English Teaching in Kirundo

Kirundo, Burundi, Thursday, August 6

a Kirundo, Burundi classroom block

a Kirundo, Burundi classroom block

The level of English, as I’ve already written, varies enormously among the English teachers we’re training (all of the English teachers in Kirundo province, I’m told). Some speak English quite fluently and comfortably, with an accent that doesn’t interfere with my understanding. Others, however, seem to struggle to form even a simple sentence, and rarely understand a question I pose until I repeat it or rephrase it a couple of times.

This isn’t surprising considering the range in their levels of education. Some have been to university, or are still finishing their university degrees. Here is an evaluation that I presume was written by one of these teachers:

“The rubrics she taught us will help me grade my students’ speaking skills, and writing skills as well. … The way she suggested we should make students work in groups is going to help all students participate in the classroom and develop their own ideas in a classroom debate for instance.”

That’s perfect English, except for one missing comma. This was part of an evaluation I asked them to write for me, by the way. I asked them simply to write what was good about the workshop and what could be improved. For the most part, they’re too polite to say anything negative, even anonymously.

However, others have far less education. Basically, they finished their secondary education, but then didn’t do well enough on the entrance exams to be admitted to university. At that point, one of the options that remain is to attend a one-year teacher training. That might be useful to learn about teaching in general, but it also means that their training in English language is barely higher than a secondary school student’s. Here is an example of writing from one of these students:

“If there is something left, you are welcome to give it lately. Don’t go with something because we need to enrich our knowledge and to clothen our English a new dress, so that our students should take benefit and fetch from a source which is plenty of suitable and adequate information.”

I find this passage fascinating because it’s gibberish, but remarkably poetic gibberish. “Clothen our English a new dress” must be a direct translation from Kirundi, but it’s quite pretty, isn’t it? Clearly whoever wrote this was well trained in spelling and vocabulary, but simply never learned to put it together in a way that made sense. That goes for how some of the teachers speak as well: lots of long, flowery words, but not much clarity.

As you can imagine, my sessions about the use of rubrics in assessing speaking activities in the English classroom are sometimes quite slow-going!

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