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English is everywhere for everyone

A surprisingly often heard complaint from English teachers all round the world, even in this globalised world, is “My students never use/ come across/ need English outside the classroom”. Although governments, school boards and parents do sometimes have an unrealistic idea of how much and when our students need English, once they have given us the task of teaching those students English there is little point repeating that complaint and it is much more worthwhile looking at how and when they do come across English as they live their lives. Luckily for us and them, the majority of the world’s population does come across some English on a nearly daily basis, just not in the “Ask the way to the post office” or “Talk about your hobbies” way that our textbooks often guide us to teach them. Here are some contexts in which our students will almost certainly come across English in their everyday lives, and then some ideas on how to use them:

Sources of English that students will almost certainly come across in their everyday lives

Names of foods made of words that have more general meanings- Earl Grey tea, shortbread, Polos, Dairy Milk

Place names made of words that have (or include words that have) a general meaning- New York, Sleepy Hollow, Ayre’s Rock, Philadelphia, Times Square, Oxford Street

Brand names and product names that have become English words- e.g. Hoover, Tippex, Blutack, Playdoh- or were constructed from English words- e.g. Superglue, Walkman

Computer jargon that also has a more general English meaning, e.g. drag, click, CC, window

Acronyms/abbreviations that come from English- Nato, UNHCR, GQ magazine

Words borrowed from English into the students’ first languages, and from other languages into both English and L1- pizza, coffee, hundreds more

Words from the students’ first languages that have been borrowed into English

Film titles (including local variations that are also in English) that use general English words or are complete idioms or other fixed expressions, e.g. The Cradle Will Rock

Ditto for TV series, e.g. Friends, The Wire, Skins

Names of office buildings, blocks of flats and shopping centres

Labels in clothes, e.g. “Made in Thailand”, washing instructions, colours, names of that item of clothing, different types of cloth

English writing on packaging of products that are sold in several countries, e.g. ingredients and “best before” messages

Slogans on T shirts (if sometimes not English as we usually know it!)

Advertising slogans, including by the national tourist board, local governments etc.

Pop music (if only the titles of songs or occasional lines and phrases in the songs of local artists) and the names of pop bands that have more general meanings, e.g. Wham, Pet Shop Boys

Signs and announcements, e.g. station announcements or airport announcements in English

Radio programme jingles

Some results on Google, nowadays often even if they are searching in their own language

Names of shops and restaurants

Things written on sandwich boxes, mugs, vacuum flasks and other crockery, as decoration or on labels or on the bottom as safety warnings etc

Ditto for pencil cases and other stationery

Birthday and other greetings cards

Christmas songs

Names of hotels or of the suites, ballrooms etc in them

Personal names, especially family names, that have a more general meaning in English, e.g. Mrs Thatcher (a person who puts straw on a roof) or President Bush (a small tree).

Names of newspapers and magazines, and often headlines or captions even when the rest of the content is in another language- Esquire, Newsweek, Economist, Telegraph, Sun, Enquirer, Herald Tribune

The component parts of expressions in their language, e.g. the two words that make up “eye shopping” in Korean, even though the full expression is “window shopping” in English

Content in local English language ex-pat newspapers, blogs, websites and listings magazines

Band names, e.g. U2 and UB40

Car names (including silly ones)

Cocktail names, e.g. Sex on the Beach

Street signs (especially near airports, ports and tourist areas)

Some computer error messages

With a bit more effort, students can also come across English by looking for/ using:

The English operating language of their mobile phone, video player

The English language section of instruction booklets, e.g. for self assembly furniture or electronics

English in museums and other tourist spots, e.g. “No flash”, labels on exhibits, maps, pamphlets, guide books and audio guides

Information from the local government that is written for foreign residents

Tourist pamphlets about their local area or from the tourist board of foreign countries

English language dictionaries and textbooks for less popular languages that are difficult or impossible to study through L1, e.g. hill tribe languages

The English language versions of sites they already use, e.g. search engines, email services,

Some games and activities that can be used with language from the sources above

1. Give the students digital cameras and an hour to collect examples of English around town. They can do the same thing with their mobile cameras, or just a pencil and paper (drawing or just writing). With street signs etc. you could make it more specific and ask for incorrect examples of English. You can also do the same in the school, in the street the school is in, in a shopping centre, in a single shop, or even just the classroom. It is also possible to be more specific about what language you want them to collect, e.g. just imperatives or just polite phrases.

2. Students collect local or online examples of English and try and make a dialogue or story from them, perhaps sticking wrappers, photos into their exercise books in the right places in the dialogues

3. Magazine Search– Students race to find examples of English that match what you say, either from locally produced or available English language magazines, or from the English words or expressions that are in a magazine in L1 (surprisingly common!) Examples of things they can search for include words with a particular number of syllables, words beginning with a particular letter, particular parts of speech, positive words, etc.

4. Ask them how often they think that they come across English every day and then ask them to check during 24 hours, 48 hours or one week

5. Ask them to bring in a photo with English in it, and others have to guess where the photo was taken. Students can also do the same with just pencil and paper, by copying words or sketching things they see

6. Local English Call My Bluff– Students guess which of the definitions of the English meanings of words or expressions that are familiar locally (e.g. what acronyms stand for or what product names mean) is correct. They can then be given true definitions and try to make up false ones to fool other students or groups.

7. Ranking– Students put the expressions you give them in order e.g. local expressions that they think should be adopted worldwide, names that match the product well, or usefulness as piece of English to use in their own speaking or writing

8. Everywhere or Not– Students hold up one of two cards you give them (or ask them to make) depending on whether the name that you read out has an original English meaning (e.g. Fairy Liquid, Aquafresh, Pizza Hut- so they hold up “Another meaning”) or does not (e.g. Cif, Colgate, Bic- so they hold up “No other meaning”). Something similar can be done by getting students to guess whether products they know (e.g. Calpis) are available with the same name outside their country or not, leading onto readings of product names that went wrong (the car Nova being “no go” in Spanish speaking countries, etc). The same can be done by guessing if Spanglish, Franglais, Konglish etc expressions are used elsewhere- as long as it doesn’t convince students that they have to be careful with every English word or expression that is used in their language!

9. Universal Grammar– Give some examples of language that are available locally with the language point that you are presenting taken out, e.g. all the articles removed from film and song titles. From their language knowledge and/ or memory of those examples, they fill in the gaps. This also works well for countable and uncountable (add S or not to the changed examples you give them), different tenses (give them all in the infinitive), and parts of speech (take off all suffixes that change the part of speech, e.g. –ment and –ly, and ask them to put them in). Other good sources include station announcements and street signs.

10. You Do Better– Students write a station announcement or tourist brochure for their town (perhaps using one in L1 to help them), then compare with the one that already exists.

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net May 2010
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

One Comment

  • devastarte66 says:

    that’s a good idea to teach students aware of English. because everywhere, there so many words written in English and basically they can learn English better by understanding and aware of their environment. by asking students to pay attention of everything surround them, it can make them learn better and faster.

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