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English lessons

The Aura of Auroville
Pillaichavady, Tamil Nadu

This is a journal entry from my time teaching English in a small town in Tamil Nadu, 2004.

Distances in and around Auroville are vast, and most local people do not have access to motorized transport. For me, a delightful highlight of life here are the local hitchikers on the verdant Auroville red-dirt roads. Usually women and small children, they stand on the roadside, armed with school bags, a bucket of fish, or a basket of vegetables, and flag down zooming scooters, mopeds and motorcycles.

Enge po kirrai? I ask in my limited Tamil. Kuilapalayam, Edaiyanchaady or Periyarrmudialarchavady , the polysyllabic village names come tumbling from their mouths. I scoot forward so they can hop onto the back (sometimes as many as 3 schoolgirls sitting behind on the pillion). Naturally, this slows down my own commute, but I don't mind....the village ladies with their crooked teeth, nose discs of gold and bright floral saris, the tiny school kids whose chubby little arms clutch round my tummy,
their squeals of fear or delight each time we hit a bump in the road - my being a few minutes late for class seems a small price.

Yesterday a tiny boy wearing a red puja mark on his forehead flagged me down on the Boommayapalayam back road at 7:15 AM. He was on his way to school, and took the opportunity to both practice his English (what is your name? My name is Danil. Where are you going? I go to New Creation School in Kuilapalaym) and instruct me in Tamil - as we passed things (tree, cow, dog) he yelled out the English and Tamil names.

Danil was not well-dressed and was very tiny. It brings a tear to a middle-aged eye to see such eagerness to learn and so much sweetness. It was easily an hour's walk to his school, but there he was trudging down the road bright and early.

My Language Lab English classes are a mixed bag. One class will be a runaway success with everyone yelling out answers and getting into it - the next will have a bunch of dud, dead spots where lose momentum and the kids begin to lose itnerest (begin to chat amongst themselves, etc). It's still very gratifying - but the new car smell (novelty of an American teacher) has worn off a bit, which means, I must figure out the challenge of actually teaching them, not just entertaining them.

Today some of the girls tried to stand up when I came into the room and I insisted they sit down (traditional respect for the teacher, but it was alarming to me).

I try to get them to talk about their lives and their world - instead of just repeating the lines about shoppes, prices and places in their textbooks. The last 2 assignments I gave: write a story about yourself and your day.

"My name is Vijayalakshmi, I live in Boomayapalayam. My house is behind the banana tree...
...I am eating rice every day. I am watching the television every day.
...Every day I go to work in Auroville at the Health centre, then I go home. "

They are too polite to tell me when they are bored or don't understand. Once I even asked them do you like this exercise, or do you want to do something else? and was met with blank stares - then I realized that, probably in their entire lives, no one had ever asked them what they WANTED to do. As they see it, a teacher, particularly, is supposed to be giving orders - not engaging in some kind of touchy-feely dialogue.

This post first appeared on Feringhee: The India Diaries, please read the originial post: here

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English lessons


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