It’s happened so often. You’re standing there balancing a glass of Chilean Chardonnay in one hand and a plate of prawn vol au vents oozing something unpleasant onto the plate on the other. A couple of minutes into the conversation you get to:
‘So what do you do?’
‘Um, I’m an author.’
Huge interest. A broad smile, ‘Would I have read any of your books?’
‘I don’t think so. Probably not.’
‘So what do you write?’
Deflation. Loss of 90% of interest, ‘Oh (downward inflection), what subject?’
Nervous cough. ‘English as a Foreign Language.’
Sneer. ‘English as a Foreign Language? Oh, yes, my (son/ daughter / niece / nephew / cousin’s brother-in-law’s wife) did that in their gap year. For some dreadful cowboy outfit in (Bournemouth / Phuket / Fukuoka /Palma/ Palermo). ’
The eyes start going round the room, looking for a way to escape from you. I sympathize, as even when we try to write a conversation (as above) we EFL authors quickly fall into multiple choice questions in (brackets / parentheses).
I’ve tried it the other way, as about half of my writing has been scripting EFL videos over the last twenty years. So I try …
‘Um, I’m a scriptwriter.’
‘Oh? What kind of scripts?’
‘They’re mainly comedy.’
(Smile brightens) ‘Films?’
‘Er … not exactly …’
‘Um, well, educational video …’
‘(snigger) Educational? Is that what you call it? Like “The Joy of Sex” or something?”
‘No. English Language teaching.’
The initial interest is so much greater, that the disappointment when it inevitably comes, is worse.
The problem is that we EFL / ELT authors suffer with the whole EFL / ELT profession from unjustly low status.
The Oxford Wordpower dictionary (1993 edition) is designed solely for EFL students at an intermediate level. When the student looks up the word status, they find this definition and example sentence:
1 [sing] your social or professional position in relation to other people: Teachers don’t have a very high status in this country.
I was angry about that way back in 1993, because teachers have enough problems without their students being told they are of ‘low status’. Moreover, as this dictionary was designed to be used by people learning English, the vast majority would be using it outside Britain. So in this country would seem to refer to wherever they might be.
The statement is manifestly untrue in most countries in the world. It’s totally untrue in developing countries, totally untrue of Asian countries, or the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. It’s not true of tenured teachers in much of Western Europe either. It does have an elelement of truth in the United Kingdom, especially in EFL.
The anonymous person who composed the definition would be someone with EFL experience, and glancing through the dictionary there is evidence that even the EFL lexicographer leaves a signature on a text. I read this example for communication:
There is little real communication between father and daughter.
That doesn’t help anyone to understand the word communication, but it certainly reveals something about the writer, whether a father or a daughter, who I would take to be the same as the status definer! I once spent a journey with two other OUP authors looking up sad and depressing definitions in that dictionary. We found lots. I hasten to add that it’s been revised several times since then.