I have trained various students to take the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) test. All of them had one major thing in common; they were European or at the very least comfortable with western culture. Brazilian, Greek or Saudi, they had a reserve of background general knowledge to help them make inferences and assumptions for tough questions. In contrast, my trainee admits that unless he knows the context for the test, he probably won’t know what words or phrases he’s listening or reading for.
Nevertheless, we must push on and fill in as many gaps as we can in background knowledge. The gaps are astounding and unknown; just as the local villagers are amazed and flabbergasted by our inability to catch or gut a chicken or set a fire. Just last night I caught a huge spider with my bare hands who had dared venture inside of our sleep tent. I recognised a sentence uttered by our trainee to his mother over dinner. As we expand our village repertoire, so too must our trainee become familiar with random western trivia. I find it hard to guess what he doesn’t know and so as we practice it becomes more evident that there are many things which I take for granted and assume as innate knowledge which are not.
There are many things about which he seems quite worldly compared to many Myanmar students, but all of a sudden we’ll get caught up on what his physical address is and we’ll be propelled back to the realisation that Myanmar is a country that has only just very recently opened its doors to the 21st century.
NEH Director of Studies and Teacher Trainer