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Is the role of a native English speaker in adult education to teach so-called perfect English?

My name is Louis Plane and I am an English teacher in Iisalmi adult education centre in Finland where I currently have six courses. One of the things that I have observed during my time as a teacher in the centre is that the students want a native speaker and I find myself asking why? I have found the same phenomenon whilst working in the Czech Republic and Poland. Why is that native English speaking teachers are so much in demand? Why are they so popular and in some cases considered `better` than teachers of that country?

It could easily be claimed that this is because students want to learn to speak correct English, pronounce words correctly. But here in Finland this takes on a new meaning because in the pursuit to speak perfect English this creates stress and trauma and actually has the reserve effect. Students daren´t speak because they are afraid of not being able to speak perfectly, of not being grammatically correct but is this really such a problem?

To correct this problem the students want native speakers, so that they may pronounce and speak so-called perfect English but again do they have to? And do they have to at the expense of not speaking at all? You have to consider that here in Finland people don´t speak much in their own language, Finns are with respect not known for their conversational skills and they certainly don´t speak `perfect` Finnish, there are grammar mistakes and they very often speak with a dialect.

So why if Finns don´t demand perfection when speaking their own language do they demand perfection when for example speaking English? And what after all is perfect English? In my work at the adult education centre I encourage the students not to worry about making mistakes, to not focus on being grammatically perfect but on the speaking itself, on communicating in a manner whereby the other person understands what you are saying because …

Because the irony in learning perfect English is that the English hardly speak perfect English themselves, at least in many cases it is not grammatically correct, neither do they require or again in many cases expect you to speak perfect English, certainly not if you are a tourist. They just require you to speak which is something students won´t do if they feel traumatized about speaking English and so it begs the question as to why then learn to speak perfect English in the first place?  I can certainly understand why this might be the case and required in senior high school and in universities and why it might have its place in for example the business world but in the adult education centre no, not at the expense of the students being too traumatized to speak at all.  And so what is the role of the native English teacher in the adult education centre when it comes to speaking English? Is it to teach perfect English and make sure when the students speak it is grammatically correct? I think it is first and foremost to at least here in Finland where people, as mentioned earlier are not the greatest conversationists even in their own language, encourage the students to speak, to not be afraid of making mistakes, to have fun while learning and use THIS as a stepping stone to learning the so-called perfect English.

Text: Louis Plane

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