Friday, February 10, 2006

Talking the talk

I seem to remember seeing a TEFL-type job description somewhere — it may have been for lettori in Italy — that specified that all candidates must be fresh meat. Okay, that wasn't the actual expression that they used, it may have been something more like "linguistically and culturally fresh off the boat". Okay, it wasn't exactly that either, but you know what I mean, they didn't want anyone who'd been living abroad for any length of time and had gone more or less native. And I also seem to remember sucking air in through my teeth in exasperation. Poor people, did they really think that one could forget a language that quickly; become cut off from one's native culture that easily?
Well, no of course you can't, but you can very rapidly feel yourself slipping out of the loop of knowing what people at home are actually talking about (who is this Davina McCall?) and knowing what terms are actually acceptable. After all, when I first moved to France it was still perfectly all right to say someone was handicapped and coloured.
Even more importantly how can I tell which terms are cool.... or should that be hip? When my brother and I were teenagers, I remember my Mum asking us things like "So, is he going with her?" and we would dissolve in disdainful laughter. What a fool she was; didn't she know that you could only say "Is he going OUT with her"? For goodness sakes, wise up woman, we're in the late seventies, don't you know?
Well, I am that woman now. I'm middle-aged and I have the added disadvantage of living in a non-English -speaking country. I think I managed for a while to keep up but got stuck at the "I am so enjoying this..........not" stage which I no doubt picked up from a rerun of Friends.
There's only one consolation: my children probably won't know any better, just so long as I deprive them of any authentic English-language interaction with young native-speakers for the next ten years.

7 comments:

Ms Mac said...

If it makes you feel any better, the same thing happened to me even though I was living in an English (hah!) speaking country- Australia.

When I finally got back to Scotland for a visit after 10 years, my brother was aghast that I'd never heard of Ant 'n' Dec. "You know Ant 'n' Dec, PJ 'n' Duncan, come on- Byker Grove.... you know them!" I had no clue what a Chav was or a Ned (a Scottish Chav) and there seemed to be this new way of patronising people by looking at them with your head tipped to one side and saying, "Awww, bless!"

I have since caught up and I can exclusively reveal that Davina McCall is fabulous, I want her to be my sister!

Lesley said...

This is my argument Ms Mac. I need 24-hour access to lots of authentic British channels via satellite television: it's a professional requirement if I am to keep abreast of changes in my students' target culture and language, innit?

heather said...

Yes, I always feel like the equivalent of the high court judge asking what a T-shirt is when I go home. Mr H and I have been discussing this post of yours over dinner and I was explaining this thing of saying 'going with', and he feels that this would be understood in the present cultural language, but it would be understood at a much baser level. ie - it would mean that it didn't go beyond the shag....whatever one of those is...

Wendy said...

I was going to write a post on something from my childhood and as I was thinking about it I wondered if the coloured people were still called coloureds or something more 'PC', and if I'd get a string of outraged comments if I used the term coloured...haven't done the post (got sidetracked somehow) but I so know where you're coming from. And when I explain things to my students I also wonder if I'm teaching them outdated terms. As you say - access to English TV would help. I'm dreaming of getting Sky this year.

Ms Mac said...

Do you need me to sign a petition? Coz I will you you know!

Lesley said...

Heather: I think the solution is probably to go for an expression so outdated that it may have come back into fashion eg. "they're walking out together" or that old Scottish one, "they're winching", do you remember that?

Wendy: Ah yes, but I don't think coloured meant the same thing in GB as it did in SA.

Ms Mac: I think I'll get an online petition organised if something doesn't happen soon.

Léons Life said...

I'm middle-aged - Please delete this from you vocabulary