Teaching English as a Second Language

Caroline Jeter is a graduate student at Notre Dame da Namur University, studying in the Multiple Subject Credential Program. She lives in the Bay Area, in Mill Valley, California. This summer, Caroline interned at the Mualimaat Girls School in Yogyakarta, Indonesia for five weeks, where she taught conversational English to middle and high school students. In the future, she hopes to earn her teaching credentials, a master’s degree in education, and potentially a PhD to pursue a career in educational research. 

As an aspiring teacher, I joined America’s Unofficial Ambassadors to learn more about education around the world. I volunteered for five weeks in Yogyakarta, Indonesia at Madrasah Mu’allimaat Muhammadiyah, where I taught middle and high school students English as a Second Language.

I compiled this photo essay to portray my time as a volunteer working at this school. I wanted to show pictures of my teaching experience and my students, because that is where I saw the true impact of my time in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. My students were overjoyed at the idea of an American teaching at their school. They cheered my name, asked for pieces of wisdom to carry with them, asked me to sign their books, gave gifts, and engaged me in individual conversations about my knowledge of America. I tried to teach, and offer advice, on how they can improve their written and spoken English. They appreciated all the work that I put into each of these lessons, and took note of the corrections I made in their classwork.

Each of my students lived in an environment that I had not been familiar with in America. Most of the girls began living in the school’s religious environment at the age of 13, and they are separated from their families for five years. Because many young students view their parents as a main source of support, I expected there to be some anger among the students, or some sort of depression. But these girls handle it in stride. There was no sign of any angst, and they support each other through friendship. There was not one single person left out of our class conversations. Even in their own free time, the girls talk happily with each, and there appear to be few conflicts. There was just peace and happiness. Coming from the United States, this amazed me, and I aimed to depict this environment in my photo essay.

Photo 1:  My students 

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This is one of my first pictures in the classes. This shows how playful they can be with one another; showing their true joy. Each of these girls are smiling and using some body language to give this kind of message to the camera.

Photo 2: Muallimaat Girls School

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I was just walking on my way to one of my classes, and one of them said my name. I looked up, and saw the girls leaning out the window, waving to me. Their joy astounded me. I was truly making a difference by volunteering at Muallimaat. I don’t think I truly understood the impact I was making at this school until this exact moment.

Photo 3: “Thank you for teaching our class!”

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This picture is a gift that one of the students gave me. There are so many artistic talents embedded in each of my students. They have big sketchbooks on their desks, and spend so much time drawing to express themselves. As I was going around, I noticed their artistic drawings and complimented them on their talent. I told them to keep drawing and go after their dreams. Later on, at the end of the class, one of the girls gave me this picture that she drew of me. She told me that she appreciated me being there. I felt touched that I had made such a strong connection.

Photo 4: The Water Castle

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My students took me to one of their favorite places in Yogyakarta, the water castle. They were happy to hang out with me, and we made conversation about my life back at home and my sisters. They look so casual and relaxed here, with the same kind of happiness they showed in the classroom. I was excited see more of their world outside of school.

Photo 5:  A Moment in English Class

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This picture showed a moment where my students were working together on English sentences in their notebooks. While American students might work in groups on the floor, it was actually the first time I saw my students working on the floor. They were caught off guard in the picture, but their smiles show that they are enjoying themselves in this particular lesson.

Photo 6: Resident Assistants

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This picture shows our resident assistants working away at creating English sentences with the new English vocab words. I like how serious and focused they are in this photo, it shows they are super hardworking in their studies. Also, notice how one of the girls is smiling as she writes something in her notebook.

Photo 7: Ballet LessonJeter 7.jpg

This picture shows my fellow AUA volunteer Grace and I teaching our students some basic ballet. They were very eager and excited to learn this dance, and they were surprised to hear that many girls in America begin to learn ballet at a very young age. We taught them a simple floor exercise and it pleased them a great deal.

Photo 8: AUA in Action! 

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This picture shows Grace and me introducing ourselves to one of our classes. The students were very thrilled to have us there, but nervous and shy as well.

Photo 9:  Working with English Teachers

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This picture shows Grace and I working with Muallimaat’s teaching residents, and looking over the sentences they created in English. By reviewing their work, these teachers improve their English language skills. They are eager to learn from native English speakers, and we were viewed as experts.  We did this activity because our colleagues requested extra practice, and they appreciated this a great deal.

Photo 10: Hangman

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In this final photo for my essay, I have a picture of my students’ favorite learning game, Hangman. They loved this game and would choose super complex words in English. I was always impressed with their enthusiasm, and their drive to challenge themselves.

The Price of Stability

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Frank Sunderland is a senior at The Ohio State University. He studies History and International Studies, both with a focus on Africa, and is also working toward a minor in Swahili. He comes from Cincinnati, Ohio where he has lived for most of his life. This summer, Frank taught English as a Second Language to students at Hamamni Secondary School and St. Monica’s School in Stone Town, Zanzibar.  Frank hopes to grow his capabilities with the Swahili language, and learn more about the broader East Africa region. Frank is an avid reader and soccer player/fan. His favorite teams are Arsenal FC and the team of his namesake Sunderland AFC.

If I hop off a plane, whether it be in Zanzibar, Shanghai, Vladivostok, or Timbuktu, I have the assumption that I can communicate with people in at least the simplest of manner. Why? Not because I am a traveled polyglot, but because my native tongue is the one people have come to deem the international language – English. This summer, I am living in Zanzibar to teach English as a second language in local high schools. It is easy to dream of establishing English as the global lingua franca – where a businessman from Ethiopia can speak to a taxi driver in India without any barriers to communication. While we have yet to build our Tower of Babel, leading to the dystopian future portrayed in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, we must still question the comfort of this seemingly simplistic world. As Huxley asks us, what price are we willing to pay for this stability?

Aspects of linguistic collision can be seen in Zanzibar, the heart of the Kiswahili world. Kiswahili, often referred to as Swahili in the West, has its origins in the 2nd century, along the coast of East Africa. The language has since evolved to reflect the unique history of the region. While Europe was experiencing an era commonly called the Dark Ages, the Swahili coast of East Africa was expanding: powerful cities became hubs of trade, the arts, and melting pots of the Indian Ocean world. Kiswahili thus became an eclectic mix of those groups engaging in this arena. The language is syncretic in the way it fuses local Bantu languages and Arabic, the language of the traders who came from the Middle East and made East Africa their home. As European traders and explorers became eager to profit from the trade networks of spices, slaves, ivory, and gold, they too left their linguistic footprint. The start of 20th century saw the evolution of Kiswahili; confronted with the challenges of colonialism, Kiswahili speakers created a new vocabulary, rather than borrowing from English lexicon. Using the Zanzibar dialect, Kiunguja, a standardized form was established for the language going forward. Thus, Kiswahili was just as much a resistance to British occupation, and its cultural imperialism, as any freedom fighter. Today it is the uniting language of East Africa, the official language of Tanzania (including Zanzibar), and spoken by over 100 million people.

There are few better places to experience a “pure” form of Kiswahili language and culture than on the islands of Zanzibar. As someone who has been studying Kiswahili for three years, I am benefiting from the ubiquity of the language. As a white American trying to speak Kiswahili, I still get befuddled looks from Zanzibaris, but not one has been dismissive of me. Conversely, during my time in Arusha—a city in the north of Tanzania— last summer, I encountered a different attitude. I was playing soccer and asked someone their name in Kiswahili. He responded curtly with “I know English,” to imply that I was questioning his intelligence by speaking in Kiswahili. Zanzibar is a bastion in the preservation of Kiswahili, but even here you can see cracks in the foundation. At the secondary school where I teach, teachers repeatedly tell me that the problem with their students is not an inability to understand or a desire to learn, but instead a lack of English. On the first day, many students told me their favorite subject in school was English because it is an international language and important if they want to be successful in life. They were curious as to why I would want to learn a language like Kiswahili if I already possessed fluency in English.

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At some Zanzibari schools, teachers and principals require students to speak English throughout the day. Signs (such as this) are posted throughout the school.

These moments have inspired me to reflect on the role of language in our increasingly connected world. I am in a unique position as a native English speaker where I have never had to think, “If I do not learn a certain language I will not be able to accomplish my dreams.” After my students expressed this disheartening mentality, I wanted to tell them “Forget about English! You speak a wonderful language that is far less obnoxious and illogical than my own.” I believe a balance between English and Kiswahili is attainable, though I fear we may discover that balance after it is too late. I cannot shake the feeling that there is a real danger in prioritizing certain languages. It is a problem when kids get teased for speaking their family language, or being unable to converse in English. It is a problem when we think of non-Western languages as being synonymous with “low class.” It is a problem when parents don’t teach their children their native tongue because they view it as impractical. If language is the foundation of culture, what price are we willing to pay for removing it?