English in Military Culture, Academic Culture
and Omani Culture – Maintaining the Balance
by Neil McBeath
I started teaching tri-service personnel in 1981. In those days, a new recruit with six years of primary education, which meant two years of English, was regarded as an intellectual. Even so the men I was teaching had read almost nothing, and they had traveled even less. Most of them followed a route from their home village to the capital area and back. Inspired by the Fanja sailor, therefore, I created a series of illustrated worksheets designed to serve as an introduction to the Sultanate, emphasising the military significance of the places mentioned.
In 1982, the worksheets were collected into a fifteen page booklet, and published by the Directorate of Education (SOAF; no date). Here is the passage concerning Salalah:
|Another big town is Salalah. Salalah is a town in Dhofar. It is beside the sea. The Sultan of Oman’s Air Force has an airport at Salalah and there is a civilian airport too. There are many farms in Salalah and the country is very green. Near Salalah is Raysut. The Sultan of Oman’s Navy has a base at Raysut, and north of Salalah is Thumrait, where the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force has another airfield. His Majesty Sultan Qaboos has a palace in Salalah and Salalah is the Southern H.Q. of the Sultan’s Armed Forces.
This is written in a very simple style, with frequent repetition and multiple use of set phrases – Sultan of Oman’s Air Force; Sultan of Oman’s Navy – that the students would encounter as they worked through the booklet. It was, of course, designed for men who had studied no more than two years of school English, and yet the subject matter was informative, and relevant to serving members of the Sultan’s Armed Forces.
It was also remarkably successful. By directly mentioning the Air Force and the Navy, and indirectly involving the Army (H.Q. of the Sultan’s Armed Forces) the readers’ interest was immediately engaged. This is vital, particularly when dealing with students who are unsure of their own ability. Masuhara (2003) is adamant “Engaging Affect should be the Prime Concern of Reading Materials” (p. 351), and she is backed by Tomlinson (2008) “the learner needs to be motivated, relaxed, positive and engaged.” (p. 4).
This militarized passage also compares favourably with a similar passage that appears in Target: the Sultan’s Armed Forces General English Course, Student’s Book Two (RAFO; no date). That book offers a series of extended bullet points (pp. 99-100) which appear to be designed as tourist information. Both halves of the double page are illustrated with the same soft, slightly out of focus photograph of an Indian labourer standing by a coconut palm, but the illustration is irrelevant. The information consists primarily of instructions on how to get to Salalah, and information about the hotels there. Strangely, there is no mention of the Dhofar Festival, an annual event specifically designed to attract tourists from other Arab Gulf countries, nor is there any mention at all of the Sultan’s Armed Forces.
I am not impartial. I have criticized the Target course on many occasions (McBeath 2005; 2007a; 2007; 2008) but even the least biased critic might well wonder exactly what the Target compilers hoped to achieve with this type of material, and why they felt that it would have any appeal to Omani servicemen.
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