A Challenge to Teaching English in Afghanistan Teaching English is a challenge in any


Teaching English is a challenge in any foreign land. The differences in culture, climate, governments, methodology used, attitude/interest of students, personal safety, traveling long distances, being away from home are a few of the challenges. In Afghanistan, all these challenges are found. Culture is one of the greatest challenges to teaching English in Afghanistan.

In a country half way around the world, Westerners find a culture that is very different from their own. Women follow the rules of their male authority - father, husband, brother, cousin, uncle. The majority of women dress conservatively wearing long dresses, skirts, or coats over slacks with many wearing a burqa when they leave their home. Often the women walk behind the men. Unrelated men and women rarely speak, acknowledge, or walk together in public. This is in contrast with Western culture where women expect equal rights, to make their own decisions, wear what they desire, talk to anyone, and enjoy personal freedoms.

This separation of men and women is apparent in most of the public arena including school. Girls are not encouraged to get an education. The literacy rate defined as ‘age 15 and over can read and write’ is approximately 36% for the total population with the male literacy rate about 51% and that of females about 21%. Where girls and boys attend the same school/class, the classroom is segregated with girls on one side, boys on the other. Classroom participation is usually dominated by the male students.

Afghan culture is based on hospitality. If you are my friend, then I will always help you. This leads to habitual cheating in the classroom. Several students will have the same written homework. During tests, students will talk, give each other the answers, look over onto someone else’s paper, or even have someone else take their exam. They consider any of this behavior to be ‘helping a friend’.

Afghan classrooms are primarily teacher oriented. The students expect the teacher to lecture and do the majority of talking. Due to the lack of text books, students share and memorize copied pages from the teacher’s manual. Creative thinking is not encouraged or developed.

The entire culture of the Afghan language is unfamiliar to English. The Afghan alphabet is not based on the Roman alphabet. The mechanics of writing is different. Time will be needed for students to practice and learn how to write the alphabet legibly. The language is written and read right to left as opposed to the English left to right. This is another area for students to change. There are English sounds not found in the Afghan language. Sounds such as: a, e, d/t, f, n/ng, s, th/z will be problems for Afghan students. Extensive practice both in the classroom and individually will be required. Listening activities and choral drills integrated into the lessons will be beneficial.

It is imperative for a teacher to carefully examine the teaching materials to determine if everything is culturally appropriate. For example, in pictures, clothing should be modest (no swimming suits or undergarments) and those including men and women must be appropriate for the culture, topics of war and guns should be avoided, and in a Muslim country, agriculture students in a university should not be referred to as pig farmers.

Female teachers need to be diligent in not making unnecessary eye contact with male students, neither appear nor sound too exuberant, and dress conservatively. If allowed to teach girls, male teachers must be very restrained and unobtrusive with their female students.

The cultural differences lead to a challenge for teaching English in Afghanistan. The manner of dress, personal and interpersonal behavior, and attitude towards a different culture will bring a challenge to an EFL teacher. Adapting and adjusting to the cultural differences will be a great challenge. But this challenge can be met with victory.

1. Enjoy Afghanistan, An Orientation Manual for Expatriate Workers, compiled by International Assistance Mission (IAM), October, 2004 InterLit Foundation, U.P.O. Box 879, University Town, Peshawar, Pakistan

2. The Word of Factbook, Internet, 2004

3. Enjoy Afghanistan, An Orientation Manual for Expatriate Workers, compiled by International Assistance Mission (IAM), October, 2004 InterLit Foundation, U.P.O. Box 879, University Town, Peshawar, Pakistan

4. Personal experience

5. The ESL Teacher’s BOOK OF LISTS, Jacqueline E. Kress, Ed.D, JOSSEY-BASS, 1993 A Wiley Imprint

6. Enjoy Afghanistan, An Orientation Manual for Expatriate Workers, compiled by International Assistance Mission (IAM), October, 2004 Interlit Foundation, U.P.O. Box 879, University Town, Peshawar, Pakistan