To Teach & Be Taught

I currently teach a class of Brazilians. They are funny, smart, passionate and energetic. They tell me things they notice about my own country and culture that I have never really thought about. They don’t get, for example, why we aren’t allowed to drink alcohol in the streets but seemingly have no problem with a girl straddling her boyfriend on the beach in full, public view. They think Australian babies are beautiful. They’re not quite sure about the skinny jeans and ‘strange shoes’ Sydney boys wear. They struggle with our flat ‘r’ sound that means we  say’ heeeeah’ and ‘eaaaah’ instead of ‘hear’ and ‘ear’. They love how we say ‘beautiful’ to everything, as a basic, affirmative response: ‘here’s your coffee’, ‘beeeeautiful.’ They live in apartments with Italians and Germans and Japanese, gaggles of young, excited students out here to work and learn against the backdrop the rest of the world assumes Sydney is entirely about; a big, bright, sunny beach. It is a pretty good deal if you can swing it. Not taking into account, naturally, the inherent difficulties associated with displacement (voluntary or not) like language barriers, cultural misunderstandings, emotional adjustment and homesickness. You know, the stuff this blog is made of. Stuff we spent a little while chatting about last week because I know how homesickness works.

Something about teaching I have always loved, particularly about teaching people from different countries, is being taught. Every day, something comes up in class that we need to discuss, find reason for or compare. There are new words in different languages, cultural ticks and social norms – both those that exist in other countries and my own – and little snippets of a country’s history, as told by those who have lived it or are living its results. Just the other day I learnt about the German and Italian settlements in Gaucha, in Brazil’s south, about German villages standing amidst lush, south Brazilian rainforest, containing people who still speak a German dialect. Which totally explains Giselle Bundchen. I also learnt, after an enormous debate erupted in fiery Portuguese, with me shrieking ‘ENGLISH PLEASE’ over the top, how wholly patriotic and proud those from Gaucha really are. Phwoar.

Teaching the English language in my own country has been an entirely different situation to teaching English in Germany. Over there, I was out of context and that in itself sort of defined my interaction with my students.  Here, I am right in it. Over there I asked my students about Germany, because I needed to know things to get around. Here my students need to know things about my country because they live here, because I can give them information that can make their life a little easier. Over there when I spoke of my home, it was a far-away, exotic land some people would never see. Here, when I speak of my country, it impacts my students in the most direct way. Teaching here is a matter of language and culture being of equal importance, whereas over there, the focus was more on language, with a touch of etiquette thrown in because God knows there is some confusion between the Germans and the English speakers of the world when it comes to who is being rude(r). Here, it isn’t just ‘what do you call this’, it is also ‘why do you do that?’ They want to know about Aboriginals, about our history. They want to give themselves context and I have found my job being as much about providing them with that, as it has been drilling in the present perfect and phrasal verbs.

One thing I couldn’t tell them? What someone who lives in is Perth called. Anyone know?

9 Replies to “To Teach & Be Taught”

  1. I googled and it does seem to be a question that is asked by many haha! Perthies is another suggestion. That is not a question I ever posed myself, so my life has just become that little richer for that thought 🙂 Funnily enough, I made lots of Brazilian friends when I was living in Hamburg. There is such a lovely pocket of sunshine that they bring, even on the gloomiest of days and I miss them dearly 🙂

  2. “confusion between the Germans and the English speakers of the world when it comes to who is being rude(r).”

    sorry but i think i read the term english speakers one time to many on this blog.

    all your observations about the cultural differences between germans and english speakers are good and valid, but only as long as the english speaker in question is white middle class, the middle class part being the more important one but then again if your middle class your assimilated your self to the white part to a large degree anyway so the argument becomes a little circular at that junction.
    the point being that in my opinion you tend to overgeneralize your own socioeconomic background a fair bit to far.

    the same goes of course for the german side of the argument too and by the same token there is a lot more subtext than you can grasp , i would assume, in german communication patterns depending on the background of any given person you talk to.

    so true to blunt germanic form that was my bit to say. nix für ungut : )

    (disclosure: borne and raised in southwestern germany, lived in california and nz, travelled to sundry english speaking countries)

    1. I am not entirely sure my ethnicity or class has a huge bearing on my ability to compare Germanic linguistic patterns to my own. And I have no doubt many nuances of the German language are missed. Again, not sure that is relevant to this particular thesis.

      ”so true to blunt germanic form that was my bit to say” You have made my point. Germans are more direct people, English speakers tend to be less so and therein lies the confusion between the two cultures about who is ruder. We value indirectness when it comes to communication, Germans value directness. And that observation is one I have made as an Australian (therefore coming from a nation of multiple races and cultures) who has travelled widely and lived in the north-west of Germany, the south-east and has a partner from the far-north.

      And my conclusion? None of us are rude. We just have different patterns of communication and interaction.

Comments are closed.