Teaching Tibetans

In the fascinating town of McLeod Ganj, India, my fifth week will soon be over. The Dalai Lama has been teaching this week so English classes were cancelled for three days.  Unfortunately, as soon as I started teaching I managed to catch a cold and coughed my way through most classes, so the break has been most welcome. Combining three hours a day coordinating volunteers with two hours teaching has been fairly demanding but I am better now and life is settling down again.

Tibetan monks - Sunday activities

Tibetan monks – Sunday is laundry day at the waterfall.

I am slowly getting to know my students. They are nearly all Tibetans although for the last three weeks we were joined by a lovely young Japanese woman who was visiting the area. About half the class are monks from different parts of India and even from Bhutan.  They have come here to study and I think it must be hard for them living in freezing guesthouses with few belongings and very little money.

They are here because they have a strong will to learn and the class is delightful to teach. It is great to have an advanced class and the challenge of guiding them though some of the complexities of English is enjoyable. I have a sneaking suspicion that they are more comfortable when I use more traditional approaches to grammar teaching, but despite that, they they are experiencing a variety of approaches. I still think back to the expression “an eclectic range of approaches” from lectures at the University of Canberra and that’s the way I have been teaching all year.

Over the next few weeks, I want to see them writing more. This skill seems to be a bit neglected by some teachers here. Maybe it is regarded as too hard or unimportant, but I disagree.  English is widely used here and being unable to write in English has the potential at times to leave many Tibetan refugees in a relatively powerless position. It is also the language mostly used in countries that they (remember that we are talking about refugees) often want to emigrate to, such as the UK, Canada, Australia and the USA.

On a side note, the issue of official and national languages of India is a volatile political minefield, but for now, English and Hindi are the (main) official languages of India.  Even though the Constitution states that English is to be phased out in favour of Hindi, Hindi is not universally popular, while English is widely used and sometimes is referred to as the national language. 

McLeod Ganj is a good place to live for a while.  Sometimes it is heart rending to think about the difficult position of the refugees here, always waiting and hoping for world support and a chance to return to their country.  Their spirit is amazing though and their Buddhist traditions help keep them strong.  This is a place no visitor could forget.


Leaving Indonesia

My good friend and sponsor. At Mt Bomo

Ibu Yuni. My good friend and sponsor. At Mt Bromo

She kept me fed and was immensely kind.

Ibu Kusno. She kept me fed and was immensely kind.

My main class.  They taught me to relax as a teacher.

My main class.

Ibu Dila looked after me and answered my endless questions.

Ibu Dila looked after me and answered my endless questions.

non english major

Even the teacher in front seemed to be enjoying the classes by the end.  These teachers were great to teach.

Even the teacher in front seemed to be enjoying the classes by the end. These teachers were great to teach.

Farewell note from Prof. Dyah.  She gave me a cool PowerPoint pointer.

Farewell note from Prof. Dyah. She gave me a cool PowerPoint pointer.

My cottage in Ubud

My cottage in Ubud

Balinese offering

Balinese offering

Balinese picture

Balinese picture

Chilling in Bali . Neneh day one

Chilling in Bali . Neneh day one

Gamelan orchestra - Bali

Gamelan orchestra – Bali

Tomorrow I will fly to Bangkok from Indonesia after almost three months in Java and Bali and start the next phase of my year, but today I am still saying goodbye.

Finishing up in Bali has been a wonderful experience for me, especially because my daughter came and joined me for most of the time. In Ubud, where I have spend most of this Bali trip, there are many things that I will miss. Early morning walks in the rice fields, the endless offerings, the languid dogs, sneezing from spicy cooking smells (like now), the Balinese massages (of course), the music, art and dancing, and the beauty of the Balinese people in traditional dress.

I will also miss trying to get my pronunciation right (which is easier than it used to be now that I understand something about linguistics) and talking to some of the more advanced English speakers about how they learnt and, sometimes, giving them a new piece of information about English to incorporate.

I probably won’t miss the people begging, pointing at their mouths, near the Ubud temple, like the woman with the goitre. None of them got any money from me, as I just couldn’t work out what to do. Finally, I decided this morning to donate some $$$ to a local healthcare service.

So, tomorrow I will be back in Bangkok and, in another four days, at Yaowawit School. I am looking forward to the next phase and being able to publish my next post from Thailand!

Balandas and Bravery

Balanda  meaning N, People or person of European Descent. Balanda also refers collectively to the English speaking Dominant culture of Australia and all other ‘Western’ nations. Its origin comes the Macassan term ‘Belanda’ which is derived from ‘Hollander’ to describe the Dutch and is still used in Bahasa Indonesian today.

In Indonesia I am a Balanda.  When I heard the word I was surprised because I had encountered it before when reading about the Yolgnu people in Arnhem Land in Far Northern Australia in an amazing book by Richard Trudgen called Why Warriors Lie Down and Die. 

It has only clicked with me recently that the ‘Far North’ of Australia is actually the ‘Close South’ for Malaysia and Indonesia.

I haven’t seen another Balanda since I left the confines of the hotel in Jakarta. This has made me feel a heightened awareness of my Australian-ness, especially in the classroom.

Most native English speakers probably don’t notice the cultural nature of our language but language and culture are inextricably related. I have conducted a few very productive lessons with the English teachers that were explicitly about Australian and Indonesian customs, but mostly culture is integral to the language in every lesson and is more implicitly presented. For example, in most classes, amongst other activities, we have been working through Living in Australia, which is a very recent publication from NSW AMES.  The chapter is called ‘Now You’re Talking’ and the conversation examples are plausible and natural, and seem to be informed by discourse analysis. The examples of informal conversation are laden with Australian culture.

I have wondered at times about whether Australian English is suitable for these students.  For example should it be Global English, American English or some kind of combination of ‘Englishes’?  I have talked to teachers here and there appears to be agreement that, as our two countries are close neighbours, having an Australian teaching here is a good idea.

On bravery

I am pleased to report that the longer I teach here, the more relaxed the classes are becoming.  Sadly there are some people (teachers included) who find speaking in English in my classes too intimidating and so they rarely, if ever, attend. It takes a certain amount of bravery for Indonesian students and teachers to come to my English speaking classes even though I understand the challenges they face.  For those who are regular attenders, the benefits are showing. There is better communication, more smiles and laughter, and a discernible improvement in confidence levels. I feel better too, of course, as I observe the students understanding me more often when I am speaking and as I notice an increasing level of spontaneous use of English in class.

As I see the English Major students twice a week we have covered a lot of ground. They have examined and practiced the main elements of the informal conversations in the chapter and have now begun putting it all together in role plays.  It is demanding but they are clever, motivated students and so far the results are pleasing.  I am looking forward to seeing their progress over the next few weeks.