Teachable versus Unteachable Materials;
Two Examples of English for Military Purposes
by Neil McBeath
We have already seen how the RSAF course uses a series of maps to work through schemata of increasing sophistication. Compare this with Target. In Oman, schoolchildren begin to study English in Class 4, a full three years before their Saudi counterparts (Issan – No Date). Even so, Target Level One devotes 5 pages of the Student’s Book and 13 pages of the Workbook to the formation of letters. The Target Two Workbook contains a further 9 pages on the same topic. There is no progression here. This is simply repetition, and irrelevant and pointless repetition at that.
If Target One students could not form letters, they would never have matriculated from Secondary School. If Target Two students could not form letters, they would never have passed Target One.
Equally irrelevant and pointless, but for different reasons, is the following activity, which is based around a reading passage.
The Wilson Family are having a holiday is Spain at the moment. They aren’t staying in a hotel. They are camping in the mountains. Right now Mr. Wilson is playing cards with a friend and Mrs. Wilson is taking photographs. The children are Lucy and Mathew. Lucy is riding her bike and Mathew is fishing in a river near the campsite.
The students are required to use the information in the text to complete a “Family Holiday Information Form”, which appears to have been developed by a surveillance agency. It lists Family name; Number of family members; Number of children in the family: Holiday location and Activities.
Clearly, the intention behind this exercise is to provide practice in information transfer, but why this type of material should engage the attention of learners from the Omani Armed Forces is VERY open to question. In Candlin’s (1972) New Age English Course, the stereotypical Brown family was designed to provide a central focus. Students were supposed to follow their increasingly atypical activities and learn something about British life and institutions along with the language.
The Wilsons, however, violate the expectations of even that, dated, approach. They emerge from nowhere and are never heard of again. All we ever know of them is that they are camping in some bizarre location that requires their every activity to be logged.
Here then, we can see a concrete case of what Dat (2003; 388) describes, showing “how learner identity may be denied. Experienced teachers have seen how adult learners sometimes feel embarrassed by the childish content of many activities that treat them like a group of unintelligent people. For example, instead of being guided to discuss dealing with stress in workplaces or issues of more personal and mature concern, they are made to talk about the impersonal ‘fictitious Robinson family with a stupid dog and two boring children’ (expression from Allwright and Bailey 1991; 162)”. For Robinson, read Wilson, and Dat, Allwright and Bailey have hit the nail on the head.
I have not come across any direct instances of plagiarism in the RSAF English course. There are materials that are similar to those that appear in other texts, like the “How to change a car wheel” exercise in Book One, Module 3 (Pp. 56-57) but that is an extension of the entirely original “How to change an electric plug” (Pp. 54-55)
The Target course, by contrast is driven by the illustrator’s belief that “there are no new textbooks”, a mantra he repeated frequently in the course of a meeting held on January 30 th, 2005. Weidenhaupt (1982; 77) reminds us “Maintain something boldly enough, and some mud will stick”. The illustrator’s belief appears to have given the Target team carte blanche to raid the library.
Target Two, for example, has its own “How to change a car wheel” (Pp. 96-97). This exercise is directly plagiarized from Jupp and Milne (1980; 44-48) but Jupp and Milne’s original is better. Their introductory section on tools, the work on phrasal verbs and the exercise on opposites are all ignored, and Target Two simply requires students to sequence instructions. The illustrations, moreover, show an Omani civilian changing a wheel, when a figure in uniform would have given the exercise more face validity.
Other material has been plagiarized from Hore and Hore (1982 ) in Target One, Hartley and Viney (1978; 1979), and Rost (1986) in Target Two, and Target Three has taken material from the internet.
“RNOV Shabab Oman is one of the worlds tallest ships and she often takes part in the Round the World Tall Ships Race” (P. 14). She isn’t, and she doesn’t.
This is part of a passage that has been downloaded, with little understanding, from two or three different websites. The first clause comes from an incorrect Wikipedia entry, and later information has been taken from either the Omani Ministry of Information’s website or the more general Omani heritage website NizwaNet. This passage is therefore an example of what Unissa (2006; 85) describes as “cut and paste” plagiarism.
The problem is that Shabab Oman is not one of the world’s tallest ships. That title would probably go to a Caribbean cruise liner, a bulk container or a container carrier. Shabab Oman is a Tall Ship, a specific type of sailing vessel (NOT a yacht) that is crewed by either young people who are volunteers or who have been engaged for a single voyage as a type of adventure training.
Even among Tall Ships, Shabab Oman is not particularly large. She is dwarfed by similar vessels from Holland and Russia. Her main claim to fame is that she is the Arab World’s only Tall Ship. She has never taken part in the Round the World Tall Ships Race because there is no such contest. Shabab Oman has won the Tall Ships Friendship trophy four times in succession, and the last Tall Ships Race began in Waterford, Ireland, and finished in Frederikstad in Norway.
Plagiarism from the internet is a major problem in Arab Gulf universities. Paper after paper has been devoted to this problem at TESOL Arabia and other Gulf ELT Conferences (Birks; Hunt; Mandalios and Remondi 2001; Birks; Hunt and Mandalios 2003; McBeath 2004; Owen 2006/2007; Kershaw 2007). It is deeply depressing to see supposed professional people, who are being paid to produce original material, choosing to behave in ways that would be penalized if they were undergraduate students.
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