Thursday, September 11, 2008

Is 9/11 an Appropriate ESL Conversation Topic?

It's hard for Americans not to recall the events of seven years ago. In so many ways, we are still recovering. But are the events and causes of this day appropriate for ESL class topics?

Last year, I made a comment to one of my ESL students from Europe. I said that the events of that day have not only changed life for Americans, but have also "impacted the whole world." As an educated American, I thought that was a valid comment.

My ESL student pointed out to me that that was indeed a very American perspective. Her opinion was that we Americans think that the whole world has changed due to the events of 9/11. However, it was her opinion that this was not so. That people in her country do not think about these events as particularly significant.

I won't go into the rest of the conversation we had. The question is whether this is an appropriate topic for conversation. I'd say it is. But we have to remember that in an ESL conversation class, the point is to get the English language learner to talk, whatever the opinion, whatever the perspective, whatever the topic.



Anonymous said...

Probably the most uncomfortable person in that class was you.

You're right, the point is to get them talking. If they were willing to discuss the topic, then why might it be considered inappropriate? You might avoid it for your own comfort, but beyond that, I believe your student is right (this is coming from another American) - it is an event from recent history, and shouldn't be any more off-limits than any other history, news, or politics topic is in your class.

Name: Debra Garcia, M.A. said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for writing. Yes, of course it's an appropriate topic (you'd probably blush at the topics discussed in my private tutoring sessions--that's one of the advantages of having a private tutor--no topic is off limits).

The question was a rhetorical question used to introduce the topic of a blog entry.

To clarify, I was not uncomfortable and I don't believe I wrote that I was. I suppose that is a potential conclusion to jump to.

Best, Debra

Eric said...


While 9/11 may not have changed everything as some folks claimed, it certainly changed the visa rules for international students and increased fears of an open border. Both issues directly affect all ESL students in United States classrooms.

Beyond that, one of our goals in adult ESL classes has be helping immigrants feel more comfortable in their new homeland - and 9/11 remains a significant cultural milestone. Where were you on 9/11? How did you feel? What were some of the ways you feel that it touched your life?

Finally, many of our students are refugees from terrible governments, sometimes ruled by religious bigots. They are often very eager to talk about the dangers of religious and political fanaticism. Give them a chance and they will open up.

Anonymous said...

The 9/11 attacks in 2001, marked my first week as an international student in a large Canadian university. Like many of my peers I was afraid and confused and looking for guidance wherever I could get it.

The attacks are still are touchy and emotional subject for many, but not talking about it doesn't do anyone any good. An ESL teacher can use the opportunity to educate the international student or immigrant exactly how people in X-ville, USA felt about the terrible tragedy. The international student in turn, can tell his teacher about how that day is remembered in his country.

The main point of ESL is to help foreigners with their English; and what better way to do so, than through a stimulating discussion on world events.

Anonymous said...

That student had a lot to say,and said something you didn't expect and so had a rare case of totally natural conversation in the language classroom, so I think you chose the topic perfectly for that class! I can think of some group and 1 to 1 classes, especially here in East Asia, where the reaction would have been silence or just agreeing with me, so we talk about window shopping instead...