Since I have been here, I have reflected upon why so many in my surroundings, both friends, family members as well as strangers have thought it to be an odd place to choose, to become better and learn more about English.
I can understand why it seems like going to an English speaking country would be more reasonable to take the courses I have enrolled in. But, what is an English speaking country? Should we forever keep our conservative view of what “real” English is and who the gatekeeper of this is?
English has become more of an international language than ever before. It is used all around the world, in so many different situations that is no longer is possible to only seclude it to British, American, Australian, or other similar English. In Sweden, most of us use English often, some more than others. When we travel, English is used in order to overcome language barriers that otherwise would be something which could hold us back. We use this language to communicate, to read instructions, to Google and so on.
In my future role as an English teacher, my job is not to teach perfect English. (What is that even?) I am going to teach English as a foreign language (also known as EFL) Not as a second language, but a foreign one. Now, what does that mean? It means that neither I or my learners are expected to speak English fluently. We are not obliged to use English as a native English speaker would, actually, the only demand is for them to be able to gain strategies to use it within different situations and, basically speaking, in order to have a reasonable conversation with a native speaker. Not to speak without accent. Not to have the best vocabulary in the world. But to know the language and how to use it within different contexts.
We learn a language by using it, often and with many different people. In Macao, there are three different groups of people which I am surrounded by most of the time.
- The locals
- The internationals (from nearby areas)
- People like me, exchange students etc.
Naturally, not all fit within these boxes, but let us just use that to more easily understand what I am about to say.
With the locals, I use English all the time. In many cases, there are no issues whatsoever. They have studied English the same amount of years as Swedes have (starting at age 4), and as long as you have kept studying, English is no problem for them. Others, who may not have traveled the same path, are not perfect with their English, but they get by. Which for me means that I can still communicate, although I might need to use body language more.
The internationals are those who come from countries or areas close to Macao, such as the Philippines, Mainland China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand and so on. This group is quite large here, both from a student perspective as well as working force. As for this group, their English is like the first group’s.
Although, I had a situation with a security guard today which I found heartwarming. I needed a pen to sign a document and was looking for one, when I remembered that the security guard in the library always carry them. So I went up to him and asked if I could borrow his pen. He looked at me confused, then he got sort of nervous and was unsure of how to talk to me. I looked back at him, waiting for some sort of reaction to my question. After a few seconds, he said with a pretty nervous voice “English no speak” and I felt so so bad for putting him in this situation. So the arts teacher in me tried to basically just show him exactly what I needed. So I pretended that I had a pen in my hand and started writing on the desk. He smiled as if a light bulb had lit and gave me the pen. It felt nice that we still had a way to communicate, even if I wold never expect that an easy question like the one I asked would give someone a little nervous breakdown.
Anyway, the internationals come from many different countries which gives me a smörgåsbord of different takes on English. I just love it.
The same goes for the exchange student-group. We have students from all around the world. Brazil, Canada, China, France, Norway, The Netherlands, Portugal, Germany, etc. It is wonderful to see how English sounds and is used from all of these different aspects. We all have different levels of English proficiency which is great for me as a future teacher, because I can practice listening in a real life set, where I have to do that in order to fully understand. In a Swedish context, I would not be able to do the same thing.
Lastly, for those of you who still worry about “the fluently speaking English person”. Yes, I have those around me as well. My professors are American, American-Chinese, South African, Australian, and Macanese. So worry not. I am around very academic English all the time, I am reading books which cover the whole spectrum of Classic English.
This is the best option to sharpen my knowledge, not in my fluency in speech, but to understand. To listen and to ask the right types of questions. To hold conversations in a completely different way than what I am used to.
After all, Sweden is a multi-cultural country and my classroom will not only contain of Swedish learners. It will consist of learners from around the world, and I need to know how to teach them in the best possible way, with their linguistic background taken in consideration.