What is the end-point of learning English? Where are all our students going? What, in other words, is the aim of studying English?
As often as not these days, English courses end in an exam. Whatever the cons of the multitude of exams, they do at least minister to the teleological needs of our students. They provide a satisfying narrative which we can recount to them like so many Scheherazades before the Shahryar. This is the beginning, this is the middle bit where you work, and this is the exam where you get the pay-off for gemming up on participle clauses. But is this really the end?
Once again, it may be possible to find a profitable comparison with psychoanalysis. This is because both TEFL and psychoanalysis are transformative discourses – they aim to leave their participants changed at the end of a course. In psychoanalysis, as in learning English, I would suggest that this is not a superficial change. For old-school Lacanians, the aim of treatment is called traversing the fantasy. This does not allude to a cure, as such, nor to the more feeble notion of leaving one fantasy behind only to blindly embrace another, but, rather, to understanding the fantasmatic construction of the patient’s reality. The analysand, in effect, becomes the analyst. It is one of the reasons why all analysts have to successfully complete their own treatment before commencing practice as a psychoanalyst.
It is possible to identify a similar transformative dynamic at work in the classroom. Nobody knows English. This is simply because there is no English. There are Englishes, they are sublime by nature, and they are changing every day. Teachers cannot, therefore, simply hand over the knowledge to their students; rather, they need to encourage students to become their own teachers. A course of English ends not with the completion of a course book, but when a student has traversed the fantasy of le sujet supposé savoir, and taken responsibility for their own learning, transforming themselves into autodidacts. This, perhaps, is the real story we should be telling our students.