How Many Englishes Are there?

An American, South African, Australian, Irishman and Brit walk into a bar. It sounds like the beginning of a joke and it kind of is; the joke part is that none of them speak the same English, and this is really important to when these blokes are teaching English at the same school.

It’s hard enough to learn a second language, but it’s especially difficult when every semester a student has a new teacher with a new dialect, accent and most confusingly, new words. They see the same flashcards each time and new words underneath it, talk about a brain teaser. Is it football or soccer? Is it a toilet or bathroom? Side note, what the heck is a restroom? Mum or mom? The list goes on and that’s just the beginning.

Then there are different pronunciations. Is it “warsh” or wash, that can depend on which part of Ireland one is hanging ‘bout. These small variations are particularly difficult for students to differentiate. Their ears are working overtime trying to make any sense of any sound that comes out of their teacher’s mouth. They take great pride in pronouncing things with that perfect English swag and the worst part is, every time they speak English they are saying it wrong depending on what part of the world they are learning from.

ESL jobs in ThailandAnd don’t even mention spelling. Is it organization or organization? Don’t ask an Englishman, he’ll spell it wrong…or is he right? Ahhhhh. The madness continues and before you know it, you don’t know English from Thai, yourself. Thai is a character based language, so beginner students are just trying to remember the characters in a word. Reading proves much more difficult than speaking; Thai students remember sounds very well, but looking at a word and trying to “sound it out,” has very little meaning to them. Thus, when every teacher spells the words differently, they are unsure if they are learning a different word or if they are remembering the spelling wrong. The part can be especially disheartening.

Oh, and just for fun, let’s add manners, shall we? Teacher Megan taught them “Can I go to the bathroom?” But teacher Sam decided he’s more refined and now they are required to say, “May I go to the restroom.” What a gem. The worst part about this is: the students have no idea what they are saying. They aren’t native English speakers, so unless they are very advanced you might as well be telling them to say, “The yellow balloon is in flight,” every time they ask to leave the room. It’s not like the students realize that one teacher is more refined and teaching them how to sound upscale in the world. Rather they just stop internalizing the language and memorize whatever gets them out of class. That attitude is the exact opposite of what most language teachers hope for their students.

Teach in ThailandMost English teachers want their students to be inspired. They want the youth of the world to desire to travel, want to read in multiple languages, and seek to step outside of their comfort zone. But rote memory of a senseless language that changes every semester can be incredibly frustrating and produce a sense of hopelessness in students.

The most effective way to teach English is to recognize all the Englishes of the world and treat them as viable options of word choices. Joshing with people from other countries about colloquialisms and indigenous habits is fun for everyone, and maybe for highly advanced English students; but for everyone else, just grant them a pass and realize that learning English is not only foreign but it’s a bit of a jungle out there.

Taxi Trouble Solutions in Beijing

The Subway is Great

There’s a lot of great things I can say about the subway system in Beijing. It is extremely cheap, it runs frequently, and since (like most things in Beijing) the signs are written with the Roman alphabet as well as Chinese characters, it’s very easy to navigate. I use it every day to get to work and whenever I go somewhere in the city during the day.

Beijing Subway

The operative phrase in that last sentence is “during the day.” There is one major flaw I find with the Beijing subway system, and that is its opening hours. If you want to go out at night and then take the subway home, you will have to stop having fun and leave around 10pm, as all trains seem to shut down between 10:30-11:00pm.

Taxis are the Nighttime Option

So, if you’re like me and you want to go for a beer or several with your co-workers after you get off work at 8:30pm, you will have to rely on taxis unless you are within walking distance from your home.

Now, you may be asking, why is that a big deal? Well, aside from the fact that taxis are more expensive than the subway (which is no different from any other city I’ve travelled to), there’s a few things about taking a taxi in Beijing that are different than what I was used to in the US.

Things to Be Aware Of

Typically, in my experience, as long as you have some way to tell the taxi driver where you need to go, they are happy to take you as long as you are polite. However, in China, taxi drivers often don’t want to take foreigners because

  1. They assume you don’t know where you’re going
  2. They assume even if you do know, you can’t tell them

It’s the second one that I had a hard time grasping when I first got to China, especially in the days of smartphones with GPS. Everyone in Beijing has a smartphone, and the entire country basically runs on the WeChat and AliPay smartphone apps. In spite of this, the taxi drivers in Beijing will often ask you to tell them how to get there, even though they have GPS. If you don’t speak the language, this is obviously quite difficult to do. Sometimes if you are close and have been there before, you can just point them in the right direction, but if it’s a new place, that can be very hard.

I have been passed by and downright refused rides during my first few months. When my roommate and I were trying to move our suitcases from our hotel rooms to our new apartment, it took nearly an hour to get a taxi to take us there.

Subway in Beijing

Tips for a Pleasant Taxi Experience

Thankfully, I have now figured out ways to ease the drivers’ minds about picking me up and have a few tips for newcomers to Beijing.

Chances are good you won’t be able to tell them the exact address of where you are going, unless you have it written out or translated beforehand. So, know which subway station is closest to where you are going. The majority of taxi drivers in Beijing will be able to find subway stops. Make sure you know the word “subway,” (pronounced dee-tee-ay). For instance, if you need to go to Wudaokou, don’t just tell them that as Wudaokou is a large area. If you tell them to take you to the Wudaokou subway station, it will be much easier for them to know where to take you.

Try to verbally ask them first if you are able, but have a translation ready just in case they need to clarify. Many of them don’t mind reading it on a phone app if you try to speak to them first. It shows them that you know where you are going, and if there are issues when you get close you might be able to use hand gestures to tell them where to turn and stop.

Language Skills

As a side note, know the word “stop” (ting). Once, a taxi driver drove me a good distance past my house, and then I had to walk further home because I couldn’t tell him to let me out. He was probably trying to get extra fare, but ever since I learned how to tell a driver to stop I haven’t had the problem since.

Obviously, the more of the language you learn, the easier time you will have with taxis and all other aspects of life in Beijing. But no one can learn a new language overnight, so if you start off with a few essential phrases and go from there you will be fine.