Let’s not make English about British culture

Recently someone suggested that I teach countable and uncountable nouns to children in the primary using British Pounds, in Italy. The lesson would have included a little “market” where children would role play and ask “how much is it?” and then reply “£1.50 please”. You get the idea.

The conversation started something like this: “do you have any pounds at home?”

I liked the idea of bringing more context into the lesson, but I genuinely wondered how children would benefit from the introduction of the a currency that was new to them, the British pound sterling, instead of using one they were more familiar with, the euro.

“Why would you use pounds and not euro?”, I asked my colleague. “Well, they ARE studying English, so it’s good that they learn more about British culture along with it”.

I shook my head thinking, THIS is the face of native speakerism and how educators are unaware of their own detrimental attitude towards non-native English speaking teachers. THIS is a pure example of how NNEST are not given any grace, because their origins and feelings have no place in the English classrooms. For how fitting is it for ME to teach a culture of a country whose spare change I don’t possess to bring to school and speak of… the only foreign land learners can one day visit to practise their English(?)*sarcasm

“Should I bring Armenian Dram, then?” I asked, smiling, “or am I to be excluded from such lesson since this is not MY culture we are talking about?”

Why should I feel belittled for not being a part of GB, or as an English teacher, merely for not wanting to make the lesson about British culture, when I honestly don’t see the point of making it about British culture in the first place.

You see, I wouldn’t worry about teaching currency to kids at that age, and get their little heads wondering about conversions instead of giving them opportunities to use the language. They are just about adding and subtracting whole numbers, learning decimals and place value. Why would anyone want to confuse them even more, with the sole justification of this being part of cultural studies, when all one should say is “your English books show the £ sign but feel free to think of these as the € sign, since it’s what you normally use every day and you don’t live in GB”. Nobody in the class has signed up for learning currencies or Britsh culture, yet all need to speak the language and practice their English skills.

I wouldn’t be writing this if I hadn’t said exactly what I wrote here to my colleague. She didn’t object, instead she reflected.

Let’s not make English about British culture. Let’s pull ourselves out of such boxes. Let’s be more inclusive of our non native staff and never suggest things that can simply be avoided or made more friendly to students and teachers who are not from Great Britain.

I believe all cultures are equally important, but how can learners benefit from that if we are only feeding them with one, supreme culture, as if it were the only one available to master the English language?

I will not stand by and feel inadequate. Nobody owns the language I teach so I will not succumb to the ever-growing tendency of making English about British culture, waving union jacks and speaking of the royals and their corgis and double-decker buses and red phone booths, and tea-time at 5 o’clock, because that is NOT what English is to me, and I bet it’s not what it is for my students.

ABOUT

Meri holds a Master’s in Language and Cultural Studies from University of Moena and Reggio and is passionate about discussing and fighting for equal opportunities in ELT, specifically for non-native English speaking teachers.

She currently manages the_nn_native_speaker IG page and writes articles on the topic of Native Speakerism. She has previously worked as a language teacher and consultant for companies such as Parmalat, Adecco, 3M, FERCAM, N1 Logistics and Barilla through private English schools in Emilia Romagna.

Originally from Yerevan (Armenia), she studied in Buenos Aires, Kuala Lumpur, San Diego, Lecce (South Italy) and Parma (Northern Italy). She gained a CELTA Cambridge in 2014 and a Global DELTA Cambridge Diploma in 2018, both from CLIC International House in Seville, Spain. She is now based in Parma. She loves books, attending and speaking at ELT conferences and workshops, and performing live.

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