February 22, 2008
Teaching across language and cultural barriers ...
I am currently teaching a group from Saudi Arabia. Their language skills are interesting, several are very proficient in English, one young man is acting as interpretter and is doing a grand job at "simultaneous" translation. The tricky bit is that your lecture has to be paced to the speed of translation. There are also a few cultural pitfalls one has to consider, so showing some slides is not on, while others - generally considered by the "advisers" as potentially tricky, are no problem at all.
One thing you quickly learn in teaching in these circumstances is that jokes and idioms don't translate. So if you want to make a little joke and raise a laugh or lighten the mood, you have to first put the joke into context. Fortunately I have enough experiences when things have not gone according to plan to be able to tell these within the context of the lecture and poke fun at my own efforts - which works reasonably well. Sometimes so well they remember that instead of what you wanted them to recall....
All of which said, it has been refreshing to have in front of me a large group of keen and enthusiastic people determined to get as much as possible from their two weeks course. Questions flow, responses are carefully thought out and translated lectures tend to get extended as they discuss aspects and ask for further information. I reckon I could probably extend this to four weeks if they had the time. As it is, I'm exhausted at the end of each day.
One of the more impressive aspects of teaching this group is their cheerful attitude to their faith. They have found the Prayer Room at the college too small, so asked if they could use the classroom. I readily agreed thinking it would be a bit awkward - but hey - if that's what they want. It's worked well, they have shifted the furniture out of the way, then painstakingly put it back once they finished. Wish a few of our own would take some lessons in consideration from them.
The weather hasn't exactly been kind, but they have shown up on time, even though they have been wrapped up like Michelin men on occassion. Mind you, with one morning kicking off at -6*C who can blame them. That said they have been cheerful and great fun to work with. Each day begins with Salaam allee equum. (Peace be with you.) and I have even learned to respond correctly to their polite "Kefaarlik?" (How are you?). On the language front I have learned that Abdulrachman means "Slave of the Most High" and Mubarak means "Happy" - who said learning was a one way street?
I shall be a bit sorry to see them go home next weekend, but it will have been a lot of fun. Now to catch up with my chores.
Posted by The Gray Monk at February 22, 2008 03:53 PM
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That is awesome. I would have loved to been a fly on the wall and able to understand both languages.
Posted by: vw bug at February 23, 2008 11:26 AM