Physics as a Second Language

One of my dorm buddies gifted me his old Physics book so I could see how they teach Physics here in Jordan… in Arabic. I now have even more respect for what my students are doing, learning all this really tough and abstract stuff in their second language. I got the book and looked at the cover, which just says Physics in Arabic (Al-Feeziya’, الفيزياء) and I thought to myself “Huh, so that’s how you spell that.” Nevermind when I started to look through it to see words like electromagnetic induction (الحث الكهر مغناطيسي if you were wondering) and concave and convex mirrors (المرآيا الكروية – المقعرة والمحدبة).

People ask me sometime what the students are like, and how they are different from American teens – if they are (which really in some ways they are) it’s something that I totally don’t even notice on a day to day basis. To me, there doesn’t seem to be this crazy huge cultural divide that I think everyone pictures in their head. It’s easy to forget that my students are named Mohammad and Yousef and Ahmed instead of Charlie and Mike and Spongebob, and that most are studying Islamic Theology at school instead of… well, no religion, and that many hail from “random” countries that strike fear in the uneducated of the US (I have 3 Saudis, 5 Syrians, 1 Kuwaiti and 1 Palestinian from Gaza) instead of from random states around the union that strike fear in those of us from normal states (Oklahoma, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Utah etc.).

The only times I really remember that it’s a different game we’re playing is when I give a quiz and 5 kids through up their hand “What’s a wrench?” or “What’s a dam?” or “What does quadruple mean?” It amazes me because they honestly have 100% perfect English in my mind, but it sucks because this difficult material is just that much harder when your language is 99% instead of 100%, and it sucks because they will be taking the same SAT, the same AP, the same everything as American kids, where will always be little things like that there to trip them up.

And it also sucks because it makes me realize how long it will be before I have the same level of fluency in Arabic (but if the Arabic Physics exams had any Arabic swears on them, I would be GOLDEN).

Posted on March 29, 2010, in Arabic, Jordan, Living Abroad, Physics, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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