I often tell this story to people when I talk about my time in Costa Rica and teaching English, but I’ve never told it on my blog. So here it goes…
Speaking English as an actual, real English person was hard enough in Costa Rica, let alone teaching it. This is because my accent wasn’t understood very well. Latin Americans learn English with American teachers and US television. So a British accent never really comes into it. In fact, I often had to pronounce various words in an American accent (like ‘where’). But I always presumed that people still knew about England.
So when my first teaching experience was to put together a ‘How to’ class lasting 10 minutes with 3 or 4 local students from the language school where I was studying , I figured that I may as well play up my heritage. After all, as the only Brit in a class of 15 US students, my accent and general decorum was pretty much the subject of most conversations pretty much every day.
My chosen topic was ‘How to make the Perfect Cup of Tea’. It seemed like basic vocabulary and I only really needed a kettle and some water, so it wasn’t too much prep. We had to teach our mini lessons at the front of the classroom with the rest of our TEFL class at the back watching. When it came to my turn, I went up to the front and introduced myself to the students, asking each of their names, before confidently asking, ‘So, wherrre am I from?’.
The first guess came. “United States?”
“Try to think of some other English speaking countries…” I tried.
“Ah! South Africa!”
More silence. I gave in and wrote ENGLAND on the board.
“Oh! Not French?!” came the exclamation from one student. I silently despaired inside.
“No,” I said patiently, “ENGlish is from ENGland!” I underlined the E-N-G on the board as I spoke, much to the hilarity of my peers at the back of the room. Considering that the next stage in my lesson plan was to get the students to guess what we were going to learn how to do by listing common things about England (London, the Queen, drinking tea etc…), I wasn’t surprised at how poorly it went after that horrific start.
This was just a few months before William and Kate announced their engagement. Surely now the world knows that we speak English in England… Right?! Please restore my faith, readers!