There is this book I have been reading, The Death of Expertise, whose pompous subtitle The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters initially made me think it´s going to be an <<unputdownable>>. The author argues that in times when everybody not only has an opinion, but that opinion also has to be respected as such by everybody else, here we are facing the situation where the lines between fact and opinion are awfully blurred and even more so, knowledge is something everybody has, on any topic whatsoever. Tom Nichols defends the expertise and experts, making a pretty convincing point that by sheer definition, it is that difficult to be an expert on any given field as it is easy to be the superficial owner of some very questionable degree of knowledge you can force on others to respect under the newly discovered virtues of tolerance and individual freedom of opinion. He blames among other factors the (American) higher education system that grants more people than ever access to a degree, thus invalidating the differentiation that the name itself bears. Okay, all good so far, at least good enough to keep reading. But then he goes on and says something that falls within the lines of downright shaming teachers who claim “I learn as much from my students as they learn from me”. He explains that “with due respect to my colleagues in the teaching profession who use this expression, I am compelled to say: if that´s true, then you´re not a very good teacher“.
Well, I beg to differ. This is when I do put down the book and can´t help but think that is not at all accurate. Leaving aside the “very good teacher part” — an utterly subjective matter of opinion nonetheless which asks for an entirely different conversation about peer review and student feedback (the author also argues in a bit of a questionable way that student evaluation is too subjective to be reliable enough) and the relevance and relativity of both when it comes to assessing educators — I do feel that I learn a lot from my students.
When I first decided to share my first post on several Facebook English teaching groups, little had I suspected I was already on a bitter path. The kind of path that you find yourself on when you ask for opinions and what you get is an open personal attack based exclusively on where you were born. One could also say I was looking for it, just by being there.
Did I not know there are people who still think like a century ago when it comes to language, race, culture or religion? Did I not at least suspect that there are people who are still willing to use nationality or birthplace to label, judge and condemn all at once? Did I really expect to have a decent conversation, however controversial? Absolutely. What I never intended was for a question about the appropriateness of teaching English as a non-native speaker or what and how native speakers feel about sharing a profession with non-native counterparts to lead to aggressive verbal attacks from some of the former.
However annoyed a native English speaker might have felt when reading my question, did that even begin to justify my being called “you and your people are the scourge of Europe and nothing will get the smell of campfire out of you”? Did that somehow explain my receiving private messages with pictures of poorly dressed people in front of an ATM, allegedly trying to rob someone and supposedly sharing my nationality, only to help make the point that my countrymen know nothing better than stealing as if that were somehow a fact? Did my question actually justifiably provoke people to lash out on my English accent, even though they had never heard me speak? Did that somehow logically result in a discussion about the wrongs of immigration, the reasons some voted for Brexit or what a mistake the EU was?
Negatives are tricky in any language, and apparently all the more so in English. But they shouldn´t be; at times, it´s just because English is all over that some of its simplest uses turn into headaches.
No and not are two of the most common English words to express negation. And it´s as simple as this:
Spoiler alert: this is a text for all those who still believe English is simple because it has no overly developed vocabulary. To them and everybody else I suggest you take one simple item of vocabulary – the number 0 for instance – and try to think of at least three ways of saying it. Here is a hint for you: there are more than three.
The English language has something as romantic as an unreal past. What is that – a past that is not real? Is it because it never happened? Never will? It´s actually a down-to-earth grammatical term and it refers to situations that are not real, because did not happen. But the beauty I still see in it is the distance the past manages to encompass.
not the distance in time the past usually sets, but the distance from reality,
from things that actually did happen.
The unreal past is often used in conditional sentences or in situations that express wishes or regrets. Broken down, it´s the use of past tenses – past simple and past perfect mostly – for hypothetical situations that might exist at some point, but did not yet.
cannot possibly teach English if you are no native; maybe you can explain grammar
rules, theoretical phrasing and irregular tenses, but only a native can really
teach the spoken, common, salt-of-the-earth, real language; English belongs to
My guess is some of the above is all too known to many teachers and learners of English alike, and unfortunately, it all comes down to a question of belief. That is, not based on any provable evidence from reality. And that is truly sad because most often than not, human beings are prone to embrace fiction, creativity, art, originality and then some more – but this suspension of disbelief is many times not even tolerated when it comes to teaching languages.
So basically, we are all too willing to accept the reality in a science-fiction movie, the love story of a power couple in showbiz, or even the given interpretation of the most beautiful impressionist painting – but when it comes to teaching languages, we know for sure that only native speakers can do it. It’s like a treasure that only natives have access to, a longed for good that only natives should be allowed to share, an earthly possession that only natives know how to use.
Yes, after several years of teaching English as a foreign language in Spain, and after months of trying to inspire my students to love English for its versatility, liveliness, richness, and even playfulness, I have come to terms with the hard truth: Spaniards don’t like English.
Maybe there is no likability there; maybe that is a moot point; maybe there are several reasons to it. But the fact stands. I am not trying to make it a general statement, to fly this slogan over all Spaniards, or to impose my opinion on just about everybody. Let’s just say I currently don’t see any love lost for the English language in Spain.
From what I could gather, English has always been what Spaniards call la asignatura pendiente – a booed curriculum subject of sorts that pupils and students alike had to stumble upon at some point and that is doomed to never be ticked off the list. For some, the rejection started with the very first primary school English teacher who did not speak English and yet forced irregular verbs and plurals, tenses and adjectives on their pupils. For others, the resentment grew when once on a highly competitive and at the same time relatively restrictive labour market, they found themselves served with the mandatory English exam. To some, English is just the foul-smelling pill they have to swallow to have a chance at a job for life in the public sector. To others, it is just something they have to have in their resumes, since you know… you never know.