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ESL students get the shaft

Mike Jones's picture

In my post “On the Marginalization of Esperanto” I pointed out that in the typical ESL course even English gets marginalized: interesting juicy aspects of English get omitted, and no notification is given to the student about this omission. In the first place, the ESL textbooks cannot tell what they are omitting, because then they would not be omitting it, and in the second place no one is about to include in their textbook a warning along the lines of “Please be aware that interesting juicy aspects of English are omitted from this textbook.” because that would be marketing suicide. Given a choice, curriculum planners are going to choose a textbook that does not contain such a damning and embarrassing disclaimer. So, ESL graduates are left to fend for themselves when then venture into the deep waters of unrestricted English as it is actually spoken and written.

Anyway, there is another instance of the marginalization of English foisted upon what are patronizingly called “learners of English” / “English-language learners” (in other words, ESL students) that is so good (that is, bad), that I wanted to make a separate post (i.e., this one) about it rather than bury it as an additional comment to my original post on marginalization, and that concerns the word “shaft”. If you look at the definition in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary ( you will see that an alternative plural in the case of the poles hitching a horse to a wagon is “shaves”, but if you then accept the offer to see the definition offered to “English-language learners”, this interesting juicy tidbit is omitted. Hence the title of this post, which I offer as a very memorable epithet (…epitaph?) on the ESL industry.

Note: The tag that I have given this post is “lankidalo”, which is my Esperanto-rendering of “ESL”: “English as a Second Language” => “(l)a (an)gla (ki)el (d)u(a) (l)ingv(o)”.

Mike Jones
19.Jan.2011 (My son Vincent is 1 year 8 months old today!)

by Mike Jones


ESL students also get

Mike Jones's picture

ESL students also get shortchanged when it comes to pronunciation. Words beginning with “wh” are usually pronounced as if those two letters were reversed: “hw”, such as “when” and “whisper” (- but not “who”). The dictionary for native speakers gives the pronunciation correctly, of course. (And when both “hw” and “w” are acceptable, it lists the “hw” pronunciation first, as being the preferred one.) However, in the ESL “learner’s” dictionary, they might give only the “w” pronunciation, as is the case in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s English-Chinese Dictionary, 6th edition. The case of the word “whew” is interesting, in that the initial “h” sound is so strong (this word being an interjection) that the pronunciation is given correctly (i.e., showing an “hw” beginning) even in the “learner’s” dictionary.

It seems like some graduate student looking for a master’s thesis topic might be able to mine this phenomenon, with a thesis title perhaps of, “Whew! What it takes to cross the divide to the learner of English”.

Mike Jones

January 29, 2011 by Mike Jones, 6 years 28 weeks ago

Ni kreu Asocion de Lakidalo de Esperantistoj

neil_nachum's picture

Mi konsentas kun multaj el via komentoj (kompare kun miaj 17 jaroj kiel ESL instruisto en Usono).

Dum la lastaj jaroj mi ekkonis eble 20 instruistoj de la angla kiel dua au' fremda lingvo-esperantistoj. Ni kreu asocion.

January 23, 2011 by neil_nachum, 6 years 29 weeks ago

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