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A New Angola Emerges While Studying English

In January 2021, Georgetown University’s English Language Center (ELC) launched a virtual learning partnership with the Republic of Angola to train 100 employees from its Ministry of Economy and Planning (MEP-Angola). The US Commercial Service-facilitated initiative enabled myself and four fellow ELC faculty members to connect with our new Angolan students via Zoom using a communicative English language teaching approach for instruction. In this way, the 32-week program provides a blueprint for the ELC’s capacity to deliver high-quality and interactive English language programming to public and private partner organizations around the world.

As a faculty member who began curriculum development from the program’s inception, I was quick to bond with the students from Angola. They sometimes had a difficult time with technology, but their spirit to learn was irrepressible, and I enjoyed learning about their culture. For one of my class’s projects, I challenged students to make a public service announcement (PSA) video on topics close to their hearts. Little did I know that the slogan of MEP-Angola is ‘it can be done.’ Students were excited to present their finished PSAs for classmates and to demonstrate them for the program’s leadership. Marcel Bolintiam, senior director, was encouraged by their sense of community and blossoming English proficiency and stated that, “their presentations promoting hard work, delayed marriage of women, and breast cancer awareness, were so good that with a little tweaking they could be on television. The progress they have made in the virtual learning space is just remarkable. I was blown away by their creativity and their focus on issues of social justice.” Suzanne Matula, ELC’s director of programs, was equally inspired and impressed. “One presentation about empowering women was a beautiful mixture of learning English and community building. They really want to improve their country and the conditions of their citizens.”

Michelle Duvall Kalinski, a fellow faculty member, recalls a particularly joyous moment in her class, “One of my students had expressed concern and self-consciousness about never having taken an English language course prior to this one and was reluctant to speak up in class. A few weeks into our lessons, however, she was called upon in the course of her daily work at the Ministry to communicate with an English-speaking visitor to her office and was able to successfully transmit the necessary information in English. She proudly recounted this story to our class and we all celebrated with her. It was such a wonderful feeling, to see her pride in her own hard work and the support from her peers. This is why many of us become teachers in the first place.”

Social interaction is at the center of successful language learning, and faculty member Kathleen Kearney remarked that the learners’ enthusiasm, hard work and good-natured problem-solving immediately created a community. “The sense of community is important in practical day-to-day classroom interactions, but it plays an essential role in their end-of-session projects, which focus on Angola,” Kearney observed. Continuing, “In June, they worked as entrepreneurial teams to develop products and design business plans that would benefit Angolan communities. Their assignment was to identify a problem, need or opportunity and invent a solution. Solutions included cell phone holders manufactured from recycled plastic bottles; a redesign of the environment by removing waste from landfills to existing excavations; the creation of an organic farming cooperative to ensure a year-round supply of mangos; Angolan-produced paper products for homes, schools and offices; and an innovative service that would distribute fresh and frozen fish from seaside markets to restaurants, cafes and dining facilities.”

Michelle Marrero has also greatly enjoyed teaching her class. “I have learned so much from my students,” she states, continuing that “it is thrilling to hear students’ experiences when they are speaking English, especially when speaking during professional activities. One of the students indicated, “Michelle, I am so happy because yesterday we were in a meeting with the World Bank and Vacha and I had to speak English. We were so confident speaking, and the people from the World Bank indicated that it was impossible [that] we were Level 1 students as we spoke English so well! We immediately said it is because of our Georgetown classes.”

The 32-week MEP-Angola classes will continue online until October 2021. Concurrent to the virtual English language program, ten participants from the online program will form a delegation from the Ministry and attend Georgetown University’s intensive English program in person starting this Fall 2021.

Author Ms. Rebecca Fisher, lecturer in Georgetown’s English Language Center, lives in NY and hopes to visit and meet her students in person later in the year.