English in Military Culture, Academic Culture
and Omani Culture – Maintaining the Balance
by Neil McBeath
Base Ordnance Depot
By contrast, the next exercise was remarkable for the strength of positive response that it generated. By the late 1980s, I was working at the Force Ordnance Service School, and
the soldiers were now of a considerably higher educational standard. It was quite usual to have recruits who had completed both primary and preparatory education, and some had even finished their secondary schooling. By the time that I left the Force Ordnance Service, in 1997, moreover, it was Royal Army of Oman policy that only men who had completed secondary education would be recruited.
In the 1980s we used a course called English Right from the Start (Hore and Hore; 1982; 1983). It was quite effective, but in its determination to teach English as an international language, it had been ruthlessly purged of any material that culture specific. This resulted in two volumes of almost epic blandness, where students were taught to ask for directions, describe people, find their way around office blocks and politely transfer information that few people would want to know.
To Omanize, militarize and generally liven up this approach, I produced a series of passages like this:
Said bin Mubarik bin Said al Hamdani comes from Yanqul, but he is living in Seeb now. He was born in Ibri in 1970 and went to school there. He went to saif bin Sultan Secondary School.
Said is a storeman and he works at BOD. He is average height, well built and has black hair and brown eyes. He is a pleasant, friendly soldier who likes playing football and watching television. He wants to become a Wakeel. He can be contacted on 615931.
Having read the passage, students had to complete a form listing details like Name; Origin; Place of Birth; Address; Telephone Number; Age; Occupation; education etc. The breakthrough with this material came when I used a photograph and placed it above one particular passage. Within days, several members of my class had presented me with passport size photographs of themselves, demanding that I write up their own details.
This led to two changes. Firstly, I used the photographs, but carefully gave no written information about the soldier’s colour of eyes, colour of hair, or any other information that could be found by looking at the photograph. Then I diversified the exercise, by giving out completed forms, and asking that the details be written up in complete sentences.
Once again, this material engaged the interest of the BOD personnel because it focused attention on members of their own unit – their “oppos” in Gardiner’s term. Secondly, their willingness to offer personal information for educational use displayed a level of trust and a recognition that we were all engaged in a collaborative venture. This is what Gardiner refers to as “teamwork”. I relied on the men to present me with data. They, in turn, trusted me to produce materials that could enhance the overall effectiveness of the class, the Force Ordnance Service and, ultimate, the Royal Army of Oman.
The paragraphs also developed existing knowledge and gave practice in skimming and scanning. This reinforced a study skill whose importance is urged by Ewer (1979), Nuttall (1982), McGinley (1985) and Al Mutawa and Kailani (1989). It directed the men’s attention to reading for information, and simultaneously evoked what Johnson (1982) terms “the information transfer principle”(p. 164).
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