The English language should be cherished
I was once given a Little Book of English Patriotism and on it was a Cecil Rhodes quotation. It read: ‘Josh, remember you are an Englishman, and have consequently claimed first prize in the lottery of life.’ Being only about 12, in all honesty, I failed to process the sentiment and remember feeling as if I hadn’t won anything at all. Now, on reflection and with greater understanding of the statement, I feel if not further from its patriotism.
Many firmly believe that with such musings; often, it is the aged who feel as if England still revels in supposed splendour. For me, there is little worse than a bellowing rendition of Rule Britannia, or a mention of past imperial ‘greatness.’ England is home, though, and there are wonderful parts of it – but flags and bunting can come down.
That said, there is one thing that seemingly does grant us first prize in the lottery of life. That is our language. Perhaps not the most beautiful to hear spoken, unless your name is Alan Rickman or Morgan Freeman that is, but written down it is powerful and majestic. It holds the largest vocabulary in the world; its syntax can unwind into glorious prose, its words can evoke imagery far beyond that of many other languages. One name to round this off: Shakespeare.
Of equal importance though, is the fact that half the world seems to speak it and as such the other half wants to learn. This means a need for English teachers; an untamed number of graduates, mid-life crisis sufferers and the occasional retired soul who needs to live.
One of the more pronounced of the ‘teach English as a foreign language’ qualifications is CELTA. The course can be completed by doing a month-long course that prepares you rigorously for the perils of teaching at a variety of levels in a host of situations. It is the perfect accompaniment to travelling the world, putting you in good stead to never be left out of pocket. As a freelance journalist, with a dream of continent-hopping over the next couple of years, it’s perhaps wise to add an extra string to your bow, an additional income. After all, who knows when the internet will go down, or when Dropbox will fail? What’s more, teaching can be fun and less solitary.
However, with all its positivity, there has been an element of sadness entwined within learning to teach. At one end the teacher stands, with either a long-life of freedom behind them or a new one just beginning, at the other a class of mixed stories. Because these classes are predominantly taught by trainees, they are free. This is a wonderful pairing of allowing foreign students the chance to attend free English lessons and a real classroom environment to train would-be teachers. But sitting in the office chairs with fold-out tables are some of the redundant and the unemployed across from Spain and Greece. They have come here on their savings, trying to grant themselves a more substantial chance of work.
While we gallop etymologically around, excited about our prospects, so many of those we are teaching are in a desperate situation. Of course, the UK is in a far from enjoyable situation too but as we know Spain, Greece and Italy, to name but three, are struggling all the more. Even as I write this, I can see Newsnight’s report on the austerity protests in Madrid. It is commonplace to see, sitting among the earners taking a short break to learn another language, the international corporation employees, and retirees with a bit of extra pension money, those who make up the unemployment figures across Europe.
While nothing is rosy here, it feels as if English speakers have that extra boost. In no other way are we at an advantage – it would be ridiculous, misguided and Victorian to think the English are superior or blessed – it’s just pure luck to have this automatically, to have so many doors already open; doors that others have to work tirelessly to unlock.
There are so many rich and brilliant languages across the planet, languages with abstract meaning behind every pattern and a vibrant history behind each syllable. These are without doubt as important as English, and in some instances far more powerful at times, but in terms of practicality if nothing else, our native tongue is linguistic industry.
Before leaving today, a Spanish student told me that he was unemployed and was learning English to bolster his hopes. He has a degree in journalism. He spoke of the situation back home and truly hammered home how lucky we group of trainees are to have English so effortlessly at our fingertips. Sure, EFL teaching isn’t a miraculous provider for all, and there is still a grave situation here in the UK too, but it’s an option at least for some. It is an instant opportunity most other nations are without.
One day in the distant future though, English may sink into relative obscurity and German perhaps may pay the plane fare. So for now, in this apparent European meltdown it’s certainly something worth cherishing.Tagged in: CELTA, English, greece, language, spain, teaching
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