Living in a Multilingual World (The One About the Royal Wedding)

Mario López-Goicoechea
4 min readMay 29, 2018

What is her name? I stressed the “her” as much as I could but my pre-entry ESOL students’ faces remained blank as they stared at a picture of Meghan Markle.

Like many people in the UK I had bought into the whole royal wedding shebang and planned a lesson around the Windsors and the Markles. In this case, the focus would be on introductions, a subject we had covered previously but to which I wanted to come back using the royal shindig as class material. I was really pleased with myself and the fact my lesson would be as student-led as possible. The lead-in would be a photo of the happy couple, Meghan and Harry, the hand-over to students would be swift and smooth and the practice stage productive. There was one element, however, I didn’t count on.

My learners did not know much about the royals.

There it was on the wall, the family tree diagram I had so carefully printed off the net showing the lineage from Queen Elizabeth II to the latest addition, Prince Louis. Yet, my students, spanning continents from Asia to America, and countries from Pakistan to Ecuador, only recognised William. I panicked in the same way a theatre director panics when their leading actor or actress falls ill on opening night and their understudy has lost their voice. What to do now?

Well, time for some improvisation — having been part of an impro troupe back in my uni days, I developed then very handy skills that have served me well over the years. For instance, how to turn a potentially failing lesson into a successful one with a simple sleight of hand and some thespian tricks — and concept checking questions. Is the woman’s name William? No, it isn’t (well, even Harry would have been surprised at that one!). Is her name Elizabeth II? (they knew who the Queen was) No, it isn’t and I for one can’t see the newly-minted Duchess of Sussex applying for the top job anytime soon.

Next it was a controlled practice activity. I chose a multiple-choice question with just one correct answer. Is the woman’s name a) Elizabeth II b)Meghan Markle c)William?

They all called out at the same time, in different accents and using various pronunciations: Meghan Markle! I carried on playing devil’s advocate for a few seconds, broad smile…