'Not That Prestigious' by Marc Jones

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.

Design: @Teflninja
Design: @Teflninja

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.

marcMarc 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

0 thoughts on “'Not That Prestigious' by Marc Jones”

  1. Pingback: Guest Post about Listening | Freelance Teacher Self Development

  2. I was thinking about this post today. Next week I have a lesson to teach from a book which is based around ‘will’ for future plans. As in ‘What will you do this weekend?’ , ‘Where will you go for winter vacation?’ , ‘Will you continue to study English after high school?’ . This use has always been something I have tried to nudge over to the ‘going to’ structure, as to me that is more natural and correct usage.

    However, after reading this I started to think, why correct it? I’ve taught a wide range of nationalities and a good portion of them have been taught from early on that we use ‘will’ for future plans. The meaning is clear enough, and as we keep hearing many English speakers now are more likely to talk to other non-natives. From my experience, this and other misuses of grammar (that don’t cadge the meaning) are pretty common around, and I am starting to feel like I’m wasting my time explaining all these rules that essentially just polish the students English. Another good example is countable and uncountable nouns.

    If anyone has any thoughts on this stuff Id like to hear them

  3. Wow, thought provoking. I feel torn between the will/going to treatment and letting it go. How high are the learners? Would it be advantageous for them to try to use ‘going to’? Also, bear in mind that just because you teach something doesn’t mean it’s learnt that day. Exposure to ‘going to’ and a quick explanation of nuance might help. It might also not.

    An interesting thing that came up on Twitter in the wake of this post is that non-natives can be stricter about language use than natives. How much error treatment do your learners want?

    Sorry that I don’t have any answers but I guess you know what’s best for your learners.

    1. Well these guys are low-level youngsters so it isnt such a crucial point. It stretches across the ages though, in my experience. This use of ‘will’ is learnt early on and it sticks. There is no room for nuance because this IS the lesson, you nullify the entire lesson if you say “ok but also we don’t actually use ‘will’ in this way”!

      Same with the use of ‘must’ ahead of ‘have to’. I saw a lesson recently with “What must you do at the weekend?” – “I must clean my room this weekend” as the target language. A couple of sentences I’ve never said or heard in my life in a native-speaker sense but easily understandable, and furthermore this usage is one I’ve heard plenty from students and one I suspect is quite common in a conversation between non-natives.
      I feel like I spend quite a bit of time polishing structures that already carry clear meaning.

      In general I think my students want to be grammatically correct. They view grammatical slips and errors as embarrassing. They (the adults) also seem to prefer a native-speaker to teach them.

      I don’t know if they know what is best for themselves and I don’t really know if I know what is best for them either lol. We tend to cater heavily to the customer in Japan though, don’t we?

      I don’t think there actually is an answer to it, just that we can take it into account. It makes for an interesting counter-point to the accent issue though. Overall I think focusing on the grammar so much just slows down their progress. Unfortunately, I’m in the minority at the moment so this week I’m teaching the differences between relative pronouns and relative adjectives to adults I’d probably but at low-intermediate level on a European scale!!!

      1. I do think there is a lot of catering to customers here and, you’re right, most don’t know what they need, only what they want. Unfortunately the native is marketed as the genius and the non-native as a mere journeyman who’ll get you nowhere.

        You could do will half the lesson and going the rest, throwing caution to the wind. If you have the learners’ trust, they’ll go along with you, I find.

        Best of luck to you!

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