Who’s laughing?

6dpqoba6fjwtrqi2c8gfejkqstraducao_copa0707085213578006principle of fire

The first time I saw these images, and others like them, my immediate reaction was to laugh and think: How can people be so stupid? Why didn’t they ask someone who can actually speak English to tell them what the correct language was? Also, when on board most flights of Brazilian airlines, and listening to the ‘delightful’ aircrew English coming through the speakers, I often tsk-tsked, sniggered a little, scorned a little and complained a little: Will these people ever learn to speak proper English?

More recently I have stopped laughing. Actually this is not funny at all. What I ask myself now is a different set of questions. Here are a few:

Why do we come across so much stuff like what we can see in these sorry images?

How can we, despite the sorrow we should be feeling, laugh at them?

Why do we laugh at flight announcements most foreigners won’t even recognize as English?

What have I been doing to make that stop?

Something is very wrong with the learning of English in Brazil, despite the fact that the teaching and its amazing teachers and techniques seem to be getting better and better. Apparently, no matter what technology we use, whatever methodology we apply, this is the sort of heart-breaking result we are managing to get out there, among the real, mundane mass.

Maybe the problem is most people do not have access to good English teaching. Maybe the English they do have access to is not the English they should be learning. Maybe there are plenty of other reasons. But should we perhaps be teaching hotel and restaurant staff the language they really need, instead of a one-size-fits-all elementary English course that doesn’t cater for those specific needs, even if we call it ESP? Would people who need to write menus in English perhaps be better off learning primarily a vocabulary list, rather than following a functional syllabus? Should we perhaps be teaching pronunciation-oriented lessons to aircrews first and foremost, instead of providing them with a four-skill course, for example?

I have no idea what the answers to these questions are. But I am pretty sure that, however funny a “principle of fire”, “baits of unscheduled” or a “cheese mine” may be – or even a gobbledygook-sounding announcement, the joke is actually on us, ELT in Brazil.

Ricardo Sili

I’ve been in ELT for longer than I can remember – teaching, training teachers, designing and managing courses, and writing for Learning Factory (Interlink / New Interlink series), then Richmond (English ID Starter) and a few others. I’m fascinated by pronunciation and grammar teaching. And I have an MA in ELT, and an RSA Diploma. rsili@msn.com

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