Friday, February 08, 2013

Right Grammar, Wrong Habit

This about sums up the views of one of my participants, which I've seen in some other participants' responses to 'unacceptable' language:

"The student actually is not wrong in terms of grammar," but the "language habit" is wrong.

Several Chinese teachers refer to "language habit," which I still don't have a clear handle on the meaning of, but in this case she explained that she was referring to a kind of native speaker habit.

Which, considering that mention of habitus and hypercorrection the other day, makes sense. Though I still think calling this "hypercorrection"isn't really fair. It's more like NESTs are "hyper-relaxed" about grammar -- the Chinese teachers are just being "strict," as the participant said. Or, as she also put it: "Your emphasis is on meaning, but my emphasis in on whether they can use language in the right way."

Perhaps it's only from the perspective of the Centre that we have the luxury to focus on meaning and not form -- probably because facility with English means something different here than it does there, so to speak. In China, as many other Asian countries, being good at English isn't really for the purpose of communicating, per se, but for mastering a subject to pass tests, gain knowledge, gain access to jobs, etc.

I hope I don't sound like I'm denigrating that. We NESs get a little precious about our language sometimes when we feel like people don't view it as the magical wonderful beautiful language of the King James Bible and Shakespeare -- which it is, of course! -- and it would probably be better if we accept that for some people, writing an essay is really just a way to demonstrate that you studied hard and know your stuff.

On the other other hand (?), plenty of Chinese teachers I talked to bemoaned students' utilitarian attitudes about English. There is still -- for many English teachers NS & NNS -- a kind of push-and-pull between English as in applied linguistics and English as in the humanities. I suppose there is room for that tension.

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