Luang Prabang in Laos is a beautiful world heritage town and I went there for eight days before journeying to India where I am now, but that’s another story. In Luang Prabang, I was pleased to meet quite a few enthusiastic English students at Big Brother Mouse , an organisation that publishes and distributes books to promote reading in villages. Big Brother Mouse also runs free drop-in English speaking sessions and that’s where I ended up on most days. The sessions are attended by high school and university students as well as monks and working people.
What they have in common is bravery and motivation, and it was marvellous to practice English with them. They actually wrote down word meanings and asked questions. This was a contrast to my last experience in the high school in rural Thailand where no-one ever asked a question and it was rare to find a student who connected with English outside their regular lessons. The people I talked with in Laos ranged from fluent university English Major students to a high school girl, Lee, who came along for the first time and was painfully shy, but she was there!
The benefits of practicing with foreigners were plain and their knowledge of the world was pretty impressive at times too.
The experience reinforced my reflections in Thailand that teaching English isn’t a finite process involving stuffing a set of knowledge into students’ heads, although I encountered some people there who believed that this is the case. It is more likely a long term process reliant on autonomous learning that can be helped by good teachers and suitable materials.