Well, I'm off to Kyrgyzstan tomorrow, and this blog will be closed while I'm gone. When I return at the beginning of August, I'll be posting all about my trip over on my Kyrgyzstan blog as well as resuming posting over here. In the interim, please enjoy the absurdly obnoxious Returning to the Former Soviet Union Playlist:
Monday, May 6, 2013
Do you remember back in January when I asked anyone who had ever taught English in Asia to help me out by participating in a survey? Well, our proposal to present our research project at the 2013 Sunshine State TESOL was accepted... unfortunately, the conference is May 16-18 and I leave for Kyrgyzstan on May 9th. Ooops. The other two members of our group are actually presenting at the conference, and I'll be participating via youtube video. Haha. Since some of our survey's participants expressed interest in our results, here's my absurd youtube video and our results. The results of the survey were divided up between native speaking English teachers and non-native speaking teachers.
The spring semester has ended, and the countdown is on for Kyrgyzstan! As I write it is 12:30 in the morning on Monday, May 6th. I will be leaving on May 9th. Yeah. That's really, very soon. I've written two posts about my upcoming trip over on my Kyrgyzstan blog (here and here), so please check them out! Meanwhile, with the end of the semester and the upcoming country-leaving, I've had rather a whirlwind of graduation parties, end of semester parties, and last-visits-before-I-leave.
I went up to Georgia for a week to visit my mom. We found a nearly full grown juvenile wren that couldn't fly and was demanding to be fed (and attempting to commit suicide by throwing itself to the nearest cat). We took it in and tried to take care of it, but unfortunately it didn't make it through the night :-(
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Friday, April 19, 2013
Part I: Lessons in Geography
Kyrgyzstan is the little country in pink. I'll be there in three weeks.
Kazakhstan is located just to the north of Kyrgyzstan and is a helluva lot bigger.
The Republic of Chechnya is part of the Russian Federation, and is located where the A and the little pink blotch are.
Dagestan is located just to the east of Chechnya, and borders the Caspian Sea.
Just last night in class, one of my professors was telling us that her husband (who is from the Czech Republic) is often annoyed when Americans confuse/conflate the Czech Republic with Chechnya. I found myself thinking surely that doesn't happen too often. I mean, other than the "ch" sound they sound nothing alike! Well, apparently people are idiots: Czechs Aghast as Twitter Users Conflate Them with Boston's Chechen Suspects. Arrrgh. Seriously??
So for the geographically challenged among you, this is the Czech Republic.
Part II: Why this is all totally IRRELEVANT
This morning, when there wasn't much information out there on the Tsarnaev brothers, other than that they were from Kyrgyzstan and/or Chechnya, I found myself trying to figure out why Chechens from Kyrgyzstan would be setting off bombs in Boston. It didn't compute. Sure, Chechens have been committing acts of terrorism for years, including taking a theater hostage in Moscow in 2002 (resulting in over 100 dead) and the atrocious crime against the school in Beslan in which nearly 400 people (mostly children) died. These and other acts of terrorism were "justified" by terrorists demanding freedom for the Republic of Chechnya from Russian rule. As the US isn't exactly Russia's staunchest ally, it seemed totally bizarre to me that Chechens would be randomly bombing Americans.
I haven't met many Chechens in my life, and I've only ever had a lengthy conversation with one - a shopkeeper in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. (There is a large ethnically Chechen population in both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.) Anyway, the Chechen woman that I met in Bishkek was... well let's just say that she was obsessed with sex, and certainly far more into arranging sexual trysts than terrorist attacks!
The Kyrgyz-Chechen connection kept bugging me; it seemed off somehow. And then I learned what was wrong with this scenario, what makes everything written above completely irrelevant:
The Tsarnaev brothers, ages 26 and 19, have been living in the US for approximately ten years. Do the math here, people. The elder brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the one killed in the shootout with police this morning, came to the US when he was 16 years old. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the target of the ongoing manhunt in Boston, came here when he was 9. These are not recent immigrants. These are people who grew to adulthood here in the United States. Whatever happened to these two people to radicalize them, to turn them into terrorists, happened to them HERE IN THE U.S. I can only imagine that for "foreign-looking" boys with "foreign sounding" names, growing up in the US in the decade following September 11th was not easy. That gives a bit of context to the quote alleged to Tamerlan Tsarnaev that's been all over the internet today: "I don't have a single American friend. I don't understand them."
At this point, we don't know what set these fellows off. Were they harassed, growing up, for being foreigners? Were they radicalized by someone they met either in real life or via the internet? Did they have a political agenda or did they just think that bombs were cool? We don't know.
But really. Leave the geography out of it. These guys grew up here, in the United States, in our culture. Chew on that.
It seems that the United States is populated by people who couldn't identify a country if it jumped up and down on a map, waving its flag and shouting its name. Well, okay. Perhaps the majority of my compatriots are not quite so foolish, but watching today's coverage of the events in Boston sure have made it seem that way.
I awoke this morning to several emails and Facebook messages and posts telling me rather conflictingly that the Boston bombers were from both Chechnya and Kyrgyzstan. A quick search of the news revealed that the Tsarnaev brothers were ethnically Chechen, and that at least one of them was born in Kyrgyzstan. (As I'm leaving for my second trip to Kyrgyzstan in less than a month, you can see why people thought to message me about this.)
As the day went by and more news agencies began reporting on the Tsarnaevs, things got kind of confusing. The ethnically Chechen Tsarnaev family seems to have moved around a bit: from Kyrgyzstan to Dagestan (in southwestern Russia, next door to Chechnya). Before moving to the US, one or both of the brothers may have lived in Kazakhstan - but it's hard to know, as various mainstream media news sources seem to think that Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Chechnya, and Dagestan are interchangeable terms for the same place. AHEM: They're not. Slate put out a nice get-your-geography-straight article on the topic. I'm going to give you what Slate didn't: Maps. Courtesy of Google Maps. You could've looked this up yourself.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
I teach three ESL classes in the mornings, Monday through Thursday at a private language school. Every day, when I’m teaching my second class of the day, this is what I think of:
Only I wasn’t the one who chose poorly, and neither were my students. The poor choice was made by the previous teacher, who also happens to be the person in charge of choosing textbooks at this joint.
Choosing a text for an ESL class is different from choosing one for your middle school or high school language arts class. You need to take into account the level of language of your students, their reasons for studying English, and whether or not the text will be useful to them in any way. It also doesn’t hurt to choose something that they might find interesting. You should also keep in mind that foreign language skill level does not in any way equate to US school system grade level. Just because you read a specific book in the eighth grade does not mean that intermediate level ESL students – whose level-appropriate grammar text has them learning how to form sentences using “used to” while learning vocabulary such as bicycle, summer camp, subway, and quiet – could gain anything from attempting to read this book. I’m all for challenging my students. I love the concept of i+1 – giving students content that is just a little above their current level – but there’s a difference between challenging your students and, well, torturing them.
The words that I listed above (bicycle, summer camp, subway, and quiet) all come from the grammar-text that my intermediate level students in my second class are using in their grammar class. It’s pretty spot on level-wise. It might not be i+1 (it’s a little more like “just i”), and it certainly isn’t interesting, but it contains incredibly useful vocabulary and useful grammar that will be, well, useful to new immigrants to the United States. I wish I taught from that text book.
Instead, I’m teaching Call of the Wild, by Jack London. Not an ESL version of Call of the Wild, but the original. Like I said, this was not my choice. And the chooser chose poorly. Putting aside the fact that this book is depressing as hell (seriously, it’s all about dogs suffering and dying slow, painful, graphic deaths in forty-below temperatures in the Alaskan wilderness), there are some major problems with this choice of text.
Remember my short list of vocabulary words from my students’ level appropriate text? Well, compare those to primitive, fang, primordial, mastership, and toil. And I just picked those out of Call of the Wild’s table of contents. Every chapter is bursting at the seams with very advanced level English vocabulary, the kind that students studying for the GRE would study. These words are way out of the league of students who are learning how to say “I used to go to summer camp by bicycle.”
Additionally, not only are many of the words used in this book very advanced, but they’re also pretty archaic. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “Now, this word is very, very old fashioned. We don’t normally say this nowadays. Nowadays, we would say ____________ instead.” I’ve had students ask, if no one uses these words, why are we studying them? And that, my friends, is my point. This book was written in 1903, and I’m sure the language was spot-on for its time… but this isn’t practical language to be teaching ESL students in 2013.
Call of the Wild would be useful for ESL students who are at an advanced level and who are interested in studying American literature. For recent immigrants – especially those at an intermediate level of English – this book is a waste of time. And I’m stuck with it until April 18th.