Mexican English month brings you a guest post by Jeremy Harmer, a writer of methodology and coursebooks for English Language Teaching. Jeremy teaches on the MATESOL at the New School, New York. He is a keen amateur musician who plays with more enthusiasm, perhaps, than talent, gives numerous talks and speeches about English Language Teaching, and performs on stage in a variety of guises. He is also an active member of the blogosphere.
What am I doing writing a blog post about Mexican English? After all I am English English. I speak absolutely standard British English for a person of my age and my upbringing.
But there was a time when my perception of English was subtly altered, like so many Inner Circle people who live and work outside their home countries (such as Britain, the US, Australia, Ireland etc). I was living and teaching in Mexico and it was here that I was able to witness the way in which people appropriate English and mould it to their own ends – or rather the way in which the English that Mexicans used (and I mean good competent successful English rather than, say, beginner English) has its own special ‘feel’ and norms. An example? Homework. In Mexico (as in many Spanish-speaking countries) it seems to be a countable noun rather than being mostly uncountable as it is in many Inner Circle varieties. You would have thought, therefore, that teachers in the institute where I worked would have corrected students when they said “I haven’t done my homeworks”, but we didn’t because it was, well, it was right, we thought – or maybe we just stopped noticing after a time. It was good Mexican English.
Homeworks is only one example, but it shows how English can be moulded and shifted in subtle ways, which, however, have no negative impact on intelligibility at all.
One day back then in Guadalajara, my ‘Juniors’ co-ordinator (I was the director of the institute) came into my office to discuss a problem. She was (and is) British and uses a variety almost identical to mine. On that day she explained her problem and then she said: “Or I could do it myself. Or I could ask the teachers to do it.” Nothing wrong with that, except that she was using Spanish grammar in her English. In her (and my) home variety we would normally say “I could do it myself or I could ask the teachers to do it,” rather than start the whole sentence with or as Jean did.
Most British and American people start adopting Mexicenglish after they have lived in Mexico a bit. Our tag questions rapidly turn into “Yes? No?” as in “I’ll see you at seven. Yes? No?” with the characteristic intonation of a typical Mexican speaker. English with a Mexican lilt.
Does any of this matter? No, of course not (in my opinion). Anyone who speaks good competent Mexican English can be and is understood all over the world by other competent English speakers. Of course in more formal writing and speaking, there is a greater need for consistency than in more informal speech and written chat – and exams have their own norms and demands. But in all other respects Mexican English is a beautiful and exotic variety that lives in the English rainforest along with all the other species whether Scottish, New Zealandish, Turkish, Greek or Indonesian!Email this Post