Teaching In Socks

November 26, 2008, 4:45 pm
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Getting In Character for Conversational Listening Tapes 3-6

Getting In Character for Conversational Listening Tapes 3-6

Allow me to start by saying that I’m all for Scotland. Tartan patterns, William Wallace, tourist traps under the guise of the existence of mythical, ancient sea creatures are all to my liking. I’ve never eaten Haggis and probably never will, but I like the name, and I respect a culture that is willing to eat things that will gross other cultures out, it shows moxie and fortitude.

However, can we agree, they don’t speak “proper” English. In fact, I would go as far as to say, they don’t speak English; they speak Scottish.

Before we start tossing pint glasses, I want to make it clear that I’m not attempting to imply that their dialect is inferior or cacophonous, I merely want to illuminate the fact that their colloquial pronunciation and vocabulary presents some significant differences between itself and others forms of English.

I only bring this up because in my classes, the CD’s we use for listening sections attempt to expose the students to a multitude of accents. Thus we have employed Small World-esque collection of voice actors to have conversations about why they don’t get along with their brother or what time they want to eat dinner. This cast of characters includes Proper English Chap, Boastful Big-City American, Heady Australian Girl, Sensible Kiwi Woman and the most difficult Deliberately Slow Scottish Guy. (Please note, these names aren’t official, however, they are accurate.)

Out of this mixed bag, Deliberately Slow Scottish Guy tends to elicit some surprised and perplexed faces from my students.  I consistently have to re-translate for my students which sometimes requires me to look over the transcript to see if he was talking about his “garage”, “carriage”, “marriage”, or something entirely different that I don’t even know about.

When my students signed up to learn English, I know they understood that there are a variety of accents to contend with. However, there is no evidence to suggest any of them came in with the intention or dream of becoming familiar with the finer points of proper Aberdeen intonation. Also, from a didactic perspective, if you’re trying to teach someone a grammar structure and some new vocabulary, it undermines your ability to teach and time management skills when you are constantly throwing them for a loop with new accent du jour each class–with special, exclusive intonation, contradictory word structure, and pronunciation.

I’m not trying to single Scotland out, but it’s a really difficult accent for my students to comprehend. It just not only a tricky one, but also a rarity for my Japanese students to encounter. If we want to prepare them for something they’re realistically going to be exposed to, we’re better off drilling them in in one of the various fancy boy euro-English accents than we are in recruiting voice actors from Edinburgh.

Also, if they’re really going to be a bear, they should be a Grizzly. On behalf of my various Caucused ancestors I’m outraged.  Where’s Ireland? South Africa? The entire southern United States? Canada? Wales? Scouser? Cockney? The whole thing smells of elitism to me.

This whole mess really makes me put more faith in trusted tenants of entropy theory. How did we get from a series of inflected grunts to Latin to this systemic mess of linguistic phylae? One day we are going to evolve to a state where each with have our own personal colloquial telekinetic language, with individually unique intonation and vocabulary unique. At that moment the world will then explode into a quintillion tiny particles of living bio-stardust that will be unable to have conversations with other bit of bio-stardust because they can’t decide if crisps are chips, and chips are fries or if chips are chips, and fries are fries, and crisps are nothing. Won’t that be wonderful.


3 Comments so far
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You’ll need to understand that the Scottish accent is an adapted form of English. Gaelic was the initial language of the Celts which spreads among the British Isle, most notably Ireland, Wales and Scotland. People generally fail to realise the independence of such countries and how they led much separate lives and cultures before the dominant power surge of institutionalised England was introduced. There is an intelligent vocabulary and punctuation behind these traces of gaelic in the English language which aren’t merely lazy or misguided attempts at communication. Even within English history the seperation of cultures were highly apparent, Counties played a much larger role than they do today.
What is wrong with most teaching of British culture/language today is that it’s mostly recognised within a modern context and so people fail to recognise the extensive change the country has undergone and the significance of diversity in Britain.
I don’t mean to cause offense, just offering some points to investigate that may help you in understanding the variety of accents within the English language.
Certain things to note are:
Roman invasions, and the failure to penetrate Scotland and so the failure of the Latin based language to spread.
Scandinavian introduction to the British Isles (Vikings etc.)
among those you’ll find some of the questions about accents in the English language.

Maybe giving examples of Gaelic to your students may allow them to understand the roots of accents. There are still regions of the British isle where it is the 1st language.

Good Luck and happy teaching.

Comment by Fraser

Note: there are many versions of Gaelic as well, depending on Country.
Welsh Gaelic is still taught to children in certain regions of Wales.


Comment by Fraser

Der’s more ta Ireland den dis…

Comment by Old AP

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