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Saturday, July 01, 2006


Teaching in provincial Cambodia

I arrived early for my monks' English class. Yim was carrying his robe across his face to protect himself from the smell of smoke in the air. 'They are burning ...' I did not hear the last word but I had to agree that whatever was being burned really smelled off. He gestured in a particular direction. My eyes followed to see where the smelly smoke was coming from. 'Funeral' he said. And then I realised there was a body being cremated in the Wat Xam crematorium. We sat with that smoky smell right through our lesson.


After one of the monks' classes a group of us were chatting, Sokchea said 'You are like our father.' Then he thought about it, smiled and added. 'But our noses are not like yours. We will have to have an operation to get noses like yours and then you will look like our father.' He was not being cheeky. People here admire my nose. To them a nose like mine would be far better than the rather flat one that many of them are blessed with.


'When was the last time you went to the cinema?' was the question in our course book. The students (not the monks) had to answer it in relation to themselves. They all gave the same answer. 100% of my students have never been to the cinema.


This is typical of the books published for students of English as a foreign language. Most assume that the student's culture will be similar to that of English speakers. That is, that most students will have been to the movies. Publishers are interested in markets where students buy legitimate copies of the book—developed countries—not places like Cambodia where pirate copies are all that can be afforded. They sell for a fraction of the price of the original. And so, much of the material is completely out of the understanding of these students. How do you explain the English when they have no idea of the concept in their own language? Almost every day teachers from other classes come to me for an explanation of something in their course book as well as a guide to pronunciation.

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