Sit comfortably, the recording will start, relax. You have the premium service, provided to you by the dulcet tones of a North American man or a South Eastern Englishman. This recording will last approximately one minute thirty seconds and will be paced at approximately two and a half words per second, slower than standard speech but not discernibly so for you, the learner. You can decode the words, possibly even get taught egonnaf by the teacher which you hear in the recording. The preparatory language course for your trip abroad is going well, you are full of confidence and you are ready to use English and talk to people you meet.
What happens next is unexpected: the locals are gabbling away at breakneck speed and when they do slow down they mangle the vowels, strangle the consonants and wrangle the clustered sounds into manifestations so illogical you might as well have answered in your first language.
We have all had students with this kind of experience yet how many of us have access to materials for the classroom with the kind of accents that our students are likely to encounter when they use their English? In this era of English as a Lingua Franca, the so-called prestige accents and dialects are still the main feature in classroom listening materials. The question is, why? There are so many cultural questions being raised about the whitewashing of Hollywood and othering of different races and nationalities through tokenism or comedy. There are not many textbooks in Asia that focus primarily on understanding other Asians speak English yet this is the main community that many of my Japanese students of English come into contact with. The number of my students coming into contact with Americans, Australians or British outside the language classroom is lower than contact with Vietnamese, Thais or Indians yet the presence of speakers from these locales is negligible. Add to this the fact that contact with people from inner-circle countries is not limited to those from London, New York, Sydney or Auckland and the problem widens further still.
So, apart from balling our fists and complaining, what can be done? Well, at a personal level we can choose not to use the listening exercises from assigned books in our lessons and instead use alternative, more realistic sources such as http://elllo.org/ . If the listening presents a language point you could simply search using Google with the following:
site:elllo.org “example language you want using quote marks”
This will then give you items from elllo.org with said language in their transcripts. Another option is to search for audio and podcasts from the target communities but this is time-consuming and may be fruitless.
This is where TEFL Equity really comes in because only by being respectful and providing recognition of one another’s strengths can we come together to assist one another wherever we are. So, as teachers and just as ordinary people, we could come together and talk to one another. The internet is most people’s de facto living room: could we meet there, chat there and record what we talk about and use this for our learners?
Anybody interested in doing so should get in contact with me here.
Marc Jones is a teacher and studying for a Trinity DipTESOL and soon MA Applied Linguistics & TESOL. He is interested in L2 listening, SLA and Japanese. He blogs at getgreatenglish.com and freelanceteacherselfdevelopment.wordpress.com