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May 01, 2009

Extra-Curricular Learning

“An Englishman is a person who does things because they have been done before. An American is a person who does things because they haven't been done before." Mark Twain

Did you ever consider the aspects of your culture that define it? These are usually almost impossible to see from inside one’s culture but are glaringly obvious to….

….those visiting or observing from outside.

One time I was teaching an English class on the West Coast of the United States and I had two young ladies who had just flown in from Japan the previous weekend.

As part of our introductions on the first day of class, I asked these two students what other people had told them about America – and Americans.

“Everyone told us that Americans are very friendly and never take anything seriously.”

I was expecting warnings about crime or violence, difficulties (at least in our area) with mass transit or perhaps issues related to food. In other words, I was expecting warnings related to comfort and personal safety – not the level of sociability of a typical American.

As the quarter came to a close, I asked these two students “Remember those two things you were expecting about Americans? Were they true? Were Americans friendly and not serious about things?”

They laughed, “Yes, absolutely!”

I’m not sure what I was expecting after their first ten or so weeks in America. I did assume that they were serious students (and they were), but I really wondered how they had been welcomed into the social lives of the American students they saw each day.

They reminded me that far more can happen – and be learned – when studying or working abroad - outside the classroom than within it. I'd still like to see more of what they saw and experienced of the "real" America.

As Mark Twain put it “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

What should we know about your culture that we won't find in books or classrooms?

I'll be hosting some contests soon where I'll be giving away books and CDs. Stay tuned here - and send me some of your suggestions for great books and music that help with language learning!

My best to you,


Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

In May I want to welcome readers to present thoughts on the ideal job. What do you most want to do? Where would you like to be? Who would you want to work with?

About the author of this entry:

Morf has a B.A.from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and an MAT (Master's in Teaching English) from the University of Washington (Seattle). Morf spent about six years working for a Native American Tribal College, a few years teaching various humanities, English, writing and ESL courses with the community college system in Washington State (including one year as part of a faculty exchange program with The Beijing Foreign Language University). While in China, Morf was briefly a radio host for CRI (China Radio International) and did recordings for the "English can be enjoyable" book and tape series. Morf currently teaches English and writing for a local technical/vocational college with many international students. Morf prefers international and independent films, foods he can't pronounce, music no one else likes and riding his bicycle in unlikely and ridiculous situations.

Posted by mmorf at May 1, 2009 10:26 PM

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Thank you for sharing.
I use music from Spain, Caribbean, Cuba, Guatemala, and Honduras or Susann Bacca.
I also invite professional dance instructors to teach my students a few dance steps in the music, which enhances the learning of the language.

Posted by: E. Omega at May 31, 2009 03:36 PM

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