The Great English Language Scam
The teaching of the English language has become an international business bolstered by recent requirements by the British, EU, and Australian governments that aspiring immigrants should have minimal levels of attainment in one of the commonly recognised tests. Glenn Fulchur writes in the Guardian October 14: “The most striking use of language tests by politicians today is as a surrogate for immigration policies, which, in turn, has endowed test scores with more economic value.” There is nothing about the love of language in any of this; it has become a pawn in the battle to keep people out and is providing producers of materials in particular with handsome incomes as well as language schools.
Turkey has been slow to take to English; the fierce nationalism which Ataturk encouraged prevents even Kurds from being taught in their own medium lest it create unwanted minorities which break the unity of the nation. Besides, unlike Kenya, Turkey spawned the huge Ottoman empire which lasted over 500 years and did not brook colonisation which imposed a foreign language and culture on it. English is taught in schools here for about an hour a week, and even then it is grammar rather than the living spoken thing that is promulgated.
Children cannot see the point: “Why don’t they learn our language?” they ask, quite reasonably. On the other hand, adult students in language schools are often sponsored by their companies to attend lessons as many multinationals have offshoots here and Turkish employees in them find themselves having to attend video conferences or socialising with others abroad where the only common language is English. (For how much longer, I wonder? Shouldn’t we all be learning Chinese?)
Besides, as in Kenya, ambitious parents want their children to attend universities in English-speaking countries so they had better pass those exams as competition is fierce even if money helps. In India for instance, ghost writing services have arisen. As Glenn Fulchur points out, “The object of desire is not the test score – it is the life in another country, the job, the success and recognition... the test score is merely the means to access these things.”
What irks me most is that materials for all these courses as well as the training of the “teachers” are mostly produced in England (I cannot speak for USA) and there is fierce competition between publishers like Oxford and Cambridge to come up with newer and better products. But they are all, for the sake of uniformity (the test is set in England) much the same. (I put teacher in inverted commas because I can’t think of another profession which would allow totally uneducated people to call themselves members after a mere month or so of intensive training. It is an insult to those who have taken the trouble to study the subject seriously.)
So you have a topic called Neighbours in an Elementary level book with a picture which shows a nosy old lady looking out from behind her lace curtains at a nice young man leaving the building. The questions that follow assume that everyone lives like the British (often, not always) – desperately seeking distance from those closest to them and respecting privacy above all. Several years ago murderers Rosemary and Fred West were quietly and systematically chopping up young women in a respectable town in Gloucestershire and no one questioned where they had gone to. Until it was too late.
I am all for people learning English but their materials should be locally produced so that they are relevant. I used a course book in Zambia which was locally written and assisted East African Educational Publishers (EAEP) some years ago when they were devising new text books with matching tapes. They should have local colour and stories and reflect the history and geography of the place. They could be instruments in enhancing nation-building.
The problem is that when it comes to International English Language Testing Scheme, (IELTS) the book guides you through the course so that you are likely to get the best result. Further, I deplore the strictly functional use of language; of course that is a necessary first step but as someone who has been greatly enriched by language and literature, it seems a travesty to equate passing that perfunctory test with “knowing English.”
My final gripe is the quality of the language schools themselves: intended to be staffed by young people (sometimes graduates) who want a spell teaching elsewhere and getting experience I suppose they can be fine. But the working conditions, salaries and lack of benefits make it a no-no as a career for an older person. Which means that the students end up getting a raw deal: a high turnover of teachers who generally lack experience and have their goals set on something bigger and better. But in the current economic climate, some older people are forced to take on such work which is very demanding on time and energy but which pays too little to live on. No names mentioned of course.