“I am moving to Europe to teach ESL. What are attitudes to American teachers like on the old continent?”
I am moving to Europe to teach ESL. What are attitudes to American teachers like on the old continent?
As an American, I have sometimes faced discrimination from learners– mostly from those who had been exposed to or had an affinity for British English. However, I am usually quickly able to quell their fears of their English being “polluted” as I have always been sensitive about and knowledgeable in teaching varieties of English and I have always put a focus on understandability as my teaching has been influenced by methods and philosophies surrounding English as a Lingua Franca.
As an American, I am still considered a kind of ambassador of my country and often asked to speak for the whole group. I often get asked questions like: Do all Americans have guns? Why do all Americans have guns? Why do Americans talk like they have a potato in their mouth? Who did you vote for? And so on. I usually embrace such curiosity and always qualify my answers, emphasizing that my opinions are based on my particular experience and that I by no means speak for all Americans. I see those questions, whether posed in English or not, as another opportunity to share and teach about my culture. At my current job, being an American has, at times, given me additional clout (that I actually don’t deserve). Some of my colleagues seem to think that simply being American has given me insights into processes and ways of working that are somehow advanced or better than the German ways. Other times, I suffer from my citizenship from negative stereotypes about American business philosophies, especially in the field of HR. Because I am fluent in German though, the vast majority of my colleagues don’t consider me quite as exotic of an American as I might have been when I first arrived 24 years ago.
Admittedly, how I see myself as an American has also changed over the years. I had always considered myself a German-American, being the first generation to grow up with English as a first language. My first two years abroad were in Japan where I truly discovered and embraced the American in me. Then, when I moved to Germany, where I thought I was “going home” I further realized that though my family has German roots, our culture, language, ways of thinking and behavior were quite foreign to the modern Germans I met here. The topic of identity is a multi-faceted one and it is a journey I have been on for a while, not just national identity, but sexual orientation, social status, ethnicity, and many more.
Justin Ehresman grew up in Minnesota and Washington State, and completed university in Arizona and later in England. He lived and worked in six countries on three continents before permanently making Germany his home. Justin has been teaching English as a foreign language for more than two decades at all levels: children to adults, general to business English. He is currently an in-house recruiter in the refrigeration industry, but still keeping his hand in with a few classes on the side!