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.
And 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.
Most 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.