Steve Darn | ELT
There are many anecdotes and jokes about the confusion caused by the difference between the English spoken in modern multi-cultural Britain and the text-book counterpart taught by native and non-native speakers all over the world. Here is my anecdote from this summer:
Scene: Heathrow airport bus station. A young lady, presumably from somewhere in South America, is boarding an orange 724 bus bound for Uxbridge and beyond.
Young lady: ‘This bus goes to Uxbridge, doesn’t it?’ (lovely rising intonation on the tag question)
Bus driver: ‘Yeh, but it don’t go to the centre, luv. If y’want the centre it’s the one be’ind – the red’un – the double-decker. ‘Ere, it’s just leavin’ – you’d better gerroff quick if you wanna gerrit.’
Momentary confusion due to lack of comprehension. The young lady stands transfixed at the top of the steps. The experienced English language teacher trainer standing behind her recognises the problem immediately and swiftly guides the young lady off the 724 and onto the red double-decker, thus averting a crisis while promoting Anglo-South American relations.
If our function as language teachers is to prepare our students to communicate with native speakers in real world situations, function effectively in an English-speaking environment, or even to be able to understand and enjoy the English-medium films and TV/radio programmes available in their own countries, rather than to pass an exam, we must pay attention to natural language and the way it is used by native-speakers in their own country. We must acknowledge the fact that there is no such thing as ‘standard English’ and that only a small proportion of the population of the UK speak ‘Southern English’, ‘Oxford English’, ‘BBC English’, ‘English with RP pronunciation’, or whatever ‘standard’ English is equated with.
Some implications for the classroom
First published September 1997 Longman Teacher Link Issue 3