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Been kind of squelching and splashing about on the BELF practice pitch for a bit, (allusions both to the British weather and the cricket…..) and have chosen those particular verbs especially. Why? Because it doesn’t matter how much I splash and puddle about, the only effect it has is making my feet muddy. Not a trace of my ever having been there remains – all the reading, the researching, the thinking, the listening I do on the subject, leaves it as unmarked as a puddle once I have left it.

I suppose what I’m saying is I know BELF is there, I have experienced it, but what the hell do I DO with it and will my “doing” make any difference at all of any kind? Here’s what I was up against last week:

My really rather wonderful student asked me to help him with his e-mails.  “Of course,” I said, “bring some to class and we will have a look.”

This is what he brought:

Regarding your  *** availability, before indicating any price idea I’d like to ask your opinion that the way of your logistics. By assuming Iso-tank offers 750/760 EUR/MT CIF  and/or SHANGAİ ports  with Form * available maybe work.

Lovely puddled practice pitch – but what on EARTH do I do with it? I asked him if I could take it home and “analyse” it: which I did and I came away with some really rather vague and unhelpful conclusions.

1)   These two people – the emailer and the e-mailee (neither are native speakers btw)- completely understand each other and  so we as teachers are redundant in this case. Correcting this is going to render it incomprehensible to these two who have developed this very individualised inter-language and it works for them.

2) But what about the others on the CC list? My student for example. He was flummoxed (interestingly he thinks the e-mailer has “a very good English”).

3) But perhaps the two correspondents are not sure what the other means and where that will lead is anyone’s guess. Not even sure if I’m being led to Shanghai here.

4) If this email is neither standard English nor BELF , what is it? How do we tackle it? And surely it would be as easy to teach the correct structures as it would anything else? – once we got to what it is actually trying to convey.

5) And finally – what did I ACTUALLY do? I got the student to write an email asking for clarification and helped him to be very specific about what he didn’t understand and what he needed explaining. I have no idea what transpired.

Splash, squelch, puddle puddle puddle. Whether I run through the puddles making like an aeroplane, or tip toe through the puddles like a water-averse cat, helping one student make sense (hopefully, fingers crossed) of one email either by deconstruction or by teaching him to negotiate meaning at a useful level, is the best I can do for the moment.

We both splashed about for a bit and left with muddy feet, but the puddled and muddy BELF practice pitch remains.


6 responses »

  1. Hi Candy,
    What an interesting case – and one with which I sympathise: how can we teach BELF when, as Ian McMaster pointed out in the BELF webinar, there’s no lexical core? We can cut back on ‘civilian’ idioms and long-winded collocations, I suppose, but if the language the emailers are using isn’t getting the job done, then they need to use something else. It doesn’t matter if it’s 100% pure BELF or that awful native-speaker stuff.
    In the end, teaching your student how to clarify and negotiate meaning seems like a very smart move. Those are the kinds of skills which I guess may become more valuable as the different Englishes become more disparate – both for native and non-native speakers.

    • Hi Tony
      Thanks for the comment. I have to say this email floored me. If the student hadn’t been as competent, or confident, as he was, I would have been really stuck. He managed to tell me what he THOUGHT might be going on and then we just worked on the questions I had asked and his answers in an attempt to formulate really well-structured and specific requests for clarification….. an interesting week it was. This wasn’ the only email!
      Looking forward to working with you in Brighton!

      • Yes – it should be fun – although maybe more so for you as you get to jump in the sea at the end of the day!

  2. “Splash, squelch, puddle puddle puddle.” Love it!

    This post nicely sums up why teaching BELF is so hard – it’s all about uncertainty and ambiguity, and learning how to deal with it. Context is everything. Especially difficult for those teachers who have been used to having all the answers, or those learners who think that teachers should have all the answers 🙂

  3. Pingback: M-Learning (Mobile learning) | From Paper to PC

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