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Borat an ESL Hero!


Whether you like him or not, you have to admit that Borat (aka British comedian provocateur Sacha Baron Cohen) has become the poster boy (i.e., example known to everyone) of an ESL speaker here in the United States. If you don't know who Borat is, then you may want to watch some of the many video clips posted on the Internet. First off, though, a warning: Borat can be very offensive. If you are easily offended by sexually suggestive content, or by racial slurs, you probably shouldn't watch these video clips or the movie Borat:! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

Borat - Bringing the ESL World into Everyone's Home

As an ESL teacher, I'm excited by all the attention that Borat is getting. It's an amazing step forward in calling attention to how integral ESL speakers are in our society. Even more importantly, the film will hopefully help native speakers think twice when jumping to conclusions when conversing with non-native speakers. The comedy of the film turns on the fact that Borat's world view is very different than that of the (mostly) Americans he is interviewing. While it's true that the film is probably just "good, clean (?) fun", it also points to deeper truths about the difficulties in communication that arise when native and non-native English speakers converse. In other words, there are misunderstandings between native and non-native speakers that are arise from cultural norms, rather than linguistic accomplishment.

On a lighter note, watching Borat can give you some great insight into typical English mistakes. It's interesting to watch how a native English speaker (i.e., Sacha Baron Cohen) portrays a non-native English speaker (i.e., Borat). From what I've seen, he focuses on standard English mistakes that he often repeats. For example:

Question Forms

You want I try?
How much it costs?

Adjectives Become Nouns

You are a fat.
You are a tiny.

Dropping Verbs (especially 'be') and Verb Combinations

I sorry I very nervous.
I come find English man ...

Repeating Subjects

My sister, she is prostitute.
My friend, he is good boy.

Do and Make

When people do speech in Kazakhstan ...
I do telephone call.

Are you Crazy?!

I imagine that a number of people think I'm crazy to make such a big fuss about Borat. The film obviously plays on stereotypes. However, I think the film points out many issues around learning English. Here are some other articles that take into consideration the many other elements that go into successful communication between both native and non-native English speakers.

Global English
Better Business English
Teaching English - Cultural Differences

Understanding the USA

Thoughts on how to teach English for communication in English rather than focus on teaching English for non-native speakers to native speakers.

Top Books for Cultural Understanding: USA
Top Books for Cultural Understanding: UK

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