Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Teaching English

I have always been fascinated with the communicative power of languages and in my lifetime I have dedicated weeks and months to learning and deepening my knowledge of languages in order to increase my capacity to communicate with diverse peoples and cultures of the world. Since my arrival in Cameroon this interest has taken on a new dimension as I have struggled with whether or not I should embark on a career as an English teacher. Mostly, it's been an ethical battle that I won't go into here. But, a few weeks ago I decided to pursue it and I think it is one of the best decisions I have made in my time here in Cameroon and perhaps onwards. Teaching a language makes you look at the language which we often speak so automatically in an entirely different light. Not only do you become nit-picky about grammar and sentence structure but a new understanding forms that without a critical eye, is purely automatic. Think for a second how much adding a preposition (don't worry, I didn't know what a preposition was until about a week ago) can change the entire meaning of a sentence.

For example: "I speak of him", "I speak to him", "I speak for him" or grammatically correct yet quite unlikely "I speak in him" and "I speak on him".

One simple, oft-neglected word changes everything. Think how often we use simple prepositions like "to, for, on, in, through, of" and others and how much weight they really carry. Different verbs come with different prepositions and there is so much hidden meaning to them. When was the last time you sat and thought about prepositions? I promise you that at this very moment, in every corner of the world there are a million ESL learners struggling with this very concept. When learning English (or Spanish or French and probably the other Romantic languages as well) these words are of the utmost purpose and using them correctly can mean the difference between saying exactly what you want and making a fool of yourself.

Nonetheless, I am really enjoying my work and have found a great deal of passion for the work. Below is copied some excerpts of an introduction letter that I wrote to one of the language centers in Yaounde. I post it here because I think that it explains my interest in teaching English as well as the philosophy I use in my classes. Those of you familiar with Book 5 of the Ruhi Institute courses will recognize some familiar language.

"To whom it may concern,


I was raised and have lived the majority of my life in the United States with brief stints in Central America and now Cameroon. From the very beginning I received a very language heavy education with strong emphasis on grammar, literary techniques, pronunciation and rhetoric. Combine this education with my first hand experience as a second and third language learner (Spanish and subsequently French) I believe that my life experiences have trained me well for a career in language education.

In the United States I worked with English Second Language (ESL) students, mostly from East Asia and the Middle East, and since my arrival in Cameroon three months ago I have begun instructing an English course to native French speakers at the American Language Center in Bastos.

I strongly believe that the inability to effectively communicate across language groups is the tallest barrier to cross-cultural understanding, cooperation and global progress that we as a planet face. In Cameroon, a bilingual nation, bilingualism is of the utmost importance. In order to maintain unity and progress at our maximum capacity and velocity a dynamic consultation between all citizens, both Anglophone and Francophone, is imperative. However, language barriers that constrain consultation continue to persist and impede upon the unity and progress of this great nation. Therefore, as an English language instructor, I make it my personal responsibility and pleasure to increase global communication and thereby promote international communication and well-being. For me, language education and learning is much more than a career, it is a service.

... my lessons employ a variety of techniques in order to bring students towards oral and written fluency. We achieve this goal by improving upon student's "power of expression"; one's ability to accurately and articulately express their inner thoughts, opinions and beliefs as well as outer needs. By doing this, students are empowered to obtain everything that they need and desire, whether it be material, emotional or spiritual. In so doing, students achieve the capacity to hold a dialogue and consultation within and across cultures and thus themselves become bearers of unity."

Warning: Shameless plug approaching. If you are interested or know someone interested in group or private English courses, you can email me at or call me at 99 98 57 96.

Language is an extremely interesting topic that I've been thinking a lot about lately but for now, I'm out. More on this subject later.


1 comment:

  1. love the last two posts - really glad you've taken up writing on here again. good luck with tortillas, teaching, and bringing about unity!