01.09.2013 - 13.11.2013
Language is a strange thing. We say that we are ‘studying’ a language as if it’s a solid entity that can be observed and inspected, like a statue in a museum; but really, they are living entities, constantly morphing and shifting. They have to be – our modern, technological society would struggle to function if we were all speaking like a character from Chaucer. Now, I know this as well as anybody, and it’s what makes being a linguist exciting, but there is still quite a large part of my brain that is a definite language snob. (You there across the pond, stop pretending you speak English, be honest with yourselves and call it American.)
So here’s my problem: Hindlish. I’m spending these three weeks working as an English teacher, and that is precisely what I intend to teach. English. From England. But the language that’s developing here is a strange beast, with its own individual quirks. Take my class yesterday, for example. The topic was ‘polite requests’, so I set the kids to create short dialogues at the market, buying various things, which they then presented to the class (with varying degrees of success). One of the boys informed me that he ‘would like to recharge [his] phone’ – a strange request at the market, you might think. I know full well that what he means is that he wants to top-up his credit, but was what he said wrong? In England, yes, it would be wrong – the shopkeeper would give you a seriously weird look, thinking you wanted to borrow a plug socket. But here it’s in current usage. So, as an English teacher, employed to work with kids who want international careers as engineers, doctors, lawyers etc., is my responsibility to teach them my native tongue or the developing hybrid that is already a major force in their own country? I think as I’m only here for a very short time, there’s little point in trying to reshape something that’s already ingrained, but I’d genuinely be interested to hear from anybody who’s faced a similar problem doing ESL for longer term.