Teachable versus Unteachable Materials;
Two Examples of English for Military Purposes
by Neil McBeath
Comparisons and Contrasts.
As we have seen, the RSAF course material is aimed at one specific group of learners, and the materials frequently extend and reinforce each other. This can be seen from the way in which the course exploits maps, which are effectively authentic materials.
Allwright (1977; 5) takes the purist view that “no materials, published or unpublished, naturally conceived or designed as materials for language learning” should ever be presented to students. In ESP, authenticity is all. Allwright would therefore probably approve of the use that the RSAF course makes of maps.
In Book 1, Module 3 (P. 61) they are used to teach directions and regions – Northern Region, Eastern Region, Central Region – and these allow RSAF cadets to activate knowledge about their own home areas. In Book 2, Module 1 the cadets are given maps which show the distances between the principal towns and cities of the Kingdom. This allows them to calculate the distances that are relevant to their own journeys and those of their classmates. It is only when that personal information has been established that they move on to a map that indicates the locations of the Kingdom’s principal airports (Book 3, Module 4, P. 20).
So far as Target is concerned, Student’s Book Level One offers a map of the Arabian peninsula, plus Turkey, Egypt and Iran (P. 66). The illustrator, however, has opted for a map which views the peninsula from a diagonal angle, looking north east from some point south west of Aden. It is as if one were looking at the region from a satellite somewhere above the secessionist state of Somaliland.
At the same time, Egypt has been revolved so that its border with Libya now seems to touch the Aegean coast of Turkey. Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar, being to scale, are so small as to be invisible, and the writers have turned the entire exercise into a magazine’s general knowledge activity, printing the answers upside down at the bottom of the page.
In the same book (P. 171) there is a map of the Sultanate that is, frankly, wrong. The instruction here is “Look at the map and the key. How many cities are there?”
If the map is to be believed, then Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE, and Dubai is another city. Sharjah, Ajman and Al Ain have disappeared. Oman has no capital city, and the only city in the Sultanate is Salalah. Muscat and Seeb, which in reality form the Capital Area in Oman, are separated and downgraded in status to towns. By contrast, the oil drilling station of Fahud, and the very small coastal village of Al Ashkara have their status enhanced, and are upgraded to towns. Finally, the principal base of the Royal Navy of Oman at Wudam is also shown as a town.
To add to this confusion, the accompanying gap-fill exercise (P. 172) states that “Seeb is a city in the ……. of Oman”, while a second exercise asks students to name “A city about 200 km south west of Muscat”. Quite clearly, the intended answer is Nizwa, but according to the map, Nizwa is only a town.
In short, this exercise is a disaster. The writers’ own proof reading (or lack of proof-reading) has destroyed what could have been promising material.
Micic (2005; 5) declares that “The ESP teacher should not become a teacher of subject matter, but rather an interested student of the subject matter.” The Target writers, however, demonstrate that they have so little interest in their subject matter that they are capable of making gross errors about the basic geography of the Sultanate.
What makes this worse is that the information is freely available and easy to access (Ministry of Information 2005; 2006). One of the Target writers actually worked at RNO Wudam for several years. He seems to have been so unobservant that he failed to notice that Wudam al Sahil was the name of the village just south of the perimeter wall, and that the larger village on the main highway to Muscat (some 3 km from the camp) was called Thirmid.
Barlow and Floyd’s research (1998) indicates that there are certain topics that Arab Gulf students find sensitive or offensive. To a certain extent, their findings are supported by Sellami (2005) who points out the importance that Arabs accord to “respect, honour and loyalty” (P. 81). These qualities are also encouraged in military culture. For an Arab serviceman, there can hardly be a greater disincentive to learn than the presentation of materials that display a cavalier disregard for facts, and information that could be regarded as disrespectful to his tribal territory.
A worse instance, however, is to come. The Target Level Two Workbook presents students with a map of the area around Raleigh, North Carolina. (P. 71). The students have to read six sets of directions, follow the map and write in their destinations.
Maps of the USA could be relevant to SAF personnel. RAFO send personnel to the Lackland Air Force Base at San Antonio in Texas. RAFO Specialist Vehicle Sub-section personnel go to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for training on fire tenders. Fort Lee in Virginia offers an Ordnance Quartermaster course for ordnance personnel from the Royal Army of Oman. Savannah, Illinois has trained RAO ordnance personnel working with guided missiles. The Sultan of Oman’s Armour has sent personnel on courses at Fort Bragg, in Georgia. The RNO has paid courtesy visits to Boston, Massachusetts, New York City and Baltimore, Maryland.
No SAF personnel, however, have ever been sent to Raleigh, North Carolina. The only reason that this map appears is that the Target illustrator comes from that area. His family has hog farms there.
And this brings me to the nub of my argument. The real difference between the RSAF English course and the RAFO Target course is that the RSAF course has never lost sight of its final goal. The RAFO team, by contrast, have been allowed to treat their intended audience with contempt, and have produced self-indulgent, over illustrated, partially plagiarized, frequently irrelevant materials, shove them together, and call them a course. This may seem like a harsh judgement, but I shall prove each point.
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