The Colonizer’s Language

I sit in the office at work, on the verge of tears.

I am just so disillusioned with the work that I was instructed to do. Primarily, and most passionately, I am responsible for teaching English in some capacity to the girls in this program. This term all the girls speak Portuguese. I am the only member of staff working with the girls that speaks Portuguese rather fluently. Now, this is not the only issue. My primary concern is that there is no apparent structure at all for what they should be learning. No curriculum. No syllabus. The first few days we were making handouts with pen and paper. Whatever word in English someone thought of and could translate, we taught. How effective is that?

And, I’ve been working specifically with one 12 year old from Brazil. And I feel for her situation. I really do. She is new in Britain but has been living here for over a year now. Just resumed going to school like last week–after not being in formal school for a year. The only English-speaking person in her house is her brother in law and he works night and day. She really wants to learn and is always cheerful and eager when I am working with her. She talks to me, but then again, maybe it’s because I’m the only person that can communicate with her in the only language knows. But the other tutors misinterpret her silence for lack of desire to learn. She really doesn’t understand the questions they ask her. And instead of saying “I do not understand (Eu nao entendo)” like I suggested, she nods her head in whatever direction she guesses they want to see.

Now, I am looking to create a syllabus, a curriculum, a plan to teach English. But, I have only 5 weeks left so I will not even see the results, if any, of my labor. Furthermore, I will only be able to help the girl indirectly since she will be in school now all day 5-days a week. And, it is really difficult for me to teach English to someone when I think that more English-speaking people should be learning other languages. I strongly resent how the West makes English the “normal” language, how Americans (yes the ones I’ve been traveling with) go places and expect the people there to speak English. You’re coming to my home, my country. Why the heck didn’t YOU prepare to greet me. Why should I go out of my way to communicate with you, when you have the luxury and time to not only learn my language, but the means to travel here. Finally, I understand how difficult the English language is. I mean, I was educated in Newark school systems. I did not learn half of what I know about linguistics until I started learning Portuguese (learning a second language really does help). I have a grandmother who is not literate. My mother continues to mispronounce words and create her own vocabulary. It is a well known fact that ebonics is the language of preference where I’m from and through out most of the “Black community.” Why? Because English is a really hard language. Where do I even begin?

I talked it over with my supervisor, from Mexico but of the privileged (I presume because her dad was educated at least up to his Master’s degree in the US and she received her Masters from Oxford). It was hard to bite back the tears. I don’t even know why I’m so emotionally involved at this point. Why I feel so obligated to suddenly research primary education and design the structure for a program for this non-profit that should have already created this. I mean, this particular program is two years old. What do you MEAN you don’t have a syllabus?!
How am I feeling right now?
Maybe its how I feel when I look inside the water kettle only to find all types of specks floating around up in my would’ve-been tea water. Or when I find out that some particular food, the candy corn sitting in our apartment, is not kosher/halal. Or how I felt when I discovered that a colleague of mine seemingly so educated and accepting, knows nothing about my people’s history even as elementary as the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and has internalized, and is therefore reinforcing, white supremacy just as much as the fashion/modeling industry. Or when my little sister tells me she’s going trick or treating. Or when person you’d least expect fails you. Or when you go to make cereal and no milk, pancakes and no syrup. You get the point.
In one word? Disappointed.


One thought on “The Colonizer’s Language

  1. hey amira, i jst started readin ur blog today. i was touched by the challenges u facing at ur work. i just wanna say that four weeks is a pretty long time to come with something. it may not b perfect but they can always work on it.. and u may not c the results but at least u wud have left something behind..a little bit counts.

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