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Category Archives: foreigners

>By Dick Tibbetts, University of Macau, China

A teacher wanted to know: “What degree of familiarity should a responsible EFL teacher in China have with other Englishes?”

Our problem is that we get all geared up to be descriptive but when students give us language back we find that we need to prescribe since they need to know what is acceptable and what isn’t. Many teachers go for consistency, especially in spelling, but I don’t think this is an answer, especially as I think that Australian English has some UK and some US spellings.

It’s rather like degrees of formality. If you mark certain items as formal and others as informal it’s nice and easy but it’s not real life. In real life we slip between these boundaries with the greatest of ease. Last month one of my academic colleagues, while presenting a paper to lecturers and students, used the lexical item “piss”. I had a field day with this because I’ve said for years that most EFL learners learn to urinate before they can piss and I was proved right.

In the same way, US, UK and other Englishes are a continuum and people slip from one to another. Although I’m British I use the Australian “No worries” fairly frequently after living in an Australian English influenced environment in Papua New Guinea. My daughter uses “gotten” and many UK British use US English vocabulary and expressions alongside their “traditional” English. I think “talk with” alongside “talk to” might be one example.

Macau and Hong Kong use British English but are in an American sphere of influence. Australian English is widely used in the Pacific and has some influence up here too. There are a number of Indian English words in Hong Kong English, too. “Shroff” for the guy who you pay when you park your car is one example. So we in the South China SARs are at a crossroads and have to pay more attention to varieties of English.

In terms of power, money and number of native speakers American English wins hands down but because British English is used in many ex-colonies and as a lingua-franca in Europe it has a status and influence beyond its small native speaker base and I can still make a living. And, as Eve says, many students want to study in UK, Australia or Canada, or even in other European countries like the Netherlands or Sweden.

For this reason it is probably a good idea to accept all major varieties of English, even when mixed, but to make students aware. After all, it rarely causes a communication problem. I knew what my student wanted to say when she used “bumper jack”, though I suspect she didn’t and just got the words from a translation dictionary.

As for knowing whether something is UK, US or whatever English, I think it can be picked up as you go along. I’m still learning as I’ve never been to the US and my knowledge is all second and third hand. I think, though, that I now have some kind of intuition about students “mistakes”. There are some where I immediately think it might be US usage and I hold the red/green pen back until I’ve checked. Or I ignore it because it doesn’t seem important.

On another track and a peeve, TOEFL doesn’t hold the correction pen back because it’s prescriptive and designed purely for US tertiary education. I was assured by a Cambridge rep that IELTS and the FCE, CAE etc. accept major varieties of English though I wonder if they still play the consistency card. A world language really should accept variety within boundaries of global comprehension.


>By Jeff Kruse

A teacher wrote: “While teaching in China I found that the schools often make strange or extraordinary requests that don’t make much sense.”

I tend to agree I think it is important to point out though, this is very dependent on where you teach. (There are exceptions thankfully.)

Often one might be teaching English in a program that has no coherence or direction, except that provided by oneself and maybe some largely useless book chosen by apparent chance.

Previously other teachers have remarked on the freedom this allows and I certainly see how this may be an advantage for the teacher. However, on the downside, it means that the students could be subject to the whims of the (newly arrived?) foreign teacher that have no relationship to the English teaching program conducted by Chinese staff nor what might be reasonably seen as the needs of students.

Two especially terrible examples of this “freedom”:

1) an Australian MA who exhorted the virtues of his religion

2) an American who regularly taught USA slang.

The students hated the first and loved the second classes but I think both were equally inappropriate for these university students needs and should not have been allowed in a considered syllabus.

It is also important to note that a syllabus may define required language functions and outcomes but need not impinge upon the individual’s teaching style.

>By Nancy Bushwell

I was amazed when I was told at my second school that teachers were fined if they sat down during class! This explains why there are no teachers’ chairs at my school.

I was also told that I was a foreigner, so this didn’t apply to me. After I hurt my heel from too much walking, I bought a folding chair and a bicycle chain, and locked the chair to a desk when I wasn’t in class.

Sitting down was doctor’s orders, though I still got up and walked around at times. I couldn’t teach oral English without walking around but, on the other hand, I would have difficulty teaching two classes in a row without sitting.

To this foreigner’s eyes, I think it’s unfair to the Chinese teachers that they can’t sit, especially when they have two classes in a row. I wonder if they have ever complained?

>Hong Xiu Ping, Gateway Language Village, Zhuhai, China

I have often heard comments from Chinese teachers that foreigners do not know how to teach English. They are hired by many schools just for the face value. Even some Russians are teaching English in a private school in Shenzhen because they look western. Parents are paying top dollars sending their kids to this kind of school and they want western looking teachers to teach their kids. Asian looking teachers, whether native speakers or experienced Chinese teachers are often treated as second class teachers. This is not healthy but it happens often.

We have a very mixed team. We have Chinese teachers from China as well as from Hong Kong, USA. We also have a few teachers from India. One of the most popular teacher we have is from India. We use Chinese teachers to teach beginner students and we use native speakers to teach elementary and above. Yes, native speakers without qualifications and esl experiences are used as teaching assistants to act as conversation partners for students. Once they gain enough experience, they can be promoted to teacher positions.

As we only admit adults or youth above 16 years old, we normally do not need to deal with some ignorant and prejudiced parents who demand for western looking teachers with American accent or British accent. Students are not allowed to choose their teachers in our school. They are assigned to the class according to their level.

Personally, I believe native speakers are indispensable for language study. To be fluent and proficient, one needs to learn many things from native speakers, not just vocabulary and grammar. No matter how experienced they are, non native language teachers can not provide all the language elements the students need. A good native English teacher is one who can teach different level students, even the very beginner