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Home Journal Index 2021-3

Special Issue: The Relevance of Terms like ESL and EFL in a Linguistically Complex World

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Labels and Realities: The Relevance of Terms like ESL and EFL in a Linguistically Complex World

Jock Wong
National University of Singapore, Singapore

For a long time, ELT (‘English language teaching’) scholars and practitioners have used terms like ‘ESL’ (‘English as a second language’) and ‘EFL’ (‘English as a foreign language’) unquestioningly to describe the English used by people outside the so-called ENL (‘English as a native language’) circle. For example, ELT practitioners may conveniently refer to students from places like China, Vietnam and Thailand as EFL students. Interestingly, we find counterparts of such terms in ‘World Englishes’ studies; Braj Kachru’s ‘Inner Circle English’, ‘Outer Circle English’ and ‘Expanding Circle English’ essentially refer to ENL ESL and EFL respectively. Despite the popularity of such terms in scholarly circles, the problems associated with their use have not often been explored in depth. Nevertheless, some authors have described such problems. For example, commenting on the distinction between ESL and EFL, Nayar (1997, p. 10) states, “a great deal of referential fuzziness within the two and denotative overlap between the two are making the terminological distinctions unclear, impractical, and ineffective or, worse still, in some cases inauspicious and irrelevant.” This special issue aims to further examine the use and relevance of these terms.