English, English anndddd MORE English!

Not only is English mandated in schools and expected to be learned in both Tanzania and Kenya (which I discussed earlier), more and more organizations and volunteers infiltrate both countries to teach English. I experienced this first-hand as I spent several days in two Kenyan schools, one in the slum of Kibera (Red Rose School) and another in rural Narok (about 2 hours west of Nairobi) teaching about American culture, geography, math and most importantly, English. As I discussed in my most recent entry, I believe that learning a language also means learning a culture. What difference does it make if a Tanzanian or a Kenyan is teaching English as opposed to me, a white American female? How is the local culture affected when I enter these classrooms and teach what I know about English, since I’m American and since it’s the only language I’m fluent in (meanwhile, they know 3+ languages and Americans complain about trying to learn one second language)? This past summer, I was a tutor/translator for a local NGO based out of Albany that established a connection with a school in Babati, Tanzania. I helped translate American children’s stories into Swahili, while also translating teaching materials that are used in American elementary schools. For these students, they are taught that learning to read and write and SPEAK English leads to a good job and successful future. While surfing the web, I came across this link that looks at a program whereby volunteers go to Tanzania and  “improve the standards” of English being taught already.

When thinking about English and the kinds of learning that go on besides just the language, I immediately thought of Althusser’s idea of ISAs–ideological state apparatuses. This also relates to the different spaces where power exists. (Enter Foucault!!) By learning and practicing English, Kenyan and Tanzanian students are interpellated. According to Althusser, ideology isn’t just some set of ideas. It is always practiced, always institutionalized, always reproduced. Of course, we can’t talk about this reproduction without talking about capitalism and how capitalist societies create this demand that leads to its reproduction–in order to be a part of the market, you have to speak English (although, this is potentially changing to Chinese as China takes over as the world’s superpower, but I’ll save that for another discussion). In addition, one might look at Althusser’s argument that ISAs and RSAs exist in a hierarchy. ISAs are the driving force of RSAs. Because I am a part of the capitalist society/world power/dominant population/other hegemonic identity, I have the power to influence ideology pertaining to the English language through my intellectual leadership, which ultimately becomes backed by states and thus, states who know the best and most English begin to dominate. Moreover, states with this dominant ideology play more of a role in the global market as the superstructure continuously becomes determined by the base–in this case, the capitalist base.

The chief ISA is education, or schools. Yet, what happens when the amount of money invested in schools is only about 6% of GDP (according to UNESCO stats)? This is the case in Tanzania. How is everyone expected to learn English if the government itself doesn’t fully invest in education? Moreover, primary education is supposedly “free” yet children still have to pay for books, uniforms, exam fees, etc. Again this goes back to how we can’t talk about ideology of education without talking about ideology of the economy.

I also want to bring up one more theorist. Remember Walter Benjamin’s discussion of authenticity and aura? Yes, he is talking about art work, but couldn’t language be a form of art? Would Benjamin argue that the more English is reproduced, the more it loses its authenticity? Well, that would mean that there would be to be an overall “authentic” version of English and ultimately an authentic culture of English-speaking peoples. Indeed, this is not the case…there are only those dominant peoples and cultures who are English-solely-speaking peoples. They do not need to learn another language since English is the most dominating. I found this video of an organization called Genki English that travels around the world teaching English to communities. The video itself is a bit over-the-top with its Rocky-esque music, making it seem like if a Tanzanian learned with Genki, they are set for life.

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There are a variety of organizations, mostly volunteer, that send people abroad to teach English to non-English speaking countries. However, the fact that Kenya and Tanzania are bilingual countries makes it interesting to me that these organizations still promote their top-notch teachers. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to travel and teach English. But looking at this from a bit more critical lens, I find it intriguing the standards that we create when it comes to teaching a language that is also an official language in these two African countries. What’s the role of the governments in this case? It may be English, English and more English, but in reality, I almost think it’s power, power and more power!

Here’s a Kenyan news station poking fun at Kenya’s English.

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