“Last month, we published a story in collaboration with the NPR podcast Rough Translation…Dozens of readers wrote in with their own stories about how challenging — and frustrating and rewarding — it can be to learn and teach English.” C.McCusker, NPR, May 16, 2021
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: Prepone That! Your Accent Is Funny! Readers Share Their ESL Stories, By Carolyn McCusker,NPR, May 16, 2021
“We’re featuring three responses that we found especially insightful: an English professor from India shares an English word she’s used for years — not found anywhere in the dictionary; an author points out the politics behind terms like ‘native language’ and ‘mother tongue’; and an engineering professor discusses why stereotypes about ‘accented English’ are totally hypocritical.
Brave new word
Aparna Gollapudi is a professor of English at Colorado State University who grew up in New Delhi. She used a word in her classroom one day that made her see her relationship to the English language in a totally new way.
A month or two after I began teaching in the U.S., I had to make some changes to the class schedule. ‘We’ll need to prepone the quiz, I’m afraid,’I said, steeling myself for the groans from students that were sure to follow. Instead, there was deafening silence.
I looked around to see blank expressions on my students’ faces — that look of ‘I have NO idea what you just said,’ which stops any teacher worth their salt mid-lecture to backtrack and explain a concept further… I believed that prepone meant the opposite of postpone — moving an event to an earlier time rather than putting off something to a later time. So when I realized it wasn’t ‘proper’ English, I was dumbfounded…I was an English major with a robust vocabulary, a ‘convent school’ accent and fondness for reading Dickens, Austen and other such august writers…But that day in the classroom, my incomprehensibleEnglish taught me that being an linguistic “have” is unstable and delusional at best. It is a lesson I have learned many times over since then.”
Who gets to have the label “native speaker”?
Srikanth Chander Madani is an author with interests in climate change, social equity and the creative arts… Madani shares his experiences being asked to prove his language proficiency time and time again.
The words we use to describe the many ways to speak English — like ‘mother tongue,’ ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ speaker — are often fraught.
Srikanth Chander Madani is experienced with many languages: “My ‘mother-tongue’ is Hebbar,” Madani says, ‘a language specific to a certain group of Indians who moved between two linguistic regions centuries ago, with words from Sanskrit, Tamil and Kannada.’ He speaks English, Hindi, German and French fluently. He’s in the process of learning Italian and trying to improve his written French…Madani has found it frustrating to be so frequently asked to credential his ability to speak languages he is both proficient and prolific in… The whole concept of “mother tongue” is a political construct to keep certain people out, says Madani. According to Madani, the hoops that many non-American or non-British English speakers are forced to jump through in order to credential their English seem nonsensical when their American and British counterparts with equal or lesser proficiency are never asked to prove it.
‘Having lived in the U.K., I know many whose first (and only) language is English and who make routine errors when speaking and many more when writing,’ says Madani. ‘Why should they get a free pass and not be forced to go through a TOEFL [Test of English as a Foreign Language] or IELTS [International English Language Testing System]?’
All accents welcome
Sergio Serrano is a professor of engineering science and applied mathematics at Temple University.
Having lived in North America for 40 years after growing up in Bogotá, Colombia, Serrano shares his experience speaking English in academic settings and dealing with accent stereotypes. Sergio Serrano has participated in many international scientific conferences across the globe. ‘In a typical situation, a group of foreign researchers are discussing a complex technical issue with very precise and elaborate formal English,’ Serrano says, ‘until an American joins the group.’ The research found that communication is inhibited in part due to native speakers’ use of language not held in common, like culturally specific idioms…Serrano also discusses his experiences being singled out for his accent.
‘After 40 years living in North America,’ he says, ‘I still encounter the situation when a stranger interrupts me after a few words I spoke to interrogate me: ‘You have a strong accent. Where are you from?’ It is a continuous reminder that you are forever an alien in your own country.’
‘I politely explain my origins, and then I add, ‘I cannot catch your accent. Where are you from?,’ says Serrano. Indeed, those who single out Serrano for having a strong accent seem to be unaware that everybody (themselves included) has an accent.”
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 60 minutes.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer
Directions: Examine the title of the post and of the actual article. Next examine any photos. Write a paragraph describing what you think this article will discuss. A pre-reading organizer may be used.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Try to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. You use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- There was deafening silence after I asked my question.
- Any teacher would backtrack and explain a concept further.
- It is believed that all legitimate words in a language must be found in a dictionary.
- When I realized it wasn’t ‘proper’ English, I was dumbfounded.
- It was akin to a paradigm shift in my linguistic self-image.
- I had grown up in India, where fluency in English is synonymous with education.
- I was an English major with a robust vocabulary.
- But that day in the classroom, my incomprehensible English taught me a lesson.
- I would sometimes use my Britishisms in class.
- Leaving India took me out of my insulated and privileged linguistic bubble.
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- I begin teaching English in the U.S 20 years ago.
- I looked around to see blank expressions on my students’ faces.
- I had grown up in India.
- Their are many varieties of English.
- Many words [from these languages] have stayed with him.
- Madani is asked to prove his language proficiency time and time again.
- Sometimes I stumble while pronouncing some word.
- There are words we use to describe the many ways to speak English.
- Sergio Serrano has participated in many international scientific conferences.
Identify The Speakers
Directions: Read the following quotes from the speakers in the article. Then identify the speakers.
- “A month or two after I began teaching in the U.S., I had to make some changes to the class schedule.”
- “We’ll need to prepone the quiz, I’m afraid,” I said.
- “I was an English major with a robust vocabulary, a convent school accent and fondness for reading Dickens, Austen and other such august writers.”
- “The words we use to describe the many ways to speak English — like ‘mother tongue,’ ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ speaker — are often fraught.”
- “I grew up with three languages, as my parents did not share the same ‘mother tongue’.”
- “Having lived in the U.K., I know many whose first (and only) language is English and who make routine errors when speaking and many more when writing,”
- “On the contrary, communication ends because [the foreign researchers] cannot explain to the American, in simple language, the advanced topics they were discussing. Yet, the American takes over the conversation.”
- “After 40 years living in North America,… I still encounter the situation when a stranger interrupts me after a few words I spoke to interrogate me: ‘You have a strong accent.”
- “I politely explain my origins, and then I add, ‘I cannot catch your accent. Where are you from?”
Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Have students discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, students share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.
- Have you ever used an American English word that made perfect sense to you but was not in the American dictionary? What was the word and it’s meaning?
- After explaining the meaning of ‘prepone’ does it make sense to you? Why?
- Which two letters of the English alphabet did Professor Gollapudi have difficulty pronouncing? If English is not your first language, do you have difficulty with these two letters?
- Give an example of a Britishism.
- According to Professor Gollapudi was she better off leaving her privileged linguistic bubble? Why?
- Why are there so many varieties of English?
- Why does Srikanth Chander Madani say English is his mother tongue? Do you agree?
- According to Sergio Serrano, what happens when an American joins in a conversion? Have you ever experienced this with American speakers?
- Make a list of other words that you think should have meaning in an American dictionary (e.g., prepone). Share the list with the class.
Directions: List three new ideas that you’ve learned from the reading, two things that you did not understand in the reading, and one thing you would like to know that the article did not mention. Share your responses with your class.