TEFL Success Stories – Part 4

Cameroon – David

When I first told people I was going to work in Cameroon, the most common reaction was: ‘Why?’. The second was: ‘It’s in Africa, you’ll die!’. The third: ‘Where is that?’

So let’s give some answers. I was offered a job that looked interesting in a part of the world I’d never been to before. I’d also long had an interest in Africa, if in a rather vague way, so decided it was time to find out the reality.

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Second, a small amount of research showed that in more than 40 years since gaining independence, Cameroon has been a peaceful country with no wars. Of course it has had political repression and the occasional flare-up, but this country hardly falls into the Africa stereotype of wars and famine. Not only were there no wars, but Cameroon is a food exporter to the region.

Now, after three years, I can say that these have been the healthiest years of my life! No malaria, typhoid, cholera or any of the other frightening diseases you read about when Africa is mentioned. The worst thing that ever happened to me was a bout of food poisoning – once.

And for those with poor geographical knowledge, Cameroon is situated in the west of Africa, next to Nigeria and surrounded by Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Central African Republic, Gabon and Congo Brazzaville.

So what is it like to teach here? Well surprisingly not so different from teaching anywhere else: prepare a duff lesson and the lesson will be dull. Prepare a good one, relevant to your class and things will be good.

Most students come to us with a bit of English in their heads. Cameroon is a bi-lingual country with French and English as official languages, while there are also close to 200 local ethnic languages in a country of 16 million people. French is the dominant language, spoken by about 80% of the population, while the English speakers often prefer Pidgin. This rich mix of languages creates its own learning problems: ‘Was that first, second, third or fourth language interference?’.

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It does take time to persuade students to take part in an interactive EFL lesson. It’s just not what they’re used to. The local school system is very traditional and somewhat strict. Perhaps not surprisingly when there can be up to 150 students in the classroom (of which maybe 30 have the book, and there are probably seats for 70) – try organising and monitoring pair work in that environment. However, give them a bit of time, coax them a bit, explain why you want them to do it your way and soon they’ll open up and you’ll be wishing they’d shut up.

Like anywhere, students appreciate it if you know a bit about their country, and not just Roger Milla (top scorer of the 1990 World Cup, in case you’re wondering). It helps if you know the names of the ten provinces, know who the first president was, can say a word in a local language (I only have mandingwawhich means ‘I love you’ in Ewondo, the language of the capital city Yaoundé) and know that Yannick Noah isn’t French.

So in conclusion: Cameroon isn’t just football. Nor is it war, poverty and disease. It’s just life and people, like anywhere else.

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