I might have mentioned once or twice that I have an ESL voice (see the 7:30-8:15 time slot here). When I am speaking in my ESL voice, I over-enunciate, speak loudly, don’t use contractions, repeat things, ask questions to things that I just said, and my eyes get huge. I might have also mentioned that some people (ahem, my husband included) have told me that “I don’t need to yell” and “They’re not children”.
Let me explain. As a second language learner myself, I can tell you that, even at my best, I usually only understand about 80% of what people are saying. Throw in an accent, slurred words, rapid fire speech, colloquialisms, or whisphered speech and the understanding drops to about 40%. I know this because I experience it daily when I ask Spanish speakers to repeat themselves and slow down and they stare at me like I’ve asked them to talk to me in Russian.
There’s a time and a place for my ESL voice. I don’t use it on everyone. If they’re in my office to ask me a question, I usually test the waters a bit to see what they can understand. I try to use a normal English voice when I’m one-on-one so they can get some practice listening to native speakers who don’t sound like they have VOICE IMMODULATION. But, when it comes time for announcements, I want to get the information out as effeciently as possible, which means accomodating those that are of an age where their hearing is not so great and those that need slow and steady English to understand. So, when I’m making announcements, I speak to the class as if they are deaf children. Does it sound insulting to English speakers? Maybe. Does it get the point across to the non-English speaking class? ABSOLUTELY.
Our night classes have been meeting in neighborhood restaurants this summer because our building is closed in the evenings. We call them “English clubs” because they’re much more low-key than what we normally do. One of our awesome volunteers has been meeting with a solid group of six or seven students from our beginning/intermediate classes all summer.
Here’s part of an email that she sent me:
Okay…. Second funny story…and this one is about YOU. I did this activity where I had a bunch of note cards with locations on them (in the bank, at your child’s school, at the doctor’s office). Face down, I asked one of the students to choose a card and then we would create skits about them. We started by naming 4 people who are at these places (because we had four students). So for the doctor’s office we had a doctor, a nurse, a patient, a receptionist. This gave them the chance to learn occupation terms. Then each got assigned a person and they did little skits. It was very cute and quite successful.
So one of the students pulls the card for the next skit and it says, “At school”. So, I asked them “Who are the people at school?” “Students! Teachers!” And then they paused because they didn’t know some vocabulary. Angelica asks, “What is Beth?” I sat there for a moment and thought “How do I explain your title???” So I just said, “Beth is an administrator.” I figured it was a good generic term that they may not use a lot, but it would count for a lot of occupations. When I said administrator, you need to picture 4 ESL students going “Oohhh…Beth is an ad-min-is-trat-oooor!” So it was time to do the skit and we assigned parts. I’m going to type out the story pretty close to how it actually came out. I didn’t prompt them at all….
Teacher: Good morning to my students. Welcome to the new year. I am your teacher. My name is Angelica. What is your name?
Student = My name is Antonia.
Student = My name is Margarita.
***Suddenly there is a knock at the door (Ama, who is a large African woman playing the role of the administrator Beth is just knocking on the table. Noone know what she was doing at first)***
Administrator: Hello students. My name is Beth. Do you have your text book? Do you? Do you? You know you can pay me $5.00 for the text book or $2.00 or $1.00 you can pay a little bit today or a little bit tomorrow. Did you sign your name here today? Did you sign your name here yesterday? Did you know we are having a party? Are you going to the party? You should come to the party.
We all collapsed in laughter at her performance. She was so funny. Physically, she could not be more different from you, Beth…but she was really channeling you for the skit.
I practically fell on the floor laughing when I read this email, except that I was on a phone interview and I’m “supposed to be paying attention” to what the interviewee is saying. I have these bits that I do often and one of them is about paying for their books. I tell them that the books cost $30 dollars but they can pay me $3 today and $1 tomorrow (all while holding up fingers to indicate the dollar amount and using whole body to try to indicate today and tomorrow).
Maybe it’s only funny if you’ve seen me in action at work but this lady got me SPOT-ON.
To me, this story proves that I might sound like a dummy, but they’re hittin’ what I’m pitchin’ and isn’t that the point?