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‘I’ve never used shampoo’ or ‘Learning to teach in Sri Lanka’

November 5, 2012

Oh dear.  I’ve realised that all my resources seem to show white people doing very European-centric things. Women drinking (in public, with men).  People driving expensive cars and boats. Skimpily clad teenagers in seductive poses.  They’re not exactly representative photos.  To my Sri Lankan students, my mini London bus was unrecognisable; the New York cityscape evoked questions about the Pentagon.

It’s not that people are ignorant, far from it, it’s just that their frame of reference is totally different to mine.

The differences pop up in plenty of areas when I’m teaching a language that is as much theirs as it is mine, and where most of the ‘international’ resources for teaching English are written by native speakers who live in the UK or America.

My student from a very rural part of the Congo struggled to name places in a town, not because he doesn’t know this basic vocabulary but because the map in his textbook showed a typically European set-up – the asphalt road with pavements was far removed from his experience of it.  When we looked instead at my holiday pics from an Indian roadtrip, we had an easier conversation. 

Teaching beginners about clothes with the mosquitoes dancing round us, it’s more important to drill ‘sari’ than ‘cardigan’.  And I’m learning too –  to put ‘lak’ (the Sri Lankan English word for 100,000) on the board and include ‘three wheeler’ (electric rickshaw) in our list of transport options.

Some things are harder to anticipate.  When my Congo student told me he kept rabbits, I was practically asking their names, when he explained that they’re a pretty tasty delicacy in the Congo… so Bugs Bunny is destined for the market and the plate, not Pets R Us.
Back to that vegetarian curry I think…

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 5, 2012 8:03 pm

    Oh Nicky I am loving the blog! Your story here reminded me of my first visit to Japan and being presented with a map of the world. Eastern stylee the centre was a swathe of blue Pacific with all the land masses around the edge, disrupting my Euro-centric world view. Keep up the posts gal 🙂

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