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LEAVING THE NEST

LEAVING THE NEST

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Published by: snowpiece on May 31, 2008
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06/16/2009

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LEAVING THE NEST
David Hogg
maintains that native-speaker teachers are not the best model for students.
Those among us who are native English-speaking teachers (NESTs) are acceptable models frolearning English, but we are far from ideal. Rather, it is non-NESTs who are the model thatstudents ought to be trying to emulate.
International interaction
Few of our students will ever need to interact with native speakers; rather, they’ll need tointeract with people from China, Korea, Russia, Germany, Japan, Iran and so on. They are alsomore likely to need to interact with native speakers (as well as non-native speakers) from India,than from, for instance, Britain or North America. So the way native speakers use English is aperipheral semi-irrelevance to most of our students.Jennifer Jenkins argues this point very persuasively. She and others (such as Luke Meddings)have pointed out that “EFL” is an anachronistic concept; rather, it is English as an InternationalLanguage (EIL) that our students really need to learn. Jenkins urges that we simplify our teaching of English pronunciation to the extent that, for instance, we stop teaching differentvowel sounds, focusing our students’ attention instead on vowel length, since that is more oftenwhat affects the meaning of utterances made by native-speakers and non-native speakers alike.Jenkins further recommends that any listening exercises that we expose our students to in classshould be examples of EIL conversations between non-natives, since those are the models theyneed to get familiar with – not Received Pronunciation, not Estuary English, not Texan English,not High Rise Terminal uptalk (“HRT” occurs in the speech of some native speakers who makeaffirmative statements rising, question-like intonation).How many course books recognise the very sensible, irrefutably truthful arguments put forwardby the likes of Jenkins? None, as far as I can tell. How many of us have acknowledged that non-NEST models are more useful than NEST ones as far as most of our students are concerned?Not many.
Student reaction
Recently, I have been discussing this issue with several groups of students (upper intermediate,advanced and proficiency; about 30 students altogether). Despite their initial confusion when Isaid to them “My English is non-standard; yours is standard”, my subsequent elaborationsclarified the point for them and they ended up in broad agreement with me. In order to bringthem around to considering the validity of my confusing, deliberately provocative remark, Iasked them the following questions:
Are you likely to travel to Britain or North America over the next few years?
Are you likely to travel to other countries around the world and use English as alingua franca with, say, Japanese people, Greeks, Swedes and so on?
Do you use English at work? Those of you who do: Do you often need tocommunicate with native speakers? Or do you communicate more often with non-natives?Their replies to these questions highlighted a local manifestation of what is an acceleratinginternational phenomenon: most English use around the world occurs between non-natives andnon-natives. I pointed out, further, that at international business meetings, Indians, Koreans andSpaniards can understand each other well using English; it is only when there’s an American or British person at the negotiating table that communication becomes fragmented and mutuallyunintelligible. My students laughed and agreed with me.

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