To Teach & Be Taught
Posted on November 5, 2012
I currently teach a class of Brazilians. They are funny, smart, passionate and energetic. They tell me things they notice about my own country and culture that I have never really thought about. They don’t get, for example, why we aren’t allowed to drink alcohol in the streets but seemingly have no problem with a girl straddling her boyfriend on the beach in full, public view. They think Australian babies are beautiful. They’re not quite sure about the skinny jeans and ‘strange shoes’ Sydney boys wear. They struggle with our flat ‘r’ sound that means we say’ heeeeah’ and ‘eaaaah’ instead of ‘hear’ and ‘ear’. They love how we say ‘beautiful’ to everything, as a basic, affirmative response: ‘here’s your coffee’, ‘beeeeautiful.’ They live in apartments with Italians and Germans and Japanese, gaggles of young, excited students out here to work and learn against the backdrop the rest of the world assumes Sydney is entirely about; a big, bright, sunny beach. It is a pretty good deal if you can swing it. Not taking into account, naturally, the inherent difficulties associated with displacement (voluntary or not) like language barriers, cultural misunderstandings, emotional adjustment and homesickness. You know, the stuff this blog is made of. Stuff we spent a little while chatting about last week because I know how homesickness works.
Something about teaching I have always loved, particularly about teaching people from different countries, is being taught. Every day, something comes up in class that we need to discuss, find reason for or compare. There are new words in different languages, cultural ticks and social norms – both those that exist in other countries and my own – and little snippets of a country’s history, as told by those who have lived it or are living its results. Just the other day I learnt about the German and Italian settlements in Gaucha, in Brazil’s south, about German villages standing amidst lush, south Brazilian rainforest, containing people who still speak a German dialect. Which totally explains Giselle Bundchen. I also learnt, after an enormous debate erupted in fiery Portuguese, with me shrieking ‘ENGLISH PLEASE’ over the top, how wholly patriotic and proud those from Gaucha really are. Phwoar.
Teaching the English language in my own country has been an entirely different situation to teaching English in Germany. Over there, I was out of context and that in itself sort of defined my interaction with my students. Here, I am right in it. Over there I asked my students about Germany, because I needed to know things to get around. Here my students need to know things about my country because they live here, because I can give them information that can make their life a little easier. Over there when I spoke of my home, it was a far-away, exotic land some people would never see. Here, when I speak of my country, it impacts my students in the most direct way. Teaching here is a matter of language and culture being of equal importance, whereas over there, the focus was more on language, with a touch of etiquette thrown in because God knows there is some confusion between the Germans and the English speakers of the world when it comes to who is being rude(r). Here, it isn’t just ‘what do you call this’, it is also ‘why do you do that?’ They want to know about Aboriginals, about our history. They want to give themselves context and I have found my job being as much about providing them with that, as it has been drilling in the present perfect and phrasal verbs.
One thing I couldn’t tell them? What someone who lives in is Perth called. Anyone know?