I’m sorry

“I’m sorry, my English no good”

“I’m sorry, I no speak English good”

“I’m sorry, my English is bad”

I hear these a lot!! Too much!! But why? Is it true? Maybe but how are they measuring it?

Personally, I put it down to their learning experience. I’m pretty sure that they’ve not been supported and nurtured to feel good about their level and progress. For me, anything beyond “hello, goodbye” is good and who student who grasps and utilises the present perfect after 5 minutes is VERY good in my book. It’s not how good they are but how good they dedicate themselves and improve.

I remember that in China students would scream in English and were super confident, is that missing in Europe?

I don’t want hordes of French women running round the streets screaming “I speak zeee god English!” but a bit of confidence in their abilities would serve them well.

I often think of my job as a bit like a doctor diagnosing symptoms but the root cause was created years ago in their schooling. How I can solve that one is beyond me. Maybe I should contact the council and ask to volunteer on ‘in-school’ programs.


7 thoughts on “I’m sorry

  1. Hi Phil!

    Interesting that you say that…have been thinking about it quite a lot.I have not taught anywhere outside of Europe, but I see differences between Greece and Switzerland for instance. In Greece people know how much they know and can be confident. Here in Switzerland (due to the Swiss always being modest) I have heard so so many times: “My English is terrible” or “I need a lot of work with my English” and suddenly they open their mouths and amazing stuff comes out : )

    You are right, it could be lack of support in schools and your idea of joining a council is a good one. I might even do the same myself!

    Good stuff, Phil!

    Best wishes,

    • Yes, I have that too. CAE level students who say their English is poor. The main complaint is that they have nobody to talk to. To solve this one of my bosses wants to do an open speaking thing like an English corner/salon. I never liked the idea in Asia as it was just local kids talking but if you have a teacher whose mediating and helping then it could be great. I think Wall Street do something similar. It could even be relaxed win the canteen with drinks/snacks etc. I also like the idea of watching a short film/episode together and then talking about it naturally, not in a class context.

        • I challenge them and just say “don’t be lazy, you can do better than that”. I used to have a CPE A student in a class of upper ints/pre-adv and in the first lesson I drew up an action plan to push her. Sadly, she got a bit overconfident and lazy as she was better than the rest. Having that ‘artificial’ level/goal can be tough if you are the best in your environment as you are aiming at something you can’t see/measure.

  2. Speaking from someone who teaches predominantly Chinese speakers only these days, I can assure you they are not brazen about their abilities. Still, I think it’s natural to be humble about your language ability. Having said that, the European youth that is here for the summer program are in no way shy to speak in English, particularly the Spaniards.

    • That’s interesting because I used to teach class after class of 18 yr old Chinese kids in the UK who wouldn’t speak but then when I lived in China it was the opposite. In the UK we did get rich kids though and in China they were at public unis so quite poor or from political families. They usually sat at the front and took notes.

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