Although not immediately obvious from the presentation title, an exploration into pidgin and creole languages can be very beneficial for language teachers in Japan. The study of these languages raises questions about the definition of the bounds of the English (or French or Spanish) language, which has definite repercussions for how we conceptualize and practice English language teaching. Volker has been heavily involved in researching these languages for over two decades, and presented with authority and good humor.
Volker explained two of the dominant theories concerning how pidgin and creole languages develop. They appear very quickly, unlike traditional languages with a long history, often within a single generation. Creoles are independent languages, not dialects. They have an independent lexicon, grammar and phonology. A sample of creole languages was presented: a news report from Jamaica, a Christian sermon from Hawaii and a news update from Papua New Guinea. Participants were invited to decipher each of the video clips, which differed in the amount of variance from standard English.
Issues related to pidgin and creole languages can often surface in Japan. For example, a student may go to Hawaii and come back disheartened because he/she couldn’t understand people talking to each other. Or perhaps a Jamaican (or a Papua New Guinean) applies for a job at an eikaiwa school that is advertised for “native speakers of English”. An interesting discussion ensued about the status of “native” and “non-native” speakers when applying for a job, and how much freedom teachers can have when presenting varieties of English in class. The presentation ended with a crash course in tok pisin, the national language of Papua New Guinea.