Sunday, June 19, 2005

Geoffrey Cartridge

The Taipei Times offered us this letter today...

It's one of the many marvelous magic powers of our little island that it turns all visitors into experts on Taiwan. Just a few weeks on Taiwan, and any tinhorn will become an expert in What Taiwan Needs.

This letter also brings up another bit of drollery often seen in letters from non-North American speakers of English, namely, that the cure to all English problems in Taiwan is to teach them anything but American English.

Letter: Clear English in short supply
By Geoffrey Cartridge

[snipped]

But I feel that there is more to this issue than is immediately apparent from the statistical analysis of examination results. As a very experienced Australian teacher who has visited my wonderful family in Taiwan many times, I have noted several things about Taiwanese English speakers -- both young and old.

Cartridge has been to visit Taiwan many times. Has he ever lived here? Apparently not, for he lauds Taiwan in this letter here without showing much understanding of the system here, except its superficial positives. Cartridge complains....

I note that many English teaching jobs advertised in Taiwan state that a "North American accent" is preferred, presumably for perceived status, cultural and economic reasons.


Sure...and any time neutrally accented nations are willing to give aid to Taiwan, protect it from China, and absorb the bulk of its exports, by all means, let's hire their expats! Oh wait, there are no nuetrally-accented nations. Damn!

I really love the next line here, Geoff....

But surely, if students are to have some competency in spoken and written English, then exposure to "neutrally accented" teachers is preferable.
Because, as we know, exposure to North American English makes one....INCOMPETENT. Pleez kin Ah gow ta thuh baethrum, titcher? Why, I'm sure I'd have been a much better writer, if only one of my teachers had been from Pretoria, Auckland, or Bangalore. Alas, though, I was saddled with American-accented teachers, and thus never learned to communicate in good English. Poor me. Do ya think it's too late, Geoff?

In any case, accent is not an important issue. In fact, it's probably the least important, key only for non-North Americans who whine and bitch about the prevalence of the US accent here. Far more important is, as Cartridge correctly identifies, the lack of English colonial culture, along with things like the low status of things "foreign" in local culture, the test-orientation of English teaching, the rise of China that has devalued English, the low status of English in the government -- not a requirement until recently, and so on. Next time, Geoff, live here for a while.

UPDATE, June 22...

Cartridge took a well-deserved spankin' in the Taipei Times today here and here....

UPDATE June 23....

Cartridge sent me a very kind and courteous letter, which has completely changed my opinion of him.

Michael

5 comments:

Chen said...

North America probably has more English speakers than the rest of the world does. And if the war of independence erupts, Taiwanese allies will most likely be US-accented. I really don't see why there is anything worng with speaking American English.

Mr. Cartridge should instead post his comments in some European English paper, where he will surely find more sympathy.

Peter said...

You're absolutely right about accent being the least important aspect of learning a language. Accent really doesn't matter as long as the pronunciation is clear.
Besides, the accent of the English teacher usually makes very little difference to the accent of Taiwanese students. I mean, most Taiwanese students don't sound like they have an American accent, do they? They have this standard Taiwanese-accented English, which they pick up at an early age and never manage to shake. Not that that matters - the vast majority of people who learn a second language speak it with an accent.
But still the fantasy persists that if you hire a North American teacher for a few hours a week you're going to sound like an American. In fact, you could hire a [gasp] British teacher and you'd still end up speaking with exactly the same accent.
Just my two cents.

Geoff Cartridge said...

I have read readers replies to my letter concerning Taiwanese students learning of "English". And I do accept the "fair" comments. The point I was trying, and apparently failing to make, is that English can be a pig of a language for Chinese people to learn without the complications of heavy accents, (whether Irish, Scots American etc.). Sure many Australians have accents, sometimes very strong ones, and they can speak too quickly. The role models on the TV...whether Australian, USA or UK...are often very poor role models indeed!
My point is simply, that it is grossly unfair for Taiwanese to sit written examinations in which grammatically correct text has to compete with an english, maybe learned from a heavily accented teacher of whatever nationality.
My criticism is more to do with the selection of clear speaking english teachers than criticism of american accented english teachers.
Regards, Geoff C.

Geoff C said...

Hi,
you referred to a letter I wrote to "The Sunday Mail" back in February.(how did you trawl up that one?) Unfortunately you have taken this letter right out of context, "for he lauds Taiwan in this letter here without showing much understanding of the system here, except its superficial positives."
Nowhere in this letter was Taiwan mentioned.
Keep in mind that this letter was written in the context of a protracted salaries dispute and an intransigent government.
That letter was specifically designed to get the public and the teaching fraternity to realise that there are other countries besides parochial Australia which value professional public educators and remunerate them in real and negotiable ways.
The letter was edited by TSM, and excluded some other issues.
And yes....I have lived in Taiwan!

Regards, geoff c

Michael Turton said...

Unfortunately you have taken this letter right out of context, "for he lauds Taiwan in this letter here without showing much understanding of the system here, except its superficial positives." Nowhere in this letter was Taiwan mentioned.

Geoff, how many nations do you have some detailed knowledge of where the teachers get 18% interest?

BTW, finding it was easy. Google your name (always fun) and see the results.

My criticism is more to do with the selection of clear speaking english teachers than criticism of american accented english teachers.

All accents are clear, Geoff. Your point is empty. As long as the students have good skills in one of the accents, they can make themselves understood. In any case, their own accent will swamp anything they learn.

Of the multitude of problems would-be English speakers have here, accent is so far out the list as to not even show up on the radar screen. Why not mention the savage levels of homework, the textbooks and exams crawling with English errors, the English teachers who are completely incompentent in the language, and so on? There are far more urgent problems than accent.

My point is simply, that it is grossly unfair for Taiwanese to sit written examinations in which grammatically correct text....

If only the exams were grammatically correct....

That letter was specifically designed to get the public and the teaching fraternity to realise that there are other countries besides parochial Australia which value professional public educators and remunerate them in real and negotiable ways.

Yes, but they don't do that because they are public educators -- that's only the ostensible and surface reason.

Michael