The challenge to the idea of monolingualism starts by challenging the general assumption made by SLA researchers and EFL / ESL teachers that we’re dealing with monolingual speakers who want to learn English as an L2. This assumption amounts to saying that L2 acquisition amounts to “efforts by monolingual adults to add on a monolingual-like command of an additional language” (Ortega, 2009, p. 5). This assumption is being increasingly questioned.
It’s being questioned by Lourdes Ortega, for example, who questions the current paradigm of SLA research and suggests that we need to completely reformulate our ideas about monolingualism. Ortega agues, very forcefully, that most people in the world are not monolingual, and that learning English as a second language is seen through the myopic lense of Western Europeans. (See Note 1 below.)
Vivian Cook wants to develop the idea of multicompetence, about which he says “multi-competence is not just the imperfect cloning of mono-competence, but a different state” (Vivian Cook, 2002, pp. 7-8). Cook argues that SLA is not best seen, as it is by most in the field of SLA, as some kind of added skill, but rather as a change in the way we use language. See below: Note 2.
Claire Kramsch also questions monolingualism. See below, Note 3.
Growing interest in re-defiining monoloingualism and biligualism reflect a concern about underlying assumptions that we hold about ELT. David Crystal, among many others, has been banging on for years about the need to see English as a a Lingua Franca (see note 4), and there is a growing swell of opinion in this direction. Surely they’re right. Surely English is a Lingua franca where more non-native speakers talk to each other in English than L1 English speakers talk to one another. What this says about SLA is unclear, but it certainly says a lot about how ELT should define itself.
All the pillars of our profession are being given a very good and healthly shake by all this, and English as a Lingua Franca is becoming a hot issue.
The question remains: What does this all amount to? Does it really change the ground where EFL teachers presently stand? Do teachers have to radically change the way they teach? Should we teach not the English we have as an L1, but English as a Lingua Franca?
1. See the Links page of this website for Ortega “New Trends in SLA”, particularly the slides starting around slide 45.
2. See the Video page on this website where Vivian explaining his view. You can also see more of Vivian’s views by going to the Links page.
3. See the Video page for an excellent talk by Claire Kramsch taking about the shortcomings of monolingualism.
4. See the article in the Articles section of this website “English as a Lingua Franca (ELF): State of the Art”, and the article on pragmatic competence.