The Z/Zed discrepancy

By | October 16, 2013

(This post was written as we were in our 3rd week in Cambodia)

For the last few weeks, we have been in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and working with the Bridge Of Life School. We are teaching English to the students of this school, who speak Khmer (the language of Cambodia). There are two classes of students (each about 25 students), one working on conversational English, and the other on the basics, such as English letters. We have been working mostly with the students learning English letters, and it is proving a challenging environment for me.

Now, I became a certified (in the state of Minnesota) tutor my sophomore year of college, and I have a huge amount of experience in the area. But, I tutor mostly college level science (biology, chemistry, and physics), with some ACT prep and math thrown in there, but nothing like working with children this young. It seems like the average age of students learning English letters is ~7, and I haven’t tutored someone that young since I was that age myself. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that I haven’t tutored English before, much less English to speakers of other languages.

When I am teaching English to these students, I have to speak slowly and carefully, making sure to pronounce things as clearly as possible, so as to not teach them poor pronunciation. Not to mention all of the differences between their English and what I learned. Due to Cambodia’s history (originally a colony), they say Z as “zed”, not “zee” as I am used to…. And the first time a student looked at me with confusion when I said our 26th letter, I had no idea what I did wrong. I first thought that the student didn’t know the letter….

But then as I realized the problem, I had a minor freak-out….

I had already taught several children that that letter is Z(ee). I wondered how many children I had ruined…. Language is cumulative, and habits stick around. Could this incorrect information stick with this child? Could it spread? Would my volunteering, no matter how well intentioned, actually make the child’s education less effective?

Would this child be worse of because of me?

So…… Yea….

I am looking forward to teaching science instead….. Besides the fact that I know how science works, and I have experience in science education, it is something that doesn’t scare me.

Science education is already so strongly based on cultivation of concepts. The things you learn in elementary school are not correct. They are simply in the right direction. And every few years, you learn the things you though are not really the way things work…. And then a few years later you learn that again….. And again… And again….

And so it is not simply about learning facts, or concepts…. Science education is about learning to flow and understand, and to make sense of things that don’t make sense….

And I am good at that. I like that….

But not this “Zee/Zed” crap.

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