What the General Public Seems to Know about TESOL

I have found that whenever I introduce myself and what I study at SFSU, there are a few responses that I get over and over again. A usual conversation would go like this:

Me: I’m a graduate graduate student studying TESOL (I pronounce it te-soul).

Stranger: What’s that?

Me: It stands for Teaching ESL.

Stranger: Ohh, that’s cool. So what’s your other language.

Me: Uh, what do you mean? I speak Mandarin, but you don’t necessarily have to know a foreign language to teach ESL.

Stranger: Really? Then how do you teach the ESL students? What language do you teach them in?

Me: We teach them in English, though some teachers allow the students to use their native language.

I think responses such as this is very telling of the misconceptions people often have of the TESOL field. Also, it just shows how many people have no idea how ESL students learn English. They don’t realize that unlike taking a Spanish or Japanese class in college (where the foreign language class is taught mostly in English), the ESL students must learn their foreign language (English) in  the foreign language (again, English), which definitely has its pros and cons. What I find interesting out of all this is how much the TESOL field is misunderstood and the implications that has for how much familiarity the politicians (and general public) pushing for “English-only” laws have in the process of learning English.


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