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Still from When I use English: There is a Hole, Waiting to Eat Me, It's Mouth Wide Open. Like a Vagina. Echo Comes Out. 2021

When I use English: There is a Hole, Waiting to Eat Me, It's Mouth Wide Open. Like a Vagina. Echo Comes Out.
Single-channel video installation
1:30 min loop

English language acquisition, especially ESL (the standardization of the English language), as a business (often expensive, standardized, test-based, and low-quality), is a neo-colonial gesture. It concerns itself less with language learning and more with cultural assimilation and affirming Western society’s superiority.

This work satirizes the homo-hegemony of “Good English” and ESL teaching. Chinese words and free stock images overlay a video of ESL teaching, extracting meaning from words that are coming out of the ESL teacher's mouth. The images mirror the substanceless-ness of ESL teaching. The content of this video prioritizes standard pronunciation to the extent that sounding like an English speaker becomes more important than having a fundamental understanding of how the world works.

For instance, in the video, Georgie Harding (the ESL teacher) asks her clients to do a “little exercise” when they are getting out of bed, getting dressed, or in the shower. “Say the following phrase five times: I saw sixty-six farmers laughing on the phone/farm (I have no idea which one she is saying), in front of the mirror, while checking that you are not using a Mandarin, Japanese, or Russian mouth position.” The video is originally sourced from a video titled “Great English Pronunciation – Move your mouth for clear English.” In this video, she says that “many of [her] non-native speaking clients come to [her] …They are not opening their mouth. They are hardly moving their lips.”

As Jay Lemke argues, “language, dialect, register, and voice are used as identity-markers, coming to an environment with its own hegemonic mono language, subjects many non-native English speakers to symbolic violence as daily experience.” Roth and Harama point out that ESL students find themselves in remedial classes in Western contexts situated in discourses that contribute to the construction of ESL students as “lesser beings” and as academically low-performing students. In a standardized English context, ESL individuals’ dialects and registers are incommensurable with the homo-hegemony of “Good English.” The experiential and intra-linguistic resources that students bring with them are no longer valued: ESL students’ pre- and extra-school discourses are denigrated as “misconceptions” and “alternative frameworks” that have to be eradicated by means of “conceptual change.”

Using defamiliarizing techniques, my work highlights the “soft, discreet, and glaring terror” residing inside the acquisition of a new language, especially for ESL individuals. In this artwork, the mouth of the ESL teacher fills up the screen. The ESL teacher's voice is quiet, requiring the audience to listen attentively. The subtitles are spelled out in International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA); “a notational standard for the phonetic representation of all languages” (IPA Home, 2017), rendering the text almost unintelligible, adding pressure to the audience by situating them in the ESL learner’s subjectivity. According to the International Phonetic Association, IPA “creates a standard for pronunciation among learners and instructors” and “helps learners understand how each sound is correctly pronounced.”


Documentation of When I use English: There is a Hole, Waiting to Eat Me, It's Mouth Wide Open. Like a Vagina. Echo Comes Out. 2021

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