Monday, October 09, 2006

British vs American English

The first day of the semester many of my students are disappointed. They hope for a British teacher. Someone who speaks, “inglés inglés,” real English. But what they got was some guy from New Jersey.

On some level I sympathize with them and their preference for British English. I have to admit, most American accents are fairly bland and monotonous. But I don’t have just any old accent. I have a New York accent. I speak fast, and with an unmistakable rhythm. An English friend once told me that although she didn’t particularly care for American accents, mine was alright. Nevertheless this argument has never won the students over. The only students appreciative of my New York cadence are those who listen to hip hop.

But to be sure they are only superficially enamored with British English. Many are pretty unmotivated to learn English- or any foreign language for that matter- in the first place. The Chilean mindset is similar to the American one concerning foreign languages. “99 percent of the people I know speak Spanish. I’m probably never going to leave Chile, so why should I learn a foreign language?” Moreover, they have no strong appreciation for British culture, and besides; as much as I like British accents, other accents are much sweeter sounding. If you were learning English, wouldn’t you want to take on an Irish accent? Or how about that Australian outback accent? A British accent would probably be way down on your list.

So why do they want to learn British English? For starters they are under the (false) impression that British English is more “authentic.” Actually, the accent closest to Shakespeare’s is spoken south of the Mason-Dixon Line. They also feel that British English is easier to understand. Only a non-English speaker would ever argue this. The ‘BBC accent’ is wonderful and all, but not too many people really speak that way. You wanna hear a British accent? Watch Snatch.

I think there preference for British English is more about Anti-Americanism than anything else. My students didn’t choose to study English, it’s something being thrown at them. Over the past decade English has gained importance and become much more prevalent in Chilean society. English is all over the radio and television, and its influence is only growing. Many see this- whether rightfully or wrongfully- as American cultural imperialism. Couple this mindset with a very strong anti Bush sentiment and enmity over the US government’s numerous ‘military interventions’ in Latin America since the invasion of Cuba in 1898, and what you get is a strong anti-American sentiment (I’m not getting political, just calling it like I see it).

By learning British English, they are (albeit symbolically) rejecting American English and, by extension, perceived imperialism. However, this is a paradox. The British Empire- by definition imperialistic- lasted approximately 400 years. You cannot make a statement rejecting colonialism/ neo-colonialism/ imperialism by learning British English.

So what’s the solution? I propose Jamaican English. Go listen to Bob Marley. Everybody loves Jamaica, they have a beautiful accent, and their Bob-sled team is fuckin' nasty.

1 comment:

dkp said...

No problem. Yah man.