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English in the Faroe Islands - Unapologetically Subjective Musings

In the last decade or so, English has begun to have a clear presence in Faroese society. The issue of whether this is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ has to be viewed from an academic perspective in the light of its implications, but thEnglish in the Faroe Islands- Unapologetically Subjective Musings is is not the premise of this article.

It is envisaged that when such a discussion is generated, it can be elevated beyond the bias of purely seeing English as a threat to Faroese. If we willingly suspend this constraint that colours discussions of English as a global language oftentimes, a significant picture may well emerge which could be exploited to the advantage of The Faroe Islands.

English from a subjective perspective

Keeping in mind the period within the author’s experience of English in The Faroe Islands- 1991 to the present, the journey of English can be best described as being riddled with an ecclectic mix of desultory accomodation, pragmatic acceptance, and a curious assimilation.

In the early 90s, English was not an established language in the sense that one saw its obvious usage in informal or formal situations. One heard it in passing, especially when communicating with foreigners was involved. I heard it from ethnic Faroese in their kind attempts to communicate with me or use me as an English tutor to be a sounding board for their skill in the language. I was often told of  Britain’s friendly invasion and how English was no stranger to the these fair isles. It was evidently taught in schools and the university.

With the advent of the promise of black gold, English could be seen to shift to sometimes becoming the mode of communication for various public and private sector organisations. Courses in English for Special Purposes (ESP) mushroomed in one form or another. In the academic milieu, there was an increase in the demands for proofing articles to be published in academic journals to gain a wider readership. Conferences were arranged where presenters and guest speakers spoke this ‘lingua franca.’ Webpages were offered in English. Our politicians delivered speeches penned for them in English.
With The Faroe Islands firmly on the international stage-for either positive or negative reasons, English has been hauled into a defacto role. Apart from the contexts already mentioned, nowhere is this more evident than in the various exhibitions, entertainment media, and more specifically, the marketing campaigns that entice the world to these islands.

The ‘Faroese identity’
A paradigmatic shift to the identity of being Faroese with the increase in immigration is likely. This means the typical Faroese now includes second generation immigrants who may or may not ‘look Faroese’. Many immigrants have come here with English as a first or second language. A further slant to this issue is non-English speaking immigrants who learn English first instead of Faroese to establish a sense of belonging. Perhaps, English is chosen over Danish here as the one having a wider franchise among fellow immigrants.

In education
Educational institutions have begun to give English a higher priority-here and abroad. English is being introduced earlier than before. Many of our young people in other countries meet English in academic corridors- in teaching and text books, and in social contexts.

Pervasive social media engagement and entertainment have widened the scope of English usage. The cyberworld sees our young people functioning seemingly effortlessly in this language. If one ignores the protestations of wincing English teachers about the quality of language used, it must be acknowledged that English has come a long way here since the 1990s.

English Language Teaching (ELT) in context
Today, as one who teaches ELT to prospective teachers of English, I am conscious that teaching approaches must constantly evolve to accomodate the needs of the learners. The teachers must be equipped as best possible to facilitate their students’ learning of English. This brings with it the need to set high standards for teaching and learning which can empower NÁD students to cope in a world where change is ‘the only constant.’ In a dynamic society, ELT pedagogy has a responsibilty to keep pace with the times.

Future of English in The Faroe Islands
To map the future of English in this country, its current status must be catalogued. Have we decided the form in which we want it-both in adacemic and non-academic contexts? Is it only a vehicle that can ‘sell’ the islands to a wider public or attract the ‘correct’ kind of people? The role of English has to be delineated so it may become yet another resource in the armoury of The Faroe Islands to make its mark in this era of rampant globalisation. 

Kalpana Vijayavarathan M.A., M.Phil (Eng)., Msc (Business Management)
Lecturer in ELT, Department of Education (NÁD)
Contact: kalpanav(at)setur.fo