Teach English in Sunzhao Zhen - Zhumadian Shi

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George Bernard Shaw said it best when, describing the existing relationship between the UK and the US, he stated that they were “two nations separated by a common language”. Paradoxical though this quote may sound, it has actually held true ever since the Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth Rock with the Mayflower: as a matter of fact, a Brit and a Yankee can clearly understand each other without too much effort, because the only features that make the English spoken in these two countries differ from one another are mainly variations in spelling and pronunciation. Nevertheless, there exist some cases in which even vocabulary can be a source of differences: one need only consider terms such as “frown”, which for Americans is a verb describing somebody who is making a sad face, whereas for British people it describes the expression one makes with his/her forehead when s/he finds it hard to understand a concept. And again, is it more correct to say “bits and bobs” or “bits and pieces”? The truth is that both previous expressions and both senses of the verb “to frown” are acceptable. The only caveat is that, in order to use one or the other, it is necessary to identify the most suitable situation of enunciation, i.e. understand whether the speaker one is talking to comes from the States or from Great Britain. Thus, a problem comes into being for teachers of English as a foreign language: which variety of English is more suitable for students to learn? Should both varieties be taught together? And if only one of them needs to be privileged, what criteria should be applied in order for the choice to be crystal clear? Apparently, today’s market offers such a wide range of course books that deal with either British, or American English that instructors are virtually spoilt for choice. However, whether to teach one or the other form of the language of Shakespeare seems to depend greatly on the continent one is in: for instance, all the learners coming from Europe are taught British English most of the time, because of the geographical proximity to the UK; in contrast, students from, say, Latin America are more likely to be familiar with American English, again because of geography. Nevertheless, it must me noted that course books play just a minor role in the acquisition of the English language by students. Indeed, more often than not people are exposed to a massive amount of American television products, which have a lot of influence in terms of both pronunciation and turns of phrase. Thus, in a way, it could be stated that every learner of English actually absorbs American rather than British ways of expressing themselves. As for teachers, it would be a good idea to stress, every so often, the converging and diverging points of British and American English, so that students will be able to appreciate both possibilities of speaking one’s mind. Periodical lessons focused on these aspects will be undoubtedly beneficial. In order to arrange them, it would be a good idea to draw one’s material from authentic British/American parallel texts on a given topic and to encourage students to highlight the aspects that these excerpts share or do not share. This activity is designed to be used during the Study phase of an ESA-based class. In conclusion, the study of British and American English is roughly equivalent, and no variety should be regarded as superior to the other. However, it would be better always to make students pay attention to some of the subtle differences existing between these two types of English, in order for them to gain a good degree of proficiency in this foreign language.