Learning and Teaching at the Same Time

By Christopher Linnan –

English can be a complex language, even for a native speaker, so I can only imagine how difficult it is for my fellow English language teachers in Indonesia, for whom it is usually their second or third language. As native English speakers, we often take the twelve tenses of verbs, independent and dependent clauses, etc. for granted. If you think English is easy, try writing down each verb tense with an example without consulting a grammar book, and then try to explain them to somebody who is learning the language. Now imagine that you are a non-native speaker and the task becomes even more difficult. I am always impressed by the dedication, passion, and knowledge of my fellow English language teachers at SMAN 2 in Palangkaraya, but there are still issues in English language instruction in Indonesia which I detailed in a previous Indonesiaful article. As Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs), we are not just providing short-term teaching assistance, but we are also trying to make a long-term impact on our communities and schools, especially on fellow teachers. Meeting English language teachers in Indonesia always offers a wonderful learning opportunity, because they know so much more about teaching than I do, and at the same time, I can share some of my own experiences which can help them. One of the best ways to do this, are the frequent seminars for teachers and university students, where ideas and information about teaching and learning are exchanged. Since arriving in Palangkaraya, I have participated in several of these, most recently as an assistant to a fellow English language teacher at SMAN 2, Mrs. Leli Yusvita, in Kuala Kapuas on Valentine’s Day.

In Indonesia, at least in Kalimantan, it is a common practice to regularly hold such seminars and conferences on teaching and learning. They typically feature several speakers, who give presentations on various topics, which can range from creating lesson plans to writing theses. The participants are usually interested teachers and university students who are training to be teachers. For many of the teachers, there is the added incentive that the certificates they earn by attending often lead to raises and promotions. Until my trip to Kuala Kapuas, I had not ventured outside of Palangkaraya for any of these conferences, but when Ibu[i] Leli was invited, she asked me if I wanted to accompany her to Kuala Kapuas as her assistant and I happily agreed.

Kuala Kapuas is a small town in Central Kalimantan that has a population of around twenty thousand people. Similar to small towns in America, life is fairly slow-paced, peaceful, and the people are genuinely nice. When we arrived, the first person we met with was a local government official named Pak[ii] Tanggar, who spoke perfect English. We talked about some of the problems facing English language instruction in Indonesia and he enthusiastically told me about some of his own ideas, which included having an English language day once a week at local high schools. I consider this a wonderful concept and an effective learning opportunity for students, and I was impressed by his dedication and insight. He related a personal story about how he spent time in Japan and did not speak Japanese, but was able to effectively use English to communicate. This is a wonderful story because it illustrates the importance of learning to speak English well, which I have tried to emphasize to my student numerous times.

Like many Indonesian events, the seminar opened with several speeches by important officials. They talked about some of the challenges and issues facing English language teachers and related issues before introducing me. I began my presentation with the disclaimer that I am a firm believer in short and concise presentations, which is a novelty to many of my Indonesian friends. However, in my experience, both in the U.S. and abroad, audience members tend to tune out long lectures, so if you have something important to say you should be direct and concise. My presentation on English language instruction in Indonesia went smoothly as it was my second time giving it. The main points that I was trying to convey are that English language teachers should try to use as much English in the classroom as possible, that it is imperative that materials used in the classroom represent well-written English, and that teachers need to try to stimulate students to also learn English outside the classroom.

After my presentation Ibu Leli and I fielded several questions from the audience. Ibu Leli is a natural leader, who does a remarkable job of commanding the attention of her students, so she immediately took charge after my presentation. She talked about her own experiences and introduced the audience to various English language games, teaching methods, etc. I was occasionally asked to give input, while she led the session. Some of the other teachers talked about their own experiences and occasional struggles in the classroom, which was refreshing to hear, because we all experience them, even if we are hesitant to admit it. At the end of the seminar we took photos together, as is usually the case in Indonesia, and exchanged phone numbers and contact information. One of the participants even texted me the next day about an English language question, which was immensely satisfying because whenever a student, teacher, etc. reaches out to me personally it demonstrates that they are serious about improving their English skills.

I shared this example of cross-cultural exchange, because the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Program is a great tool for promoting America and the English language in schools and communities. By sending high-achieving students and professionals abroad and vice versa, we are promoting the U.S. abroad and allowing non-Americans to experience our wonderful country, culture, and language through engaged representatives. Having spent significant time in Europe and now Southeast Asia, I can attest to the positive image that the vast majority of foreigners have of the United States, as people want to get to know you because they think you are cool, interesting, etc. The thing that stood out to me the most about my visit to Kuala Kapuas was that everybody who asked me a question prefaced it with a heartfelt thank you to me for visiting. The Fulbright ETA Program promotes cross-cultural exchange in the classroom and the community at-large, so it is essential that we continue to support it and the special opportunities it presents.

Conference2

[i] The Indonesian equivalent of Mrs.

[ii] The Indonesian equivalent of Mr.

About the author: Chris Linnan is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan. He graduated from Emory University in May 2014.

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