field of applied linguistics, EFL, and ESL.
published my book review of World Englishes by Andy Kirkpatrick (Cambridge University Press) yesterday that looks at these complicated issues.
Check it out at World Englishes (, by the way, remains a rare treasure trove of information for English teachers and tutors working abroad.)

My recent visit to Vietnam – and intensive interviews with over 20 English language learner at an international high school – have certainly clarified some of the faultlines. For instance, if a Vietnamese high school senior wants to study in Australia, Britain, Canada, or the United States, they clearly must meet a much higher standard of English competency. High academic standards remain essential, especially for ambitious students seeking admission to competitive universities.

Yet, as Kirkpatrick notes, the vast, vast majority of Vietnamese studying English will never study or work abroad. Nor is the typical Vietnamese English student likely to immigrant to an English speaking country. What standard of English should the typical Vietnamese worker aspire to speak? Why? Context, as ever, seems essential. Perhaps, as Kirkpatrick argues, Vietnamese will develop a distinct version of English to meet their needs – and word endings are dropped.

My book review outlines the Kirkpatrick’s controversial thesis, his principal examples, and central arguments. It also includes my perceptions of the limits and difficulties with his increasingly influential perspective. Naturally, I hope you read it – and share your reaction with me.

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