Exposing Students to Different Varieties of English

I genuinely appreciate opportunities to collaborate professionally. Working with a peer always becomes a learning experience for me. I’m sure many of you feel the same way about collaborative projects.

In recent weeks, an online project with my colleague, Vicki Hollett of the UK, has focused my attention on differences between American and British English. I’ve also been thinking about how valuable exposure to different varieties is. Back in 2009, I argued for a balance between exposure and consistency in a post about what pronunciation should be taught in the ESL or EFL classroom. My basic position hasn’t changed. I think I’m only more convinced that students need some exposure to variations in spoken and written English. With our increased use of the Internet, we all are using English within international communities. English is our medium, but there are variations in the standards. This happens quite naturally because we all come from different backgrounds.

How well are our students dealing with those variations? Are they able to function as global communicators? I think that’s really the goal today. A student can learn and practice one standard form of English, but he or she must be able to comprehend variations from that standard. Do you agree?

So how can we provide exposure to different varieties of English? Thanks to the wealth of online resources, there are many options. Here are just a few suggestions.

  • Read and listen to news from at least two different sources. At the upper levels, reading tasks can challenge students to draw from two different sources before engaging in discussion. For example, the BBC News site just posted an article on Hillary Clinton’s presidential run. CNN also has an article about the election in 2016. Could students form an opinion on Clinton’s chances of winning a nomination and the general election based on these two sources? The articles include video, which would also expose students to two different accents.
  • Use short film clips with actors from different countries. I always enjoyed the scene between Anna, a famous American actress, and Benny, an English stockbroker in Notting Hill (Jump to 0:52. Click here.) The scene brings up possible cultural differences, too. What kinds of questions can you ask someone you just met? What responses can you give to show general approval. Benny uses “Splendid!” Would an American do the same?
  • Use different dictionaries. Looking at entries for the same word in different dictionaries, UK- and US-published, can familiarize students with different pronunciations and spellings. I really appreciate how the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English always notes differences in spelling, meaning, and use based on the country.
  • Post a vocabulary or spelling chart. There are many colorful posters that would be interesting for students to study during some downtime in a classroom or school hallway. See the one shared by EnglishIsSoFun.
  • Encourage edutainment through online videos. There are many how-to videos online. I read in The Daily Telegraph that Australian vloggers have really claimed significant space on YouTube. Following one of the links, I began to watch make-up specialist Lauren Curtis. Female English language learners might enjoy learning Lauren’s tips and being exposed to the Australian English.

Got your own ideas? Please feel free to share them.



3 Comments Add yours

  1. Michele says:

    I agree, it is really important to expose students to different varieties of English! I also like the resources from the Australian broadcasting network – here’s the link to their main page: http://legacy.australianetwork.com/learningenglish/
    (I also follow their FB page!) Thanks!

    1. Hello Michele. Thank you for sharing that resource. I like their English Bites.

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