Iceland as a model of ESL

TEFLtastic has a review of Langauge of Instruction from Iceland Review Online and compares English education in Iceland vs Japan.  I suspect Korea resembles Japan in these respects.

92% of PhD theses are in English, most university textbooks are in English, all lecturers must think about doing their classes in English if someone asks them to, and they use English more than any other Scandinavian country. All that, and yet there are also fewer borrowed words in Icelandic than in Danish, Norwegian or Swedish.

Sounds like the complete opposite of here in Japan, where nothing is done in English but the language is being taken over! As I’ve said before, the Japanese really should import teachers and policy makers from countries that are doing things right, rather than native speakers from some of the world’s least bilingual countries…

Regarding that last point: Ouch.


4 Responses to “Iceland as a model of ESL”

  1. Kevin Kim Says:

    I’m not sure I understand the content and import of the second paragraph. Which language is being taken over? Japanese? English? “Taken over” in what sense? Taken over by another language (i.e., Language B is causing Language A to disappear)? Taken over by a burgeoning number of instructors from different countries?

    And if the second paragraph is saying that the Japanese need to import teachers from Iceland rather than, say, the US… why? Let’s say that the Japanese system is in trouble. How will the importing of English teachers from Iceland help the Japanese improve their own system? Since those hypothetical Icelandic teachers will be inserted into the Japanese system, they’ll be in the same boat as the North American, UK, and Down Under teachers who find themselves struggling against a stultifying system that balks at difference and originality. Are Icelanders supposed to arrive en masse and swamp the Japanese educational system like a human tsunami? Will the Japanese take kindly to the arrival of a wave of policy-makers?

    All in all, I fail to understand the logic of the article. The one thing I do pull from it is that in Iceland, unlike in Japan, English instruction is relentlessly in English, not in the native tongue. But that information comes from the article’s first sentence. After that… I admit I’m lost. What relevance do borrowed words have to the question at hand? Is the writer saying that the Icelandic language remains fairly “pure”– unadulterated by the presence of loan-words? Is he contrasting this with Japanese, which contains many borrowed words? If so, how does this relate to the question of English instruction, especially if the object of the game is to teach classes entirely in English? Loan-words would be irrelevant in such a context.

    Just not getting it. More clarity would have been nice.

  2. surprisesaplenty Says:

    Sorry for the delay in a response. I’ve been distracted and a little sick – just a cold, but its slowing me down.

    I admit that I didn’t read the post as closely as you seem to have. something in it seemed right and I hurriedly copied the entire thing -short as it is, I felt that would be acceptable- then hurried out the door to work.

    The second paragraph is unclear. The grammar of the first sentence means that I can’t be sure, but I think it means Japanese is being taken over by English. I further added in my mind, that it was being taken over by, uh, Japlish. I did so because I felt I could look at that paragraph and replace Japan with Korea and fill in a lot of blanks with my own opinions.

    In your second paragraph, you complain that Icelandic teachers of English will not be able to change the system but you also noted the quoted paragraph specifically says “..and policy makers”. Native English Speaker Teachers in Korea (again: and probably Japan) don’t have the authority to make changes but perhaps policy advisors would help.

    Why Icelanders? I don’t see the rationale in the quoted paragraphs but in my mind it was clear – why weren’t you reading my mind?

    At a KOTESOL conference a few years back a futurist discussed how a group of Chinese engineers hired German teachers of English to give them lessons. They felt the instruction was more practical and the discussion went on to explain why. One can omit articles and some pronouns without losing much intelligibility. The German instructors were aware of this and did not demand the same precision native English teachers typical do.

    As for your questions regarding loan words and language purity, I think it was it included to emphasize that one could gain the values of globalism without losing to much to language colonialism. Koreans (and I presume Japanese) are stereotyped as worrying about racial purity. That Iceland has retained some form of that purity should be reassuring to Koreans.

    Your own language skills make you an outlier as far as ESL teachers in Korea go. My own fit the stereotype well: I am a unilingual language teacher and could imagine that Icelanders would also provide a good example of what their students could achieve.

    Oh, I read your article on essay writing and linked to it from my creativity blog. As with this post, I did not offer much commentary but did state that I liked it:

  3. Kevin Kim Says:

    Thanks for the reply and for the shout-out to my tutoring blog. I need all the marketing I can get.

  4. surprisesaplenty Says:

    Yeah, like my blog draws so many hits. I hope you aren’t depending on traffic only from me.

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