For the last several days I have been filling for a teacher at small English language school in Edinburgh. It is the first time I have taught in a strictly ESL instance, but the group I was in charge of for the week are all upper intermediate students with a strong command of the English language. Five of the students in the class are from Spain, while the last student is from South Korea. They are all very friendly and very excited about learning, and the rest of the teachers at the school are great (ok, so one is one of my best friends, and another is my landlord),and if this place was hiring teachers, I would definitely apply and be very happy working there.
I thought things were going great. The tasks they have to complete from the book are pretty easy, they are not shy about speaking to me and to each other, and they even liked my idea for a conversation cafe where they offered topics and had a lively debate on the merits of private schools. Today’s lesson was covering things that are annoying, and while sitting in gum and having a bad haircut are certainly things that one would complain about, The students didn’t really feel like those things needed to be discussed, so we talked about things that they would complain about, or be afraid to complain about. One of them mentioned that she would not complain to a person’s face that she could not understand what they are saying, but rather do so to her friends or at home. After a little bit of prodding, she told me that my accent is so hard to understand that she often doesn’t know what I am saying. I was crushed. I thought I was doing such a great job, the students are great, are were not shy about working, but now I know that they are just too polite to tell me they can’t understand me. Boooooooooo.
I grew up in California and always considered myself someone with a very flat accent that was easy to understand. I never thought that I would get to Scotland and be the one with the hard to understand accent. Looks like my career as an ESL teacher is going to end before it ever really has a chance to begin. I am not sure that I have ever been self-conscious about the way I speak, or how I sound to other people, but now, I think that might change.
A major part of my job is meeting with people and talking about my research and the plan I have for their programs. If people cannot understand me, how are they going to take my overhaul of their curriculum as a serious option?