Learning Sinhala and Tamil

In June of this year, I will be headed to Sri Lanka for a little over 3 weeks to teach English as part of the Vandu Paaru program, supported by the local district of Christian Brothers and St. Mary’s College of California. 3 weeks in a totally different community. I have never been in this part of the world, but from what I understand from colleagues, I will most likely be able to work with middle school and secondary school aged students and, if I am lucky, teachers around the teaching of English. I’m hoping to use some slight educational technology while I am there by teaching English through the arts.

For me, this is potentially the start of a larger commitment. I want to learn from teachers there about their own strategies for teaching English, particularly to students who speak two separate languages, Sinhala and Tamil. At this school, English is the common language, the language of unity after civil war. English as a language of unity rather than as one used to isolate others is a concept that greatly interests me. I am hoping to learn about the teaching strategies that are used and then brainstorm with teachers how a sustainable (solar-powered, already donated by Wells Fargo), mobile tablet lab could support English language acquisition as well as other academic goals in core subject areas and electives. I want to set up such a lab so that it could support the needs of the students, teachers and brothers locally and allow for interdisciplinary collaboration with a global community, whether undergraduates, teacher candidates and faculty at St. Mary’s College of California or with other communities around the world. I’m applying for grant funding to make that happen, come back in December with the lab to set up. I also put in an application locally for a Jan Term class for juniors and seniors to take stories gathered from Tamil women as part of the sabbatical research of a SMC colleague with students on an immersion trip to Sri Lanka and teach those stories in English and Social Science lessons in the secondary context as part of a global studies unit that integrates real stories and educational technology.

So in prep for all of that, I went nuts on the library requests. In my bag right now are books by Leah Lakshmi Piepna-Samarasinga (Consensual Genocide), John Clifford Holt (ed. of The Sri Lankan Reader), a Sri Lankan travel book, Frances Harrison (Still Counting the Dead), Niromi de Soyza (Tamil Tigress), and Gordon Weiss (The Cage). The Library wants me to read these books by April 15 as I had to request them through interlibrary loan. Luckily, I can renew for another two weeks. I am trying to immerse myself in the history, culture and politics in prep for my trip. I am also trying to learn Sinhala and Tamil, basic phrases, so that my time there can be especially fruitful. While English may be the language of unity, Sinhala and Tamil are the languages of home. I want to be welcomed and welcoming.

A new adventure. Always, right?

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