The right not to know

One evening you, an experienced language teacher with a degree in linguistics, teaching or something directly related to your field, get caught by an occasional passer-by who happened to know of that background of yours. And normally you get all the respect and no one ever questions you ability to use the English language effectively. Yes, you are not a native speaker, but actually you even have a certificate sealing once and forever the question of you language level: advanced or proficiency. Somehow, on that occasion you were with a book of the Upper-intermediate level. Yes, it was not even advanced. And you were not preparing for a lesson; you were learning from that book.

Boooom! The reputation shatters into a thousand of tiny shards.

How? How can a teacher use those books of lower levels, check something in the dictionary from those books and even make mistakes in the exercises? I will tell you.

Reason number one: the teacher is aware of all those tiny details which will show up at the most important moment and show that there is always a void to cross to the side of the native speakers. You may assume that it is about rare words or fancy grammatical structures, but the devil is in the details. Collocations, prepositions, articles – those are the real indicators of the language level. And there is no compendium to plug through to tick the topic ‘done’, to assume that it is comprehensively covered.

I guess this is the most honest approach possible. You just have to accept that there could be some imperfections and to polish the language you have to go to the lower levels which still focus on fairly daily language, but this time with attention to details. Asking questions and making sure that you can explain everything up to the last letter.

Another reason: ‘I want to do it properly’. Virtually any book may be used for the readers of all levels. You must have experienced the amazement of discovering a totally unexpectable meaning of a word which you learnt decades ago. New meanings of the good old words and they are legion.

Do you want more? Sure, we have some. How about the words which you kind of know, but not really and if you are asked to define the word or come up with a couple of sample sentences from different contexts, you lack confidence, want to check it in the dictionary or rely on pure luck and just guess. Usually you slide along the lines in the text, rely on the context and somewhat figure out the meaning. And this is another great reason to address the books which will give you a chance to clarify the meanings, double-check the pronunciation, usage and all those things we usually ask our students to look at. So why don;t we do the same?

This article appeared to encourage all non-native teacher (and all high-level language learners in general) to use the materials they find useful. As long as you work on your language skills, it is a reason to be proud of yourself, not to look for a pretext to open those ‘easy’ books. After all, improving our own language skills is the best gift to our students, who would be able to learn more from us.

Currently I go page by page through ‘Key Words for Fluency’. And it is written right on the cover and on each second page that the level is upper-intermediate. Certainly, I know the words and the vast majority of phrases. Still, I keep finding little pearls – new collocations, important usage comments. Is the book easy for me? Yes, it is. Is it still valuable and useful for me? Oh yes, definitely.

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