English as a Second Language (ESL or English for speakers of other languages) is the official term for the study and use of English by non-native speakers in an English-speaking environment. Accordingly, the teaching of English as a Second Language (TESL) refers to the specialized approaches of teachers for those whose main language isn’t English.
But who are those who are taught, know and speak English as a second language and what is the difference with those who speak English as a foreign language?
Kachru’s model: The three circles of English
Americans and Britons are considered, and probably are, the worst foreign language learners as they believe that wherever you go, they speak English. And to some extent, they aren’t wrong.
According to linguist Braj Kachru, countries are divided according to whether they have:
- English as a mother tongue
- English as a second language
- English as a foreign language
For a full understanding of this separation, Dr. Kachru conceived the idea of three concentric circles of the English language.
English as a Mother Tongue: The Inner Circle
I think this category is self-evident. These are the countries where the official language is English. Only six countries are in the inner circle:
- Great Britain
- The United States of America
- New Zealand
Undoubtedly Great Britain is the mother of English and one can easily notice that all the countries of the inner circle are countries where English is spoken as the first language (L1) are the nations to which a very large number of people originally immigrated from the United Kingdom.
The inner circle plays a decisive role in the evolution of the other two since it is the one who sets the rules. English was created, evolved and constantly changing here and all the other countries follow. It is no coincidence that major international scientific journals have been published entirely in English for years. In other words, English speakers from the countries of the inner circle have complete control over the evaluation not only of the language but also of the information it conveys.
English as a Second Language (ESL): The Outer Circle
The external circle includes countries where English is not the mother tongue, but is in some way an official language or has been established for historical reasons and plays a role in the institutions of a nation.
The most typical examples are:
- Non-English South Africa
- Canada (yes, it is here too since French is the first language in some areas)
The total number of English speakers as a second language is now estimated to exceed 300 million.
The term “English as a Second Language” (L2) traditionally refers to students who go to an English-speaking school but speak another language at home but this is currently lacking. This is the English that one needs to function fully in the school system as a child, to study and find a job as an adult and of course to be able to fully communicate with those around him in his daily life in a foreign country of the inner but also the outer circle.
Thus, it is typically impossible to learn English as a second language unless you are in one of the countries of the first two circles.
English as a Foreign Language (EFL): The Expanding Circle
Finally, the expanding circle includes those countries where although English doesn’t have an institutional role, it is widely used as a foreign language or lingua franca. Suffice it to say that English is the most used business language.
It is essentially a huge part of the rest of the world with typical examples of China, most European countries, Russia, Japan, Korea, Egypt, Indonesia and many more. Estimates at the moment show that in 75 countries English has a special place in society and their population reaches and can now exceed one billion.
Is there a difference between ESL and EFL?
Since ESL students live in an English-speaking environment, it certainly helps them to better understand the language and culture of a country that belongs to the inner or outer circle. But this is not always the case.
- First of all, just because someone learns for example English in the UK doesn’t automatically mean that English is only his second language. He may know two or more other languages beforehand. A typical example is children of immigrants, where both parents speak a different language.
- As the British linguist David Crystal points out, “English is now so widely established that it can no longer be thought of as owned by one nation”.
The English you learn is as good as you are willing to go and thanks to technology, it doesn’t matter if you live in an English speaking country to know English as a second language. There are quite many who now speak better English than people who know English as their mother tongue.
But even more important is the teacher, who must initially be excellently trained in English but also be able to make the most of the lesson by offering the best learning experience taking into account the student’s background, his exposure to English and of course, have the talent to give more motivation to learn English.Let’s Speak Together
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