I have just had lunch with our little group of students for this week. Asks Thomas, veteran student of 6 stays, “Do you have communication classes for English native speakers?”
Took me a second to respond. “Er, not at the moment, Thomas. Why?”
“Well sometimes the grammar of native speakers is not so good – and it seems sometimes they don’t want to understand,” he smiles.
Hmm – funny he should say that. I had just finished reading an article by Robert Rogers in this month’s ETP. Called “Don’t Panic”, it explores the need for what he calls, “compensation strategies for student survival in the real world.” He starts by relating the story of a student of his who tried to order from a Macdonald’s in NYC. The student said – and I quote – “Cheeseburger two times, please.” The Macdonald’s “waitron”, or “service engineer”, or “customer liaison officer”, or whatever they are called, apparently didn’t understand. Our intrepid student changed his order to, “Cheeseburger twice, please.” Apparently the waitron etc still didn’t understand and the student left in a flummox, his confidence in shreds and without his lunch. Rogers continues by suggesting that this student had a high level of proficiency in the language and “should have been perfectly capable of the relatively simple task of ordering two cheeseburgers ….and yet he failed.”
I absolutely beg to differ, in fact, I insist. This man with his high level of proficiency most certainly DID NOT FAIL.
Now call me whatever you like, but I had NO problem in working out – in a very short time too, probably about a nano second – that the man wanted two cheeseburgers. I ran this past Thomas, “What is the man ordering, Thomas?”
“Two cheeseburgers,” says Thomas also in a nano second.
So where’s the problem? It’s not with the student, gallantly trying to order two cheeseburgers in a language not his own, it’s not with ELF or EFL or anything else. It is with the completely intransigent and, dare I say, recalcitrant, bloody-minded and probably deeply stupid Macdonald’s waitron/service engineer/customer relations liaison moron – sorry “officer”.
And there’s Thomas’s point. Maybe there should be classes for waitrons and helpdesk people and hotel receptionists and shop assistants and anybody else who works with people who may not have English as a first language. The message would be: Stop being irritatingly obtuse. Just THINK about it and TRY to understand. Ask the right question: “Excuse me, sir, did you want TWO cheeseburgers?”
And I have had teachers like this too – no longer in my employ, you’ll be glad to hear. One of our French students some time back told us he had “moules (phonetic spelling) that makes enormous galleries” in his garden. What an enormously vivid picture this man was painting and I knew perfectly well what he was talking about: he was pointing to the little run of molehills in our lawn at the time. One of our teachers said, imperiously, dashing the student’s emerging assurance that he was managing to chat away to us English speakers, “Moules? MOULES? We don’t have MOULES in our GARDENS!” I actually wanted to slap her and say, “MOLES, you fool! MOLES – stop being so embarrassingly asinine!”
Thinking about what Thomas said, maybe there is a gap in the market here – teaching native speakers to communicate with non-native speakers: teaching them how to ask for clarification, ask the right question, at least try to understand and move the conversation forward, look at the context and think about what the non-native speaker could be saying……. Any takers?
Nix, I; I wouldn’t have the patience – as clearly evidenced by this post, among other things………