At some point in the past, we decided on a “native speaker” model of English. We recruited millions of “native speakers” as teachers. We recorded and played thousands of “listening's” featuring other “native speakers”. And we forgot about all the other English accents in the world. Now, we have millions of students who can understand American English and British English. But what about the other Englishes?
If you have, you’ll know one of the reasons that Fight Club is great is because of the ending. Ed Norton and Helena Bonham Carter look out over a sea of destruction while Black Francis croons and creams an apocalyptic tribute to mental illness. Brilliant. But what does this have to do with teaching English?
A few days ago I observed a class. The students were engaged, spoke lots of English, stayed on task and laughed when the teacher made jokes. There was just one thing missing. The thing that learners desire above all else. Feedback.
As soon as the lesson finished, I thanked the teacher for letting me observe and asked her if she’d like to chat about the class. “Absolutely,” she said, “I’d love to get some feedback.”
Last summer, somewhere 37,000ft above the Middle East, in line for the bathroom, I overheard these words: "They're so rude. They never say please or thank you."
You get no prizes for guessing who the flight attendant was complaining about: the hapless Chinese passengers on the VS251 from Pudong to Heathrow.
In one of his TED talks, Wade Davis tells how in 1957, five missionaries attempted to contact the Waorani tribe in North Eastern Ecuador and made a critical mistake. They airdropped 8”x10” glossy photos of themselves in what they considered to be friendly gestures, but forgot that the rain-forest tribesmen had never seen anything two dimensional before in their lives. Picking up the photos from the forest floor, and failing to find the figure behind the form, the tribesmen concluded that the photographs had to be calling cards from the Devil. When the missionaries arrived a few weeks later, they were speared to death. The moral of the story? Know your audience. Here are three things I have learned about my audience, Chinese students, now the world’s largest TEFL audience, over the last decade