A LETTER TO THE TEACHERS OF ENGLISH: 25Pitch your language at the level of your students [Archives:2003/666/Education]

September 8 2003

Dr..M.N.K.Bose ([email protected])
Associate Professor of English,
Faculty of Arts, Ibb.

Dear Fellow teachers,
This letter is addressed to my fellow professionals working in the colleges and universities in Yemen, who have the freedom to choose the teaching materials for their students. Blessed are we, as we are gifted with this autonomy, which is a luxury. But I only wish that we use this autonomy for the benefit of our students.
We are free to choose the materials we teach on each course, the methodology we use in our classrooms and the evaluation system at the end of the course of study. This freedom, however, makes us more responsible, for our choice will make or mar our success. I have come across choices by some careless teachers of materials, which the students find it difficult to cope with, which are a threat to their culture, which are completely alien to them. I am aware that a language and its culture are intertwined and when you teach a foreign language, its culture cannot be separated from it. So, it is necessary for us to choose materials in English that are not heavily culturally loaded to the extent which is shunned by the students. I still remember two of my students who told me that their friends in another department 'raised their eyebrows' in surprise, when they heard these girls discussing in Arabic an English poem which was taught to them in their class. The poem, they told my students, contained several things not agreeable to them. I also remember that a poem written by a teacher describing some events that took place in India was once taught to his students, who found it difficult to get the ideas in it, as they were alien to them. I hope you will agree with me that such selections will cause unnecessary difficulty and embarrassment in the classes.
As for the language of the selections are concerned, let us pitch it at the level of the students and not our levels. A careless choice, which bowls the students over, ends up in enhancing their dislike for the selection vis-a-vis the language we teach. I know that some of us make the choices with good intention of introducing our students to a variety of writings and to a galaxy of writers. But let's think for a minute whether our students are equipped enough to read the pieces with our help, leave alone their reading on their own. What is the use of prescribing three plays or three novels in one semester, that too difficult ones, in our enthusiasm and not finding time to finish all of them? We will not be doing justice to the play writers or novelists, and sometimes we will be forced to finish one play in one session of three hours! Choosing short and interesting original writings rather than voluminous ones will prevent us from teaching only the chapter/scene summaries. The possibility of introducing the writings of well known Arab writers (in English or translated into English), what may be called the Arab writing in English, can also be seriously explored for better reception and understanding. Good luck.
Yours fraternally,