Should you correct teachers' English?

Keep quiet and risk your child learning incorrect language - or say something and risk undermining the teacher?

31 May 2011

WHAT should a parent do if their child is being taught incorrect English by their teachers at school? Do you keep quiet and risk your child learning incorrect language - or do you say something and risk undermining the teacher?
We asked Connexion newsletter readers for their thoughts. Here is a selection of the replies.

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My friends' children are both fluent in French/English. They no longer tell their English teacher that she is incorrect in what she is teaching them, they get shouted at. They are also told they are not pronouncing English words correctly, and that it should be done with a French accent.

Jim and Fiona Haggerty

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As an English woman who has had quite a lot of experience of teaching - in comprehensive schools and in language schools - I think the golden rule on whether or not to correct teachers' mistakes is "DON'T - or if you absolutely must, be very, very discreet and tactful."

If your child gives the impression that the teacher is one of the modest and kindly sort, I would write a gentle letter asking for clarification since my child "seems to have got the impression that..." etc etc. However, some teachers are, sadly, not of this ilk and you risk doing more harm than good in pointing out mistakes or allow your child to think it is OK to do so. Your child may get an unjustified name for being a bit of a troublemaker. Being a teacher in France is not always a bed of roses at the best of times and some - sadly - do remember when a pupil has made them feel embarrassed. Any French child who is serious about learning English will soon discover the correct way to express something. As for the others - does it really matter? Think of the mistakes we all make in their country towards which the French are so tolerant!

Of course, if the standard of teaching English is really way beyond a joke, the thing to do would be to have a very quiet and discreet word with the Director, suggesting that some sort of refresher course might be a useful thing for the teacher concerned.

Mary Critchley

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I was a teacher of English for 40 years in England and taught my pupils, aged 7-13 years, to learn new language skills, grammar, spelling etc, revising and using these skills. I have always thought it essential to praise their work AND to show them where they have made mistakes. It is not necessary to correct every single mistake as this could be daunting for the child. Many French teachers have excellent English language skills and will soon be aware of mistakes, which should be shown to the child... this could be done verbally or by marking on the written work. Mistakes should not be ignored.

The concerned parent needs to speak with the teacher concerned with discretion. Perhaps the teacher has only a rudimentary grasp of the language and does not realise that there are mistakes. Perhaps the teacher has overlooked them. Perhaps he/she does not intend to correct them!

Only then can the parent decide what may be necessary: Meet with the headteacher to discuss, offer to help, help his/her own child with mistakes. I think this problem is widespread.

JR Barnes

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You ask for comment on correcting English teacher's English in France. Our daughter was educated in France from age 8 to 18. On the whole we were pleased with her education; she got to an English university and got a very good degree and subsequently a job in London. It depends on the teacher. Yes, they did frequently need correcting for grammar, spelling and word meanings (i.e. 'bare' versus 'bear'). The more confident teachers even asked for comments and were pleased to learn themselves. Others felt irritated. So watch their characters!

Ben Hawkins

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My son was invited by his English teacher (at college - when he was about twelve - back in about 1995) to correct any mistakes she made in English. He soon learned that she preferred, in fact, to go uncorrected.

One day she greeted the class with "Good morning! Today is the ninth of May" - with ninth rhyming with plinth. My son sniggered. He didn't mean to; it just happened. Quite quietly.

He got his comeuppance with severe notes for such things as forgetting a full stop after the date.

Moral: it's better to keep quiet.

Judi Palmer

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Hi, I have had this problem a number of times. Sometimes, it's simply that the teacher is teaching American English rather than a grammatical mistake. But, a good few times it's been something which is simply incorrect. All are worth correcting, it's just how you do it. In our case, all have been minor and not 'life threatening', nothing to seriously affect understanding. In which case, I don't think it's right to correct the teacher personally, unless I've been asked to do so. I explain to my daughter what the error is and how the correct spelling or what the correct grammar should be. I have also explained why it's not polite to correct the teacher unless she has been asked to do so. It's just bad manners, especially in front of the class.

However, if the mistake had been major and could have had serious consequences, I may well have considered speaking to the teacher, or having a private word with the Head of that subject/year or some such. My daughter's been told to allow us to decide whether or not the mistakes need to be brought to the attention of the school. Some people can't take being criticised or corrected by the young (or anybody, in some cases). I heard of one English child being put into another class, because he kept correcting the teacher. Personally, if I was the teacher, I would want to be correct and would welcome the advice of parents who speak the language. But, I would also let them know that I was open to it.

Dawn

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It was drilled into me by my English teacher that there is no such construction for the verb 'to have' such as 'I have got' ; and I have to say that I hate to hear this too.

So I was shocked when my daughter came home with her English homework which was to learn the conjugaision - I have got, you have got etc I wrote to the school but received no reply.

I have since spent several years teaching business English within a business environment and have on several occasions come across this teaching of 'I have got' in various text books. So I think it is wrong, but clearly it is accepted in linguistic circles, so the English teacher would have been correct.

When my daughter was taking her BTS in Business Studies, she was frequently taught incorrect constructions and language by her English teacher, which she herself spotted. At first she challenged the teacher but soon found that diplomacy achieved her better marks

You only need to be a regular listener to Radio 4 to find that even the British cannot agree, and frequently challenge each other, on the correct use of the English language. So these days, with my remaining children, I take a more relaxed view. I teach them good English, and correct them when I think they don't speak properly. At school they need the marks and I leave them to achieve these by doing what the teacher tells them.

Carryn Hayward

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As an American teaching English to adults, I have always made a point of stating English and American pronunciations and spellings, such as colour or color. My students have learned to appreciate the nuances of the English language as spoken in many countries, not just the UK or the US. Obviously, I tend to use a lot of American material and my students probably end up with an American accent, but at least they're speaking CORRECT, repeat CORRECT, English and they are communicating. Isn't that the point?

As far as correcting the English teacher, I would never do it in a classroom context but at a later moment so the teacher doesn't lose face. In my experience, a conscientious teacher appreciates being corrected. Nobody's perfect.

Barbara Jacquin

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I am a credentialed English teacher and any mistakes should be ABSOLUTELY corrected! it is insane to contemplate not doing so! btw, i also call the bbc, itv, cnn, etc, and correct them as well! in the uk it seems only the queen is willing to risk using the word 'me' (as in 'it was given to charles and me') instead of the ridiculous 'myself' or worse, 'i'.

This is not to mention the fact that no one in either the uk or france knows how to use an apostrophe, and no one anywhere seems to know the difference between 'lie' and 'lay'; one only 'lays' in the past tense, people! yesterday i lay down, today i lie down, i have lain here all day BUT yesterday i laid the book on the table, today i am laying the book on the table, lay the book on the table! for persons/animals: lie down! or, what about 'heating up' instead of the wrong, and stupid, 'hotting up'? or 'loaning money' instead of 'lending it'? ('neither a borrower nor a loaner be', anyone?)

Lisa Kuhn

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You need to be quite sure of yourself, and very tactful, before correcting your child's teacher. In terms of vocabulary, you may be more up-to-date; witness the case in The Connexion several months ago when a French teacher insisted that "un cartable" = "satchel". The word hasn't changed in French although the object in question has; schoolkids use "backpacks" these days. I am about to make myself a hate figure, but be aware that French schools are still teaching grammar in detail, while most UK schools have not taught English grammar, or indifferently when they have, for two generations. Be careful before attempting to correct: if you don't know the difference between a subject and an object, you may not be certain of when to use "you and I" or "you and me". French teachers will probably get it right; plenty of English teachers don't, and that could have been the ones who taught you. And if you feel obliged to intervene, it helps if your French is up to the task. So, gently, please.

John Adams

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We were living in Belgium from 1970 to 1984 and our son went to Belgian schools. He made the fatal error of correcting his English teacher and from then on in she had her knife well and truly between his ribs as you might say. She succeeded in making him hate the school and she turned many of the other teachers against him. Although I said nothing to him, I then started checking his English school and homework - obviously he made some mistakes having done all his schooling in Belgium - but she had made more. He finally left school at 16, thoroughly disillusioned with educationâ. However, as a mature student he went to Uni in the UK had got himself an M.A! but all those years "wasted". So what is the solution ? It's a pity teachers cannot take the English child as a “helper” and not an enemy.

C.A. Sandford

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It has been a problem with our children at school, especially since a dedicated English teacher who used to attend the school 2 days a week has been axed due to cost saving cuts. Since then it has been down to the normal teacher who is not an English speaker to take the lesson. There are not alot of English children in the school maybe 7 out of a total of 150. My wife and another mother approached the teacher and volunteered to assist her in the English classes which has been accepted and now they both assist with English for the CE2 class. However it is more difficult at the College where my 13yr old daughter attends. They have dedicated English teachers, but some of their marking (they mark harder for the English children than for the others, which they don't seem to do for French!) is incorrect. We have mentioned it to the teacher as much of what is incorrect would seem to be americanised English, yes it is understood but it is not English. However we get little response to what we say. What is annoying is when she gets marked down for something the teacher feels is incorrect but we feel is not, but at the end of the day we know she speaks excellent English and is also in the top 5 for French.

Stephen James

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I am a Dutch to English translator and am British. I helped a friend's 14-year old son learn English for a year and was astonished to see that his teacher was using texts that had been translated from Dutch to English by a non-native Dutch speaker to teach his French students English!! The Dutch tend to make specific errors when they write in English and I picked up this type of mistake in several texts that the teacher was using for their English class. This actually meant that the comprehension exercise for the students became nigh-on impossible and left me struggling to find the answers myself!

When I mentioned this to my (French) friend, I expected her to be outraged that her son's teachers were clearly incompetent and obviously did not even understand the text themselves. In actual fact, she just shrugged and seemed very underwhelmed!!

If it had been a child of mine, I would have been at the school offices in an instant!

Nicky

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Tell the teacher, otherwise the error will be propagated and reinforced.

David Bennett

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Mistakes made by teachers of any subject and any language, should be corrected. Not in a spirit of criticism but, to inform the teacher of their own misunderstanding or, occasionally, carelessness. When I was a lecturer I always told my students: "I am not the fount of all knowledge, if you think I am in error, tell me. Learning is two way, I can learn from you as well as you from me".

Adryan Johnson

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I have a strange experience regarding this subject. I live just outside Toulouse and as I am Scottish and my husband is French, we wanted to put our daughter into a school where she would have the opportunity to speak English. She is in the PS of the maternelle. She has an English teacher that comes to the school regularly. the problem is that as my daughter is bilingual, she is just 4 years old, she corrects the pronunciation of the teacher, who then gives my daughter a row! My dughter says that she is bored in the classes and that the teacher does not speak correctly. As I help my daughter a lot with speaking correctly, this is now becoming a problem. I can understand the teacher, but if my daughter is correct, what to do? I feel that the situation can only get worse as my daughter will get older....

Caroline Smith

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The French who teach English are not perfect. How could they be? No one is perfect and mistakes are made even by those whose mother tongue is English.

Teachers would be happy to learn more if they are open to learning. I would talk with the teacher privately and bring along the rules so they can see them in print. I am sure it was an oversight.

Elizabeth Burke

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Teachers should be the first people to acknowledge that they cannot know everything, and be happy to learn where their English teaching was incorrect. I am sure they would not want to find out one day that their mistakes had been spotted but they were not informed. After all we make mistakes in French all the time and expect to be corrected. I have taken several "French to English" translations which were "not how we would have said it/written it" and "anglised" them. The French authors wanted me to approve them or improve them.

Stephen Bailey

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Yes, on the whole I think that mistakes should be corrected - but as tactfully as possible. It must be a bit daunting to be teaching English grammar to native English speakers, don't you think?

Love your paper - always interesting and often useful.

Lesley Crick

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As a language teacher, if an educated native speaker wanted to correct me, I would be very pleased to accept the correction, and I would tell my students about the correction. Teachers of modern foreign languages get very little outside help - in our (school) department, in England, we would answer each others' queries as far as possible. I have always considered myself very lucky to have a French friend who teaches French Literature here in France. Any time I have a question, she will find the answer for me (usually by email) or consult her French language teaching colleagues. I have a similar relationship with a German friend who teaches English - she will come to me for help and advice, and vice versa. What is the point in pretending to be infallible, and possibly perpetuating your mistakes? I have several ex-students who are now French teachers, and I would be mortified if I heard them teaching something incorrectly which I had unwittingly taught them.

Liz Jackson

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Absolutely correct those mistakes! Otherwise we'll have a future generation of children who speak it incorrectly. We already have some now.

Debbie Smith

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As a British person having lived in France for 35 years and as a mother of four (French) sons, I have often come up against this problem. And believe me, it has often occured! Being a language teacher myself, I have decided that I have to say something, so I put in a letter to the teacher, very discreetly, what I think would have been more appropriate. I have never had any problems coming from any teachers and it has sometimes provoked
discussions about linguistic skills, but I think we can all live and learn throughout our lives. You should never think you know everything in any subject and remain open to correction, just the way I have in learning and
speaking French.

Throughout these 35 years I have learned that what we believe to be correct is not always so because grammar is so badly taught in Britain and we too, can learn a lot from foreigners who are usually far better linguists than we, as Brits, are because they have to learn their own language in a far more comprenhensive way than we do in Britain.

Just a last word to say that people should always double-check their own language skills before correcting a language teacher here, they have probably got it right grammatically, even if the habitual or everyday language allows different ways of expressing the same thing!

Could go on for hours on this subject but will stop there.

Cynthia Prentice

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I'm a UK post-grad qualified secondary teacher - not of English, but that's what I'm now teaching here in the state sector. I have to say that there is now a great emphasis on the importance of conducting lessons wholly in English, so why should it be taken amiss if a native speaker of English points out to a non-native speaker - poliltely and discreetly - that there is an error in what is being taught/noted. I have already spotted a lot of mistakes in the textbooks in use in colleges - from simple fact, to awkward phrasing and poor use of English, so there are bound to be inaccuracies in what is taught. We all have to keep learning and French teachers of other languages are no exception! I'm sure a sensitive remark is likely to be taken as well-meant, rather than outrageous. Tho I still remember my daughter's UK chemistry teacher taking offence at being told that there really was some iron in Irn Bru, clearly shown on the label! But then, it is my country's other national drink!! I look forward to hearing other comments.

Morag Ferguson

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Just think about the number of things that your children will learn from their English teacher in a year. In an entire school career. Does correcting your child’s teacher when he/she is about 95% correct make your child smarter or their teacher's self-esteem lower. Unless it is a major faux pas, park your own ego out of the way.

Alan Zelt

Yes, definitely (though when I was corrected by my teacher in an Australian bush school for writing an essay in primary school about the Cutty Sark, which we had visited earlier that year whilst living in the UK, to Cutty Shark, for some reason my parents let it go). Teachers often appreciate help, if given constructively, and probably won't feel undermined if you deal with them directly. Best dealt with adult to adult possibly, but depends on the age of the children.

Pippa Curtis

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Regarding your request for comments on whether we should correct mistakes made by French teachers, I have a business giving English lessons. Many of my pupils are secondary pupils for 'cours particuliers' and sometimes I notice mistakes that their teacher has made, perhaps a word wrongly translated.. I tell my pupils if I see anything wrong and they point this out in a tactful way to their teacher in school. So far their school teacher has reacted in a positive way. Learning a language is a continuous process. You never know everything. I also teach French but I am not a native speaker so I know I make the odd mistake. If someone corrects me, I hope I react in a similar way.

Janet O'Brien

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Our 2 children were born and raised in Germany, spending most of those years at German schools. Our son's English teacher (male) was clever. He used our son's knowledge of English by asking him to tell his fellow-pupils how he had spent his weekend, for example. In English. Our daughter's English teacher (also a man) wasn't keen to have our daughter give him the correct pronunciation of - eg. "clothes" - and regarded the correction as impertinent. Hard to strike the right balance, I think, but the teacher's personality and the child's manner are probably important factors.

Janet Forster

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As a teacher myself, though no longer teaching in schools now, I would advise waiting until a suitable opportunity arose to speak to the teacher face to face, and then asking what his/her preferred option is, whether he/she wants corrections, perhaps by a discreet e-mail, or whether the parents should "mind their own business". Any worthwhile teacher would surely opt for the first option, unless they really lack self-confidence. Whatever the reaction, at least it would be clear what the teacher requires. As for the child being taught an incorrect version, if the teacher refuses advice, though it goes against the grain, it might be best to let the mistakes stand, unless the child has a mature attitude to lessons. It would need a lot of diplomatic explanation to the child to accompany any discussion of the teacher's mistakes; if the teacher's authority with the class is undermined, then the quality of the teaching will deteriorate still further, and the child will learn even less.

Claire Campbell

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My Anglophone daughter is in a French government primary school and I'm an Anglophone teaching English in Paris and I wrote to her teacher last year after seeing that the teacher's written English (she can't speak English) was 95% wrong. She knows what I do but even so, I was very courteous and humbly apologized and told her what she'd actually communicated in the phrases where her grammar/vocab were wrong. She wrote back thanking me and told me she'd appreciated my feedback. She discontinued English for the rest of the year. To be quite honest, I wasn't worried, as a teacher who can't even be bothered to get her spelling correct, really shouldn't be teaching the language.

This year, the teacher is a bit better, but kept correcting my daughter even though she was right (she used to take her pocket dictionary to school so she could check) to the point she stopped participating in the lesson. I told her not to worry and let the other kids have a go, as they need the practice then I got a complaint from the teacher she wasn't participating at all. I went with a translator who was really there as a witness (I'd learnt earlier on, never see a French teacher without a French speaking person with you!) He wasn't very nice, so I pointed out diplomatically, that as English isn't his native language, where it is my daughter's, give her due respect. I also asked he not correct my daughter automatically and should check in an English/English dictionary as the translations he'd done weren't correct at all. This being said in front of a witness worked wonders. I check and correct any English exercises every week and I've noticed he's taken note of my corrections and his English is improving. My daughter gets full marks in English and he's more open to her when she disagrees with him on vocabulary.

My advice is, it's your language, correct your child's exercises, and if necessary see the teacher with a French speaking person, and use the line that it's your language and not the teacher's etc which is something they can't argue with.

Mirella Sobolewski

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Since we had been living in the USA for a few years, our daughter spoke with an American accent which her (French) English teacher didn't like. Our daughter also corrected her teacher a few times and got completely ignored by her afterwards.

Regina Young

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Being a step mother to an older child who is CONTINUALLY marked in the higher 3/4 of her class and thinks she can speak English, I can only say whatever ANYONE tells them.. the teacher will ALWAYS be right! My step daughter CAN NOT speak/write English and most of what she has "learnt" is AMERICAN anyway! The French are ALWAYS right (even when they teach falsehoods at school) !!

Mary Elizabeth Paddock

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My son did a crossword in English he told the teacher his answer wouldn't fit which was colour, and she said you can spell it without the u, not in proper English you don't, she is American, does'nt speak very good French & is giving the En...glish children American texts to learn, i don't mind but not when it is confusing them, & keeping their marks down in English.If they correct her, she ignores them or shouts at them, this only came to my attention last week as my son doesn't want any trouble she also calls them rude names, totally out of order but what can you do?

Anita Ford

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When I was in school here, I heard fishes instead of fish (plural), sword pronounced with the w and a few other glitches. I understood the teacher was a bit touchy about being corrected. So, I let it go. Other teachers may be more open. As always the approach will count a lot.

James Newton

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Well a friend of the family who was a English teacher all her life, spent many years telling her pupils "that you row a boat with whores"!!! The mind boggles! Well if it is like the UK, the problem is that the teacher learnt from someone that learnt from someone that learnt from some one, and so on and so on, back to finally one teacher who did speak the language correctly. When I moved to France, I quickly realised that I was speaking very out of date French, for example "cela faire rien" which no one says any more, they say "c'est pas grave"..;

Immobilier de Bretagne

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If you want your children's English to not only be maintained but improve and prove to be an asset in life I wold highly recommend visiting www.bilingual.fr. BEE is a not for profit association based in the South West of France providing English language and literature skills to our expat children. My personal gripe is capital I with a dot and commas as decimal points!

Anouk Emanuel

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My children were taught that stormy weather was storming weather and toes were pronounced toys and nose pronounced noise! The only time I will say something is if they get marked down for correct English, as that is wrong. What I am more concerned about is the swearing and filthy lyrics on the radio, I no longer have the radio on when my children are in the car, I can't believe that young French children are singing along to such obscene words, their parents are probably not aware of the meaning. I asked one French mother and she thought the 'f' word was thank !!

Carolyn Moretto

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When I came to France I didn't speak a word. Now I help in the local primary school. They put up with my poor French so they can hear English spoken by an English person. I make mistakes with my French which I have told them they can correct. I think it has made them more relaxed and willing to 'have a go' at speaking English even if they make a mistake. My son is at College and I have told him to be very careful about correcting his teacher. Some of her errors he finds very amusing. I have suggested he mensions the worse of them to her ...after class!!

Helen Stevens

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Of course the mistakes should be corrected. Just do it in a polite and courteous way. As someone who taught English for 30 years, no decent teacher should be afraid of having errors corrected. It is part of the life time learning process

Adrian Fox

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I'm French and I teach English. I think mistakes have to be corrected, you cannot let your children, students,...learn wrong. I correct mistakes made by my kids' teachers in any topics, and especially French spelling. We are humans and not machines. And I do appreciate when friends correct my mistakes in English. :-))

Claire Martin

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I had my children learn German instead of English and wrote a book about the disastrous state of English teaching in France (Sorbonne Confidential)

Laurel Zuckerman

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I advised a UK History teacher that he was teaching incorrect facts and sent him the source material. He was very annoyed and first denied he'd made the mistake and then tried to justify it in the same email. It's very risky to correct "experts". Might I suggest you volunteer to help out in the English class. It could be a good way to improve your French.

Bob Carvey

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I've taught French for years & always asked educated francophones to correct me every time they hear a mistake. The problem with correcting French teachers' English is that you need to be sure that your own usage is correct. Reading through... the contributions here I note an alarming number of what I regard as "mistakes" in English. Elsewhere, you see "your" instead of "you're", "there" instead of "their", "to" instead of "too" and so on. What's correct here: different to/from/than; he did this for Sam and I/me; between you and I/me; the whole family are/is in New York. What's the difference between may and might? I could go on (and on). When I've taught bilingual or monolingual French pupils, I've said: if you hear a mistake, please discuss it with me, politely. I can't imagine a truly professional person who would respond badly to: There's something I don't understand M/Mme: you said X, but I would normally say Y. Please can you help me with this? As to the mistakes French people make in their own language, don't get me started ... If you are going to correct your child's English teacher, my advice is: be sure you are right in the first place, frame the correction in the form of a light-hearted question, if you possibly can, and avoid confrontational language. Remember the vast majority of teachers are really doing the very best they can, as you would in their position.

Ian Carter

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I know a French lady who used to teach English in French state schools. She now gives English lessons privately and is appalled by the level of English currently being taught. One thing which I find deplorable is that they are told that you must ALWAYS use the short form, ie don't, won't, can't instead of do not, will not, cannot etc.

Sue Haigh

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