Lots of questions with no definite answers

questions-2212771_960_720Have you, as a non-native teacher of English (or whatever foreign language), ever caught yourself hesitating for a second before uttering the following statement while in class?

That’s not how they say XY in English (or in whatever foreign language). 

What I mean is that depending on my mood, I sometimes feel like substituting the pronoun they with we:

That’s not how we say XY in English.

What makes me hesitate and what makes me prefer the former to the latter and the other way around?

From one point of view, it might have to do with language ownership. In other words, the *we* might indicate some kind of linguistic superiority on my part, i.e. I AM the knowledgeable teacher who knows how they (native speakers) say it in English and that’s why I AM one of them. And you’d better listen if you want to be included too.

In a similar vein, if a native-speaker of English tells a class of non-native speakers that this is the way they (native speakers) say it in English, it may also imply some kind of linguistic dominance.

However, in my case, it probably has to do with the fact that although I come from the Expanding Circle (that’s why the occasional choice of *they* referring to the Inner Circle) I no longer perceive English as a language totally foreign to me in the sense that it’s the language of the Other (that’s why the use of *we*).

Anyway, I don’t believe that one can own a language or that there are some linguistic barricades – imaginary or real – one has to overcome. At times, I just feel like part of a bigger whole and by using we I actually mean to include my students as well. In this case, the *we* means we users of English as a foreign language. But again, who is this we? We users of ELF here in the Czech Republic or all users of ELF?

Having said that, it’s a little different when I want to draw attention to the fact that there are varieties of English. Then I add a geographical term such as:

They say XY in Canada.


A Scotsman would probably say XY.

I could obviously bypass the problem by using a passive structure:

This expression is not used in English the way you’ve just used it. 

The trouble is that although the passive form is used to indicate that the agent is not in the center of attention, it’s still inherently there. So by whom is the expression not used in English?

I guess a Scotsman could, with some degree of certainty, claim that this or that phrase is not used in English (and he would probably mean it’s not used locally, where he lives). But for a Czech EFL teacher, it will always be pretty risky to claim that XY is not used in English since in English is actually a very broad term. And what if it actually *is* used somewhere? Does it mean that it’s acceptable and correct? But correct and acceptable by whom?




About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Lots of questions with no definite answers

  1. Adi Rajan says:

    Thanks Hana. This is really food for thought. Just the other day, I caught myself writing “We don’t usually say …” on a trainee’s lesson plan and I vaguely recalling wondering who I meant by ‘we’.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s