Reality checks: what’s foreign and what do we do with it?

When TV first came out, I reckon it wasn’t a passing matter to the electronics engineers of the last century. We’re not here to discuss percentages. People just can’t be aware of how the products we consume every day are actually sketched, studied, analyzed, discussed, remodelled, sent for tests, deeply scrutinized, crowd levelled, reintroduced, mapped in perspective, reinvented, sent out to the general public and oh yeah, turned into massive profit. Keep your comments to yourself, or rather, read this again and make sure you have an example. I’m waiting. The electronics engineers would be hungry, if they weren’t dead.

Here’s the thing: creation and its myths are definitely a relevant question, but practical life has no privileges. You can only learn how to cook and clean, but you don’t Google where your detergent was made. You just buy it. And hate washing dishes, but enjoy the fact that buying detergent is not the end of your aspirations, with a huge investment that would prioritize every single thing you’ll ever be able to do. And this is not classroom level exercise, this is life.

The classroom is a space for fun.

The classroom is a space for laughs.

The classroom is a space for memories.

Life teaches us fun moments are necessary.

Life teaches us nothing should be taken seriously all the time.

Life teaches us that it has a beginning and the inevitable end.

But how many people are talking about the beginnings? When you meet the foreign, do you look at yourself a different way or do you hire a third party to manage your embarrassment, your estrangement, your incompetence, your false expectations, your maximum capacity for being overwhelmed, your doubt, your fear, your curiosity, your desires, your subconsciousness, your conflict, your identity, your feelings and opinions? The big question is when that happens, and ELT professionals know this, but a handful has the time to write it down.

Foreign is everything we don’t recognize as part of our easy, tired references in daily life and through our history, but part of what we wish we had, what we wish we could do or say, what we wish we understood. Foreign is different. Foreign is cool, despite the critics. Foreign, these days, is barely a solid concept, with interest, influence and relevance for content production in its twists and turns.

Fast forward to 2019. We have, indeed, connected people. This blog was seen in Nigeria, Hong Kong, Romania, not just the UK and the US. Yes, just a click. No, I don’t know who clicked it. What’s the role of the teacher if we’re not even looking at language? What can I learn before I teach? And more importantly: who needs a communication skill?

Hashtags are the third party; likes are minimum wage.

Should we raise the minimum wage and write hashtags on our signs in the next public protest? And just in case, are we still 100% vulnerable to rubber bullets and tear gas?

Maybe learning English isn’t in the priority list of the Brazilian person. If I could buy beer, I’d be drinking alone way more than I care to admit. With change money. But still numb. Is this professional? I’d say hell yeah, but they would profile me.

How can we learn and realize a small fraction of what we’re attempting to do is close to the making of a product that could transform the entire world, so maybe we should be taking it more seriously in case the odds come to our favor, whatever the circumstances are at the moment we wake up to a more competitive nature of things?

The greatest competition, in case you’re an enthusiast, isn’t for language proficiency. But just for the record, here’s what Reddit and Wiki users put together, with a good public service eye and a lot of patience:

Prevalence of the English language in the world. Multiple sources (wiki).

Throwing information right at people’s faces isn’t the way, but in case you didn’t know, English classes are people closing their eyes and coming back when it’s over.

To what?

We know that South America has Portuguese and Spanish prevalence in linguistic terms; we don’t have a lot of people looking for the more deeply rooted cultural shifts and sentiments around it, and the brighter, more socially clarified minds would point out contact with English could mean, at a given rate, acceptance of English traditions, rules and norms, in a general sense, though we should care to look at the specifics, especially in times of change in trade. But here’s how South America is doing, according to student recruitment agency ICEF Monitor:

Proficiency in South and Central America, according to ICEF.

“Damn you, hermanos!” Said an incredibly misguided asshole.

There’s not much to think about: Brazilian language standards are low, and we have to change them. Obviously or not, here a curtain is closed and we sit to discuss with the education professionals we have around the country, but there are no curtains since Facebook.

Now let’s take a look at what happens when we put our focus in the geographically limited area that corresponds to the fifth biggest country in the world. We wanna talk about Education, not necessarily your ability to say words like “girl” and “thin” without feeling stupid, and let’s put aside the argument that the more you learn, the more you wanna show off. You might be shocked to realize that detergent talk isn’t the biggest metaphor. Here’s how the country is doing when we look at higher education:

Distribution of people with higher education degrees according to state. Source Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE, 2010)

Bad news: blue is the sea, and we’re drifting. São Paulo, the richest state in the country, ranks best; but that’s just proportional: the rate of people who get a college diploma is, in the most developed state, at under 12%. Correct. In case you studied deeply a subject of your choice (legend goes you can make your own choices) and chose English, you’d be somewhere under the Common European Framework of Reference standard, which I suspect is Mount Everest, but the kids are really excited to try climbing it up with no protection.

You study to beat statistics. There are others. We could talk about many things we’re doing right, try to balance what we’ve done wrong and show people we’ve changed; but in terms of cultural awareness, we have a long way to go.

Thinking about this, I thought a course for beginners would make significant change (thankfully, I’m not alone), and it started like this:

First class for E101


Yes, a lot of questions, actually. (Edit: The first being what the stats are 9 years later.)

I’m not just speaking to teachers. This is a wake up call.

We’re behind, and if you choose to spend your time watching this video, you have to realize it’s an investment. What I spent doing it was literally under R$100,00 for a monthy internet fee.

So I wanna ask the private English schools, and a few companies who haven’t sent out a transparency report: how stupid do you think we are? Skills are changing, and teaching professionals should be treated accordingly. But you can’t expect me to say what I think about your car when I’ve never taken a driving lesson, and sure as hell we’re not competing to see who has the best one.

Image Credit: Yinka Shonibare

Leave a Reply