A standard conversation?

IMG_20150816_150840 (2)The other day I had the pleasure of finally meeting my best friend’s partner, a 35- year-old Nigerian lad, who’s been living and working in the Czech Republic for more than 10 years now. For the sake of simplicity as well as anonymity, let’s call him G.

On Monday night, G was invited to a party we organize each summer with a group of friends/colleagues (mostly language teachers). In the course of the evening, we discovered that G understood and spoke Czech to such an extent that we could easily converse in L1 most of the time. We did occasionally switch to English, though, especially when speaking one to one or when clarifying things. I didn’t ask G directly, but I think he normally speaks Nigerian Standard English. However, I remember my friend (his girlfriend) once said that when speaking with his friends, G uses some type of ‘unintelligible language’ (constantly using the word dey), which, I googled infer, is Nigerian Pidgin.

Anyway, it was a wonderful evening and we were having a great time. It was after G and his girlfriend left the party when somebody opened the topic of G’s English nativeness. And later on, one of the non-language teachers used the expression ‘bastardized English’ to describe the language G speaks.

I quickly stepped in to explain that it’s not really fair to call Nigerian English bastardized English. But then more people joined in claiming that his English is obviously not the standard. I asked what exactly they meant by standard and somebody replied that standard is the English that was once exported from the British Isles (this was actually said by an English teacher!). I added in surprise: You mean, something like Shakespearean English is the standard then? I could see a somewhat irritated puzzled expression materializing on my friend’s face when the conversation was interrupted by the host who had boisterously come out of the house with a tray full of meat or something.

And I was really happy that it was over because it would have been really tough for me from then on – I felt I was about to defend a ‘bastardized’ English in front of people who had never heard of the concept of Englishes and who had some really firm opinions about what a standard English is. I suddenly realized that it was not the right time and the right place to discuss this anyway, so I did my best to avoid the topic for the rest of the evening. As the old saying goes, no man is a prophet in his own land.

Apparently, I’m no David Crystal. I simply failed to come up with a persuasive set of arguments and I gave up before I even managed to sort out my ideas. In hindsight, I realize that standard can mean different things to different people. From a linguistic point of view, standard means conforming to models or norms of usage admired by educated speakers and writers. But it can also mean normal, familiar, or commonly used. 

I’m sure my colleagues meant the latter when talking about standard. And I believe that by no means did they want to justify linguistic imperialism, even though they incidentally promoted linguistic unequity. For many people here in the Czech Republic, normal and familiar still equals British and American. We buy coursebooks produced by British and American publishers, not Nigerian ones. We go to Oxford and Cambridge for summer language courses. The films we watch were made in Hollywood. We listen to BBC Radio when we want to practice English. And we wish to speak with a British or American accent, not a Nigerian one…

On prioritizing

IMG_20150809_115612I really liked the time management strategy I came across on James Clear’s blog the other day, called Eisenhower Box, aka the Eisenhower Method. With this method, we evaluate tasks using the criteria important/unimportant and urgent/not urgent, which we then place in according quadrants in an Eisenhower Matrix.

  1. Important/Urgent quadrants are done immediately and personally.
  2. Important/Not Urgent quadrants get an end date and are done personally
  3. Unimportant/Urgent quadrants are delegated.
  4. Unimportant/Not Urgent quadrants are dropped completely.

The simplicity of the strategy is stunning and since the day I learned about it, I’ve been looking at things from a totally different perspective. It reminded me of another fantastic method of planning (or goal setting) Josette LeBlanc has developed and shared on her blog. Both strategies are simple and ‘user-friendly’. One can’t help wondering why not everybody on the planet follows the rules and succeeds in everything they do. This is why I think why:

If you’re not the procrastinating type, the one who always puts off impending tasks to a later time, the hardest part for you will be to decide which tasks should be done immediately and which can be given a deadline. Perfectionists I know are likely to do everything immediately – sometimes days or even weeks ahead of time – without much prioritizing. You have to try hard to ignore these types at your workplace because their approach will only drive you crazy. Once you are able to pretend they don’t exist, you’re fine. To be completely fair, though, there is an advantage to having people like this around you; as they have completed all their tasks, they can help you with yours. Also, they are like walking planners – they constantly keep reminding you of the upcoming deadlines.

However, there’s a more dangerous type of perfectionists – your superiors. If you’re your own boss, skip this paragraph. The danger lies in the fact that they want to get things done immediately, but they don’t always handle them personally – they simply delegate them. In such a case, your enlightened approach to planning and goal setting goes down the drain because it’s their ‘urgent’ tasks you have to do immediately and personally, no matter how unimportant they may appear to you at that moment. As a result, the goals you consider really important and urgent will turn into stressful nightmares because you are too busy to deal with them.

Number three is another hard nut to crack. It’s not easy to decide which tasks should be done personally and which can be easily delegated. It’s a common belief that good managers can delegate jobs effectively. I believe that a good teacher is good at delegating stuff too – outside and inside the classroom. Why should you prepare tens of word cards for a vocabulary game if your students can help you? Why should you do the board work if a student can do that? Of course, you need to delegate tasks in a meaningful way – not because you had a bad night and feel tired. You can’t fool your students anyway.

If number 3 is a challenge for you then number 4 is likely to give you a hard time too. Based on my experience, dropping unimportant stuff is not a piece of cake. The first question you have to ask yourself is: What is unimportant? Once you find the answer, you’re almost there. Must all your materials be laminated or will it suffice if your vocabulary cards are just quick scribbles on pieces of ordinary paper? Do you need to make an elaborate presentation to tell your students about the difference between the present simple and present continuous or is it ok if you have your notes written down and copy them on the board instead?

I think I’ve listed all the pitfalls of the Eisenhower Box. Can you think of more? What strategy do you use to prioritize?

Action plan

IMG_20150811_204153In one of my previous posts, I shared my concerns regarding the upcoming academic year. I said that I was worried about one particular class – a group of upper intermediate senior students, whom I had never taught before and who have a somewhat bad reputation among my colleagues.

It occurred to me the other day that apart from considering an appropriate, engaging syllabus, I should also think about the rules and requirements for this class.

I already have some experience in teaching senior students so I can anticipate many of the problems which usually pop up throughout the school year. On the one hand, it can make me a little biased, but it also helps me articulate my requirements more easily. I never did this before, but I think that it would be a good idea to share my resolutions with my students in the very first lesson. This will help us avoid possible disagreements later in the course.

The first question is how to do that without looking too authoritarian. Besides, swinging the door open and throwing a set of rules at my students is not the coolest start to a new academic year. On the other hand, I do want my new class to know what I expect from them – and the sooner the better.

So this is what I’m planning to do … I’ll write the following hints on the board:

  1. This is not a final-exam-oriented course, but …..
  2. As far as homework is concerned, …
  3. Regarding coursebooks, ….
  4. As for mobile devices, such as mobiles, laptops, etc., …
  5. My view on side conversations is this:
  6. My motto is better later than never. However, ….
  7. Regarding Unit Tests, …

The above-mentioned points are somehow related to problems I dealt with when teaching senior students. As you can see, I deliberately made them a little unclear because I want my students to predict the sentence endings and discuss the rules in pairs/groups.

By eliciting the students’ answers, I hope to achieve several objectives:

  1. By approaching the issue of discipline slowly and carefully, I hope to make the class less teacher-centred. At the same time, however, I want to make it clear that I do have some expectations.
  2. I hope that this activity will help me quickly gauge the level of the learners’ spoken English.
  3. I’ll also learn something about the class dynamics – who dominates the group, who is shy or afraid to speak, who cooperates well with others, etc.
  4. By having them discuss the rules, I’ll make them more memorable for the class and I’ll be able to refer to this activity whenever a student violates a rule.
  5. Most importantly, I’ll learn what my students believe. Although they may come up with ‘wrong’ answers during their discussion, these will actually reveal what they think about the rules. By saying ‘Oh, I bet we won’t be allowed to use laptops in the lessons’, they’ll actually show me how they see this restriction. By saying ‘It would be great to get no homework’, they will express another belief.

Finally, by having written this down, I’ve created some future reflective practice opportunities because once the course is over, I’ll be able to look back and see what worked and what didn’t.

For those who are curious about the actual rules, here’s the ‘key’:

  1. This particular class has 7 lessons of English per week taught by two different teachers. This is the maximum of English lessons a class can get at our school. My colleague has taken the ‘exam-oriented part’ (3 lessons) and I have taken the ‘language practice part’ (4 lessons), and we want to stick to this scheme, especially approach-wise. This means that in my lessons, I’ll try to avoid any remarks related to the final exam, which is something that usually stresses students anyway, but I want them to realize that everything they learn in these ‘bonus’ lessons will eventually be useful for the exam. In other words, I don’t want to put too much pressure on them, but I also want them to take the course seriously. Based on my experience, it’s useful to make this clear right from the beginning.
  2. No homework will be assigned. Senior students are extremely busy throughout their final year so I don’t want to add extra load to their busy schedules. However, I will want high participation in the lessons in return. Low participation will result in extra homework assignments. Done deal?
  3. I don’t like it when students come to lessons unprepared – with nothing to write with, nothing to write in and no study materials whatsoever. It is unlikely that we’ll cover the whole coursebook, but we’ll use them frequently, so I want my students to have them at their disposal all the time.
  4. No matter how unpopular this may appear to some, mobile devices such as laptops and phones are strictly forbidden in my lessons unless we use them for educational purposes. Phones are great tools for language learning, but, based on my experience,  students rarely use them in a responsible way. They often pretend to be looking words up in a dictionary, but they’re actually chatting on Facebook.
  5. As side conversations can be really annoying (not only for the teacher), I’m not very tolerant of notorious chatterboxes. I know that students sometimes discuss something interesting that popped up in the lesson, but in most cases they don’t. I keep telling my students that it’s pretty embarrassing for me to demand attention from adult learners (they are mostly 19 years old), and I kindly ask them to respect the fact that we are there to learn together.
  6. Tardiness is a huge problem, especially with older students. The situation gets worse when the lesson starts in the morning or after a lunch break. Latecomers must be strictly recorded in the class book. This is very important and leniency on the teacher’s part doesn’t pay off.
  7. There’ll be no Unit Tests. Completing them is time-consuming and I’m not convinced that they are a high learning payoff anyway. I only use bits and bobs of the ready-made tests because, as a whole, they are too challenging. Moreover, they presuppose that you’ve covered all the material in the coursebook. Instead, my students will practice writing lot. I believe that through writing personalized, coherent texts, students will learn more than by doing tons of run-of-the-mill tests.

I can imagine that many educators reading this will find some of the rules highly questionable, and I’ll be grateful for any comments. However, this post is a result of my experience combined with a specific teaching context, so I’ll probably end up defending my stance vigorously. 🙂

Pay it forward

DSCN6367Two things happened on August 10, 2015; I took part in Vicky Loras’s webinar for the iTDi Summer Intensive for Teachers called Not Only Staying Afloat, But Also Making Waves, and later on that day, I watched the Pay it Forward movie.

The webinar was a tribute to teachers who despite all the difficulties they constantly face never give up and do even more to make the world of education a better place. In her talk, Vicky told us about her own past struggles and shared her gratitude for the help she got when he was desperate.

The movie was about Trevor, a small boy who, too, attempts to make the world a better place. In short, Trevor’s new social studies teacher gives his students an intriguing assignment: think of something to change the world and put it into action. Trevor comes up with an idea of repaying good deeds with new good deeds done to three new people – not with one payback, as it is usual. Eventually, to everybody’s surprise, his efforts bring a revolution in the lives of his family members as well as people completely unknown to him.

I couldn’t but notice the coincidence (or synchronicity) and the overlap of those two unrelated experiences I had on the same day. In both cases, a crucial role was played by inspiring teachers who, through their influence on students and other people, strive to change the world to a better place. The most important takeaway for me, from both the webinar and the movie, is the importance of connecting and helping.

Both experiences are reminders that human life and development occur within a network of relationships; we are social beings embedded in a social context. However, things have changed a great deal recently. In the past, it was hard to change the world from one’s armchair – one simply had to go out and act. This is what Trevor did after all. Nowadays, it’s possible to have an enormous, positive impact on other people without even leaving one’s room.

I find it amazing because we’ve never had a better opportunity to pay good deeds forward so massively – not just to three people, something that Trevor’s followers did, but to hundreds of folks at one go. This is what Vicky and others do every day. Somebody selfless once helped them and now, they’re generously paying it forward. The greatest thing about it is that now I am the recipient of their generosity and so are you.

I’m sure that even if you didn’t go through any serious difficulties and thus nobody had to help you, still, there are things which you are grateful for and which are worth being ‘paid forward’. You can start small. For example, when my blog was in its infancy, there were people out there in the virtual world who noticed what I was doing and they started promoting my blog on Twitter and other social media. To name at least two of my edu-stars (and to be gender-fair), it was Mike Griffin, whose support I appreciated very much, and Sandy Millin, who regularly reads and shares my posts (and comments on them a lot, too).

Now, apart from this thank-you interlude, there’s not much I can do to pay these great guys back, but I can easily pay it forward by sharing and promoting new bloggers and/or motivating teachers to start blogging. Also, I can interact with well-known, experienced bloggers and still be very helpful because everybody appreciates feedback, no matter how famous they are.

We’re in the same boat: Hana Tichá

Self-Compassion for Teachers

One of the joys of gathering stories for the Teachers Talking About Self-compassion series includes the opportunity to look back on how I met the teachers who accept my request or volunteer to answer the three questions. To date, I have only physically met one teacher, and “meet” with the other two (found here and here) regularly via our favourite social networks.

This is how I met Hana Tichá: through one of our favourite online venues, blogging. Her blog, “How I see it now” came to my attention when we both decided to join the Reflective Practice Blog Challenge set out by John Pfordresher. I quickly learned that Hana brings care, mindfulness, and love to each word she types. I’ve also learned that many people, including me, are very appreciative of these words. They expand our heart and mind, and make our days a bit brighter.

Keep reading. You’ll understand…

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The right question, the right time

20150630_152802During the first minutes of Luke Meddings’s presentation for the iTDi  Summer Intensive Course, one thing immediately caught my attention, and it’s been on my mind ever since. It’s not directly related to the topic of the talk called Punctuation Marks?! Exploring Learner Stories and Teacher Interventions in the Unplugged Classroom…; it’s more to do with what the presenter said and what happened afterwards.

At some point, we, participants, were asked to think about our favorite punctuation mark. The iTDi crowd is usually very active and immediately floods the chatbox with ideas and all sorts of comments. But before anyone got to hitting the first key, the presenter promptly asked us to wait and think about the question for a few more moments. He told us he would ask the same question again later on when would be able to share our answers.

I intently watched the chatbox which had suddenly remained completely silent. I had to smile inwardly; I think people were trying hard to keep their mouths shut and I would really love to know what was going on in their heads at that moment. I’m saying this because I knew my answer a millisecond after Luke had asked the question, and I believe that most of the participants actually did.

These things happen in our classes every day; we ask a question and the fastest swot’s hand is immediately up. If we know our stuff as teachers, we wait a couple of seconds before we allow somebody to answer. This is what good teachers do. But why not take it a step further and use Luke Medding’s strategy. Why not ask the students to think about the answer but to keep it to themselves and then come back to it later on in the lesson.

I believe that this approach will have an enormous impact on overall participation. Those who knew the answer the moment the question was asked will get an opportunity to rethink and reconsider their original idea because, as the lesson proceeds, the teacher will provide more information and context. In other words, their original idea will gradually be remoulded and refined. Even if the answer eventually stays the same, the reasoning behind it will have developed.

Those who are not so fast, on the other hand, will gain plenty of time to come up with a confident answer. So, when the time comes, every student will have something valuable to share and their answers will make more sense to them than they did before.

There’s one more thing that pops up in mind related to fast learners; instead of checking their Facebook accounts, those who finish a task earlier might have something to occupy their minds while weaker students are still working. However, this will only happen if your question is challenging and interesting enough to attract the fast finishers’ attention.

Such a question will definitely stimulate students’ curiosity. It’s like giving someone a present which they can’t open till the next day. When your students are asked to keep the answer to themselves for a while, they might think: What’s the teacher up to? What’s going to happen next? Where is this headed? What’s actually behind the question? Based on my experience, students like to think they can ‘read the teacher’s mind’. And when they finally discover what the teacher’s intention was, the eureka moment, the sudden understanding of the previously incomprehensible problem, will bring even more satisfaction.

Last but not least, between A (the moment of asking a question) and B (the moment of sharing the answers), your students will hopefully be exposed to plenty of meaningful language input which will make it easier for them to finally come up with a decent output.

Obviously, this magic approach needs a bit of planning beforehand; otherwise you would only look scatterbrained. You need to know your goals and lesson aims very well to be able to make good questions that would create a sort of information gap. I’d say that once you decide to use this strategy, you’ll actually be forced to think things through thoroughly. As a result, your teaching skills will improve noticeably and your lessons will get a more professional tint because you’ll prove to the world that you know what you’re doing and why.

Six words

IMG_20150731_194438In his inspiring presentation for the ongoing iTDi event, the wonderful Kevin Stein spoke about literature and ways of using it in an L2 classroom. Apart from showing us what he does with tanka in class, he also talked about six-word stories, aka six-word memoirs.

The first six-word story was allegedly written by Ernest Hemingway, the master of simplicity and plainness, but the link to him is unsubstantiated.

No matter who invented or first used this form of literature, I find it plain fascinating. I believe that a story told in six words may have a much greater impact on a certain type of reader than a thick novel would have. I feel that reading such a story and thinking about it makes me use my imagination to the fullest. In fact, I have to be almost as imaginative and creative as the writer was. Although at first sight there’s usually one interpretation of the story, the reader is gently forced to fill in the missing details. The best thing is that the details will vary depending on the reader’s life experience and schemata.

Strangers. Friends. Best friends. Lovers. Strangers.

You may oppose that the same happens when you read a short story or a novel. However, although in a short story there’s plenty of room for various interpretations, many facts have already been supplied by the author. We’ve been given the names of the characters, their genders, ages, family backgrounds, appearances, etc. In the six-word story above, we get none of that and thus each and every reader will interpret and visualize the story differently. This is great news for a language teacher.

Six-words stories may be products of fantasy, but they may also be based on real events. Playing with this form of literature could be a great way of welcoming students after the holidays. Instead of asking “What did you do on holidays? Tell the person sitting next to you”, we can have our students write six-word memoirs first. Of course, there’s a danger that some students will opt for the easiest way out and just list six things/places/activities. The above story may look as an example of that sort of approach after all. Yet, it perfectly sums up a relatively long period of a human’s life, which would normally take pages to describe. So don’t fear to start small; the students’ final stories will serve as a springboard for discussion or follow-up activities anyway.

It is likely that your students will read a book or see a couple of films when on holidays. Why not ask them to summarize the stories in six words. This task may be pretty challenging, especially language-wise. Apart from considering suitable vocabulary, they’ll also have to think about grammar, even though (or especially because) six-word stories are, and have to be, completely de-grammaticized.

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

In the most famous six-word story above, grammar is invisible but inherently present. Your students can use one another’s stories – or you can find six-word stories on the internet – and get them to fill in the missing words. In the above story, the bit never worn will change into they/which have (had) never been worn. There’s a lot at play here: students will have to zoom in on the word order, the use of the present (past) perfect tense, the passive voice, relative pronouns, the fact that English does not have two negatives in the same clause, etc.Výstřižek

It may be interesting to point out that for sale is a high-frequency collocation which saved the writer a lot of words. You may ask about possible alternatives of expressing the same thing.

Anyway, all the activities are on my September to-do list and I can’t wait to try them out. I think it will be refreshing and motivating to start with something unusual.

He who digs a hole …

20150716_155210In my previous post, I mentioned this article, in which the authors discuss ELF (English as a lingua franca) and describe what happens if a priority in communication is color over clarity. They argue that idiomatic and culture-bound expressions can be very difficult to grasp for someone who hasn’t grown up in the inner circle world of English. They conclude that ELF-aware native speakers can optimise their speaking habits to be as comprehensible as possible in a world where fewer and fewer English speakers have grown up speaking it as their first language.

Just a couple of hours after publishing my post, I came across this article. It’s a great read except that it contains so many idiomatic expressions and metaphors that it turns reading into a torture – at least for me. I had to read it twice to be sure that I hadn’t missed anything important.

Its complexity made me wonder who the article was actually written for. I dare conclude that definitely not for me, a person based in the expanding circle of English, and I dare say that while producing the text, the authors only kept a specific group of native speakers in mind.

The fact that the authors are so creative language-wise is nothing that shocks me. Authors do that. I myself like to be creative after all. However, considering the fact that the article discusses a hot issue which educators all around the world (native and non-native) have recently been delving into, I’d really appreciate it if the text was a bit more EFL-user-friendly. Some of the expressions below may be plain confusing – hard nuts to crack (to throw in an idiom too) – not just because they are metaphors or idioms, but because they allude to facts and concepts an average non-native educator may not be familiar with.

  • These are big claims indeed, and many people have believed them, some of them with Monopoly cheque books
  • Donald Clark has fairly comprehensively harrowed many of the HOTW claims.
  • playing games and, I imagine, downloading stag flicks
  • It seems to me that the more outlandish the magic bullet claim in education
  • But Mitra’s work taps into zeitgeists that are very, very groovy indeed
  • the need to replace the ossified dogma of factory-farm learning
  • It’s like Ken Robinson regenerated into the next Doctor and the Sonic Screwdriver became a laptop
  • It’s proper, of course, to play the ball, not the player
  • platforms of ill repute where caveat emptor should be the reader’s watchword
  • Besides, there was a little bit of brass action
  • Roll that about for a while, really rub your tongue around it
  • Holy smoke, we just invented educational cold fusion
  • unless you hover like a drone on some of their shoulders
  • they’ll be cruising FIFA emulators and Googling PewDiePie all lesson
  • for the Kardashian generation
  • good intentions are a worthless currency
  • to be blown on the roulette wheel of unfathomably bad science

round holeI’m keenly aware that if English is somebody’s mother tongue, they may not have had much practice in thinking about its complexities. It doesn’t even cross their mind that they should try to avoid language that speakers of other languages find challenging.

Still, it makes me wonder why people revel in metaphors and idioms.

  • Metaphor is a stylistic device, but it is cognitively important as well.
  • Metaphor can serve as a device for persuading the reader of the writer’s argument.

Correct me if I’m wrong but in this particular case, the authors use certain language devices to turn the article into a humorous read. It may seem quite understandable, even though it’s a serious critique of someone’s work. The trouble is that although the authors are trying to discredit Sugata Mitra’s theory (claiming that Mitra’s passion for sci-fi has, unfortunately, bled into his research), they’re actually doing so using means which are rhetorical rather than scientific.

One may oppose that the authors do refer to credible sources which support their skeptical view on Mitra’s work. Nevertheless, their somewhat mocking style and numerous allusions to concepts that are totally unfamiliar to a common educator out there in the expanding circle world may end up as a futile attempt at offering people something valuable to ponder and discuss.

Note: I’m obviously not saying that native speakers of English should resort to Idiot English (Marc Jones’s term), but, maybe, they should start thinking about who their audiences are or may potentially be in the world of so many Englishes, especially if they wish to spread their message as far as possible.

3 scenes

IMG_20150628_114153Having read this post, I feel kind of relieved that after years of grappling with the darned English idioms and phrasal verbs, I can finally slow down a bit because native speakers of English will soon have to adjust to a lingua franca world. In other words, when communicating with speakers from the Expanding Circle, native speakers will be compelled to either avoid culture-bound expressions completely or use strategies of repetition and rephrasing frequently. This brings me to a couple of recent experiences.

Scene 1: I am sitting in a café, listening (unwillingly but with great interest so typical for an English teacher) to a group of four business partners discussing something in English. My 7-year-old son is trying hard to divert my attention from my little linguistic research, but I manage to conclude that three of them are Czechs and one is a foreigner, but definitely not a native speaker. They are all speaking fluently and casually, though their pronunciation is somewhat sloppy (especially the Czechs are driving me crazy!). This sloppiness, however, doesn’t prevent them from understanding one another and apparently, they’re having fun.

Scene 2: I’m sitting on a plane before the takeoff. One of the pretty flight attendants is going through the safety instructions routine, speaking English (presumably). She’s speaking fluently, but this time I can’t tell whether her pronunciation is sloppy because I can’t understand a word of what she says. Only the occasional changes in pitch and rhythm tell me that she’s not a robot. Seeing my puzzled expression, my friend mentions that she’s Hungarian. I’m a bit worried because I really want to understand someone who’s explaining to me what to do to save my b… in an emergency situation. There’s nothing wrong with the microphone, the loudspeakers or my ears because later on, up there in the air, I have no problem understanding the Czech-speaking co-pilot, who’s probably got hold of the mike in order to scare the hell out of the passengers who previously flew with Germanwings or watch too much TV.

Scene 3: I’m strolling through a nature reserve here in the Czech Republic when I come across a young couple conversing in English. They are definitely native speakers, and judging by their accent, they’re probably from the UK. I linger a few steps behind them in an attempt to catch bits and bobs of the conversation (despicable me!), but I can’t understand very much. To be honest, I don’t even have a clue about the topic, let alone the details.

Jumping to conclusions stage:

1) Varieties of English are everywhere you look. It’s a fact.

2) No matter what variety of English you teach and learn at school,

a) it’ll always be difficult to understand some native speakers, especially if they’re not talking to you directly or if you’re not familiar with the context of their conversation.

b) it’ll always be difficult to understand some non-native speakers, especially if you haven’t had an opportunity to adjust to their accent and if their speech is unnatural in some way. To come back to Scene 2, if you, like me, fly rarely, the lack of experience will be crucial.

c) it might be easy to understand some non-native speakers, especially if you share the same L1 or work in the same field. I’ve actually never met a Czech whose English I’d have difficulty decoding – no matter how bad it was (unless he/she was totally drunk or too nerdy).


Most of my students don’t know yet what purposes they’re studying English for; they’re learning it because it’s part of the national curriculum. So I believe that at this stage, the more they learn, the better. I’m not planning to bombard them with low-frequency expressions or rare idioms, but I’m not sure whether I can relax and ignore certain ‘imperfections’ just because they are ignored by users of English as a lingua franca. Actually, I can’t. By the way, some of my students are familiar with expressions and idioms I’ve never heard of so we constantly learn from one another.