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Program Moves Online to Train Teachers in Global English

Welcome to Wordmaster. I'm Adam Phillips sitting in this week for Rosanne Skirble and Avi Arditti. Today, we look at an innovative master's degree program at the New School in New York.

It was specifically designed to teach teachers how to teach English in a rapidly globalizing world. Linda Dunne, dean of the New School, helped to pioneer the program, which will be offered entirely online beginning this September.

LINDA DUNNE: "It's unique because in addition to teaching the skills of teaching English, it engages in the political, economic and cultural theory of what it means to learn English. We also have courses that engage in how globalization relates to learning English and speaking it."

Dunne says that, until recently, most people wanted to learn English in order to work in America or Great Britain or to talk with people from places where English is the main tongue.

LINDA DUNNE: "In other words, they moved to the United States, and they wanted to be able to speak English here. Or they were working in the tourist industry, and they wanted to be able to speak to American or English tourists."

At one time, most of the world's English speakers grew up speaking the language. But today, says Dunne, three out of four English speakers are native speakers of other languages. Dunn says that many of them now use English to communicate effectively with other non-native English speakers. They use it as a sort of linguistic common ground.

LINDA DUNNE: "So that somebody who is speaking Swedish who does business with someone who speaks Japanese may use English as the common language between them. That changes very much the dynamics of what kind of English they are using, how they are learning it, the purpose for which they are learning it. They are learning it not in order to engage in an English-speaking world. They are using it in order to communicate in their worlds and do business and write papers and all the things people do now in the globalized world. So the balance has changed."

And that has changed the way English is taught and the way teachers are taught to teach English. Lesley Painter-Farrell, the associate director of the New School's English Language Department, says that when she started teaching English to speakers of other languages nearly two decades ago, the emphasis was always on technical fluency and accuracy.

LESLEY PAINTER-FARRELL: "Accuracy was the main thing. Grammar was very high on the agenda. In fact, we had grammar-based syllabi. That's all we really had. Now we are turning more to functional syllabi. Meaning we are focusing much more on the ability to communicate. We just focus on how students actually do something, how they introduce themselves, how they negotiate themselves with somebody, how they express themselves clearly -- let's say with regret -- not really the past simple of the present perfect. That's still important. But certainly there is a shift in our kind of methodology now."

Linda Dunne points out that this new methodology has required English teachers to change their attitudes as well as their methods.

LINDA DUNNE: "I think in part it means an English teacher isn't assuming they are teaching English to someone because English is somehow inherently the privileged or the best culture, the best language, [or] that people want to become American. The English teacher is respectful of the culture the person we are teaching is from."

Lesley Painter-Farrell agrees.

LESLEY PAINTER-FARRELL: "Ultimately, what we have to have are flexible English language teachers. That is the key to successful networking within this informational society."

Traditionalists in many nations are wary that their native cultures will be eclipsed by the prevalence of English in international media such as film. But Ms. Painter-Farrell points out that native cultures often recast Western offerings in their own image. She says that's what happened in India, where she once lived.

LESLEY PAINTER-FARRELL: "And people would go to see these English- speaking movies even if they couldn't understand English and couldn't read the subtitles quickly enough. And then Bollywood became huge. You've got people seeing something, and they like it. But then they interpret it to how they think it can work in their context."

The Internet, e-mail and the popularity of hip-hop music have also contributed to the worldwide spread of English.

The New School's online master's degree program will also include concentrations in curriculum development, writing and publishing in the English language teaching field and instruction in how to set up English language education centers around the world.

For Wordmaster, I'm Adam Phillips reporting from New York.