Going Beyond “Teaching English” In English Language Classrooms by Dr Jaroslaw Kriukow

by Dr Jaroslaw Kriukow
Bio: Dr Jaroslaw Kriukow is a researcher and academic tutor. He facilitates lectures and workshops on qualitative research and data analysis in NVivo, develops self-study courses and provides free academic support through his Qualitative Researcher Dr Kriukow website and Facebook.

He was awarded a PhD degree by the University of Edinburgh for his mixed methods research into Polish migrants’ English Language Identity.

His research interests include: Non-native English speakers’ self-concept and self-esteem in relation to English, the implications of English as a Lingua Franca research for Educational Psychology, post accession Polish migration to the UK, links between ELT (English language teaching) and language learners’ self-perceptions as well as TESOL.

Forward by David L. Hayter,
ALTTO Community Media Manager

As ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) in Japan, I think a lot of us are often focused on the nuts and bolts of teaching lessons like creating fun activities for our classes and making quality materials. However, we may sometimes forget to investigate the finer nuances which drive our students’ attitudes towards learning, our JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English) attitudes towards teaching, and how they both perceive themselves in a global society.

Dr Kriukow’s work focuses on the concept of self-identity within social-science. Oxford Dictionary defines this self-identity as, “The perception or recognition of one’s characteristics as a particular individual, especially in relation to social context”.

When thinking about this concept of self-identity as it relates to Japanese English students and teachers, we must take into account that if they are not actively shaping their own identities within an English speaking and global communication context, then an alternative, often negative, identity is being shaped for them. This “English Language Identity” that Dr Kriukow describes can have a dramatic effect on how students learn languages and how teachers expect them to perform.

From my experience, much of the confidence that Japanese students, and sometimes teachers, lack comes from a culture where they have been told that anything but perfection is not good enough and that the ultimate goal is to speak like a native speaker of English. This creates an environment where English is purely a measure of one’s academic ability and intelligence as opposed to a tool for people to use to communicate their ideas and gain new information.

Along with many of the changes prescribed by The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) for improving English education in Japan in 2020, the shaping of this “English Language Identity” must be addressed to effect long term change in the country’s attitude towards teaching and learning English.

As you read through Dr Kriukow’s work dealing with Polish migrants in the UK, try to keep your own students in mind and think about how we can support our students and teachers to shape a positive, realistic “English Language Identity”.

Going Beyond “Teaching English” In English Language Classrooms

In this blog post, based on research into English as a Lingua Franca, as well as research in Social Psychology and my own study of Polish migrants’ “English Language Identity”, I argue that, in an English language classroom, the students’ self-perceptions and beliefs about the language and its users are just as important an issue as the language itself. Subsequently, I make suggestions for classroom practice that would foster the development of desirable self-perceptions and conclude with a call for the current practitioners to conduct their own classroom-based research.

Research into English as a Lingua Franca

With the global spread of English and its use as a lingua franca, or a common means of communication between speakers of different first languages (Seidlhofer, 2011), as well as with Non-native English Speakers (NNESs) outnumbering Native English Speakers (NESs), the language no longer ‘belongs’ exclusively to the latter, but to everyone who speaks it. Early research into the structural aspects of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) communication revealed that the ways English is used are often at odds with those promoted by ELT practice, which views NES speech as a benchmark of achievement (Dewey, 2012). It also showcased the common structural aspects of NNES use of English that do not affect mutual intelligibility during communication, despite it differing from the ‘traditional’, ‘standard’ variety taught in the classroom and modelled by Native English-Speaking Teachers (NESTs). ELF researchers perceive many of these differences as proof of an adaptive nature of NNES’ use of linguistic resources during interaction and often as a tool for expressing identity and culture (e.g. Baker, 2012). They put forward the notion of multi-competence, or the “knowledge of more than one language, free from evaluation against an outside standard” (Cook 1999: 190), as a concept beneficial for NNES identity construction in light of the global use of ELF. Rather than viewing NESs as the benchmark for measuring their language proficiency, it has been argued that language learners should recognise their own potential of being multi-competent language users (Cervatiuc, 2009). Cook (1999) argued that, by continuously comparing their pronunciation with native models, NNESs are likely to perceive themselves as “deficient native speaker[s]”, or an “imitation of native speaker[s]” (ibid: 195), rather than thinking of themselves as being successful, multilingual speakers who are fully legitimate members of a global community of English users.

Language, Self-concept and Self-esteem

At the same time, an extensive body of research within Social and Educational Psychology suggests that a person’s self-concept, being the sum of “beliefs (…) about oneself” (Hamlyn, 1983: 241), as well as self-esteem, or the evaluation of that self-concept (Rubio, 2015), are factors that influence people’s behaviour and decision-making in their everyday life (Ryan and Irie, 2015). As it is through language that people first internally conceptualise, and then express, that sense of self to others (Park, 2007), language is believed to play a central role in both self-concept and self-esteem formation. It has also been suggested that NNESs develop their self-concept by comparing themselves to those whom they believe have expertise in a domain relevant to a particular communicative situation (Mercer, 2011). ELF research adds to this, by arguing that, at least with regard to English competence, NNESs tend to both view NESs as such ‘experts’ and measure their own achievement in terms of proximity to their unrealistic and irrelevant goal of achieving native-like pronunciation.

The study of Polish migrants’ English Language Identity (ELI)

I kept the above claims in mind when I conducted a study of Polish migrants’ English Language Identity (ELI) which I defined as the relationship between the English language and the migrants’ self-concept, or beliefs about themselves. The setting was Scotland, where Poles constitute the largest, and fastest growing, migrant community. A goal of the Scottish Government is to attract and retain these migrants in the country, not only to promote cultural diversity, but also to counter the issues of Scotland’s aging population and insufficient workforce. Research suggests, however, that Polish migrants tend to not integrate well with the local communities and to work below their education level and skill set (e.g. Bielewska, 2011). Suggested reasons include some migrants’ low English language skills, their willingness to apply for unskilled jobs because of a short-intended stay in the UK, or employers’ discrimination. However, my background as a Polish national living in Scotland and therefore frequent interactions with other Poles led me to believe that other factors are also likely to be at work. I believed that in their migrant experience in which they have been rapidly immersed in a new linguistic environment and the way they perceive themselves as users of English vis-à-vis NESs is likely to affect their sense of self. My impression was that their general understanding of English as an exclusive property of its native speakers brings about their low self-confidence in speaking the language. This, I believed, would lead to their low self-esteem in general and affect their understanding of what their skills are outside the language, which could result in them choosing jobs below their skill set.

The findings of this study revealed that, in fact, the participants’ beliefs about the English language and its speakers (including themselves) were, ultimately, the main factor influencing their ELI. Their understanding of the notion of “correct” English, for example, paired with, or arguably stemming from, their limited awareness of the variety of forms that English may take in light of its global spread, resulted in them perceiving themselves as having a limited English skill, as opposed to the “superior” and “expert” NESs. This ultimately led to feelings of frustration, stress and anxiety. In sum, it appeared that their overall beliefs about English and its speakers ultimately led to lowered self-esteem and affected their everyday decisions, including them avoiding socialisation as the site of communicative encounters, opting for less linguistically demanding jobs, or, in some cases, deciding whether or not to stay in Scotland.

For those who had been taught English in Poland, this educational setting appeared to have an influence on shaping their overall “language ideologies”. This was evident in the participants’ critical statements about their English learning experiences, which accorded with research on the ELT practices in Poland that revealed that British English and American English are often the only varieties students are exposed to, and the message conveyed to students in ELT classrooms is that these are the only ‘correct’ and ‘legitimate’ varieties (e.g. Janicka et al., 2005). The participants of my study criticised the English education in Poland for a lack of exposure to the different accents spoken worldwide, a lack of training in communication strategies, not enough opportunities to practice speaking and over-reliance on grammatical accuracy. They felt that having been taught in a “don’t say anything because you’ll sound like an idiot, because you won’t say it grammatically” (Ewa, Interview 1) manner, that conveyed the message that ‘Native English’ is the only inherently correct English, grammatical accuracy is the most important aspect of successful communication and the only varieties of English you may encounter abroad are British English and American English, they formed a set of unrealistic and irrelevant beliefs about English and its speakers. These beliefs further influenced their beliefs about English competence (e.g. what it means to be able to ‘speak English’) and their beliefs about people’s perceptions of migrants that were revolving around the migrants’ status of mostly being “failed” NESs (Jenkins 2011: 284). These negative assumptions negatively affected their ELI and resulted in behaviour and various decisions that would ultimately determine their whole migration experience. Furthermore, expecting to encounter only the “marked” versions of English (e.g. ‘British’ or ‘American’ English) on arriving in Scotland also contributed to their initial shock, resulting in their negative self-evaluated English competence and widening the distinction between themselves and the local community.

Incorporating ELF-awareness into English language teaching

The findings supported the previous claim that awareness of the global spread of English with its consequences, including the ways in which the language is used and the different forms it takes, the “fluid” notion of language correctness and the implications of this spread for the “status” and (self)identification of its various non-native users, who are in the majority and may exercise linguistic “power” equal to their native counterparts, could benefit learners’ self-esteem building. Most importantly, instruction that involves this kind of awareness raising, as proposed by various ELF scholars, could, ultimately, transform learners’ perceptions of the language, from seeing it as the “property” of expert NESs into a language that belongs to everyone who speaks it (Cogo, 2012). The feeling of ownership of English and awareness of it having different varieties could enable learners to value their own “version of English”, free them from pursuing the unattainable native accent and ease their future transition into an environment where a variety of English accents are spoken. It could also help them to address the view held by the participants of this study that they speak incorrect English and that they are constantly being evaluated by NESs.

There is a growing body of literature on how to incorporate an ‘ELF perspective’ into English language teaching. Raising awareness of ELF-related topics, for example, can be achieved through direct instruction about the global spread of English (Galloway, 2013), through increased exposure to English varieties (Hino and Oda, 2015; Galloway and Rose, 2013) or authentic encounters through ELF (Galloway and Rose, 2013; Hino and Oda, 2015). The topic of the global spread of English could be incorporated into listening and reading exercises, oral debates or written assignments that would encourage reflections on, and learning about, this topic. Exposure to ELF and various varieties of English, in turn, may be achieved by using materials that include encounters in English between speakers from different backgrounds and in various settings where English is used as a common lingua franca. This would not only prepare learners for the variety of accents and varieties of English they may encounter in the future, but also encourage them to reflect on the ambiguity of the notion of ‘correctness’ in, and, arguably, the ownership of, English. This could, potentially, encourage learners to reconsider their own English competence and their interlocutors’ status as “experts”, which has been shown to affect their ELI, as well as the notion of English as being “NESs’ language” that requires native-like fluency and grammatical correctness.

The importance of practitioner research

All of the above leads to a point that I would like to make. As English teachers, we need to be aware of our students’ needs, beliefs, goals and personalities. As I argued above, these various characteristics not only influence their language learning and performance but may also have a crucial role in their future experiences when using the language. Furthermore, as no teaching/learning context is the same, apart from being aware of the existing research, it is also important for the teachers to conduct their own research to minimize the long-existing gap between research and practice.

This does not have to involve publishing in peer-review journals (although I love to see this kind of papers coming from practitioners), but rather conducting small-scale, ‘local’ research for our own purposes. Conducting a needs analysis among students, using questionnaires to gather their evaluations and feedback, or conducting interviews are only a few methods that may help us understand our students’ needs and beliefs. Nobody understands the students better than the teachers themselves, and it is this teacher perspective that I feel has still not received enough attention in academic literature.


Baker, W. (2012). From cultural awareness to intercultural awareness: culture in ELT. ELT Journal, 66 (1), 62-70.

Bielewska, A. (2011). National identities of Poles in Manchester: Modern and postmodern geographies. Ethnicities, 12 (1), 86-105.

Cervatiuc, A. (2009). Identity, good language learning, and adult immigrants in Canada. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 8, 254-271.

Cogo, A. (2012). English as a Lingua Franca: concepts, use, and implications. ELT Journal, 66 (1), 97-105.

Cook, V. (1999). Going beyond the native speaker in language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 33 (2), 185-209.

Dewey, M. (2012). Towards a post-normative approach: learning the pedagogy of ELF. Journal of English as a Lingua Franca, 1 (1), 141-170.

Galloway, N. (2013). Global Englishes and English Language Teaching (ELT) – Bridging the gap between theory and practice in a Japanese context. System, 41 (3), 786 – 803.

Galloway, N. & Rose, H. (2015). Introducing Global Englishes. London: Routledge.

Hamlyn, D.W. (1983). Perception, learning and the self: Essays in the philosophy of Psychology. London: Routledge.

Hino, N. & Oda, S. (2015). Integrated practice in teaching English as an international language (IPTEIL): A classroom ELF pedagogy in Japan. In Y. Bayyurt & S. Akcan (Eds.), Current perspectives on pedagogy for English as a lingua franca (pp. 81-111). Berlin/Munich/Boston: Walter de Gruyter.

Janicka, K., Kul, M. & Weckwerth, J. (2005). Polish students’ attitudes to native English accents as models for EFL pronunciation. In K. Dziubalska-Kołaczyk & J. Przedlacka (Eds.), English pronunciation models: a changing scene. Bern: Peter Lang.

Jenkins, J. (2011). Accommodating (to) ELF in the international university. Journal of Pragmatics 43. 926-936.

Mercer, S. (2011). Towards an understanding of language learner self-concept. Dordrecht: Springer.

Park, J. (2007). Co-construction of nonnative speaker identity in cross-cultural interaction. Applied Linguistics, 28 (3), 339-360.

Rubio, F.D. (2015). Self-esteem and self-concept in foreign language learning. In S. Mercer and M. Williams (Eds.), Multiple perspectives on the Self in SLA (pp. 41-59). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Ryan, S. & Irie, K. (2015). Imagined and Possible Selves: Stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. In S. Mercer and M. Williams (Eds.), Multiple perspectives on the Self in SLA (pp. 109-126). Bristol, Buffalo, Toronto: Multilingual Matters.

Seidlhofer, B. (2011). Understanding English as a Lingua Franca, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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