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Scrapbook of Thoughts

Thoughts and pictures and thoughtful pictures.
Lots of Tolkien and Silmarillion going on, mixed in with lame puns, Naruto and lame puns about Naruto. ~ My DeviantArt ~ My FFN ~ My SWG ~
Apr 25 '13

The ESL Teacher’s Dilemma

There is a high chance of that I one day will work as a teacher of English as a Second Language (ESL). It is not my ideal choice of profession, but it’s something that I could do for a living. And that’s when I start wondering what kind of a responsibly would fall on me and whether I want to be a ESL teacher at all.

If I become a teacher, I don’t want to have to cling to a prescriptivist book on grammar that condemns mistakes even native speakers are guilty of. If I become a teacher, I don’t want to draw angry red lines under my sentence above only because it ends with a preposition. On the other hand, I can’t let students get away with pronunciation and syntax that make all sentences unintelligible while knowing that there kids are learning this language because it helps them to get a job - even in a country with its own thriving national language.
There are concerns of  neocolonialism and an agenda of spreading the Anglo-American culture. English is thriving while other peoples are left to worry for the welfare of their own tongues.
Can we express all of our thoughts in English? If so, can we express anything we want, itanything we could possibly think of,  in English? No, of course not. I don’t believe there is any language capable of expressing the collective of all the variation in  subtle style, politeness, puns that exist in the human tongues. Translations into said language would in the end result in something that most likely sounds unnatural anyway, partly because language is so closely associated with the culture of the speaker.

Need examples? Idioms, maybe. If I say: “It didn’t go like in Strömsö,” will non-Finns understand that I actually screwed things up? If I say “bang on the beetroot”, will you understand I’m trying to convey a Swedish expression used denotating straightforwardness? For other example, if you speak two languages, look up some translated poems and compare their styles.
Well, obviously we could just get rid of clumsy and/or ridiculous idioms that disturb understanding. But I don’t want to get rid of such complexity of meanings that makes perfect sense once explained. And if we were all to always speak English - or any other language - the majority of the world would still have to face weird and uncomfortable idioms. And what does “speak English” mean anyway? There exist dozens of varieties - dialects, pidgins, etc. - that have their own set of standard language, yet can be defined as English.

Problems related to Lingua Franca (English or otherwise) often touch upon the problem of the hegemony of the anglosphere. The teaching of language has the power to convey attitudes and ideologies. History is full of examples from around the world of how somebody - governments and individuals - suppress languages they fear against their agendas. However, teaching done right does not indoctrinate how people should think. Teaching done right won’t make learners feel their native language - no matter how big or tiny - is less important.

I’m currently a student of English, so for me there is a chance of that - if I get into the programme that will give me the necessary competence -  I will one day work as a teacher of English as a Second Language. But if I become a teacher, I don’t want to be that prescriptivist teacher who refuses to acknowledge the diversity of the language that has spread so globally. Neither do I wish to be someone who gives students bad grades if they don’t sound like a Brit or an American speaking the normative accent. And while I would be delighted if I managed to awaken the interest towards in English in any of my students, I don’t want for them to think that English is all they need. Heck, I don’t think English is all that anyone needs, including people from England. If I become a teacher, I want to be that cool teacher who opens her student’s eyes and says:

"Hey, if people think you should speak ‘Standard’, at least make them let you choose which standard."