How does a monk in Yangon learn English?

Just like the rest of us, apparently. I can say this because I had a wonderful opportunity to train English teachers of the Education Network, a branch of the National League for Democracy, the political party, both founded by Aung San Suu Kyi. We discovered the day before starting that there were too many teachers wanting training to fit into the planned space. The local monastery was kind enough to lend us one of their main buildings for the week.

140107 Barbara Monks laugh

The first day of training at lunch time, I happened to sit next to one of the monks. He said he was studying English. I asked him how. He showed me a multilingual dictionary (Sanscrit, Pali, Burmese and English) of Buddhist terms. He had gotten to the letter L. But seeing us train teachers, and seeing that we had other volunteers, the monks made a request we were happy to comply with. Four monks were especially interested in publishing their work in English, and wanted to learn. Barbara, one of the volunteers was chosen. With little experience and much trepidation, she found them extraordinarily able to concentrate on small details. They were quick learners in everything except pronunciation (just as most adults are). Retention was better than most students.

Our time in the monastery showed a few things at first. They were confirmed through visits to schools and talk with the teachers. In Myanmar, the prevalent teaching technology is the whiteboard. I never saw any blackboards. Students sat at long tables.

I saw a lesson for grade 11, the last before starting university (recently re-opened). The chemistry teacher was teaching how catalytic heaters worked. Through a complex graphic hand-drawn on the board, and a long series of what sounded like chants, the students covered the process and components. The teacher had a very well defined step-by-step way of covering each part, breaking it down, and integrating it with each of the other parts, all with the students either repeating, completing or answering his prompts. It was all very logical.

140106 Frank Teaching 1I was offered a digital projector for training, but decided to do it without, better to see if I could make them work. I used a different approach, and think I was almost as effective as the chemistry teacher, but have found how utterly dependent on technology I have become. I am now much more often revisiting what I call Frank’s rule. Twenty five years ago, Frank Berberich said in a discussion with Charles Adamson, “Any activity that can be done on paper is a waste on the computer.”

The other teacher trainer in Yangon? Frank. And the first monk? He has a smartphone. I showed him an app.

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