29 July 2010

Standards of English

Today, I will be heading back to Brunei, so this is my last post from Germany. It has been a wonderful month, and I am most grateful to the University of Regensburg for inviting me here.

One of the most surprising things I have found here concerns the standard of English of the students I have met. I have just finished reading 18 reports written by undergraduates majoring in English, and the quality of their written English is, without exception, excellent. It is far better than what I would get in Singapore or Brunei, and I am pretty sure it is also better than what you might find with undergraduate reports in most universities in the UK.

This illustrates an important point: standards of English are not necessarily linked to the status of the language in the Inner, Outer or Expanding Circles. Although English is definitely a foreign language for all the students I have met here, this does not prevent them speaking and writing it extremely well (though, of course, I assume there are other students here with less proficiency in English).

And this relates to one other point that I have discussed before: you can speak a new variety of English, such as that of Singapore, well, or you can speak it badly. And nowadays there is widespread acceptance that it is fine to sound Singaporean just so long as you speak well.

I don't know if a distinct variety of German English might one day evolve and become generally accepted. Certainly there seems to be little chance of it at present, as all the people I have met here are adamant that their target is native-like ability in British or American English. Nevertheless, the point still remains: it is perfectly possible to speak excellent English as a foreign language, and a few tinges of German influence on your pronunciation do not interfere with this in any way.