Natural English Part 1

Did you know that only English that is naturally spoken is taught in Direct English?

by Louis Alexander


There was a time when it was considered quite normal to teach unnatural English. Teachers had no difficulty in asking questions like How many feet do you have, Billy?, Where is your nose?, Show me your nose, and so on. It's easy to understand why teachers felt it was necessary to ask questions like these, but today they would be considered quite unacceptable in classroom practice. In the late 1970s a reaction set in against textbook English. Questions like those above were rightly dismissed as ridiculous, but in the process, there was a tendency to dismiss as ridiculous any English used in textbooks, even if it sounded quite natural.

In fact, a lot of the English to be found in coursebooks from the late 1960s onwards is quite natural, even if it has been scripted for language teaching and learning purposes. Here is a dialogue from a textbook published in 1967. The situation is this: a woman is getting off a train and has left her handbag behind. This is the dialogue between a passenger and the woman:

Man: Excuse me.
Woman: Yes?
Man: Is this your handbag?
Woman: Pardon?
Man: Is this your handbag?
Woman: Yes, it is. Thank you very much.

There is nothing unnatural about this dialogue. It is specially written to teach English. The acid test is to ask native speakers whether they would find anything odd about the English used and the chances are they would not. When we watch a film or read a dialogue in a novel, we never consider for a moment whether the language is natural or not, even though it has been scripted. By dismissing all textbook English, the zealots of the late 1970s were in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. All language coursebooks use English in situations to teach natural English to learners. Direct English is no exception. From the first dialogue where Mr Quercio is checking into the Sheraton and he meets Barbara Seaton to the final dialogue between Tess and David in Book 8, we find scripted natural English.

When people say they want natural English in textbooks, they probably mean spontaneous, unscripted language. Direct English has plenty of instances of this as well. Here is an example from Level 4, 36.1.7 of a fireman telling us spontaneously about his experiences: At one point when I, when we went in, um, the fire started rolling up over the top of us, so um, they called, they backed everybody out and they hit it with deck guns and after a while, we were ordered back in, and we went back in, and I was going up the stairs and on the way up the stairs I looked up and, er, it looks like, you know it looked like. I thought I could see little, er, little holes of light coming through. And then I took a close look and it actually was completely burned up and they were stars up in the sky - so the whole roof was gone and that was one of the, er, more wild situations that I've been in. And I was just a couple of week, er, on the job.

Here you can see all the characteristics of unscripted language: the hesitations, the pauses, the incomplete sentences, but the experience is vividly conveyed. This differs from scripted natural English because it has the untidy characteristics of spontaneous speech. Whether the language you encounter in Direct English is scripted and spontaneous, there is no doubt about one important fact: it is always natural.

 

© LG & DE Limited 2006

 

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