Jun 9, 2010

the secret could be in the beans

I've had a couple of talks with interesting people who are interested in TESOL and are good speakers of English, having studied it for much of their lives (including courses in the UK).
On several occasions we talked about English courses in the UK or the US and they immediately and resolutley expressed the view that you can't make any useful observations or assessments on the effectiveness of these courses, as anyone studying in the UK or the US was bound to learn English anyway - what happened inside the classroom was pretty much incidental.

Now - this surprised me, as (as I pointed out to them) they almost certainly knew foreign people living in their own countries whose language skills were poor, even after a considerable period of time (and I'm not talking just about people living in disadvantaged circumstances). They didn't really accept this argument as sound. It occurred to me that this resistance could be due to a form of 'cultural experience' - people who go to study abroad tend to be well-educated and highly motivated and are better placed to achieve the good results that provide the evidence for the view that my companions in conversation held.

As a teacher in London I certainly came across plenty of cases of people who, after months and even years, seemed to have a huge barrier between their minds or brains and the English language that surrounded them. I wonder if these people in any way resisted adapting or submitting to the foreign experience in general. Maybe they saw living in the UK as a kind of exile to an outpost of their own land and saw everything new as an inadequate and somehow undesirable version of the real and right thing.
Did they want to eat baked beans? Did they sunbathe when it was 17°C?

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