On November 11, ETA Alex Bue received an unexpected email: “INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM CONFIRMATION OF AGREEMENT.” The agreement called him to present on December 16 at Imam Bonjol University in Padang about the day’s subject, ”Solving Cultural and Psychological Obstacles in Learning Languages,” which he did happily.
Alex joined several other speakers at the University on December 16. Lessons included one about Japanese and Korean’s unique and diverse alphabets; another about the importance of Arabic language education, delivered all in Arabic by a Moroccan man to a crowd that didn’t speak Arabic; and a dentist’s savvy tips for learning English, including, importantly, that it should be “fun.”
Alex in his speech considered just one goal of learning a new language – to increase our understanding of people unlike ourselves – and then obstacles to that end. Linguistic barriers aside, it seems obvious we bring to conversations with other people in other cultures a baggage of stereotypes and assumptions. As much as he spoke to the crowd, Alex spoke to himself and to his home, realizing it is hardly Indonesians who need most to be reminded that people from places unfamiliar to each other can still share essential similarities. Cultures are expressions of real and important differences, but they are also facades through which we must try to see each other.
Alex Bue is currently teaching at SMAN 11 Padang, West Sumatra
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