The importance of teaching and learning English as a Foreign Language must not be ignored.


The teaching and learning of English as a Foreign Language has often been viewed as a peripheral activity, a sideline, something to do in the holidays. However, recently I came across a situation in which ignorance in this field can be downright dangerous.

I have studied the process of language acquisition in adults and have assumed that most professionals are aware of the effect on communication when their staff members are using English as a second language.  But this is not always the case.

Consider the following situation: a representative of the NHS is assessing a patient‘s care before making recommendations. English is a second language for the nurse in charge of the patient and in an interview with the NHS representative the following occurs:     

“What are his sleep patterns like?” the NHS representative asks.

“Ah, sleep, we give him his medicine and he sleeps.” the nurse replies.

“Do you need to turn the patient or is the mattress sufficient?”

“The mattress is very good.”

“Are there any muscular contractions? How is he positioned in his bed?”

“He is like this.” The nurse sits very still, legs straight.

You have probably guessed what happened. The nurse caught hold of one or two key words in the questions and only responded to these words, NOT the questions. The patient, in effect, slept at night and for varying periods during the day. He DID have to be turned; the mattress was an additional aid to prevent bed sores. The patient DID have contracted muscles; – one leg was permanently contracted crossing the other. The NHS representative was accepting the nurse’s words without question. Even when it was pointed out that the nurse misunderstood the questions, the NHS representative begged to disagree – after all, this was her area of expertise.  

If the situation had been:                                                                

Native speaker doctor: “I think we’ll cut his medicine A and increase medicine B.”

“Medicine A and Medicine B, yes, increase” 

The patient would surely have been given excessive medication with life-threatening consequences.

It is time our ‘professionals’ made it their business to understand the importance of teaching and learning English as a Foreign Language in their context. If ‘minor’ misunderstandings continue to be ignored, the consequences will be disastrous. 

 

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One Response to “The importance of teaching and learning English as a Foreign Language must not be ignored.”

  1. Sign Language for Kids | Is sign language considered to be a second language? Says:

    […] The importance of teaching and learning English as a Foreign Language must not ignored. « Ely … […]

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