Ingapirca Archeological Site, Ecuador. Inca’s Face (Cara del Inca). Photo by the author.
English language educators in postcolonial countries such as Ecuador face two challenges. Firstly, they need to embrace the fact that they teach a colonial language using teaching methodologies developed by scholars from English-speaking former colonizers such as UK or US. The second challenge is that they need to take a stance toward the linguistic, cultural, and economic globalizing effects of teaching a global language. Linguistic globalization means that only English is viewed as a modern language for international communication, often in opposition to vernaculars, which are frequently perceived as incapable of transmitting scientific thought or technological advances. Cultural globalization posits to English language educators a dilemma on either to teach national festivities such as Inti Raymi in English or cultural practices from English-speaking countries such as Thanksgiving or Valentine’s Day. Finally, economic globalization ascribes a high marketable value to the proficiency skills in English, increasing the demand for English language courses.
During my research in Ecuador in 2022, I had originally planned to interview a similar number of English and Kichwa language teachers at a large public Ecuadorian university. While the university provided a list of 60 English teachers, they only had one Kichwa teacher who, at the time of the interview in May of 2022, did not have any students. This example highlights the imbalance in demand for Global English vis-a-vis Kichwa, the mostly spoken indigenous language of Ecuador. The teaching of English in Ecuador reinforces English language hegemony and blurs the ongoing colonial ideologies of the superiority of European languages and cultures hundreds of years after the end of colonization and continue to influence educational policy and practice.
Various language educators in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico have been actively promoting the decolonial option in English language teaching (ELT). For instance, Lopez-Gopar (2016) in Mexico exposes the coercive relations of power in an English teacher preparation program and challenges the association of English with progress. Globalization simultaneously places English skills as marketable and indigenous languages as backwards and marginalizing. Indigenous Oaxacan students in Lopez-Gopar’s research who learn English are ashamed of using their native Zapotec. Lopez-Gopar claims that ELT around the world is imperialist. To counteract this hegemony, he uses English language classrooms as spaces of different ways of knowing, being and speaking. He seeks to decolonize ELT by empowering students, fostering translingual practices, boosting their confidence, and valuing their stories.
In my own decolonial research in Ecuador (Madany-Saá, 2024, in progress) I have explored ways in which English language educators articulate their decoloniality “against” and decoloniality “for.” Decoloniality “against” (Mignolo & Walsh, 2018) is a critical and deliberate process of questioning the existing social condition marked by unequal epistemic relations. One English language educator in Ecuadorian teachers’ college describes his understanding of the decoloniality “against” as follows:
We don’t produce knowledge; we just consume knowledge. The moment we are creating and not just consuming is our capital. […] As Ecuadorians, we should try to start consuming our own products and not just consume anything because it comes from overseas. Whatever teaching methodology is produced in England or in the United States, is good, and we don’t have the capacity to produce something, because we are not native speakers of the English language.
Although several ELT professionals in Ecuador expressed a similar discontent about academic dependency on knowledge produced in English speaking countries, practical action for transforming the colonial and globalizing structures of ELT has yet to be clearly articulated in the field. Decoloniality “for”, according to Mignolo and Walsh (2018), is the struggle “for the creation, and cultivation of modes of life, existence, being, and thought otherwise; that is, modes that confront, transgress, and undo modernity/coloniality’s hold” (p. 31). My research suggests that one possibility for decoloniality “for” in ELT is to apply the principle of sumak kawsay (“good living” in English), an Ecuadorian Indigenous concept that promotes harmonious co-existence among all peoples and respect for Mother Nature. The 2008 Ecuadorian Constitution names the principle of sumak kawsay as a guiding principle for all Ecuadorians – not only for Indigenous nationalities – and mandates teachers to educate accordingly with this principle.
My research, however, points to the idiosyncratic adoption of sumak kawsay in Ecuadorian English teacher preparation programs, often due to lack of knowledge of this concept. On some occasions sumak kawsay is ignored or even rejected because of negative political connotations associated with the leftist government of Rafael Correa (2006-2016), who introduced the concept in the Constitution. The same teacher quoted earlier who advocates for local knowledge production, also admits that his program is not applying sumak kawsay:
We are aware in our program about sumak kawsay, I would say that personally I have not been able to really apply those principles well because I don’t know much about this and that’s maybe one of my mistakes, they haven’t been really explored.
Another ELT educator describes a lack of “working definitions” of what sumak kawsay means for ELT professionals. She suggests more administrative and financial support could be provided to integrate indigenous concepts into ELT and encourage decolonizing pedagogies. Despite new signage in English, Spanish and Kichwa in some educational institutions, ELT in Ecuador is weakly operationalizing their struggles to decolonize the field and articulate their decoloniality “for”.
In sum, my work argues that decoloniality “for” is equally important as decoloniality “against”. ELT professionals can identify and contest the structures of modernity/coloniality; this ability can serve toward developing decoloniality “for” that changes the structures of colonial and globalizing hegemony of English.
Magda Madany-Saá recently earned a PhD from Pennsylvania State University. Her research interests are language policy, translanguaging and decolonial pedagogy.
This article is also available in Esperanto.