The job of teaching English

Normal, Weekender

Teaching English in PNG is quite an experience. But allowing the learner to live the beat and pulse of his/her own cultural settingthrough the vein of the borrowed language is the gist, writes RUSSELL SOABA

ONE out of every 10 sentences you read in this column is grammatically correct. The remaining nine are subject to the classification of not “correct English” but rather “good usage” of the English language itself.
That means that every time we think what we say in English is correct, we do so because everyone else around us thinks so. But the true nature of what we are actually saying is not for us to determine save the experts who in turn will tell us if what we are saying is indeed “correct” or “good”.
So what’s the difference? Who are the experts in this case? Let us ask the literature and english communication department of the University of PNG. 
The department has a new book out, the first of its kind, called Papua New Guinea Journal of English Studies (Times Printing Ltd, 2009, 93 pages. K50.00 or $US60.00). This is an important book, handy for teachers of English in schools throughout the country.
Several case studies are represented in this publication. The first two papers are by those in the literature segment of the department, namely Steven Winduo and Regis Stella. These are heavily researched academic studies centred on cultural and historical themes, and do not directly teach the reader how to write correct or good sentences in the English language. They do, however, provide insights to the phenomenon of cultural representation through writing, whether one is writing in English or an alternative language. Both writers reflect on the need for Pacific islanders, whether Papua New Guinean or other, to write about this region of the world preferably without being self-conscious of the influences of their respective colonial experiences.
Steven Winduo, in the vein of a modern day historian of memory, takes this point further in the article “Unmasking Memory and History in Pacific Writing.” In that article he discusses works of Celestine Hitiura Vaite, a French-speaking Tahitian writing in English; and Sia Figiel, a Samoan writing about her Samoa, preferably without that Western consciousness of “coming of age in Samoa.” How can one write a “free” novel without being conscious of one’s colonial past, albeit without intending to be political, seems to be the question Winduo is asking here. Nonetheless, Pacific writers, he maintains, “continuously return to the cultural metaphors, mythology, collective memory and history of their societies in order to construct their narratives as representative voices of the past, the present, and the future”.
Regis Stella, in his article “Alternative Ways of Knowing: The Place of Traditional Communication Arts in Education”, offers suggestions on how best to develop a reasonable looking curriculum for schools in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.
While it has now become common knowledge “that the PNG education system to a larger extent alienates Papua New Guinean ways, producing young people who find themselves strangers to their own communities”, Stella offers that a positive solution to this problem is to deconstruct the curriculum itself in a manner that it “acknowledges indigenous epistemologies and pedagogies, and encourages young people to embrace their cultural ways and traditions as worthwhile.”
These two articles pose as eye-openers for committed teachers of English. Teaching English in Papua New Guinea is quite an experience for many. But allowing the learner to live the beat and pulse of his/her own cultural setting through the vein of the borrowed language is the gist in the job of teaching English.
Johnson Kalu, who edited this publication, investigates the writing needs of science students. Titled “Writing Needs of Science Undergraduates”, his article is based on a questionnaire distributed to both lecturers and students of science at the University of Botswana where it was discovered that the main areas of students’ needs lay in lexis and syntax, discourse functions, coherent organisation of writing and critical thinking. This particular need recognised as such and translated into the Papua New Guinean setting of the academic environs will certainly benefit our students in all areas of the sciences. The outcome of learning after that experience will demonstrate an instance of excellence, one dares to say.
Lucy Mawuli, another contributor to this journal, observes the same sort of discoveries when the English section branches out to other schools such as the law faculty. But in her article titled “Teaching Communication Skills to Law Students: A Collaborative Approach”, Mawuli calls for close collaboration between the law school and the school of humanities and social sciences in teaching the student the proper way to write documents. We are in this together, she seems to be saying, as equal stake-holders in the whole enterprise of getting it right in English. Advocates of inter-disciplinary academic preoccupations should find this useful.
Then we have Olga Temple commenting on the rationale of language mechanism in her article titled “The Rationale Language Mechanism: Key to Understanding Syntax”.  This is a heavily philosophical as much as philological treatise and deserves careful scrutiny. Olga said: “I argue that since human thought generates all human languages, the rationale language mechanism should be as much a focus of linguistic research as are the diverse linguistic forms and structures.”
The other article, perhaps the key article of this publication, is one by Eugenie Duque titled: “Wrong English Usage: The Case of ignorant and sighted.” This short paper points out some of the common mistakes we make with certain words such as “ignorant” and “sighted”, and goes on to suggest that with the former we could be meaning to say “You are ignoring your duties” instead of “You are ignorant.” It is the same with the word “sighted”. How can one “sight” a document, if that paper lacks vision or does not wear spectacles, argues the writer. In all, the conclusion reached here is that there is such a thing as a “correct” usage and a “good” usage of the English language. We regard as “correct” that which everyone agrees to, not what standard English judges it be. The writer suggests that we should opt for the latter.
Finally, in this publication what do we have? Someone or something missing here? You guessed it. Good old PNG literature. From pages 82 to 87 of this very publication!
This is an important publication, the first of its kind in the discipline of English alone, and put out by the literature and english communication department of the University of PNG. Previous publications were those of literature alone. It is good to see the English section participating in the department’s publications programme. For the moment all contributors come from within the department, but the editors hope that more papers will be received from here as well as from other countries.


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