Please, mind the gap between the train and the platform!
Right… Because there is always a gap there… And we wouldn’t want anyone to trip, fall and then blame it on the underground system, so we’d better warn them.
But then, it just crossed my mind that, for the world outside the UK, there is no warning about the gap between what we think we know about this country, its inhabitants and its language and what surprises the reality has in store for us. And suddenly, mind the gap acquired a different, deeper meaning, applying to so many aspects of being a foreigner in London. Well, I hear you say, how difficult can it be when you speak English?
Speaking English definitely helps. A lot. (What a surprise!) We’d be tempted to think that, being teachers of English, non-NEST, true, but teachers of English nevertheless, our English is pretty good, not native-like level but pretty close, “super-advanced”, like the last textbook in the Prospects series (Macmillan). Over the years, it comes only natural to look in the mirror and feel proud of ourselves and our achievements in this language because we have worked so hard, learned it and we’re teaching it or teaching teachers to teach it… The last thing we’d expect is a gap. And yet, the gap is there, but nobody warned us. The gap between the English spoken by NESTs and that spoken by non-NESTs may not seem too big, but the gap between the English spoken by any other natives and that spoken by non-NESTs is huge! Last but not least, there’s also the English spoken by English students in English schools and that’s where we, non-NESTs, are likely to be completely lost…
No listening material can prepare someone for the real English spoken in the UK… London is such a cosmopolitan city, welcoming people from all over the world to live and work here. What does that mean? Besides the Scottish, Northern, Irish, Welsh, East End or whatever other accents of the native British, tens of other accents and pronunciations (or mispronunciations, if you asked us, teachers of English).
Feel inclined to ask ourselves why we never had problems understanding or communicating in English when we met at conferences, in forums or communicated via Twitter, Facebook or e-mail? The answer might be less spectacular than we thought it would: in our case, the interaction is always T – T… The standard of this communication is very high, we’re all teachers, well educated, so the non-NESTs do their best while the NESTs… behave.