“Language Education and Global Citizenship” (5): Global Studies and Transcultural Learning at the PH Karlsruhe

All Posts, Global English

Editor’s note: This 5th post in the series “Language Education and Global Citizenship” is by Ms Yvonne-Jacqueline Dyck (née Muss), one of my student helpers. Her task was to organise the collected literature on “Language Education in Asia and Global Citizenship Education” into a “Course Reader”, to make this background reading accessible to everyone in my class. This “Course Reader” was completed two days ago – just in time for a semester which will take place online. As a so-called “Micro-project”, Ms Dyck’s research hours were financed by the L2-Initiative of the University of Education Karlsruhe.
Ms Dyck had become interested in colonial history and literature in my “British Short Stories” class and wrote a paper on “George Orwell and the elephant as a symbol of the failure of colonialism”, which will be published on this blog later this year. She went on to write her Bachelor thesis in the summer of 2019 and worked at the Lao-German Technical College in Vientiane in the winter term 2019/20 as a member of Team IX. You can see her in between our two Lao guests in the middle of this photo:

 

Table of Contents

  1. The “Global English(es)” seminar at the University of Education Karlsruhe
  2. International students and the four dimensions of the course syllabus
  3. Input by Prof. Martin and Ms Julia Friedl followed by research workshop and practice excursion (town library, international “Open House” in Landau)
  4. Laos returnees report on their learning and teaching
  5. The linguistic dimension: A comparison of the Lao and English languages; Education in South Korea
  6. Lao perspectives
  7. The political and cultural dimensions
  8. The economic dimension of English language-teaching
  9. Didactics, methodology, context
  10. Phonology, foreign language education in the USA, and moral relativism
  11. More perspectives from and on Asia
  12. Final session: Education in Hongkong, Spanish-speakers learning English and closing remarks
  13. Conclusion and Evaluation

 

1. The “Global English(es)” seminar at the University of Education Karlsruhe

Between April and July 2019 students at the PH Karlsruhe had the opportunity to attend Prof. Dr. Isabel Martin‘s “Global English(es) – TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) in Asia” seminar.
The idea for this class sparked from the preparatory workshops that were held for the Laos project volunteers in advance of their stays in Laos twice a year. The course was first offered in the winter term 2016/17 and then two more times in 2017 and 2018, until as from the summer term 2019 Prof. Martin was asked to offer this class every semester.
The seminar continued to inspire several Bachelor and Master theses, and also a new series on this blog called “Language learning and Global Citizenship Education“, to which past course participants started contributing. The most recent post of the series is “Language education and global citizenship – 30 years of teaching English in East Asia: An Appraisal” by Ms Laura Jakob, which followed the first three posts  “Reentry shock: an explanation of an underrated phenomenon” by Ms Lara Malchow, “Intercultural barriers in “international” English course books by Ms Rebecca Dengler, and “A comparison of (travel) guides to Laos by Ms Lena Koch.

 

2. International students and the four dimensions of the course syllabus

To all of our advantages and the course’s global perspective, this semester’s course participants included plenty of the university’s international students, i.e. students from abroad studying at the University of Education Karlsruhe for a semester or two. They came from Hong Kong, France, Spain, Italy, Laos, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United States. During the first session of the course, organisational matters were taken care of, i.e. aligning the syllabus with the students’ interests and providing a literature list. Within the given four fields of study – the linguistic, cultural, political, and educational dimensions of Global English(es) and TESOL in Asia – students were asked to contribute questions, expectations, and suggestions for exemplary topics. Our collection of student suggestions were

We discussed how these topics could illuminate our course theme, and Prof. Martin then gave us guidance online on our course platform StudIP, as well as in individual consultations for presenters, to sharpen the profiles of each topic, point them to suitable academic literature, and to arrange them all into a meaningful whole. This is also how the course changes and develops from semester to semester – it builds up on the new insights, angles, and findings, and builds on participants’ academic and political interests.

 

3. Input by Prof. Martin and Ms Julia Friedl followed by research workshop and practice excursion (town library, international “Open House” in Landau)

One week later, the course started with introductory presentations by Prof. Martin and by Ms Julia Friedl of the University of Education Karlsruhe’s International Office in its second session. Prof Martin started us off on discovering the semiotic and cross-cultural difficulties of concepts and the phenomenology of words and meanings by giving examples to interpret, such as the “Upside-down map” of the world and sample topics (food, travel, leisure time) from so-called “international” English course books.
Ms Friedl gave a talk on the challenges and personal impacts of both doing an internship at a school and studying abroad. She compared the two options in her overview of the International Office‘s offers and services. The session ended with Prof. Martin’s questionnaire, for which she paired up a German with an international student, so we could find out about each other’s backgrounds and state of learning.

The third session offered us a chance to hone our research skills by attending a research workshop at the BLB (Badische Landesbibliothek (federal state library of Baden), which was kindly offered in the English language so our international students could benefit as well. We practised working with the ABELL and MLA, the two main databases for English Studies.
Under the motto Learn the international language of Total Physical Response to teach English across borders – a new teaching tool for your classroom Prof. Dr. Martin additionally invited her class to an “Open House” Party of Modern Western Square Dance in April, which was an eye-opener especially for the Asian students, some of whom then promptly joined her seminar on “Square Dance for teaching English at Lower School” in the same semester.

 

4. Laos returnees report on their learning and teaching

Another very interactive session took place at the end of April when several Lao returnee groups joined our class to present the workshops they had conducted during their time in Laos. As every volunteer is asked to offer one workshop during their traineeship and I was preparing for my own stay in Laos at the time, I was very curious about the ideas they had had and how they had put them into practice. In addition, they shared plenty of their personal learning experiences and recommendations with us.

Editor’s note: I have learnt from my pre-interviews with volunteers that it is often this direct encounter and exchange with returnee volunteers which decides students in this class to apply for an internship themselves.

 

5. The linguistic dimension: A comparison of the Lao and English languages; Education in South Korea

In May we had a linguistic presentation about “English as a ‘distant’ language” from the Lao learner’s perspective, presented to us through the combined knowledge of Ms Beate Pinisch and Prof. Martin. Prof. Martin had found Ms Pinisch’s name in the online brochure “Working with a Lao partner“, googled her, and discovered she lived in town, Karlsruhe! A fruitful collaboration ensued, and Ms Pinisch has since shared her expertise on this blog with the mini-series From Laos with love”and by supporting our incoming students from Laos.

The comparison of English and German as stress-based languages on the one hand and Lao as a time-based and tonal language on the other hand was compelling, as were all the other different linguistic categories that Prof. Martin compared. Ms Pinisch included many humorous stories, details, and intercultural differences from her 20-year experience as a former resident in Lao P.D.R. in her part. Especially the elaborations on how to express different tenses in Lao and how Lao L1 speakers express tenses in English struck me. It seems no two other languages could be more “distant” to one another as they simply bear no likeness in category or system, be in in phonology, morphology, syntax or semantics, lexis, or grammar. No wonder it is so hard for Lao people to learn English!
I found it equally alluring and confusing to hear about a language which is built quite differently from the languages I understand and speak. Their presentation has made me much more aware of the differences between Lao and “my languages”. During my internship in Laos between mid-October 2019 and mid-January 2020 I recognised some of the aspects when I was teaching Lao students which were presented back in May.

This linguistic session was completed by a presentation by Ms Chae-Eun (Engl. first name: Haven) Park from South Korea on “University education in the subject English in South Korea”. She labelled the current South Korean educational situation with the term “education fever”: “A national obsession for attaining better education.” Ms Chae-Eun referred this enthusiasm back to students, but rather more to their society and parents. We learned about the vast and usually quite expensive additional private tuition offers such as after-school tutoring or English camps during school holidays. Parents work incessantly to pay for an optimal education for their children – which always includes learning the English language, because this opens the door to get a degree abroad or work in international companies.
The data Ms Chae-Eun presented suggested that more than 70-80% of South Korean minors drew on these additional offers hoping they would be accepted into one of the three top universities in South Korea: Seoul National University, Korea University, Yonsei University. However, according to Chaeeun, only 1% of all students reach this goal. The so-called “Suneung” 1 is a comprehensive 4-hour test held once a year on the first Thursday in November, and it determines which universities South Korean students are allowed to apply for. On this day, every year “silence descends across the capital Seoul as shops are shut, banks close, even the stock market opens late. Most construction work halts, planes are grounded and military training ceases.” 2

Editor’s note: Students do not receive grades, but rankings throughout their school lives, which adds to the pressure to achieve.  Youngsters in Korea appear to have no free time and study until 10 or 11 p.m. every day. The reasons for the national obsession with education are rooted in history: In former Korean society, learning was reserved to a small Confucian elite who could read Chinese script. Once the new Korean alphabet made learning accessible for all, it became the highest good to secure for one’s children. Ms Laura Jakob analyses this phenomenon in her academic post “30 years of teaching English in East Asia: An Appraisal“, and the film “The King’s Letters” presents one of the theories of the historical background, namely the King’s invention of the “Hunminjungeum” (Korean Script) for his people.
The more detailed report by Ms Chae-Eun will be published in this series soon.

 

6. Lao perspectives 

Later on in May, two very recent project returnees, Mr Siegfried Hadatsch and Ms Anna-Sophia ten Brink (both Team VIII), shared their living and working experiences with us in their presentation “Living and working in Laos”. They spoke about the LGTC (Lao-German Technical College), their life in “the bungalow” (the apartment near the campus where LGTC volunteers are accommodated), and free time activities in Vientiane (the capital of Lao PDR). Apart from all this very interesting information, their travel reports were most intriguing. For long-distance transportation they used buses and airplanes, as there are no trains in Laos (yet).
According to them, one highly recommendable destination in Lao PDR is the old capital Luang Prabang because of its temples, old-time pace, and dazzling waterfalls nearby. As Luang Prabang is notoriously one of the most visited locations in Lao PDR, Anna-Sophia and Siegfried’s advice for visiting the famous Kuangsi Waterfalls was to “get up and be there early (7 a.m.)”. Their list of other travel recommendations included Vang Vieng, Don Det, and Pakse.

Then, Ms Viengvilaiphone Botthoulath (lecturer at Savannakhet University, Erasmus+ partner) replenished this presentation by presenting her very own version of “Living and Working in Laos” from the Lao perspective. Her report covered several topics such as geographical information, travel advice, religion, Lao festivities, means of transportation, and much more. Also, Ms Vieng’s presentation contained information on agriculture and local food, as she is a lecturer at SKU in the Department of Food Science. She came to the session wearing a traditional Lao sinh, and at the end, following a hint by Prof. Martin, she surprised us with a short teaching sequence on Lao social dance.

 

7. The political and cultural dimensions

In the next few sessions we examined some of the political and cultural dimensions of “TESOL in Asia and Global Citizenship education” beginning with a presentation on “The Sustainable Development Goals” by Mr Jonas Hoffmann. In his talk, Jonas made clear that the Sustainable Development adapted by 193 member states of the UN on 25 December 2015 were compulsory for both “developing” and “developed” countries. (Editor’s note: Regarding these colonial labels cf. my Note 1 in a previous post.)

Above all, I found it thought-provoking that Laos did not only adopt the 17 goals agreed on by the other 192 states, but added their own 18th goal: “Lives safe from UXO(unexploded ordnance). Jonas stated there have been more than 50,000 casualties due to UXO from 1964 to 2012, which makes an average of roughly 1,000 people killed or injured by UXO in Lao PDR per year. This is why this goal is one of the top priority goals in Lao PDR. As a result of effective mine-risk education and clearance of high-risk areas, the number of casualties could be reduced in recent years. However, the Vientiane Times regularly report casualties to this day.

The educational aspect of this topic – “Teaching the Sustainable Development Goals was especially relevant to us future teachers. We were glad to receive a copy of the teaching handbook by the ESD Expert Net (ESD: “Education for Sustainable Development”), which Jonas had brought along for us.

Editor’s note: The article by Jonas Hoffman on the SDGs will be published next in this series.

Guest speaker Shirin Ud-Din (Team VI rounded off the first session in the “political” category with her report on her role as Head of the political representation of Laos at NMUN in New York (National Model United Nations).

Editor’s note: The article by Shirin Ud-Din about the NMUN in New York will be published here later in summer.

The subsequent week’s topics were “Global Citizenship Education” (Ms Natalie Staufer), “Global English(es)” (Ms Lydia Hanson), and “Multi-/ Inter-/ Transculturality – Cultural dimensions of language teaching” (Mr Timur Kadic).

In her introduction to “Global Citizenship Education” Natalie elaborated on the implications of the definition of Global Citizenship”: „A global citizen is someone who is aware of and understands the wider world – and their place in it. They take an active role in their community, and work with others to make our planet more equal, fair and sustainable.“ 3

In her presentation titled “Global English(es)” Lydia cleared up some of the basic terminology regularly used throughout the seminar. She explained that the term “Global Englishes (GE)” usually covers World Englishes (WE) as well as English as a lingua franca (ELF). She further explored the set of problems “Standard English” (whose “standard”?) when addressing international speakers of English or in contexts when English is used as a “lingua franca” – another problematic term.

Timur’s presentation on “Multi-/ Inter-/ Transculturality – Cultural dimensions of language teaching” aimed at clarifying theories about culture, which have long surpassed seeing “culture” as just a single, isolated character trait. The terms he explained were:

  • Multiculturality = culture as separate entities; cultures living together and tolerating each other
  • Interculturality = cultures interacting with each other
  • Transculturality = cultures interweave with each other
  • Hyperculturality = no boundaries, cultures merge/emerge out of them all, all are individual and unique (for every individual who is part of the hyperculture)

 

8. The economic dimension of English language-teaching

Towards the middle of term, the thematic focus was directed to the relationship between English language-teaching and economy.

The first session in this unit began with Ms Lara Ibele’s presentation “English as Lingua Franca in Asia”. In her presentation she presented the definition of a lingua franca as a “‘contact languagebetween persons who share neither a common native tongue nor a common (national) culture, and from whom English is the chosen foreign language of communication” by Firth (1996:260). When the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) was founded in 1976, language was not an issue in its declaration. However, in 2009, English was introduced as the official ASEAN working language.
The differences between the Asian states which were former British or American colonies and those which were not were of particular interest. The colonising nations in Southeast Asia between 1500 to the mid-1940 were Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, Great Britain, France, the United States, and Japan.4 From my perspective – having lived and worked in Laos for 3 months – I find Lara’s list of common phonological and grammatical features shared by many ASEAN ELF users especially intriguing.
From my personal learning and teaching experiences in Laos I see them to be applicable to Lao speakers who learn English as a second language. For instance, I recognised the flexible use of definite and indefinite articles which Lara had mentioned to be quite common amongst my Lao students. However, I also wondered whether these, especially the grammatical features, particularly apply to ASEAN EFL (English as a Foreign Language) speakers only.

The same session also featured Mr Jerome Lafia’s presentation “English language teaching as a multi billion-business – Post colonial structures in language teaching”. He delivered a critical perspective on current-day English teaching with a view to possible post- or neo-colonial, euro-centric implications. One argument Jerome introduced was that only certain varieties of English are promoted – usually British or General American English – and many believe they are still the only ones to aim for.
To give a more concrete example, Jerome introduced us to institutional English learning in Kenya. From his presentation we learned that Kenya has two official languages: Swahili and English. By this regulation alone, many people who speak other languages, especially minorities and indigenous people, are excluded from public education. Another astonishing fact is that whereas from first until fifth grade Swahili is the medium of instruction, from 5th grade on students will be taught in English only. I agree with Jerome’s findings that this can only have a negative effect on the language acquisition of both languages.

Ms Carolin Birk’s presentation “Native speakers teaching English in Asia and Africa – The ‘Automatised School’ ” connected to Jerome’s presentation perfectly, as she presented a branch of privately funded education: Bridge International Academies (BIA). BIA runs a network of about 500 private nursery and primary schools across Africa and Asia. They provide prepared lesson plans in the form of E-Readers.
Carolin continued by discussing positive and critical effects of the work of BIA. A positive effect is that many school buildings could be built, which provide more children geographical access to education, and regular payment for teachers, which increases (their) attendance and motivation.
However, the teachers lack the required qualifications, their workload is above 65 h per week, and their salaries are below the national minimum wage. Furthermore, BIA does not seem to provide insurance, licenses, or registrations for their teachers. Consequently, the public and media have criticised BIA as “unsustainable”, “controversial”, “for-profit” or as “reinforc[ing] global power inequalities”. These criticisms target the highly-standardised system which treats teachers as robots who merely follow a script word by word, regardless of their particular learner group. It is also criticised that the lesson plans neither include current levels nor the cultural backgrounds of the pupils or target country. In addition, BIA is said to be failing to meet health, safety, sanitation, and the individual school infrastructures.
The regular increase of monthly fees to be paid by parents makes the BIA schools increasingly unaffordable for the poorer population. All these aspects combined resulted in the closing of several BIA schools in Africa, most of which were ordered by the federal governments.
Carolin closed her presentation by analysing the demand for native-speaking English teachers abroad. Native speakers from the US, the UK, or Australia and New Zealand are often considered to be the only ideal language role models, which undermines the minority varieties of English and local dialects. She included statistics stating that two thirds of all foreigners teaching English in China were formally unqualified – which I found most alarming.

On 17 June 2019, in the “linguistic and cultural” block of our seminar, we heard and discussed presentations on “Culture shock and counter-culture shock” (Ms Marielle Hofstetter) and “Stereotypes, prejudices, preconceptions” (Ms Stephanie Vogel). Marielle’s presentation was especially intriguing for me as I was going to go to Asia for the very first time in my life 4 months later as part of the Laos project’s Team IX.
From a previous semester spent in Ireland I could however already confirm Marielle’s findings that when one is staying and working in a new environment for a longer period of time, one is more likely to experience culture shock in all its stages than when being tourist. From my experience working in another country rather than being there on vacation also enhances the chance of culture shock. I cannot say I suffered from counter-culture shock after my return from Ireland in 2018 or after my return from Laos in January 2020. Nevertheless, I miss my Lao friends, the delicious food and the weather terribly.

In the same session, Ms Stephanie Vogel clarified the terminology used in her presentation on “Stereotypes, prejudices, preconceptions”. She described

  • stereotypes as rigid, overgeneralised beliefs about attributes of ethnic groups,
  • prejudices as a negative attitudes and
  • preconceptions as prejudices that prevent rational consideration of an issue,
    making an opinion on sth. before having enough information to make a correct opinion.

At the end of that week, many of the class participants also joined in the 5th (annual) “Lao-German Friendship Feast“. The lovely evening gave all of us the chance to enjoy traiditonal foods from a number of countries and to get in touch with each other about seminar contents and other topic

 

9. Didactics, methodology, context

The next session on didactics, methodology, and context started with Ms Selina Stegmeier’s presentation “Comparison of teaching systems/approaches”. She introduced findings from her personal experiences and observations in two internships in Zanzibar, Tanzania, and Bergen, Norway.

Editor’s note: Selina Stegmeier’s report, her term paper about “Teaching Styles” in different countries, and also her Bachelor thesis on “Decolonising teaching (the´Postmethod Method´)” will be published later this year.

Within the context of her presentation “Textbooks for teaching English: A comparison Lao/German/English”, Ms Leona Kemmer had studied the official coursebook for English language-teaching used in primary schools in Laos (published by the Research Institute of Educational Science). She found several obstacles which Lao learners of English would face when using these books, which would be easily overlooked by European or American/Australian English instructors or teachers educated in another system and culture, and – for other reasons – by Lao teachers of English, for want of linguistic or methodological expertise.

The most basic one to mention is that English uses the Latin alphabet, whereas the Lao language has its own alphabet. A specific example she showed mixed up the concepts of sounds and letters to begin with, which can only cause problems of understanding for young learners. Then there are 4 graphemes for each letter in English: Lower and upper case, both different for print letters and hand-writing.
Apart from this, there would be a conceptional  disadvantage of sticking closely to a coursebook which focuses on reading and writing when the teaching goals now are listening comprehension and speaking.

The session was concluded by Ms Felicitas Siwik with her presentation “Decolonise your mind”. She started her presentation with a self-experiment: She gave us 3 categories of famous authors who published in English and asked us to put up our hands to show how many names we knew from each group. The categories were “British authors”, “American authors”, and “African authors”. As she had suspected in advance, the majority of the class knew a great number of the British and American authors, while a decreasing number of hands was up when she asked us about the African writers who also wrote award-winning books in English.

Felicitas then briefly presented to us Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong‘o and especially his ground-breaking book Decolonise the Mind (1986) (cf. Prof. Martin’s post relating to this book [note 1]). Felicitas’ presentation made clear that many of our European prototypes only include European images. She demonstrated this by searching for “most famous writers in English literature” in a search engine. The first 20 or so results listed exclusively Caucasians.
Felicitas continued by exploring global examples of renaming streets and removing statues which “honoured the wrong people”, such as dictators, slave traders, or colonisers. She also gave examples from European museums which displayed artifacts with colonial labellings and legally doutbful origins.

Editor’s note: Recently, new websites on such research on German cities have appeared on the Internet. For Karlsruhe: Karlsruhe postkolonial. Ms Felicitas Siwik’s findings will be published in this series in the summer.

Felicitas proceeded to give some examples of colonial imprints on current-day language.

Her final recommendations were to not only read classic British and American authors, and to pay attention to the etymology of (colonial) sayings and idioms one unthinkingly uses in the English language. She mentioned the expression “Long time no see” which is frequently used as a greeting deriving from an imitation of broken English spoken by Native Americans. Furthermore, Felicitas explained how the phrase “No can do” which means “I‘m unable to do it” derives from an imitation of broken English spoken by some Chinese people. She also encouraged us to openly discuss controversial language instead of simply ceasing to use it.

Editor’s note: I wanted to draw students’ attention to this phenomenon because awareness of this is generally (too) low, so I was glad that Ms Siwik agreed to do some research on this topic. Two years ago, I also created a new class on postcolonial theory and literature in the English Master degree.

 

10. Phonology, foreign language education in the US, and moral relativism

An introduction to how English pronunciation poses specific difficulties for learners was provided by Ms Francesca Diligu in her presentation “Pronunciation issues in English of speakers with different L1s”. This includes sounds which are exclusive to the English language as well as phenomena such as consonant clusters (2-4 consonant sounds/letters without a vowel in between them). The latter are especially difficult for Asian learners, as in “Sprite” or “Karl Marx”, which Lao learners would pronounce as [sa-pa-‘li] and [kak mak].
She introduced to us the concept of the “Lingua Franca Core“, which tries to regulate the minimum of correct pronunciation which is necessary for comprehensible communication. As the six most important pronunciation necessities, Francesca mentioned:

  1. All consonant sounds are necessary except /θ/ and /ð/. They can be replaced by /f/ and /v/.
  2. The /ɜː/ vowel as in “girl“ or “first“ must be pronounced accurately.
  3. Most consonant clusters must not be simplified (e.g. at the beginning of words).
  4. The vowel length should be preserved.
  5. The stream of speech should be divided into “word“ groups (rather than syllables).
  6. Nuclear stress must be placed appropriately (e.g. “let´s meet NEXT Saturday” vs. “let´s meet next SATURDAY”, because sentence stress changes meaning in English.4

She continued with a comparison of English and Japanese phonology. It became evident from this part of Francesca’s findings that English features more vowel sounds than Japanese. Moreover, many sounds from the English language such as, for instance, the /ʧ/ in “chips”, /l/ in “light” and /r/ in “right”, do not exist in Japanese, or in many other Asian languages. Japanese also does not feature consonant clusters. Regarding the “Lingua Franca Core”, it can be assumed that English pronunciation poses many obstacles for speakers of Japanese or other Asian learners.

Francesca’s phonological explanations were followed by Mr Galen Dennis’ “US perspectives on foreign language education”, in which he combined his personal experiences as a student in the United States with statistics about US language education. He began by presenting the “fun fact” that the US do not have an official language. On state level, however, 32 of the states have English as their official language, while 2 of all US states have other official languages, and 16 have no official language.
Galen then presented information on the importance of Spanish in the US. According to his findings, 13,4% of the US population speak Spanish at home. Also, US high schools do not require pupils to learn foreign languages at all, nor are pupils tested in any other languages than English.
US universities list a decrease in foreign language admission standards as well as participation in language programmes. Galen argued that this was due to a lack of incentives, a lack of early foreign language exposure, and pressure to excel in other academic fields as well as a decrease in funding.

A philosophical turn to the session was Ms Klara Kaufmann’s presentation on “Moral relativism vs. universal values“.  In the beginning of her presentation, Klara defined values as “beliefs which influence people‘s decisions and actions” and universal values as “apply[ing] to everybody, in any situation, regardless of culture, race, gender or religion”. This is when the course topic became highly controversial.
Klara confronted us with the question “who decides what is right or wrong, or acceptable and not acceptable, or ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’?” Klara’s findings were that Western cultures still project values onto other cultures, forcing their own beliefs and value systems onto differing cultures, consider their values to be „the truth”. This so-called eurocentrism does not acknowledge or value cultural or religious or philosophical differences, it does not acknowledge that “right” and “wrong” are relative categories which are not necessarily universally valid.
Moral relativism is suggested as a solution for this problem as it recognises that there are no right or wrong moral judgements or universal justifications per se, only points of view which are relative to other cultures.
Nevertheless, moral relativism is also a concept which does not lack the implication of complications. Klara finds it to be contradictory and critically asks whether the consequence of moral relativism is that everything has to be tolerated, e.g. the opposition between the Christian Command “though shalt not kill” vs. the death penalty in many countries. Furthermore, she criticises that it does not provide a solution to moral conflicts but rather promotes moral nihilism, invalidates human rights and generalises cultural norms. Another perspective of criticism is provided by the observation that many cultures actually do share common moral values like honesty or respect. This phenomenon cannot be explained or analysed by practising moral relativism.

 

11. More perspectives from and on Asia

On July 8th, four more international students from Asia held presentations about certain aspects of their country’s culture or education systems. Mr Thaithanawanh Keokaisone and Mr Napha Khotphouthone (Erasmus+ exchange program participants from SKU, Lao PDR) titled their presentation “Teaching English in Laos, Buddhist Lao values and style of life, attitude to nature”.
It included interesting facts about the Lao school system from primary school to university. Especially interesting were their explanations of the different uniforms to be worn by teachers and students, because in Germany public schools do not usually require school uniforms – neither for teachers nor students. Thai proceeded by telling us about his family’s background and his upbringing, especially the very impressive number of languages which he came in touch with during his life. These include:

  • his 1st language/mother tongue Katang which is spoken at his home and, according to him, is one of 86 languages in Laos,
  • Lao which is spoken in school and family,
  • Thai which he knows from TV, friends and products,
  • Bali Sanskrit which he came across in the temple and in writing at school,
  • Vietnamese which he was confronted with during school holidays,
  • English which he learned, speaks and teaches in University,
  • Khmer language which he needs for work sometimes,
  • and as of 2019, German which he began to study when he came to Germany in the context of his participation in the Erasmus + exchange program between SKU and PH Karlsruhe.

Napha continued their shared presentation by giving some statistics on the ethnic groups and religious beliefs in Lao P.D.R. Furthermore, he gave us an overview of Lao means of transportation, food and clothing. In the following, he told us more about his personal life and the many professions he practises. Besides being a lecturer he is also helps villagers as a veterinary doctor and is a passionate farmer. He replenished all of his accounts with plenty of photographs.

In that same session, international students Mr Hung Chun Lin and Mr Chun Yen Lin presented interesting facts from their own perspective of Taiwan as the rear light of this session. Their accounts featured Taiwan’s average English proficiency indicator level which is a score of 51.88 out of 100. This is comparable to a B2 CEFR level and leaves Taiwan on rank 48 out of a total of 88 countries and regions in Asia in the year 2018.
Similar to foreign language education in Korea, many parents send their children to private schools or at least private after schools. Furthermore, English-speaking kindergarten and international schools are very popular with parents and students. However, all of these are quite costly, tuition ranking from 860-5500€ per month per student.
English is an obligatory second language for students in Taiwan whereas third languages choices include Japanese, Korean, French, German, Spanish, Thai, Indonesian, and Vietnamese. As an economic reason for the relevance of English in Taiwan, the two presenters explained job and salary aspirations as well university graduation requirements. Nevertheless, they found that Taiwanese learners of English face several difficulties when learning the language, for instance a lack of communicative abilities, as school lessons focus more on reading and listening than on speaking and writing.
Hung and Chun also explored on the requirements for becoming an English teacher in Taiwan, which are:

  • Citizenship from one of the following countries: US, Canada, UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand
  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Clean FBI criminal background
  • TEFL Certification.

 

12. Final session: Education in Hongkong, Spanish-speakers learning English and closing remarks

In the final session on 15th July, Ms Wai Man Fong gave us an insight on “Education in Hongkong”. Ana Catarina da Silva Henriques presented “Pronunciation problems for Spanish-speaking learners of English”. The session and seminar were rounded off by Prof. Martin’s elaborations on the different PH Karlsruhe-Laos projects and other international cooperations. She also gave us an outlook on future openings in the project, and options for students’ final theses. I was unable to attend this session which is why I have no detailed comments.

 

13. Conclusion and Evaluation

Every semester the administration of the University of Education Karlsruhe conducts 20 official evaluations of randomly chosen lectures. Lecturers can, however, also voluntarily register for their lectures to be evaluated. This serves the purpose of ensuring the quality and positive evolvement of teaching.
Due to the required anonymity and validity of answers, the lecturer herself or himself is not part of the evaluation process at any point, which is why they will kindly ask a tutor to hand out the feedback sheets to their fellow-students. Giving the feedback and answering the questions in the standardised questionnaire is voluntary. The tutor count the number of filled-in sheets and returns them to the university administration in a closed envelope, who then analyse the data. The results are sent to the lecturer, who is obligated to make the results available to the class and discuss them. In the following I will refer to the results of this evaluation.

All in all, the evaluation of this class confirms that the class participants were overall very content with the seminar, and it has contributed to everyone’s knowledge. Like 53% of the class who took part in the survey I did not attend the seminar for receiving credit points or to be examined on this topic. Nevertheless, many academic papers grew out of the presentations and the seminar also provided ideas for state exam topics, and further scientific research was conducted on the basis of this class.
As recommended by Prof. Martin, I attended this seminar as one way of preparing for my participation in the Laos project as a member of Team IX from October 2019 until January 2020. In the beginning of the semester, especially during our joint search for topics, I noticed that a lot of the topics and terminology introduced by Prof. Martin were new to me and – at that time – I could not yet make connections between these topics. Throughout the semester, however, thanks to Prof. Martin’s ability to always keep an overview and weave the “red thread”, my knowledge – and especially the connections and interdependence of topics – began to grow.
Although we had different topics and foci every week – sometimes even within one session – Prof. Martin’s planning and consistent coaching of each participant (in consultation sessions outside of class) helped to put all the pieces together in a very meaningful way. The seminar offered chances to take the very first steps into decolonising our own minds, as the process always starts with personal awareness, which can only be achieved through learning something new.

 

Text by Y.-J. Dyck, editor’s notes by I. Martin
Photos by N. Khoutphouthone, I. Martin & Y.-J. Dyck

 

Notes

  1. Wikipedia: College Scholastic Ability Test (last edited on 17 December 2019): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/College_Scholastic_Ability_Test (last accessed on 21 December 2019)
  2. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-46181240 (last accessed on 21 December 2019)
  3. Oxfam Education: https://www.oxfam.org.uk/education/who-we-are/what-is-global-citizenship (last accessed on 21 December 2019)
  4. Ty, Rey: Colonialism and Nationalism in Southeast Asia: http://www.seasite.niu.edu/crossroads/ty/COLONIALISM_%20IN_SE%20ASIA.htm (last accessed on 14 April 2020)
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