The primary purpose of language is known to everybody. It is a medium used in communication so that people can share ideas with each other. This statement has special meaning for someone engaged in teaching English as a second language since teaching students to interact in this language necessarily involves providing them with means of communication so that they could adequately position themselves in a situation where they apply language skills to the evaluation of current situation and conveying their ideas to the speaker of a different language.
In order to be able to speak a foreign language properly, the speaker should learn basic units of communication and acquire the ability to combine them in a sequence. So that communication could happen, “the result of a communication event, when individual A (the sender) communicate a message X to B (the receiver), has to lead to a consistent correlation between what A is thinking about and what B is thinking about” (Harpaz, 1996). To allow for this result, the speaker should know what to say under what circumstances. He or she should know the structure and meaning of basic units and be able to put them in sequences according to a prescribed set of rules. In addition, the message should be appropriate and fit into the cultural framework of the conversation.
Learners of the second language should eventually be able to go beyond the use of language in situations requiring simple communication such as interaction with someone in a store, bust stop etc. They should learn to engage in communication for emotional exchange, professional interaction, for dis-communication (as when “the sender of a message does not really wants to communicate, and the language evolves tools to allow this”), and possibly even for artistic expression (Harpaz, 1996). All these types of communication are vastly different and require quite specific rules of usage; therefore, it is essential that learners distinguish between these uses of the language and learn to function effectively in all kinds of situations.
This is especially topical for English that is now treated as International or World Language (Talebinezhad, Aliakbari, 2001). Being a global means of communication, English offers opportunities for communication a wide variety of spheres. It is now “a library language, as the medium of science, technology and international trade, and as a contact language between nations and parts of nations” (Talebinezhad, Aliakbari, 2001). Communication in English is affected by the fact that the speakers can both be non-native, and this can both hamper and improve interaction.
This also enhances the need to strengthen learners’ communicative skills with intercultural knowledge. Their communication with others in English can only be successful in communication where he or she has enough cross-cultural competence to continue communication in the language. This statement is true not only for those who intend to use the language travelling outside of their home country. US residents will be confronted over time with a population of growing diversity, as by 2030 “40% of all school-aged children in the United States will be speakers of a first language other than English” (Pratt-Johnson, 2006).
Learners of English as a second language should increase their cultural competence by exploring the ways other cultures retrieve information and solve problems. Although the process of cultural learning “is achieved only after many observations, experiences, and interactions in the classroom and playground, with parents and with peers”, it can be jump-started by the teacher in the classroom sharing basic information about the most important cultural differences (Pratt-Johnson, 2006). A learner of English will never be effective as a communicator if he or she does not know how to communicate non-verbally, with gestures and signs so as not to offend anybody.
Thus, language is important predominantly as a means of communication; this is the purpose why language was devised and the most important function it fulfils now in society. Teachers of English should keep this communicative focus in mind, allowing this consideration to shape their classes, enhancing the communicative component. At the same time, it is important to share with children knowledge of how to be an effective communicator that goes beyond language boundaries. People will learn to interact effectively if they can share ideas and views with others, know how to use the language to express themselves, and can draw on a large stock of cross-cultural knowledge. This is especially important for English that has established itself as a language of intercultural communication, a function in which it is especially important in the US.
Becoming skilful communicators will empower the students to benefit from their learning English as a second language.
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