Fringe Benefit Of TEFL #6: More Language Trivia

One thing English is lacking (as if there’s not enough) is a second version of you. I’d say that many, if not most, other languages make a distinction between a formal and informal you; several Slavic languages have ti and vi, which I will use here instead of saying “informal you” (ti) and “formal you” (vi).

For learners of English, this doesn’t really matter – it’s just something they don’t have to think about. They do, however, have to think about other ways of showing respect with address or word choice, though these things probably have equivalents in their own language.

An English teacher whose own language had ti and vi during a seminar told the group – made up mainly of teachers from that country – that it was a good idea to speak with their students in English only, even during the break, so that their students wouldn’t attempt to use ti with them…and they could accordingly ensure that their students respected them. This was strange to me. I don’t think this is a real way to ensure that your students respect you – there are ways to foster respect, but to me this one just sounds silly. It is interesting though that something that is such a non-issue in one language can have such implications in another.

Students in one country told me that there’s actually a protocol for who should ask first – “Shall we start addressing each other with ti instead of vi?” – based on age. Do keep in mind though that this is from the same country where, even today, a man should let a woman enter a room first in general, except when entering a pub; he should enter first because there might be a fight going on and he should be able to protect the woman.

On a related note, I learned from some Korean students in Chicago the importance of age – they can’t be friends with older people because they have to respect them. I’ve never been to Korea and don’t have any real barometer for assessing how seriously this is taken, but my students took it pretty seriously (though they felt more relaxed about it while in the US).

In any case, you are bound to find out all sorts of interesting linguistic trivia in the language course setting of TEFL.