Teach English in Yindingtu Zhen - Bayannao'er Shi — Bayan Nur

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In my formative years in Trinidad and Tobago in the 1960’s, before most homes had televisions and when going to the movies was a rarity, my knowledge of and instruction in the English language was almost entirely British. There were few American references that would influence my use of the language apart from the occasional movie. At that young age we were instructed in all aspects of English grammar for which I am eternally grateful as much of this formal grammar is no longer taught in schools. This has laid the foundation for learning new languages, whether it be French, German, Italian or other. It has given me an appreciation for the structure of language, at least the Germanic and Romance languages. However, as we progressed into the late sixties, television sets started to become more prevalent in most Trinidad households and with that, the exposure to American English. Slowly but surely American English with its accompanying pronunciation was supplanting British English in the vernacular. To that extent, we now have generations of Trinidadians whose lexicon and pronunciation are more American despite their formal education using primarily British texts. The differences have caused some confusion for me as well over the years, as what I previously thought to be incorrect turned out to simply be British constructions or expressions - yes, by the seventies we were almost entirely consumed in American culture. “Mind the step” was now “watch out for the step” or something similar. I thought “going on holiday” was incorrect and it should be “going on vacation,” collective nouns were also a bone of contention, just to name a few.

Pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the US in the eighties brought some of these differences more into focus for me. At a time when personal computers were very rare and thereby the ability to check one’s work, my writings were suddenly being corrected for “wrong” spelling (realise instead of realize), as well as my grammar (got instead of gotten). While I was already familiar with some of the differences I was surprised to learn that there were a lot more. This might speak to some of the biases that some Americans have towards British English and vice versa. Or maybe it is just their ignorance of the other, automatically assuming that that with which they are not familiar is not correct. My experiences make me appreciate how confusing it might be for a non-native speaker - a Mexican co-worker in the US once suggested to me that I should go back to school to learn English when my construction was not exactly in line with that with which she was accustomed. The purpose for which the language is being learnt and where the language is going to be used will certainly have to be be worked into my approach when teaching the language. Cultural differences and vocabulary differences can be quite confusing even to native speakers and also need to be addressed. However, it will be important to point out that the similarities between the two styles of English are much more plentiful than the differences. It is unlikely that one will not be understood apart from the occasional miscommunication. Different accents, on the other hand, will take some getting used to.