English is hard.
Well, sometimes it’s easy: no crazy verb conjugations, no gendered nouns to memorize and accord with adjectives, no difference between formal or informal “you”. But then it gets complicated: pronunciation that has absolutely nothing to do with a word’s spelling, exceptions on exceptions on exceptions, not to mention all of the variations of English spoken around the world.
This last one is what trips me up most often in my job. Overwhelmingly, British English is preferred over American English by my colleagues and those of my friends. Students are exposed to both, but by and large, BE is the rule. Things I’m asked to teach that aren’t natural to me, an AE speaker, include:
- Have you got brothers and sisters?
- I’m wearing trousers and a jumper.
- It’s 23 past 4.
- Today is Tuesday, the 7th of March
- Take out your copybook and rubber.
François is a CM2 (5th grade) teacher who loves to teach English. In his class, I co-teach with him, rather than intervene on my own. He is teaching his students actions and hobbies, things like “to read” “to play basketball” “to dance, ” a unit I’ve also been doing in several of my other classes. As François describes to his class how to complete the interview questionnaire he’s just passed out (Ask your partner, Can you sing? and record the response) I pull out some flashcards labelled with action words.
We call on students to name the images: to play football, to swim, to ski. We get to the line with pictures of instruments. “Pay attention class. For instruments, you must say THE, like ‘I can play THE piano’.” He looks at me to verify. I shrug and mention that it doesn’t really matter if you say THE or not. It means the same thing.
“No, no. Maybe some instruments you don’t have to, but I am sure that piano is one where you must say THE.”
I raise my eyebrows, but figure it’s not worth arguing about right now. Maybe it’s just one of those weird things they decided to teach EFL learners so there is a semblance of rules. I hand over my flashcard labelled TO PLAY PIANO with another shrug.
Back at home, curious, I search for the “official” rule and find this post in a discussion on WordReference: “I suspect that play the guitar is BE, play guitar AE. “
I am really starting to understand why we say the best way to master something is to teach it. ❂
Slice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.