Talking English Good: the trouble with teaching English
As previously mentioned I’m currently teaching English in Spain with the auxiliares de conversacion programme in Madrid.
However, I have no official teaching qualifications – not even a CELTA or TEFL certificate. I got the job simply because I’m from New Zealand, English is my first language and I have a university degree, albeit in a completely different field of study.
However this responsibility of being a kind of English expert, has put a lot of pressure on my native tongue, making me question words and phrases that’s I’ve used millions of times before.
I now pay more attention to the articulation of each letter and sound in every word. I question the positioning of words within sentences and am constantly repeating myself to determine the correct pronunciation and intonation that I should be using.
It can be harder than you’d think – especially when you think about it too much.
For example, take the word: Chocolate
How do you pronounce it? I mean, if it was spelt phonetically, would it be:
I’m stuffed if I know, to be honest.
I’ve thought about this too much and now every time I say it, I feel like I’m forcing it.
It’s these small differences that send my head into a spin and have me phoning a friend, quite literally, as I send voice messages home to my mum (an actual teacher) for a final answer.
There are also all these battles of British English vs American English.
- colour vs color
- maths vs math
- centre vs center
- capsicum vs pepper
- autumn vs fall
As a New Zealander, we tend to speak and spell the British way, which is great as this is how schools in Spain usually prefer to teach it.
However saying this, I’ve still come across a few discrepancies between New Zealand and British English.
For example, how would you phrase this question:
- What did you do on the weekend?
- What did you do at the weekend?
Personally, I would say ‘on the weekend’ – yet I know a handful of Brits who repeatedly ask me the latter.
Or how about:
- Meet me on the corner
- Meet me at the corner
This ones your call…
Now I know these are not huge differences and I realize the way you pronounce these words largely depends on where you’re from, even within your own country. TV guilty pleasures Made in Chelsea, The Only Way is Essex and Geordie Shore clearly attest to this.
But when I’m in charge of teaching children how they are to speak English, I like to try my best to teach them the correct way.
The last thing we need is to spread lazy grammar.
It’s bad enough in Auckland, where fobby mistakes like asking ‘Where do you stay?’ instead of ‘Where do you live?’ and saying ‘chur’ instead of ‘cheers’ are all too common.
So what does this mean?
Should I be teaching English when I’m unsure about the language myself?
Of course I should.
My English is probably better than most of yours. (JK)
The fact is I work with 8 and 9 year olds, so things never really get too technical. I also work with some amazing (qualified) bilingual teachers, who have already learnt English from Spanish – meaning they know all those English rules that us native-speakers tend to take for granted and solely learn through speaking.
You know, sub-verb agreements, predicates, relative clause verbs, participle, superlative, comparative and demonstrative adjectives, subordinating conjunctions, etc. etc – all that easy stuff.
And although other foreigners I’ve met swear to me their English has worsened since arriving in Spain, I’m almost positive that my own has improved.
My only real fault being that I’ve managed to pick up the Spanish habit of answering far too many questions with ‘more or less’ which is a rather ambiguous and annoying answer.