They’re Just Not That into Learning English

About Raven Tukes

Hello! My name is Raven Tukes and I am currently a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Kinmen, Taiwan. Starting Fall 2016, I will be a graduate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education pursuing my Masters in International Education Policy.

As educators, we all know that teaching has its ups and downs. Some days you love it, some days you feel defeated. Although the teaching profession here in Taiwan is widely revered and respected, and being an English teacher is a highly coveted role, the truth is that sometimes my students just aren’t that into English.

Yes, teaching English in foreign countries seems to be the “hot” thing to do right now. English language teachers are very high in demand and just about anyone with a college degree who speaks English is eligible to teach English in a foreign country. However, what happens when the profession is in demand, but the actual communities in which you teach could actually care less about English language learning? This has been an ongoing conversation I’ve had with myself over the past few months as a teacher in Kinmen, Taiwan and I’m not sure I can answer this yet.

As an English teacher in Kinmen, Taiwan, students often view my class as useless and unimportant (and with good reason). I am teaching on a remote island that can’t be located on a map. The main industries here are agriculture, tourism and family owned businesses. English is highly irrelevant to my students’ lives outside of the few pop videos they watch on Youtube or the English cram schools (after school English tutorials) they attend at night. Outside of their parents’ prerogatives, my students are usually unmotivated to learn the language.

Yes. This is frustrating. But, over time I’ve had to assess my feelings and privilege as an English teacher on a small remote, rural island, that I’d argue, doesn’t need English to survive. I’ve realized that my need to feel needed as an English teacher who is leaving in a matter of three months is not important and that is perfectly okay. English language education is not America’s (or the West’s) gift to the world and should not be viewed as such. I embarked upon this journey to share my privilege with students who would otherwise not have access to English language education, but the fact is that not everyone is interested in attaining that privilege—nor is this privilege always necessary to survive in an increasingly global society. English language education is a mechanism of Westernization and imperialism (the Wests’ soft power) and perhaps my students’ behavior and attitudes in English class is a form of resistance against the status quo.

Yes, I am aware of the countless opportunities that my students can have if they learn how to speak English. In fact, the Kinmen County government will sponsor any student to travel to Japan this summer if they can introduce themselves in English. And, yes, I want my students to have unlimited opportunities outside of their closely-knit communities, but also insofar as they are interested. I don’t feel that it’s my place as a temporary English teacher to define this for them. As teachers seeking to educate others in foreign countries let us all remember this word: exchange. It is the act of giving and receiving. I would like to add, however, that sometimes, others are uninterested in what you have to give or offer—and that’s okay.

They’re Just Not That in to Learning English1

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About the Author:

Hello! My name is Raven Tukes and I am currently a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Kinmen, Taiwan. Starting Fall 2016, I will be a graduate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education pursuing my Masters in International Education Policy.

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