Kachru Model “The Three Circles of English”

Ana Valpa
5 min readApr 25, 2020


Throughout the history of England and the British Empire, experts have proposed many models to try to classify English speakers. However, not all linguists agree in which classification is the best. In this article I will take a look at one of those classifications, Kachru’s model, which was proposed just five decades ago. But before starting to explain any the model we need to be aware of the fact that this is a three group model. That is, one that classifies speakers as:

  • ENL: English as a native language, these are native speakers born in an English-speaking country, having then this language as their mother tongue or first tongue.
  • ESL: English as a second language, these are the non-native speakers who have learnt English almost at the same time as their mother tongue.
  • EFL: English as a foreign language, these are the non-native speakers who learnt English in a country where English is not usually spoken.

Although this classification shows some problems such as the classification of bilingual speakers, the psychological problems shown in ENL of speakers of non-standard varieties, and ESL speakers who are not comfortable to use the language in certain situations. This is the main classification that linguists take into account in order to write their own models.

For many sociolinguists the most important and accurate model is the one proposed by Braj Kachru in 1988. His “Three circle model of World Englishes, states that there are three circles inside which, the different speakers are classified. The different circles are:

  • The Inner Circle is made up the traditional bases of English and its speakers are the ones in charge of providing the norms. These places are where the norms are created and from which they spread to the other circles. Some of the countries that conform the Inner Circle are USA, UK and Canada.
  • The Outer Circle represents the places where they speak official non-native varieties of English because of their colonial history. The speakers of these places are the ones who challenge the norms and develop them. They are mainly ESL. Some of the countries that belong to this circle are India, Pakistan and Egypt.
  • The Expanding Circle is made up by EFL speakers where English is not usually spoken. In this circle the speakers have to follow the rules established by the Inner Circle and developed or challenged by the Outer one. Some examples of countries that belong to this circle are China, Russia and Brazil.

The following video, The Spread of English, offers an extended explanation of how the model works. It shows how colonisation, history, and politics played a key role in the spread of English in different territories around the globe.

The Inner Circle as was explained before is made up by the countries who belong to the first diaspora.

For the Greeks, from whose language the word originated, diaspora meant the dispersal of population through colonization. For Jews, Africans, Armenians, and others, the word acquired a more sinister and brutal meaning. Diaspora meant a collective trauma, a banishment into exile, and a heart-aching longing to return home. During the early modern period, trade and labor diasporas girded the mercantilist and early capitalist worlds. Today the term has changed again, often implying a positive and ongoing relationship between migrants’ homelands and their places of work and settlement.(Gupta, Mittal, Nagar; Singhal, 2019)

These countries are were the linguistic and cultural bases of English are traditionally located. The Outer Circle is conformed by the second diaspora thanks to the colonisation of different territories in Asia and Africa by the British Empire. One of the most important ideas to take into account regarding this circle is that the English varieties spoken in it are usually in constant contact with other languages. This causes the English variety to be influenced by those other languages and in some cases to incorporate some of their features. This is why the Outer Circle is norm-developing, because the contact with other languages prompts changes in its vocabulary and sometimes in its grammar. The Expanding Circle was never colonized by the British Empire and therefore English is not a language spoken by a significant number of people in the country.

Dialects of English in the British Isles

However, we also have to take into account that this model also presents some problems because it does not take into account ecosystems in its classification but nations. Because of this fact that might seem irrelevant to some, Kachru is for instance only including Standard English without analysing the numerous other varieties of UK. And we need to bear in mind that there are more dialects within the British Islands than outside them, dialects such as Cockney, Scouse or Geordie just to name a few.

The same thing happens regarding the Outer Circle. Secondly, we have the problem that he only takes into account pidgins and creoles that are considered official in their different countries. This leaves many of speakers out of his model as well. And lastly, he does not considers the notion of proficiency important, and therefore a native speaker who left school at an early age and does not know many of the grammar rules of the language is considered to be a better speaker than for example a English teacher from Spain who is more prepared and is aware of all the rules of the language.

All in all, Kachru’s model has had a lot of importance in the history of sociolinguistics, however, it also shows some problems that need to be solved in order to include all the speakers of the English language.


  • Handke, J. (2013, June 25). YouTube. Retrieved November 7, 2016, from The Spread of English: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrsQmIVYrdg
  • Wenfang, C. (2011, April). Different Models of English as an International Language and Their Implications for Teaching Non-English Majors. Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics , 5–17.



Ana Valpa

English Lit. enthusiast with too little knowledge about too many things.