I don’t speak British English, but I (supposedly) teach it.

Maybe part of the reason why I don’t want to continue teaching English in France is because I’m usually expected to teach British English… but I speak American English.  The students’ vocabulary books are British English…. but I speak American English. The recordings for the pronunciation labs are in British English… but I speak American English!!!

The students are confused and I’m annoyed at all the vocabulary and pronunciation differences that they can’t pronounce in either accent anyway. Listening to their oral exams make me feel as though I’m talking to several people, first with a Brit who says little with a /t/ and then all of the sudden, the American personality comes out with car with an obvious /r/. They haven’t quite mastered the concept of sticking to one accent. I wish the students had a choice of which accent they wanted to learn though. I wish I could teach nothing but American English since that is what I know best, obviously. I’m afraid the students will constantly confuse the two and accidentally say fanny to a British person and fag to an American thinking of the more innocent meanings or not even knowing the other meanings.

I suppose it was the same when I was learning French in college. We were always taught standard European French even though I preferred Quebecois French. I had to learn how to understand the accent on my own, which isn’t too hard to do with enough listening practice. But knowing more of the common vocabulary differences would have been helpful before I studied at Laval. Luckily I never made the mistake of saying gosses while I was in Quebec, so that’s something at least.

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  • http://davidsswamp.blogspot.com/ David

    What makes you teach UK English?
    Just teach the English you know, kids won’t make the difference anyway.
    .-= David´s last blog ..Introducing: the iPad! =-.

  • http://davidsswamp.blogspot.com David

    What makes you teach UK English?
    Just teach the English you know, kids won’t make the difference anyway.
    .-= David´s last blog ..Introducing: the iPad! =-.

  • Kathleen

    I went to high school in New Jersey and there, we learned European French. I did the summer immersion course at Univ. Laval, too (in 2005), but really didn’t pick up the accent in the five weeks I was there. The following summer, I got a job as an interpreter at a Canadian national historic site, and the (Franco-Ontarian) supervisor, when she was doing the short bit of the interview that was in French, said, “Mais votre accent, c’est un peu parisien, n’est-ce-pas?” Some French Canadians are put off by the European accents…even though that IS what Americans learn in school. It does drive me crazy that Canadian French is seen as inferior to the French in France.

    Indeed, I find it hard to work with conceptions that the only “correct” form of a language is possible in it’s place of origin. Throughout Britain, as well as in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the US, Canada, India, Singapore, South Africa, the Caribbean, and anywhere else English is spoken, your students are going to find regional exceptions anyway, and the differences aren’t generally incomprehensible. I mean, If one of your students does an internship in London and says to a colleague, “Do you want to work on this ON the weekend?” instead of “Do you want to work on this AT the weekend?”, it’s going to be understood.

    I did pick up a bit of the French-Canadian vocabulary and accent using the language at work and, after two summers of that interpreter job, when I went to Lyon, I was told that my “Canadian” accent was “charmant”. I definitely don’t speak the French of any particular place, though -it’s a mishmash of what I’ve learned from French sources and life and from Canadian sources and life. I’d guess that, with the prevalence of American media throughout the world and the teaching of British English, most of your students might end up using a mishmash of Englishes. I don’t see a problem with that – though I’m no linguistic expert!

    Do you think that, with the strength of the EU, as it gets harder for non-EU nationals to work in France and Europe, that you’ll be seeing more notions of “The students need to be learning British English ONLY” in France?

  • Kathleen

    I went to high school in New Jersey and there, we learned European French. I did the summer immersion course at Univ. Laval, too (in 2005), but really didn’t pick up the accent in the five weeks I was there. The following summer, I got a job as an interpreter at a Canadian national historic site, and the (Franco-Ontarian) supervisor, when she was doing the short bit of the interview that was in French, said, “Mais votre accent, c’est un peu parisien, n’est-ce-pas?” Some French Canadians are put off by the European accents…even though that IS what Americans learn in school. It does drive me crazy that Canadian French is seen as inferior to the French in France.

    Indeed, I find it hard to work with conceptions that the only “correct” form of a language is possible in it’s place of origin. Throughout Britain, as well as in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the US, Canada, India, Singapore, South Africa, the Caribbean, and anywhere else English is spoken, your students are going to find regional exceptions anyway, and the differences aren’t generally incomprehensible. I mean, If one of your students does an internship in London and says to a colleague, “Do you want to work on this ON the weekend?” instead of “Do you want to work on this AT the weekend?”, it’s going to be understood.

    I did pick up a bit of the French-Canadian vocabulary and accent using the language at work and, after two summers of that interpreter job, when I went to Lyon, I was told that my “Canadian” accent was “charmant”. I definitely don’t speak the French of any particular place, though -it’s a mishmash of what I’ve learned from French sources and life and from Canadian sources and life. I’d guess that, with the prevalence of American media throughout the world and the teaching of British English, most of your students might end up using a mishmash of Englishes. I don’t see a problem with that – though I’m no linguistic expert!

    Do you think that, with the strength of the EU, as it gets harder for non-EU nationals to work in France and Europe, that you’ll be seeing more notions of “The students need to be learning British English ONLY” in France?

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    The main problem I have is that some teachers insist on testing their students in British English only, so even if the students produce completely grammatical sentences or use American words, they will be counted wrong and I think that’s really unfair. Other teachers only mark down if the students mix up accents, which I also think is a little unfair since it can be hard to learn all the different vowel sounds between American English and RP when they’re basically beginners in learning the IPA.

    A part of the problem is definitely the attitude that British English is superior to all other forms which makes me want to hurt people. I’ve known teachers who talk badly about American accents and tell their students we have “working class” accents and they shouldn’t pronounce like us.

    I think lately people have been seeing the value in teaching American English because of the influence of the US in everyday life, and especially for those students who want to work for global anglophone countries where American English is the standard. But at the same time, they still can’t let go of this absurd British superiority thing.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie

    The main problem I have is that some teachers insist on testing their students in British English only, so even if the students produce completely grammatical sentences or use American words, they will be counted wrong and I think that’s really unfair. Other teachers only mark down if the students mix up accents, which I also think is a little unfair since it can be hard to learn all the different vowel sounds between American English and RP when they’re basically beginners in learning the IPA.

    A part of the problem is definitely the attitude that British English is superior to all other forms which makes me want to hurt people. I’ve known teachers who talk badly about American accents and tell their students we have “working class” accents and they shouldn’t pronounce like us.

    I think lately people have been seeing the value in teaching American English because of the influence of the US in everyday life, and especially for those students who want to work for global anglophone countries where American English is the standard. But at the same time, they still can’t let go of this absurd British superiority thing.

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com/ Zhu

    French’s obsession with British English is weird. Same goes with their obsession with stick shift cars vs. automatic cars.

    I really couldn’t understand US English when I first came to Canada because of that!
    .-= Zhu´s last blog ..Niagara Falls In The Winter =-.

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com Zhu

    French’s obsession with British English is weird. Same goes with their obsession with stick shift cars vs. automatic cars.

    I really couldn’t understand US English when I first came to Canada because of that!
    .-= Zhu´s last blog ..Niagara Falls In The Winter =-.

  • http://emmygration.blogspot.com/ Emmy

    I felt sorry for my amazing students who had spent a year in the States…I still had to mark their pronunciation incorrect. But Jennie, it’s not as simple as that. Teachers like teaching RP, and even though I’m british, I don’t have the RP accent. I still had to teach RP and I couldn’t even pronounce some words ‘correctly’. Example, in a recent study, 66% of brits pronounce ‘poor’ like ‘floor’ but the RP is more like ‘poo-err’. How is that standard if only 33% of the population says it like that? I think teaching IPA is a great tool if we can accept all pronunciations.
    .-= Emmy´s last blog ..Shopping in your PJs in France? =-.

  • http://emmygration.blogspot.com Emmy

    I felt sorry for my amazing students who had spent a year in the States…I still had to mark their pronunciation incorrect. But Jennie, it’s not as simple as that. Teachers like teaching RP, and even though I’m british, I don’t have the RP accent. I still had to teach RP and I couldn’t even pronounce some words ‘correctly’. Example, in a recent study, 66% of brits pronounce ‘poor’ like ‘floor’ but the RP is more like ‘poo-err’. How is that standard if only 33% of the population says it like that? I think teaching IPA is a great tool if we can accept all pronunciations.
    .-= Emmy´s last blog ..Shopping in your PJs in France? =-.

  • http://kiwigirl-infrance.blogspot.com/ Kim

    It’s crazy that you have to teach British English, surely it should be what you are most comfortable teaching (and maybe point out the differences in spelling/words when it comes up)?

    As an assistant at a lycée I’ve not been told to stick to British English, perhaps they assume NZ English is the same as British English. NZ English mixes both American and British words (we use chips, truck, soccer..) but with British English spelling. My poor students are going to be really confused when they start asking for a “pin” instead of a “pen” when they visit English speaking countries.

    And as for pronunciations – I’m not sure the kids in the Lycée where I teach are getting taught British English pronunciation from strongly accented French English teachers?
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..J’envisage de faire une pause =-.

  • http://kiwigirl-infrance.blogspot.com/ Kim

    It’s crazy that you have to teach British English, surely it should be what you are most comfortable teaching (and maybe point out the differences in spelling/words when it comes up)?

    As an assistant at a lycée I’ve not been told to stick to British English, perhaps they assume NZ English is the same as British English. NZ English mixes both American and British words (we use chips, truck, soccer..) but with British English spelling. My poor students are going to be really confused when they start asking for a “pin” instead of a “pen” when they visit English speaking countries.

    And as for pronunciations – I’m not sure the kids in the Lycée where I teach are getting taught British English pronunciation from strongly accented French English teachers?
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..J’envisage de faire une pause =-.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    I had the same problem teaching English between Irish English and British English. Luckily, the written form is pretty much exactly the same (it’s colour and centre for me too). But the accent is almost as different as it is for American English.
    I was hired by a lot of schools in part because I wasn’t British. It gives the school credibility that they promote all forms of international English. For intermediate students I would speak naturally and they would have to keep up, since in the real world even Brits don’t speak the Queen’s English presented in those books, as another commenter above pointed out.
    But sadly, I had to say caaaw for car and such with beginners, since confusing them with more than one accent isn’t going to help at that stage. Some words were harder for me than for them. For example, in Ireland we pronounce film as “fill-um” and I had to force the l & m together, and learn the (what I consider ugly) “th” sound for the purposes of being understood in my classes.
    Note that it has nothing to do with superiority. The Queen’s English is the standard taught as a second language in Europe, because the UK is the largest English speaking country in the EU, plain and simple. In a lot of other countries (such as in South America), American English is the standard and the reverse frustration is the case for non-American English natives.
    Unfortunately, I don’t see a solution other than sticking with one dialect up to intermediate level and then branching off to understanding as many variants as possible. Which dialect you choose is always going to annoy people. How many schools outside of Ireland do you think teach Irish English? :)
    .-= Benny the Irish polyglot´s last blog ..[video] Another way to look at the 5 tones of Thai =-.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    I had the same problem teaching English between Irish English and British English. Luckily, the written form is pretty much exactly the same (it’s colour and centre for me too). But the accent is almost as different as it is for American English.
    I was hired by a lot of schools in part because I wasn’t British. It gives the school credibility that they promote all forms of international English. For intermediate students I would speak naturally and they would have to keep up, since in the real world even Brits don’t speak the Queen’s English presented in those books, as another commenter above pointed out.
    But sadly, I had to say caaaw for car and such with beginners, since confusing them with more than one accent isn’t going to help at that stage. Some words were harder for me than for them. For example, in Ireland we pronounce film as “fill-um” and I had to force the l & m together, and learn the (what I consider ugly) “th” sound for the purposes of being understood in my classes.
    Note that it has nothing to do with superiority. The Queen’s English is the standard taught as a second language in Europe, because the UK is the largest English speaking country in the EU, plain and simple. In a lot of other countries (such as in South America), American English is the standard and the reverse frustration is the case for non-American English natives.
    Unfortunately, I don’t see a solution other than sticking with one dialect up to intermediate level and then branching off to understanding as many variants as possible. Which dialect you choose is always going to annoy people. How many schools outside of Ireland do you think teach Irish English? :)
    .-= Benny the Irish polyglot´s last blog ..[video] Another way to look at the 5 tones of Thai =-.

  • http://france-bienvenue.fr/ Anne

    hello,
    I’m really surprised ! Most of the English teachers I know in France just try to expose their students to as many different accents as possible because it is one of the challenges for people learning English. Personally my students get to hear all kinds of accents from all walks of life and from the United States, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, etc… depending on what material I find on the Internet or get my friends to record for them. Then of course it is a bit hard to ask them to have consistent accents. But it is better than a French accent in English !!!

  • http://france-bienvenue.fr Anne

    hello,
    I’m really surprised ! Most of the English teachers I know in France just try to expose their students to as many different accents as possible because it is one of the challenges for people learning English. Personally my students get to hear all kinds of accents from all walks of life and from the United States, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, etc… depending on what material I find on the Internet or get my friends to record for them. Then of course it is a bit hard to ask them to have consistent accents. But it is better than a French accent in English !!!

  • http://france-bienvenue.fr/ Anne

    French people know and can hear that NZ accents are not the same as American or English or Scottish or Irish or Welsh or Australian, etc… accents ! And that’s what makes it both hard and enjoyable ! Just like everybody can hear that French accents in the south or the north or in Paris, etc… are very different from Belgian or Swiss or Algerian or Moroccan or Quebec accents.

  • http://france-bienvenue.fr Anne

    French people know and can hear that NZ accents are not the same as American or English or Scottish or Irish or Welsh or Australian, etc… accents ! And that’s what makes it both hard and enjoyable ! Just like everybody can hear that French accents in the south or the north or in Paris, etc… are very different from Belgian or Swiss or Algerian or Moroccan or Quebec accents.

  • omaoilreanail

    Fascinating entry & comments – I spend some of my time in Roussillon and have to ‘switch into’ the southern accent there, and found myself still using it on my return to UK, much to the annoyance of my previous French teacher! But then I can remember how we all were mercilessly rude to a student doing her teaching practice at our school, which was in Wales in the 60s, because she spoke French to us with a heavy Welsh accent. Our French teacher drilled the Parisian accent into us as the correct pronunciation, and we all felt we were infinitely better at French than this hapless young woman, simply because of the strength of her own native tongue (which we spoke as well). Thanks for this blog Jennie, it’s sooo helpful (as I am now 60 and back at French conversation & language classes for pleasure).

  • omaoilreanail

    Fascinating entry & comments – I spend some of my time in Roussillon and have to ‘switch into’ the southern accent there, and found myself still using it on my return to UK, much to the annoyance of my previous French teacher! But then I can remember how we all were mercilessly rude to a student doing her teaching practice at our school, which was in Wales in the 60s, because she spoke French to us with a heavy Welsh accent. Our French teacher drilled the Parisian accent into us as the correct pronunciation, and we all felt we were infinitely better at French than this hapless young woman, simply because of the strength of her own native tongue (which we spoke as well). Thanks for this blog Jennie, it’s sooo helpful (as I am now 60 and back at French conversation & language classes for pleasure).

  • http://www.shorttraveltips.com/ Vi

    For the beginner probably doesn’t matter which English it is – American, British or Irish – as even in different parts US or UK the language sounds different. You need to know grammar, vocabulary of basics word and later just adapt to language of place you are in. After spending couple months in South Africa I went to New Zealand and on first day I couldn’t understood what people are talking on the streets. May be it was because for me English is third language and I am still learning it, but you can’t learn all dialects and don’t see point of learning it at school, you need learn basics/common used words.
    .-= Vi´s last blog ..What to do in Sydney in February =-.

  • http://www.shorttraveltips.com/ Vi

    For the beginner probably doesn’t matter which English it is – American, British or Irish – as even in different parts US or UK the language sounds different. You need to know grammar, vocabulary of basics word and later just adapt to language of place you are in. After spending couple months in South Africa I went to New Zealand and on first day I couldn’t understood what people are talking on the streets. May be it was because for me English is third language and I am still learning it, but you can’t learn all dialects and don’t see point of learning it at school, you need learn basics/common used words.
    .-= Vi´s last blog ..What to do in Sydney in February =-.

  • http://casserdoeufs.wordpress.com/ Lindsay

    It’s true. My French colleagues don’t speak English with French accents; they speak it with British accents. It’s amazing. They don’t even have to fake it.

    And the students. I emphasized to one group, after a short dialogue they wrote, how it’s better to not ask someone for a fag when in the States.
    .-= Lindsay´s last blog ..Why selfishness is important =-.

  • http://casserdoeufs.wordpress.com Lindsay

    It’s true. My French colleagues don’t speak English with French accents; they speak it with British accents. It’s amazing. They don’t even have to fake it.

    And the students. I emphasized to one group, after a short dialogue they wrote, how it’s better to not ask someone for a fag when in the States.
    .-= Lindsay´s last blog ..Why selfishness is important =-.

  • Gaele

    You know what? I speak American to my students and I am French!! But I love American English, I have a strong American accent because I lived in California for quite some time, and it doesn’t seem to bother my students at all, so why change?
    Of course, I say fall instead of autumn and color, center, … and there’s no way I am going to change that. But I had a hard time when I was studying for the Capes when I was told that my pronunciation was wrong!

  • Gaele

    You know what? I speak American to my students and I am French!! But I love American English, I have a strong American accent because I lived in California for quite some time, and it doesn’t seem to bother my students at all, so why change?
    Of course, I say fall instead of autumn and color, center, … and there’s no way I am going to change that. But I had a hard time when I was studying for the Capes when I was told that my pronunciation was wrong!

  • http://corcaighist.blogspot.com Corcaighist

    It shouldn't a problem. Lots of Irish young people make money by teaching English while travelling the world. At least Received Pronunciation and General American are recognised as English varieties for instruction. Where does that leave Irish people? I teach English in Estonia and officially they teach RP. However, from my experience the students don't make much of a difference and I don't make an effort to speak RP. I wouldn't even if I knew how. I just teach them English in my Irish accent and try to avoid vocab and phrases that are particular to Ireland.

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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