Most people would agree that knowing English is important for moving up in school and also in the workplace. But millions of students in developing countries have little or no chance for a quality English language education.
This is especially true in Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country. Indonesia has hundreds of languages and ethnic groups spread across thousands of islands. For most people, the Indonesian national language is also a second language.
But the nation’s young people are hungry to learn a third language: English. English can be heard in coffee shops and shopping malls in the capital, Jakarta. Many of Jakarta’s well-educated people mix English with Indonesian when talking with others. But outside of the city and the island of Bali, learning English can be a struggle. It is even more difficult for young people who come from poor families or live on far away islands.
Enter the English Access Microscholarship Program -- an afterschool English class. Known simply as “Access,” the program receives money from the United States Department of State. Access provides two years of free English classes to needy young people around the world. One of the largest Access programs is in Indonesia --with about 1,000 students.
Earlier this year, several American English teachers organized a series of English language summer camps across Indonesia. The teachers wanted to show that learning English could be fun.
singing: “Instead I bought some bubble gum. Bazooka-zooka bubblegum, bazooka-zooka bubblegum”
Alice Murray: “Students enjoy getting to know Americans firsthand and it provides the Americans an opportunity to really get to know the culture of the students and also to understand firsthand some of the problems that these kids and their families face in their communities.”
For most of the Indonesian students, it was the first time they had ever met an American or spent a night away from home. Tabitha Kidwell helped plan the camp activities.
“They really enjoyed learning about multiculturalism in America. They love, of course, learning to make friendship bracelets and learning to play different American games. And they really enjoy the self-reflective workshops that we do too.
One of the most popular workshops was on American English pronunciations. Christy Lewis is an English Language Fellow from Tennessee.
“The workshop teaches the kids about the rhythm of the American English language and starts introducing them how to speak more native-like.”
Lewis: “The kids go the camp. The kids go to the camp.”
Students: “The kids are going to the camp. The kids’ll be going to the camp. The kids’ll be going to the camp.”
Bryan Holzer is from a small farm town in Wisconsin. He spoke with the Indonesian teenagers about the game of American football.
“It’s interesting, at first when I showed them the ball they all said ‘rugby.’ But once I taught them about the rules, the basic idea of the sport they become more interested in American football. “
Lewis: “So one of things were do here in Indonesia is we sing a lot at our Access camps. The kids absolutely love to sing and they love learning new songs.”
Lewis: “Thumbs up!”
Students: “Thumbs up!
Lewis: “Elbows back!”
Students: “Elbows back!”
Together: “I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain, what a glorious feeling I’m…”
The campers closed a long day of activities with a campfire.
Faishal Zakaria is an English teacher from Banda Aceh in Indonesia’s Northwest. He studied in the United States on a Fulbright exchange program. He hopes the camp will motivate his students to dream big and be more open-minded.
“I see my lecturers, my teachers graduated from an American university and they talk about America, traveling here and there. And it really made me like, ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’ ‘Shoot for the moon, even if you fail, you land among the stars.’”
The program was not just Americans teaching about US culture. The students also shared local songs and dances with the American teachers. On the eastern island of Ambon, students prepared an English translation of a favorite folk song.
“I just want to tell you that we both are really brothers.
Sharing, caring each other is so very, very sweet . . .”
The camps lasted only three days. Yet some teachers noticed a change in their students during that period. Meutiati Ranty is a lecturer at the University of Indonesia. She helped plan the camps. She says one of the goals was to assist mutual understanding between Americans and Indonesians.
“Before the camps, the kids might have thought that Americans are difficult to approach. They are superior to others and they might have a negative opinion toward Muslims. But, through the experience during the camps, then they know that the Americans are just like them. Through the interactions during the camp, then they learn that Americans are very friendly, that what they thought earlier was wrong.”
Amin: “I want to thank Access because, honestly, before I joined Access, I really hate English. I always get remedial in my subject in my school about the English. And I don’t know. After I joined Access, I completely changed and I really don’t know why. But I like getting—I like English and I realize about how important that [is] for me.”
To find out if there will be an Access class near you, contact the U.S. Embassy in your home country.
This story was written and produced for VOA Learning English by Adam Brock. It was narrated by Jonathan Evans. George Grow was the editor.
Words in this Story
struggle – n. to try very hard to do, achieve, or deal with something that is difficult or that causes problems
needy – adj. not having enough money, food, etc., to live properly
self-reflective – adj. thoughtful about your own behavior and beliefs
rhythm –n. a regular, repeated pattern of sounds or movements
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