In the land of second language speakers, the native speaker is not king. He just thinks he is. In interactions with and among non-native speakers, English is nothing more than a blunt tool in the service of verbal transactions.
The sportive element of social encounters among cultural in-groups – the sparring and joshing, flirting and punning – is absent. And, pretty much, it always will be.
When common cultural reference points that tend to shape discourse and digressions among native English speakers is gone, so, generally, is the necessity to edge towards a less formal register. Yet many English teachers burn valuable time familiarizing beginners with slang, informal salutations, business idioms, and the like. Regrettably, many of us encourage exaggerated mannerisms and clichéd expressions that have no place in the culture or context in which the speaker will operate. Should a learner really be reporting that he’s had his ‘hands full with the old ball and chain’ when he’s still working on fundamentals?
Coaching relatively new speakers to deformalize their English too early is a mistake. Sure, developing skills in English is an opportunity to try on a new personality, but it has to evolve from an authentic place inside the speaker rather than doled out from the teacher’s personal lexicon.
Take care to develop and praise honest unembellished communication: early-stage second language speakers crave to understand and to be understood, nothing more. Capiche?
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