Here’s a phrase I came across recently: “learning English to fit in”. What a strange expression! Is that really a motivation for learning English? What does it mean to ‘fit in’ anyway? I suppose that ‘fitting in’ is what we all strive for – to be accepted, to become part of something, and maybe if everyone else is speaking English then you could feel excluded. But where might this happen? Why might somebody find themselves in such a situation? Vacations? Maybe, but these would mostly take place in a group or family situation, and so there’s a common language there already. Someone holidaying alone one can presume has the sense of adventure that would regard the lack of English as a challenge: all part of the fun – I would contend that this person would learn English as they fitted in!
There are two categories of people to whom the phrase might be appropriate – the foreign student and the foreign businessman. The student may be in the situation of needing a social life – fed up of 24 hour studying written pages and word processed reports – for him or her learning English would help them fit in. But is it learning English, or is it becoming confident with what they already have?
Conversation classes might be a good start for these guys, after all they are living in an English speaking country, and there are plenty of opportunities to get to know local students – student socials, bars, sports clubs etc.
For the foreign businessman, ‘fitting in’ has different connotations: he is likely to be overseas for a short period – maybe only a few days (or hours even), with a very specific English task – ‘fitting in’ might mean understanding and taking part in meetings and seminars, for example.
‘Fitting in’ might be about feeling comfortable with local services: hotels, taxis, stations and shops, for example. For these individuals, learning English in an appropriate way (and there are several options, from private tuition to an English school at home or abroad) is essential to their top performance overseas for their company – ‘fitting in’ is as much about getting the business deal done as it is about social comfort.