Do I want to live in the States? It seems my spelling has already relocated.
I’ve been sending CV’s out for years and years with my cum laude degree in theatre centre stage, when suddenly this February I updated my CV and bizarrely changed it to a degree in theater. I don’t for the life of me know why! A subconscious desire to move to the U.S.?
Spell Check: Dual Nationality?
I think it was because I decided to spell check the document; something I don’t usually do because I don’t have to do it. I know how to spell most words. I will fly a doc through Spell Check to cast another pair of eyes over my final edit. But if I ever question the spelling of a word, I look it up – in the dictionary – and don’t usually rely on Spell Check. But even so, when I spell check a document with theater or theatre, Word doesn’t flag either spelling. You can actually have both spellings in the same document, and Word still doesn’t flag either! So Word recognises both spellings as correct. But is Word correct?
Oxford and Cambridge Even Disagree
And there’s another spelling conundrum! Recognise and words ending as such: ise or ize. Even the British – among themselves – can’t come to a consensus on that!
Oxford English uses ize, (from Wikipedia):
British English using -ize is known as Oxford spelling, and is used in publications of the Oxford University Press, most notably the Oxford English Dictionary, as well as other authoritative British sources.
While Cambridge University Press prefers ise (again from Wikipedia)
Other references, including Fowler’s Modern English Usage, now give prominence to the -ise suffix over -ize. The Cambridge University Press has long favoured -ise. Perhaps as a reaction to the ascendancy of American spelling, the -ize spelling is now rarely used in the UK mass media and newspapers, to the extent that it is often incorrectly regarded as an Americanism. The ratio between -ise and -ize stands at 3:2 in the British National Corpus. The -ise form is standard in leading publications such as The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Economist. The Oxford spelling (which can be indicated by the registered IANA language tag en-GB-oed), and thus -ize, is used in many British-based academic publications, such as Nature, the Biochemical Journal and The Times Literary Supplement.
Which do you teach?
So give me a break! Which is correct? If you’re teaching English as a Foreign Language to Advanced students which do you say is correct? I tell them to look it up in the dictionary. But which dictionary? Well that depends on the school and what the students have been told they’ll be taught. Besides, the only time such pernickity attention to these finer points of spelling is really necessary is when you’re preparing a student for an exam, and then there’s no question about it: you teach the exam standards.
I’ve recently interviewed for two language teaching jobs with that theater CV! At one interview the spelling wasn’t discussed. Rather, we discussed my teaching style, the types of materials I prefer, and my way of working with different types of materials. It was a good interview, but alas it seems there is no work right now!
Pleased to Meet You Mr. Pompousdos
At the other interview, Mr. Pompousdos pounced on the spelling of theater/re and we discussed the differences, then went on to discuss ise and ize. The interview concluded with him telling me he would short list me for a job and the next stage of the interview process was to be an unpaid 45-minute teaching demo!
I’ve been teaching English for ten years, with excellent references, and he wants me to do an unpaid demo? Though I’ve had observations in the early stages of a job, and have also done observations on my fellow teachers, I haven’t been asked to do a teaching demo since I did my CELTA! None the less, I agreed – I need a job – but I did wonder what it might be like to work with him as a DOS! Such is the language teaching job market in the U.K. in March. In June you can have your pick of schools – for 6 weeks!
In Desperate Need of Exam Teacher
The interview was followed up by emails, wherein the job offer was reiterated. A couple of weeks later I rang him to ask what was happening and he told me he desperately needed a teacher for a Cambridge Proficiency Exam. I told him I’d do it. He told me he wanted someone who had taught it before and that as I could not spell he did not want to give me the opportunity to demonstrate my skill!
No discussion about the higher than average marks of students whom I had prepared for other exams. No discussion about the materials the school prefers for the course. The man is desperate for a good teacher and he dismisses me because I spelled theatre as theater on my CV? He doesn’t even want to give a teacher with ten years of experience and excellent references an opportunity to come in and teach the course? No wonder he is desperate for a good teacher in a market inundated with as many experienced as newly qualified English language teachers!
Teaching is More Than Spelling
When he interviewed me he did tell me had two teachers leaving very soon, and had just dismissed one – for a word being misspelled on the white board!!! One wonders if he asked the teacher why the word was misspelled or if he just had a fit and dismissed him – the way he did when we spoke on the phone. One wonders how people like that get into management positions.
Misspelling or not, Oxford, Cambridge or American spelling – and we haven’t even mentioned the spelling used in other native English countries – is it not the responsibility of a good English language teacher to teach students to use an English-only dictionary? Is it not our responsibility to make students – especially students at the proficiency level – aware that there are discrepancies in spelling in the English language? Discrepancies that even the educated British can’t agree on?
Constantly Evolving Language
English is a constantly evolving language. It’s spoken all over the world, by both native English speakers, and speakers of English as a second or foreign language. When we learn a foreign language we bring our mother tongue, and all its idiosyncrasies, with us. Having taught speakers of other languages from all over the world, I’ve come to recognise the native mother tongue and/or native geographic region, based not only on the accent, but also on the grammatical errors speakers make.
When I first started to encounter this, I was a newly qualified teacher, and on auto-correct. In the classroom, I still correct these mistakes, while in friendly conversation I let them go.
In a recent conversation with a Bulgarian woman who has lived in the U.K. for over 20 years, she asked about her English, and if it should be corrected. I told her her way of speaking is understandable, although not grammatically correct, and that she makes mistakes common to natives of eastern Europe, and that those mistakes are part of her identity and I wouldn’t change it. It’s how she speaks. It’s part of her colourful character.
If she took a course and worked hard, she’d probably just squeak by on a Cambridge First Certificate exam, but her mistakes are so habitual it would take an incredible amount of discipline for her to change. Is it worth it? She owns a cafe. Why bother? No one is going to insist she pass an exam to get a job.
English is Like That: It varies from region to region.
I think British vs American spelling is like that. And foreigners learning English at the proficiency level need to know that not only are the accents different and sometimes the pronunciation different, but there are also different ways of spelling English words, differences that even the learned British can’t agree on.
Verb tenses are also used differently by differing English language regions: perfect tenses are used differently in Britain and North America, and within those countries, they are used differently depending on region and education. Have you got to ask a question about possession is widely used in Britain, while in North America Do you have is commonly used. Does that make one correct and the other incorrect? Or does it merely make them different, and help us identify regionalism in language, just like accents and dialects?
As for me not being able to spell? Well not every single word in the dictionary! That’s why we have dictionaries. Yet, if I can’t spell, as Mr. Pompousdos stated, then why is it when I read published books and magazines, I find spelling mistakes? We all make mistakes.
I think Mr. Pompousdos made a big mistake when he brushed me off as a teacher for a Proficiency exam. But then, maybe I would have made a big mistake accepting a job with him. But in a squeezed job market, what can we do?
Start our own schools! If only there were students! Thanks to new government legislation on student visas, those numbers are also diminished. I guess all we can do is get Internet teaching going! But maybe, even if I can teach English as a foreign language, I’m basically a good teacher and maybe I should be teaching and doing theatre – which is what I’m educated and trained to do! Great work if you can get it.