This blog is not an official US Department of State website. The views and information presented are of the author as a private citizen and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the US Department of State.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Scenes From Night School

Observing Night School (a literacy initiative run by University students) has been fun. We experienced a blackout last night in the middle of class--usually the generators kick on right away--but after a few minutes the power came back and nobody was phased. During a discussion of the word "dear," one of the teachers used the nugget, "When two vowels go out walking, the first one does the talking." I have no recollection of hearing that before, but Nicole remembers the phrase from phonics.

The teachers are really good at improvising when the (American) textbook exercises don't quite fit. One exercise asked students to match the words "name," "address," "phone number," "apartment number," and "social security number" with examples of each. The "correct" answer for address was something like
"425 Main Street," but addresses in Beirut don't have street numbers (and sometimes don't have street names). The sample phone number had seven digits, whereas numbers here have eight--and I told the teachers that the exercise is dated or at least potentially confusing for U.S. audiences too, given that you generally need to include the area code ("does each state have its own area code in America?" one of the teachers asked me, and I recalled that long before cell phones and fax machines many states did only have one or two area codes...about the time I was learning phonics).

I wonder how the word "bravo" came into common usage here. The teachers frequently use the word when a student gets an answer correct. The French words in heavy rotation ("merci" and "bon jour" are ubiquitous in Beirut) aren't surprising, but what's up with "bravo"?


  1. I remember the "two vowels" lesson. Funny about "bravo" too. I remember my old friend Rabab always saying "Bravo habibi" whenever her son did a task. I thought it was so odd.

  2. No wonder I was having so much trouble calling people when I was in the States this summer!

    Have you read, by the way, Suresh Canagarajah's Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in English Teaching? It has an interesting chapter on the mismatch between the English textbook and the (Sri Lankan) students' lives which includes a section on students' "rewriting" of the texts through marginal glosses.

  3. Anna: that's exactly the context for the word "bravo." The teachers will say "bravo habibi" or "bravo habibti" when students get a question right. Total Beirut dialect

    Jonathan: I've read other work by Canagarajah, but not that book. I love googlebooks and pdfs of articles!