This is all about how it’s possible to teach English and drama simultaneously in Bolivia

After my first couple of classes at the American School, I realized that me teaching drama would much more resemble me teaching drama and English simultaneously. The school has English classes, but as I recall from having to learn French when I was in elementary and middle school, learning a second language isn’t the most appealing or rewarding. The English level of the kids varies greatly, as does their drive to learn the language.

I have been speaking to some of the teachers and parents about it, and it seems that the vast majority of people in Bolivia don’t see learning another language as beneficial. For these kids, I can imagine how difficult it would be to learn English when it only appears in small doses in their life and they can carry on quite well without it. I have fully immersed myself in Spanish while being here, and I’m still just barely able to understand half of what’s going on around me.

Nevertheless, as soon as I realized this was the case, I had to change my angle slightly. I gave the kids poems to learn and read aloud. Simply reading English in front of the class was a challenge for most of them, nevermind actually trying to perform. I have been trying to keep things light, playing games that force everyone to do weird and silly things. I know they’ve got it in them to be performers, but it’s their minds that get in the way. As soon as they realize that the spotlight is on them, they back off or get smaller somehow. I have to trick them into getting out of their shells.

I soon realized that me teaching drama would much more resemble me teaching drama and English simultaneously

There are so many different personalities in these classes. I love that they constantly surprise me. For my youngest group, we learned a song in English and each pair of students had two lines that they performed together. One of the quietest girls came back after the weekend, having memorized her part completely, and when I urged her to use her biggest voice, she projected her words wonderfully.

Another girl came back with the entire song written out with the English phonetics. The boys who cannot stand still for more than two seconds linked arms and proudly and said their lines with big grins across their faces. For others, it takes time and repetition and coaching and a lot of patience, but when I see even the slightest improvement, I am happy.

It’s hard to even relate my experience teaching drama in Canada to teaching drama in Bolivia. There are so many adjustments to make. Kids show up 10, 15, sometimes 20 minutes late for class, or sometimes not at all. I have certainly noticed that this is a common cultural feature and am told that there’s nothing to do about it. I grew up with a dance teacher who shut the door at the start of class and if you weren’t inside then too bad for you. Needless to say, I perpetually show up early to things even if I don’t want to.

Bolivia is an absolutely stunning country to teach in

Another significant difference is that the kids have no problem copying what I do: act like a gorilla, dance like a crazy person, but when I give them the option to be or do anything, they freeze. Someone told me that this is normal in Bolivia. Kids sing or play along to music, they know the words to films or TV shows, but their experience with actually creating is very limited.

It has been a surreal experience. For these kids, I’m the Canadian with the weird voices and dance moves. I am just a second in the hours and hours of these kids’ lives. Whatever comes next, I hope that the weeks we have together will spark something, whether it’s their creative drive, their desire to learn English or open them up to travelling.

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Author

Brianna Wiens is an actor, director and photographer who has worked for a number of theatre companies over the years. She has also started a new drama programme in Bolivia as well as travelling all over the world.

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