Monday, August 6, 2007

How English is Really Spoken

One of the challenges I occasionally have with advanced ESL students is that they disagree with me about how the English language is used. There's a difference between the correct, formal English language and how the language is actually used by native speakers. This is one of the reason's that many EFL positions will prefer and even require native English speakers, as opposed to non-native speakers who may even have an advanced English degree.

English language learners who study in their home countries are often exceptional when it comes to grammar skills. This is why it makes it a bit of a challenge for them when they try to communicate with native English speakers. And it makes it a challenge during some of my tutoring sessions. I have to develop enough trust with students so that they know I'm not leading them astray, and that people really do speak without using proper grammar sometimes, even highly educated people.



Anonymous said...

I think every ESL instructor faces the same situation. There is textbook English and there is real world English. You can tell the students what you know to be the truth, often it is best for them to come to a truth on their own. The way I deal with this is to simply play a scene from some English movie which is popular with the students at the time. Provide a copy of the script if possible, simply Google for it and print off a copy for each of the students. Perhaps they can write the script as they hear it. Then show the official copy. In this way they can hear and see the real world English, I then show a scene from some Shakespeare movie (recent famous actor is best). So, I ask....which is English? Let them talk it out and vote on the outcome.

It is the same in any language I know of, textbook v real world. Once they can relate it to their own language, they can see it is the same with English.

Another suggestion, take a popular English song and have the students in class write out the lyrics as they hear them. Then produce the actual lyrics, which is correct? Are the lyrics textbook English? I doubt it. Deal with slang, regionalism, mention that you cannot sometimes understand someone from another country speaking English. I mention some of the most beautiful pronunciation and vocabulary is in fact spoken by people from African countries. Most students in Japan found this hard to believe. Some students think real English is spoken by only this or that nation or people, which is wrong. Part of being in the ESL business is to break down the untruths, to open your student's eyes and ears. Let them know they are speakers of English, they will be understood.

Keep grinding away,

English Advantage said...

I tutor in Kazakhstan and I often get the opposite problem; students are dying to learn "woulda" "wanna" "gonna" and get very upset if I try to teach them proper grammar.