Stereotyping

santiago-lrg

I have already met many, many students. Through the years, I got to see some kind of pattern concerning Paraguayan students of English who are studying to get a B.A. in the English language. This is definitely just my biased perception, but here it goes:

1. Students who love English. Their main motivation is their infatuation with the English language. They feel comfortable speaking in English, and speak it all the time, whether they are in class or out of it. In the classroom or in the college bathroom.

They like the Anglo culture, have a wider view of the world, see “the big picture” in terms of globalization. They love exchanging ideas and theorize with native speakers and dream of visiting English speaking countries. That dream usually motivates them to look for scholarships which they frequently get, to study abroad.

2. Students who like English. They like the language, they see a difference among our cultures, which they find interesting. They do not feel comfortable speaking in English though, since they never passed the intermediate level of proficiency in the language. I can observe that these students are neither highly proficient in the language nor do they know much about their target language culture. Even though these students do want to improve, in my opinion, the fact that they are so immersed into their own Paraguayan culture kind of restricts them regarding a more global view of the world. These students would use English solely for academic purposes, so when in class they ask each other for something non-academic, they would probably do it in Spanish. Of course, this habit has consequences, as the fact that they continue pronouncing English words using only five vowels, or that they still, after years of studying, say “Espanish”

I guess one of the reasons why this happens is partly because of what other students -who do not speak English- have written in the lady’s bathroom: “las de inglés son sobradoras” (the ones who study English are show-offs). This is a more Sociolinguistic point of view: apparently the fact that someone speaks English or Japanese or another language which is spoken far away from Paraguay is only allowed to “high class people”, and this fact makes this people “proud/snob”. Speaking Portuguese, on the other hand is OK. No one would consider a Portuguese speaker someone who brags because of the fact that he speaks it. Why is Portuguese allowed? Brazil is our neighbour. “More humble” people can have access to it.

Once my British boss told me “some Paraguayans act as if they believed that Paraguay is the world” I did not think through it at that moment, but years after I have come to realize that some do fit into that category. As Benjamin Whorf would say: “languages act as blinkers” they let you “see” just what the inventory of words of those languages allow you to see. I am convinced that cultures also act as blinkers. And sometimes we feel so identified with our own culture that prevents us from “seeing” what is going on around us, past the border lines.

 

The idea of sharing this with my readers is to encourage my students to always look for excellence. If a person decides to become an English teacher in this case, let them be the BEST English teacher ever! They need to know that they will have support from their teachers. I am one of them.

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One thought on “Stereotyping

  1. I’ve become convinced that it’s practically impossible to avoid some stereotyping. Maybe that’s because we do reflect our cultural upbringing no matter how many years we’ve lived in another culture. In the case of English language learners in Paraguay, stereotyping of English speakers comes easily since cultural context for the language is very limited or non-existent. And it’s even more difficult for those Paraguayans who don’t speak or understand English to see and appreciate the cultural differences. For instance, I’ve noticed when teaching English composition that most Paraguayan students over-complicate the sentences. Yes, one needs to know complex and compound sentences, dependent and independent clauses, connecting words and phrases, etc. but one does not have to use every grammatical possibility in one paragraph. This type of writing is considered awkward and maybe even a bit pompous by many American native English speakers. On the other hand, since U. S. English composition is direct and concise yet is often perceived as abrupt, terse, even rude by many English-speaking Paraguayans. This is a writing style issue that reflects the culture of the writer. Paraguayans generally take more time with a task, give more time to socializing, and are conscious of the impression they are making in the areas of courtesy and education; whereas, Americans tend to do things as quickly and as effectively as possible, are fine with a superficial greeting until break time, and consider efficiency the best impression to make.

    No one culture is better than another. Exposure to more than one culture helps an individual understand how to relate to others in any culture more effectively and amicably.

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