Decolonising English in Argentina

The HUM Goes to Argentina project is well underway. Students Beth Lane, Cathy Sole, Cassandra Piejko and myself have all spent the last two weeks in Buenos Aires and Bahia Blanca, where our days have been tightly packed with many cultural exchanges, presentations, and project work. The project is the brainchild of UEA professor Dr Leticia Yulita, who has been strengthening UEA’s international connections by collaborating with UEA Alumni Gabriela Atenda, Griselda Beacon and Cecilia Cicolini in Argentina.

Is it not strange that learners of English as a foreign language should be forced to learn by reading about Columbus, Churchill, or the British monarchy? English is a thoroughly globalised language, so shouldn’t the English language syllabus be globalised too? UEA prides itself on being internationally minded, but I was yet to witness this globalised thinking in action until I joined the HUM Goes to Argentina Project.

The focus of our project is on the creation of five manuscripts in English which detail the lives of local heroes from Bahia Blanca, a city in the south of the Buenos Aires province. The research and writing have been done by students of Instituto Superior Juan XXIII, who have welcomed us with unrivalled kindness and whose wisdom and fluency has made our jobs significantly easier. Aside from the colonialist founder of the city, Colonel Roman Estomba, we have been writing about two internationally renowned basketball players, Oveja Hernandez and Manu Ginóbili, philanthropist Natty Petrosini, and the inspirational archaeologist and conservationist Teresa Manera. We had the privilege to meet Manera on more than one occasion. We even went fossil-hunting on the beaches where, in 1832, Charles Darwin found the glyptodon and megatherium fossils which became the basis for his theory of evolution.

The importance of the work from a decolonisation aspect is partially because these books will be implemented in the English language curriculum in local schools, so that the syllabus content becomes more relevant, and detached from the Eurocentric nature of many English language courses abroad. But the books will also include pointed questions to encourage children to consider the importance of gender equality in sport and in fields of science (for which Manera becomes an excellent role model). The text on Roman Estomba has allowed us to draw attention to the marginalised indigenous communities who were suppressed, persecuted and massacred around the time at which Bahia Blanca was founded.

One of the remaining indigenous ethnicities which were living in Argentina and Chile long before such national borders were drawn, is the Mapuche people. On 23 June, we were privileged to be allowed to participate in the Mapuche new year celebrations in a small community house in the suburbs of Bahia Blanca. It was an unforgettable experience in which time distorted and we became immersed in their rituals of ushering in the new year, giving thanks to the natural world upon which they base their spirituality, and manifesting liberation and equal recognition for the future. It was an immense privilege to witness how their beautiful culture has endured centuries of oppression.

This is just a brief snapshot of the many unforgettable experiences we have had over the past two weeks. The project lasts for a month, and there is still plenty of work to be done, but we are all very grateful to the organisers of this incredible project, and to the wonderful people who have made us feel so welcome in Argentina.

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Finlay Porter

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4 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Decolonising English in Argentina”

  1. We are facing a climate catastrophy, the translation or proofreading could have been done online. Decolonising seems to be used to justify all sorts of things, including bad ones like flying a bunch of people very far away for no good reason. Business as usual. This is totally unsustainable and not particularly decolonising. I do not see it, mate.

  2. Unfortunately the “hero” narrative implies a form of colonial mindset, and a tokenism of identity associated with the unique and extraordinary, which perpetuates the idea of deficiency in those not represented. Also, this approach where dependency on UEA students is forced upon students in Argentina with the message that this is the only way to complete a project that was initiated by the students in Argentina, reproduces in an unfortunate way relationships of subordination and power inequality which is characteristic of colonial times. There is no reason to believe that students completing their English degree in Argentina cannot see their work through till the end without 4 students from UEA having to go all the way there to help. To conceive of such project as decolonising is misleading and unjustified.

    • New forms of saviourism -it never ends this perpetuating of the Global South being something that needs visits from those good-willed who want to “help” from the Global North. It turns out that Argentinians need English students to write about their local folks, they cannot do it by themselves. I’d would not be happy if I was one of those Argentinian students. Their professors should know better.

  3. Learners of English as a foreign language are not “forced” to learn by reading about Columbus, Churchill, or the British monarchy. I am afraid that this is a huge distortion, if not a total misrepresentation of both teaching of foreign language and teachers. When learning a foreign language there is a context and a history associated with the language that one may or not like but is part of the ‘ecosystem’ that language has developed in and it has its place. These days, however, especially with access to online resources, and online translators, there is a huge range of possibilities for teachers of any foreign language to capture bits of the history, customs, culture and other content directly relevant to the language of study, or beyond, and in very interesting and entertaining ways. Students of foreign languages tend to have a natural curiosity for all things English if they are studying English, or all things Spanish-speaking-world if they are studying Spanish, and a good teacher does not force anything upon them, but feeds that curiosity in appropriate ways.

August 2022
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