I was, like….what? – The new new English

For whatever reason, I was recently on a bus in Chile. Having a modest command of Spanish, I can usually manage a basic exchange in the language, but when the conductor addressed me, I heard bla, bla, bla and nothing more. Even when he repeated what he’d said, I didn’t catch a single word.

Annoying! Why can’t people speak their own language properly?

Sitting behind me were three young Aussie guys. I overheard their conversation, which went rather as follows:

“ Man, I was, like… what?” “I was, like… far out!” “And she was, like… what the…” “I was, like… crazy.”

And so it went on. I soon realised that, although I could identify all the words, I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. All I caught were various parts of the verb “to be”, a

handful of “likes”, a grinding pause after every “like”, and then finally some kind of interjection.

After a while, the conversation reached its glorious, inevitable climax:

“I was, like… fuck!”

Whereupon everyone roared with laughter. Whether this meant that the trio had actually extracted some meaning from this curious exchange, or whether they were just accommodating one another, I’m not entirely sure.

Having overheard the sentence, “I was, like… fuck!” and observed the same reaction a number of times now, I’ve concluded that it inevitably produces a kind of Pavlovian chuckle. It doesn’t require interpretation. Maybe it just cheers people up – if you’re feeling down, you could perhaps recite it to yourself to see if it helps.

That said, I tried to envisage a context in which “I was, like… fuck!” had some meaning. I believe I understand the standard meaning of all four words in this utterance, but how could they come together to convey some aspect of reality? A number of curious images drifted in and out of my consciousness, but somehow failed to coalesce into anything very concrete. Still less could I attach them to the context in which the words were used – but then, as I hadn’t been able to identify a context anyway, it wasn’t very likely that I would.

But here’s another idea: maybe there’s some mystery code enabling sophisticated meaning to be extracted from a language which has apparently been reduced to about four words. Are there perhaps layers of meaning conveyed by the intonation, and has that replaced vocabulary as the primary vehicle for the conveyance of meaning? Instead of using a hundred different words, just produce “fuck” with a hundred different intonations, and meaning will be conveyed, at least to the cognoscenti, just as well.

I’m thinking now that we should rewrite the textbooks we produce for learners of English. Out goes: much of the old grammar. In comes: “to be + like + pause + interjection”. We could then add, “This construction is now used to convey meanings ranging from ‘to say’, through ‘to feel’, to ‘the reaction was’, to essentially anything at all. It has replaced 99% of the previously existing language.”

But seriously, does it matter if the English language is reduced to about four words? I have to say I’m not exactly offended by the word “fuck”: how can anyone be seriously offended by hearing a word they’ve heard thousands of times already? I do have an issue when it’s used in every sentence regardless of meaning. And I have an even bigger issue with a jarring “like” puncturing every sentence and creating a horrible staccato effect.

It seems to be mainly younger people who speak in this way. Sometimes their speech is so far removed from standard English that it really amounts to a distinct dialect – one determined not by region, class or even nationality, but by generation. Actually, if they want to speak in this way, and manage to communicate with one another, well, so be it. But I really hope they recognise that this is not standard English, and that there are contexts in which they need to switch codes and use that standard.

One such context is in communicating with non-native speakers of English. No learner of English is actually taught the construction “to be + like + pause + interjection”, and to be suddenly confronted by it must be a little dispiriting. When you learn a foreign language, you rather hope the native speakers you encounter will speak the form you’ve learnt. Dialects may well create a valuable sense of identity, but they can also exclude, and when you’re learning another language, they can drive you mad – it’s hard enough learning the standard, let alone umpteen variants.

Most English speakers make little effort to learn foreign languages; the very least we can do is to use a standard form of the language when speaking to those who do. The I-was-like-fuck! dialect may have its place, but it’s not here.

One of the travellers now approached another conductor. Speaking Spanish was obviously out of the question, so would he perhaps switch codes and try to communicate in standard English?

“Yeah, we were, like… wondering if we could, like…”

And I was, like… wondering whether English speakers deserved to

be understood at all.

Euroasia Principal Peter Chapple recently returned from a holiday in Latin America. He is currently researching the topic of optimal delivery of Spanish lessons for English speakers as part of the Euroasia curriculum development programme.

Posted via email from Euroasia

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Alternative Asian OE -Teach English in Kuala Lumpur

If you’re keen to experience Asia, but not sure you want to live in a stressful, smoggy megacity, Malaysia offers a refreshing alternative! Euroasia is working with a client looking for teachers of EFL to teach foreign students (mainly adults from China, the Middle East, Russia etc.) who choose Malaysia for their English language studies. Some are required asap, but others may join the team at a later date.

Malaysia offers:

  • Unique cultural background, see all of Asia in one country
  • Year-round tropical climate
  • Lively city life and unspoilt nature both within easy reach
  • Modest cost of living, much cheaper than Tokyo, Seoul, Singapore, Shanghai
  • Cheap flights to other Asian destinations (45mins to Singapore, 2hrs to Bangkok, 3hrs to Bali, 4hrs to Hong Kong)

Applicants have to meet minimum criteria as detailed below.

  • Degree
  • CELTA or equivalent
  • Min. one year’s teaching experience (TEFL or other subject)
  • Native English speaker
  • Good general health
  • Preferably aged 25 and up (for Malaysian visa purposes)
  • Citizen of NZ, Aus, EU,

    USA, Canada (for visa purposes)

  • Customer service oriented
  • Willingness to

    contribute to the life of the school

More details and online application available via the following sites:

Do tell your friends about this opportunity (but we can only proceed with applicants who meet the minimum criteria).

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UK held back by poor language skills

The UK will be held back as it seeks to emerge from recession unless it boosts the number of language graduates, campaigners say. From BBC this week:

The National Centre for Languages (Cilt) points to a worrying decline in the take-up of modern languages.

Cilt chief executive Kathryn Board said: “English is one of the great global languages but it will only take us so far. Our engagement with the non-English speaking world will remain superficial and one-sided unless we develop our capacity in other languages.”

Recent research from Cardiff Business School suggests improving languages could add an extra £21bn to the UK economy and that export businesses that use language skills boost their sales by 45%.

That's not surprising, simply because foreign-language capable staff make a big difference in terms of engagement with clients. At the moment, many Kiwi firms use amateur translators (friends and family or Google Translate) to process enquiries and then respond to clients. This is tedious and messages can get lost in translation. Worse still, many NZ companies do not even bother translating documents in dealing with foreign language speaking customers. The expectation is that the buyer will deal with us in English.

Much has been said of New Zealand's increasing trade engagement with China, especially since the signing of the FTA last year. But the clomid reality is much of our trade with China involves NZ importing Chinese-made goods. In terms of our exports

to China, I wonder how much we really sell once we strip out the contribution of Fonterra (dairy products), Fletcher and Carter Holt (wood products). Partly our dismal performance in terms of exports offshore is due to our inability to service foreign-language speaking customers.

The reason English is so dominant globally as the language of trade is partly because traders have always learnt the language of the paying customers. Our arrogant attitude in assuming everyone speaks English has been tolerated when NZ firms are the customers (which is most of the time looking at our current account deficit). If on the other hand, we are selling to overseas customers, the onus is on us to speak the language of the customer. Failure to do so could result in us losing the deal to those who can. The scary (or exciting?) thing for New Zealand is that we are becoming far less dependent on our traditional English-speaking markets and more dependent on other foreign-language speaking markets.

The English are getting very worried because of the dramatic decline in the number of students taking up foreign languages at school. In 1997, 71% of England's GCSE pupils (roughly NCEA Level 1 or School Certificate in NZ) took a foreign language, last year the rate was down to 44%. The equivalent rate in NZ is about 14% (8400 taking international languages out of approx 60K Year 11 students).

Cilt's director of communications Teresa Tinsley said: “We are going to be held back as a nation as we seek to emerge from the economic downturn or recession.

“Companies are looking to recruit people with language skills and if they can't find them amongst our home-grown graduates they will obviously bring in people from other countries to fill these gaps.

“We really need to buck up our ideas or we are going to be stuck in a mono-lingual world when everybody else is taking global opportunities.”

If the English believe they will be “held back” as a nation because “only” 44% of their kids learn a foreign language at high school, what about NZ where only 14% of our Form 5 kids do? There is simply no way we can be a serious player in world trade when we cannot even communicate at the most basic level with our customers. We are not even at first base.

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Using English effectively

No matter how good we are at foreign languages, the fact remains that a lot of the time we will

be communicating with non-native speakers of English – in English! We may find ourselves using English with non-native speakers in business meetings, either at home or overseas, writing emails or publicity materials intended for them, or simply working and living alongside them. But how much thought do we give to our use of English? Viagra england Are we using our own language as clearly and succinctly as we can? And if we are not, what impact does that have on our business or professional lives, or even our personal lives?

Some difficult issues that perhaps too many native English speakers don’t pay much attention too. At Euroasia, we’ve been contemplating these issues, and Peter has been working on some exciting initiatives in this area.

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