Editorial on ELTNEWS.com
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I have no problem with courting a bit of controversy. The academic world of ELT can be so bone-dry serious that when a story comes along that can spice things up a bit, I'll jump at it. I suppose sometimes it means walking a thin line.

So it was with my recent posting of an article from The Telegraph that to some extent mocked the English of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Comments from readers and in emails sent to me have been critical of the article and my decision to post it - and go along with its joking tone - on ELT News. I was asked whether my own Russian language ability was such that I was entitled to poke fun (would the ability to read The Idiot in the original entitle me to have a laugh?). The criticism came from people whose opinions I respect so I did think long and carefully about whether I had made an error of judgement.

If you believe (as I do...really!) that it is the role of an English teacher to encourage and motivate our students in their sometimes fumbling attempts to master the language rather than belittle or mock their shortcomings, then criticism of the post seems natural. If the article were to be mentioned at all, surely it would have been better to present it in such a light, to question its tone and attitude, to criticize the arrogance and smugness of a native English-speaking journalist towards someone struggling with the language.

But Putin is not my student. He is a public figure who tries hard to put forth a certain public image (I've yet to see any footage of David Cameron or Barack Obama's bare-chested horse riding) and always comes across as so stern and serious as to invite caricature and fun-poking. I admit that my personal distaste for Putin's politics influenced my own reaction to the video, but not my decision to post it. If it featured a Russian high schooler and had been posted by his teacher to generate laughs, I know my reaction to it would have been very different.

The video itself is described as having gone "viral," though it is certainly less so than one from 2008 when Putin spoke briefly but in far more relaxed English to a CNN reporter. I've yet to see an article praising Putin's latest speech for effort let alone his pronunciation. On the contrary, reports by the likes of NBC and The Atlantic describe the performance as "awkward" and "uncomfortable" or even speculate that he may have suffered from a stroke. As I watched it, I wondered whether he was tutored by a native speaker and - given Putin's reputation - whether a tutor would have a task as daunting that of Lionel Logue in The King's Speech.

So what do you think? Is Vladamir Putin's English fair game? Or should ELT News be above all this, or at least more supportive of his, and anyone else's, efforts to speak English?

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