Teaching English to medical professionals, such as postgraduate doctors, requires a number of modifications in approach on the part of any teacher coming into ESP. At a recent event, a participant was reporting a discussion with a volunteer tutor about what he, a retired consultant in the medical field, should call the members of the group he was teaching. He didn’t feel it was right to call his fellow professionals ‘students’. A seemingly minor episode, but it does highlight the shifts that we as professionals need to think about when teaching other professionals. It may be that our students carry on being ‘students’, but our attitude towards them, our behaviour and our way of working does need to undergo some transformation. Continue reading
Edmund Dudley looks at why it is important for our teenage students to learn about culture in their English lessons.
Millions of young people around the world are currently learning English, making it a truly international language. In addition, many teenagers regularly use English to communicate and interact with others online. This raises a number of questions about the cultural content of any English course for teenagers.
What do we mean by culture in the context of a language lesson?
Let’s begin by thinking about English-speaking countries. Take Britain as an example. When you think about British culture, what springs to mind? What examples could you give? Take a moment to think of three things.
So what did you say? Your answers reveal something about what you think culture is.
Perhaps you chose traditional rituals or ceremonies, such as the Changing of the Guard or carol singing in December; you might have gone for annual events, such as the FA Cup Final, the Notting Hill Festival or Hogmanay.
On the other hand, your examples of British culture might have been more linked to the day-to-day habits and behaviour of ordinary people: leaving the house with wet hair in the morning, queuing at bus stops, or buying ‘rounds’ in pubs.
All of these various aspects of culture are of potential interest to students. Day-to-day activities can be just as revealing as special occasions. If we want to get the full picture of life in English-speaking countries and communities, then thinking about how people eat soup can be just as interesting and revealing as learning about how people celebrate New Year’s Eve.
Whose culture are we talking about?
Given that English is used around the world, should we only be concentrating on the culture of English-speaking countries? Not exclusively. Any meaningful discussion of culture involves comparison and reflection. So, although in the lesson we might be looking at an aspect of life in Ireland, New Zealand, Canada or another English-speaking country, ultimately, however, students are being encouraged to think about themselves and their own culture. And besides, being able to describe aspects of life in your home country to others is a crucial part of sharing cultures and making friends when you are away from home or welcoming guests from abroad.
How can culture get students thinking – and talking?
Culture can be subjective. Think about words such as cold, sweet, crowded, angry, quiet, and dangerous: they are culturally loaded and so it is easy to disagree about what they mean. Take cold, for example. Two people from different countries might have very different views about whether a child playing on a playground swing on a spring afternoon should be wearing a coat or not.
Examples like this can be used as the basis for classroom discussions, role-plays, drama activities – even creative writing tasks. Does the child need a coat or not? Who is right? What does it depend on? And how can the situation best be resolved?
By looking at the situation as a cultural puzzle, we can challenge our students to try and interpret the situation from different cultural perspectives. Promoting empathy with others is not only a great way to promote tolerance and understanding, it also shines a new light on our own beliefs and assumptions. This is what makes dealing with cultural topics so interesting: we sometimes begin to see how the attitudes and values below the surface influence the way we see the world.
Is there now a global teen culture?
Young people are more connected today than ever before – even if they live on different continents. The internet is enabling today’s teenagers to create a shared global cultural identity. What do a teenager in South America and a teenager in Eastern Europe have in common? Well, for starters they are both probably comfortable using technology and also learning English at school. Then you have movies, computer games, apps, pop music and sport – all of which are probably shared tastes. The result is a new kind of international cultural identity: young, online and learning English.
Putting it into practice
Culture is there to be exploited, and our students are the ones who can benefit. Hopefully, they will not only learn something about various parts of the world, but will also gain fresh insights into their own culture and new perspectives on who they are, what they value, and what they aspire to.
Teaching English for Medical Purposes (EMP) to a class of trained or student doctors can be a daunting prospect. They have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the human body, whereas most of us who teach business English for Medicine probably don’t. And that gap between our knowledge and theirs can lead to a bit of self-doubt as we prepare to step into the classroom.
In my experience, there are two things to remember in situations such as this. Continue reading
Jon Naunton is a freelance teacher and materials writer. He is co-author of Business Result, and Oil and Gas 2 in the Oxford English for Careers series. This post, originally published in Dialogue Magazine, explores why non-native speakers are often nervous about conversing with native speakers.
Those of us who have taught foreign execs learn early on that they would far rather speak English with other non-native speakers than with an English person, or – heaven forbid – an American.
Executives with status and responsible positions in international companies often dread encounters with mother tongue speakers that leave them feeling confused, infantilized and at a disadvantage. These two stories may help to explain why.
I live near a small town in France that attracts its fair share of tourists. Over the summer I was in the newsagents when a man in a blazer and shorts approached the counter. ‘Have you got my copy of the Daily Mail?’ he barked. ‘You said you’d keep it to one side.’ The shopkeeper looked at him blankly. ‘My Daily Mail!’ the visitor continued in a slowly enunciated bellow. ‘Have – you – kept – it – back – for – me?’ When the shopkeeper shrugged helplessly, Daily Mail man turned around, muttering to himself, and left.
Recently at our local airport, blessed by Ryan Air, I met an English aeronautical engineer seconded to a British owned French subsidiary. In the four years that he had been there his wife had picked up quite a bit of French but I had to contain my surprise when I heard him order lunch. His French was, at best, basic. Linguistically speaking, his knuckles were scraping the ground. I was left wondering how he got by with his French colleagues.
Now, I know there is a danger in generalizing from the particular, but I won’t let it stop me. I would argue that Daily Mail man and airport man are fairly representative of how the English perform in other tongues. The use of English as a lingua franca has made us lazy, and Daily Mail man would have been raised in the conviction that it was his God-given right to be understood wherever he trod on foreign soil.
Yet in my opinion, their lack of ease in French goes deeper than either consideration, and has a lot to do with how foreign languages are taught in England. Part of the problem is to do with time – language lessons in England receive far fewer classroom hours than most other EU countries, and it is possible to drop a foreign language at the tender age of fourteen. It doesn’t matter whether it is a sport, a musical instrument or any other skill including languages – you have to put in the hours to achieve a decent level. Time and practice are crucial.
The next problem is to do with expectations. When my nephew started French at secondary school, his homework for week one was to learn numbers one to five. For week two it was six to ten. As part of an exciting school project the kids in his class were supposed to create a French market by drawing cards of fruit and vegetables. My nephew’s task was to draw a big pile of plums – prunes in French – which he duly did. I am certain that he will never forget the word for plum but I wonder if his time could have been – excuse the pun – more fruitfully employed. Nevertheless, on parents’ evening the class’s handiwork was displayed as a reminder of the school’s commitment to excellence in foreign languages.
The net result is that the average English person has such a poor grasp of what it is to tussle with a language that he cannot even begin to comprehend where the difficulty lies when he runs into communication problems. Even when English is used as a lingua franca the native speaker can get into trouble. He is less able to modify his language to accommodate the language level of the person he is trying to communicate with. Once he has received the signal that the other person speaks some English no further effort is made to modify or ‘grade’ his language. This behaviour, wrongly classified as arrogance, is due to benign indifference or being oblivious of any problem in the first place.
All this may go to show why most non-native speakers are happier communicating with English as their common language than having to cope with an unaccommodating monoglot who simply can’t recognize the problem. I sympathize with the reluctance of some EU members (notably France) of adopting English as the principal language of Brussels and Strasbourg, thereby reducing the annual billion Euro interpreting and translating bill. Were this to happen it might confirm the attitude of the English to learning other languages and make matters even worse.
What do you prefer – communicating in English with native or non-native speakers? Share your thoughts below.
Robin Walker is a freelance language teacher, teacher educator and materials writer. In this post, he considers the vital role that English now plays in World business and communication, and discusses the increasing importance of English as a Lingua Franca. Robin hosted a Webinar “Pronunciation for International Intelligibility”. Watch the recording of this webinar here.
Last month I took on two clients, both seeking coaching in pronunciation. Pablo works in the finance department of a US multinational that has a key European plant here in northern Spain. His boss is Irish, but most of the people he uses English with are non-native speakers. Pablo handles accounts for the whole of Europe, and even within the confines of his office, he’s in daily contact with speakers from over 17 different countries.
Ana works at the Spanish branch of a German company that makes air bridges, the metal and glass tubes that feed us on and off planes in airports around the world. She uses her English for telephone calls, Skyping and video-conferencing, and with Chinese, Brazilian, Arabian and European clients. English dominates her daily life despite working in Spain, and her office is a Tower of Babel in the making.
Image courtesy of fimoculous on flickr
Wow! It’s happened. (They said it would.)
Wow! It’s happening right now. (It’s everywhere I go.)
And wow! It’s going to go on happening far into the future.
English has gone global, and is being used much more today as a lingua franca (between non-native speakers), than as a native language (between native speakers), or as a foreign language (between native speakers and non-native speakers).