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posted by Justin - 2012-03-13 22:42:40

Meeting Halfway

(On vaca for the rest of the week, next post is next Tues. Just FYI)

Interesting discussion has arisen on the message boards of one of my classes.

We were talking about how, already and increasingly so, the number of English speakers worldwide is slanted towards those who have acquired it as a second or third or fourth or fifth language.

Those who acquire English from someplace other than their childhood homes and hometowns usually know (or are told) that, whatever accent they have - and everyone, even all of us native speakers, have an accent, be it regional, national or class-based - they will need to work to be understood by us native speakers. Depending on how they plan to use the language, they can and often do work towards accent reduction or at least clarity of enunciation on particular sounds that might give them trouble. The point is, they are usually aware of the task ahead of them and they either address it or choose not to.

But the fact remains, it is us, the native speakers, who need to take some steps, too. We all have accents, as I said above - even 'flat american' is an accent - and although the US may dominate pop culture in a lot of ways, the face of the english speaker is not blonde and blue-eyed, much as discriminatory hagwons wish it was (haha).

The burden is placed on the english language learners, but we too have a job to do. No, in our daily lives most of us - not I, and other ESL teachers of course, but most of us - will not necessarily need to be understood by language learners. But it's likely that, through travel, social media, or just happenstance, we will speak english to someone who has acquired it later in life, and we should act accordingly.

Now, there are stupid, condescending ways to do this. The way many of our fellow Korea guest teachers eliminate verb conjugation from their speech is not going to help anyone. And unless you actually are a teacher with beginner students, you don't have to slow down, really. The most likely encounter is probably with someone fluent in the language. It's case by case, of course, but we should be conscious of, say, a difference in idiomatic expressions or of particular vocal tics we may possess. This is not to say we need to truly become different speakers, but that we need to be aware of the fact that others may have different perspectives and experiences with the language.

It's not so much that we need to bite our tongues. It's that we need to be prepared in case we are not perfectly understood and not get mad or upset because of it.

They're still doing the legwork. But we can meet them part of the way there.

Peace and love,
Justin PBG
[end post]

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