Posts tagged British

British “Village” Life from an American’s point of view

We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900),The Canterville Ghost, 1882

“An Englishman is a person who does things because they have been done before.  An American is a person who does things because they haven’t been done before.” Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)

I like the above quotes from Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, contemporaries in their wit and insights. What does the following excerpt from some American friends of mine, who just moved to U.K., have to do with my present reality in Astana?  We just went through the slow and deliberate process of signing a contract with a London university to work with their established English teaching programme for the first year Kazakh students starting this fall semester.  Enjoy the following from my friends Jim and Carroll:

Hello from Henley-in-Arden! Our new English acquaintances here ask us how we’re “settling in”.  We are settling into English village life just fine. We think of Henley as a village (4000 people) but we can’t use that word to locals who would be offended since it achieved market town status by the 1200’s, when the king gave the town a charter. There’s still the stone cross dating from then on High St. This ancient market exists even now. On Wednesdays farmers bring chickens, pheasants, and rabbits (both dead and alive) to auction as well as eggs, produce, meat and flea market items to sell.

Nearby is an interesting, tiny village (wide spot in the road)–Wooten Wawen.  It was five times as big as Birmingham (20 miles north) when the Doomsday Book was compiled in the 11th century.  The Doomsday Book was a census ordered by the Norman conquerors so they could tax the local Anglo-Saxons.

We had our first guests for dinner on Friday night in our tiny living room (no dining area in our little house)—we invited them for a New Mexico style dinner.  They warned us that they didn’t like spicy food, so we served avocado dip and tortilla chips, chicken enchiladas, tacos, pinto beans and rice without any hot peppers. They seemed to enjoy it—a definite change from their typical British roasted meat, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, and rutabagas.

Cultural Observations about Small Town Life in England.

1.      Towns and villages seem neat, tidy and well kept.  We rarely see trash in the streets or houses in disrepair.

2.      Farms and pastureland surrounds the towns. We see sheep grazing within less than a mile from Henley..  High well-trimmed hedges instead of fences border each farm.

3.      People usually walk rather than drive in town. Henley is only one mile long. We see many elderly people out with their trolley’s (a combination of a walker and shopping cart) doing their errands.  Rain doesn’t slow anyone down including moms (mums) wheeling baby strollers draped with water proof plastic. A big reason for walking must be the high cost of gas ($9 a gallon) as well as the lack of parking. These towns were built ten centuries ago—who foresaw a need for parking? People say they retired here in Henley of its convenience. All  the necessities are within walking distance—doctor, dentist, a pharmacy, banks, small grocery stores, etc. plus it is a low-crime area.

4.      Public transportation is excellent. Henley has both bus and train lines with a stop here every hour on the Birmingham (20 miles north and Stratford upon Avon (8 miles south) routes.  U.K. citizens over 60 get free public transportation to cities within 20 miles or so. And they use it.  Every coffee morning we meet seniors from both Stratford and Birmingham who get off at Henley for our church coffee time and perhaps the outdoor market!

In closing, we wanted to share some new British vocabulary to illustrate our common language that sometimes divides British and Americans.

In the U.K.:

A publican is a pub operator.

To nick or pinch means to steal

A misery is a complaining person

A diary is an appointment calendar (Everyone carries a diary!).

A decorator is a house painter

A receipt is a recipe

To hoover means to vacuum

Mean or “tight as a tick” refers to someone who is stingy

A mutton dressed in lamb’s clothing refers to an older woman who dresses like

a much younger lady

Knackered means totally exhausted.

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More Work Party Photos and Soviet Pedagogy

My first exposure to Soviet pedagogy was in a somewhat unlikely place when I taught English for two years in Harbin, China from 1986-1988.  As teachers and foreign experts, we all lived in a foreign guest compound far removed from the Chinese masses with about five or six other Soviet experts. Add to the mix a few Japanese guys learning how to be chefs, a woman from Ireland, a British man and some other Americans and we had a mini-United Nations. We all had more in common than not, living in the strange but mysterious land of China.

I forget a few of the Soviet peoples’ names but I DO remember there was Nick from Latvia, Isa from Azerbaijan, Larissa from Minsk, Belarus, a quiet guy (because he didn’t know much English) from Georgia, another physicist who didn’t believe in dreams, maybe one or two others.  Every day for noon lunch, my American teammates and I would sit together in the big dining room as foreign experts and talk about different things related to China, teaching and life outside of China.  That was the first time I realized there was an undercurrent of nationalism going on with each country represented from the U.S.S.R. Each Russian speaker was very proud of his own nation before the U.S.S.R. took over only sharing in Russian and the same educational background. Of course they were all Soviet citizens and even though we were still in the middle of the Cold War, we all got along.  Joking and eating together, going to banquets, dances and fashion shows when our university dictated when and where we were supposed to go.  I have fond memories of our foreign guest quarters with the mix of cultures.

Two events alerted me to the difference in teaching methodology of the Soviets compared to what I was trained in as an American teacher.  First, some friends of mine in the compound wanted to learn ballroom dancing from Nick, the physicist from Latvia. Nick was an excellent dancer and swept us all off our feet.  However, it was reported back to me that he was an absolute tyrant and drill master when the girls took lessons from him.  Sort of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, they would say, “What’s with Nick?”  I put that together with Larissa, the Russian teacher who also got very uppity about the peculiarities of her language.  Not sure if Belarussian was her first language, if that even exists. I’m guessing it does but that never came up.  They were Soviet citizens, their lingua franca was Russian.  In any case, Larrisa would take on this same persona of joyless, drill master when we asked her about some Russian phrases.

This made me realize almost twenty-five years ago that our western system of teaching was vastly different from that of the Soviets.  Teaching in China I was reacquainted with what I already knew from working as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines about teacher-centered vs. student-centered. That’s a huge given that the Chinese approach to teaching is teacher-centered but I witnessed the Soviet system was the same, teacher-centered driven. 

What have I learned these past two years since teaching in Kazakhstan about the Soviet pedagogy? The following is what I picked up off of Johnson’s Russia List, a highly subscribed blog.  The following are paraphrased observations made by a Ukrainian, Vladimir Sirotin from the Johnson’s Russia List JRL 2009 – 219. from November 30, 2009.

The founding father of Soviet pedagogy in the Stalin and post-Stalin era was Anton Makarenko (1888-1939) a Ukrainian.  He had tried to eradicate a problem that had started in Ukraine a decade before with forced collectivization that separated families.  Many Ukrainian children lost their parents due to their refusal to comply with the dictates coming from Moscow. As a result, the parents often were either killed or sent off to Siberia.  Thus, children ran in packs like wild dogs without adult supervision and were known for crimes of theft and other misdemeanors in order to survive. Once caught, there was heavy handed discipline in orphanages and schools were a result to tame these wild urchins found in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere. 

Before Makarenko’s seven volumes on how to discipline, there existed Domostroi, (means “Domestic Order) an old Russian book, dating back over 500 years, which served as a handbook on how to run a patriarchal household.  It emphasized strict hierarchy and laying down punishments for disobedience, including corporal punishment. 

(To be continued tomorrow)

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Many Nations Represented in Kazakhstan

British, German, Aussie friendsYesterday I put up photos of buildings in Almaty, today I will show some countries that are represented in Kazakhstan of the 120 nations known to reside here. Some are European and friends of mine with the oil industry or with banking, other photos are just of the costumes representing Korea or Ukraine. I LOVE the color, mixture and diversity of living in Almaty!!! You just don’t get this kind of texture in northwestern Minnesota, that’s for sure!Indian childrenFrench friendKorean costumesUkrainiansSouth Africa bossAmericans

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Positive Feedback: Why I LOVE teaching my Kazakh students!!!

Back in the late 1980s I taught for two years in Harbin, Heilongjiang, in the very northeastern part of the People’s Republic of China. After returning from a nice break in Hong Kong getting R&R and buying necessities that couldn’t be found on store shelves back then, I questioned my sanity and why I was subjecting myself to such punishment in China.  Not easy to teach the masses who were so accustomed to a teacher-centered approach rather than our more familiar student-centered way of teaching.  With so many students, one could not afford to be student-centered but we, as Americans, somehow coped. 


After enduring the difficult train travel and acclimating to the cold, Minnesota-like temperatures in Harbin, and once I got in front of my eager, industrious students, I knew why I loved teaching again. A renewed sense of calling always came when I looked at the inscrutable faces of my Chinese students who had happy smiles for me, glad that I had returned as their highly esteemed teacher. When I taught Speaking and Listening at H.I.T. (Harbin Institute of Technology) I had in one class about 60 students in one big classroom.  In a land of 1 billion people, 60 people is a drop in the bucket.  How did I ever manage to work with all these students? I think one semester I had about 250 students to teach. How did I grade them all?


I’m happy to have a maximum of 18 in each of my classes at my current university and we have very nice classrooms in the New Building.  That is, when the computer works at 8:30 a.m. every morning, otherwise I would go into my Plan B or Plan C mode to cope with the Internet not working.  My Listening and Notetaking II class gave me informative feedback about problems they encountered with my class but mostly positive feedback that I’ll consider for next semester.


For me, very difficult to understand everything, sometimes even main points.  And the record was very fast.  I think my first problem is lack of vocabulary.


It is very clear to understand, but sometimes using the slangs or unusual words is very hard to know.


The speed of speech! When it’s too fast, you can’t even get the idea of the dialog.  Or 17 minutes lecture, everything was clear, but boring!


The most difficult part is to catch ending of some words (as we say the British “eat” the endings).  American’s accent is easier to understand (;-) And as I have been to America, I got used to understanding American English.


I think American English is easier because people from America use simple words but sometimes they use many slang and phrasal verbs that is hard.


Actually this class with Mrs. K. differs from other ELN 1201 classes, we have listened to not only taped voice, but we had live persons, hearing their stories.  I wish that all of ELN courses could be like ours!


I would want to have more guest lecturers (;-) I liked and enjoyed it. Communicating to natives is always good.


The following student was in my listening class but also in my reading and writing class.  She wrote:  “Have a wonderful Christmas! and thank you very much for this semester! I enjoyed it very much, it was a lot of fun and new interesting material!”


Another reading and writing student who just returned from a quick trip to New York wrote the following: I’m so happy to receive the message from you. I had very fruitful time in NY… Additionally, I visited my friend studying in Columbia University, she earning her Master Degree, And I helped her with full filling APA style of her project work, you can be proud of your student =), because I even helped in USA with my knowledge of ERW. It was very little contribution, but in any case I’m thankful for you, my dear teacher!


At the beginning of your course, I was hating all that APA and etc stuff, but finally, now I can write properly and academically, and all of that because of you!  Thank you very much, and I’m very sad that semester has already finished.


I believe that you will have more creative and ambitious students, who need for your help, help in life skills. 


Also, I think that your work in searching info about USSR is very-very important, because no one is interested so deep in our culture and history before. Moreover, you know, that I found very interesting book in Russian language written by Kazakh authors about the USSR system, traditions, Labor camps and about all that related information in very interesting, like dialog, informal style. I hope it can help in your research.   


Finally, thank you for this course!!! It was really great, interesting, understandable. And especially thank you for your teaching!!! Thank you! =)

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