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Text 1-14. TEACHING AND LEARNING EURO-ENGLISH IN SWITZERLAND: A BRIEF ANALYSIS AND SOME IDEAS FOR TEACHING
(After Merica Mcneil)
My Swiss connection:
I taught English as a Foreign Language (EFL) for two years in Switzerland at the University of Applied Sciences in Winterthur, which is a mere 20-minute express train ride from Zurich, the country’s largest city. My job title was English Teaching Assistant. I usually took half of the class, while the other half stayed with their Swiss English teacher. I worked with a variety of teachers and classes and so I led class with each group of students every other week.
I usually had a good deal of freedom to do what I wanted with the students in class. Sometimes I was asked to give students extra practice using specified vocabulary or grammar. Other times I was able to create lessons on topics of choice, for example about current events, communication strategies, cultural topics, sometimes American, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., sometimes Swiss, such as controversial issues in current events. I had half the class at a time and the emphasis was on improving communicative competency. Sometimes students talked in pairs or small groups, and sometimes they gave oral presentations.
My class offered students the opportunity to practice speaking and listening to each other and with a native speaker in English and to learn about each other’s countries, cultures, and educational topics of interest, such as comparing and contrasting the Swiss and American education systems. Also, I’m pretty sure their motivation to speak English was increased because I’m a native speaker, was close to their age, I tried to provide interesting material, and my class was more relaxed because it was not in my job description to give grades or tests. Most of the classes were pretty much a monolingual groups with the majority being Swiss German, although there were a few other L1s represented.
I worked with students at a variety of levels from low intermediate to advanced. The students were taking English because it was a required course for them. Their motivations varied. Not surprisingly, oftentimes, some of the more advanced students had already spent some time abroad in an English speaking country. Some of them had gone to study abroad for a few months in Australia, England, Ireland, or the U.S., while some went on vacation to one of these countries. For these students, they were motivated to communicate with native speakers of English or non-native speakers in those countries.
For the advanced students, some of them already had work experience using English talking to native speakers and/or using English as a lingua franca. Some of the students accepted the challenge of writing their thesis in English, some of which I helped revise. All students had to provide an abstract of their senior project in English. Sometimes this proved challenging for me because there was technical jargon with which I was unfamiliar. Some professors in our department met with students who needed help in this challenging task.
I taught some Swiss students also in an English as a Second Language (ESL) environment at Global Village, a language school in Honolulu. When I taught Business English there, a majority of my students were Swiss German. Many of them needed English for their jobs in Switzerland to be able to communicate with native speakers of English sometimes, and also with non-native speakers of English.
Many of the mistakes students make is due to L1 influence. Because I have studied German, Swiss German, and French extensively, I was able to use these skills to understand Swiss students and, in helping them, say what they wanted to express, although sometimes it was easier to express in a way that would not be familiar or natural sounding to another native speaker of English. When such things came up in speaking class in exercises, conversation or student presentations, I would sometimes explain this point to students for future reference, however, I usually emphasized communicative competence and thus was not a stickler for requiring students to conform to traditional native speaker norms. Now that I look back on it, this seems to match Euro-English ideals as it was appropriate in expressing their “underlying cultural context” (Modiano 2003), i.e. Modiano mentions an example of a metaphor Swedes might use in English “blue-eyed” to mean naïve. Similar to Swedish, this expression is also in German “blau augig” and means the same. In Switzerland, where speakers from different L1s are increasingly using English as a lingua franca, some misunderstanding can occur when a speaker uses expressions unique to their L1. For example, in a survey that Heather Murray conducted of English teachers in Switzerland results from the questionnaire show that the majority of teachers (58.8%) from the French-speaking part rejected the term handy (a cell phone), a term, a typical false loanword from German (Murray 2003).
A new model for English language teaching:
The idealized variety of English that is taught in schools in Europe is usually British or American English. Traditionally, if students deviate from the native speaker norm, they are considered incorrect, even though if they are understood. Wouldn’t it be better instead to focus on communicative competence? Changing tradition and standards would take a lot of struggle. Some linguists are fighting for change and want to revolutionize English language teaching and learning to introduce Euro-English as a new model for English language teaching and learning in Europe. That would entail a total readjustment in our goals of English language teaching and learning and would thus necessitate new materials and assessment to match this new ideology. In this paper, I will draw on my own experience teaching English in Switzerland and present research discussing several pros and cons of Euro-English as a new model for English language teaching. In the end, I will offer some considerations and ideas for English language teaching.
Why I chose this topic:
I chose this topic because I have dealt with the questions of standards in language teaching and learning when I was teaching English abroad as students and teachers often asked me questions on correct or appropriate language in my native speaker opinion. Additionally, these topics are becoming increasingly more visible in the English Language Teaching (ELT) realm. English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), which is also called English as an International Language (EIL), and Euro-English have received a great deal of attention in the last decade. I will briefly explain the terms ELF and Euro-English later. Much is being researched in this area, such as the VOICE corpus project in Austria, which is the first large-scale corpus of its kind documenting spoken samples of non-native speakers. Due to the overwhelmingly wide scope I am going to focus on the situation in Switzerland because it is of particular interest to me and I can provide insider information because I lived and taught English there for two years at a Swiss German university
In this paper I will first briefly discuss the growing importance of English in Switzerland. Next, we will examine whether we should continue to uphold traditional standards of British English or American English as the target language. Then we will discuss whether Euro-English should be taken into account as a model and look at pros and cons. This decision should match what we do in the classroom as it affects teachers consider what acceptable English is. We should also think about teaching materials to match our mindset. Are they already available or do we as teachers need to create them? Will publishers be willing to provide such materials in the future? If we adjust our model of English and our goals using it, we must reconsider how to correct and assess students.
The growing importance of English in Switzerland:
Most of the students were pretty motivated to learn English because they believed it to be important not only for their future jobs, but also for international traveling purposes. For example, if they go to Ticino, the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, they would probably use English as a Lingua Franca. In Switzerland, they are required to study another national language, for example Swiss Germans have to study French, and French Swiss have to study German. However, my Swiss friends told me that many Swiss would prefer to speak in English together because then it is a foreign language for both people. In this way, English is increasingly being used as a lingua franca in Switzerland.
Another reason for this is that although the French Swiss study High German, German-speaking Swiss actually speak Swiss German dialects, which are quite different than High German, although they do use High German in writing, in school, and in formal situations. Therefore, although Swiss French speakers may study years of German in school, they most likely would not be able to understand a normal conversation between two German-speaking Swiss because they would most likely be speaking their Swiss German dialect. Actually, I’ve heard that many German-speaking Swiss do not really like or feel comfortable speaking High German, but that is another topic.