Reading Dickens in Baghdad

At Iraq at a Glance, the blogger’s mom, a teacher, posts on how English is taught at a “distinguished” girls’ school in Baghdad.

About Joanne


  1. Anonymous says:

    Interesting choice of novels: “Merchant of Venice”, followed by Oliver Twist, a novel that makes the term “Jew” synonymous with “vile and repulsive.”

    Anyone here know about “Kipps”?

  2. One sentence caught my attention: that they are now starting English in 5th grade(?), but she thinks they should start in 1st. This is quite correct if you truly want fluency (and fluent English is a very good start to joining the 21st century global economy). Six year olds are already beginning to lose the ability to form sounds that don’t belong to their native language, and probably are also close to fully wiring their brain just for their native grammar. Start a few years later, and most people will never be able to learn to speak a foreign language without a thick accent. It might well be better to start a foreign language at 2 years old.

  3. “It might well be better to start a foreign language at 2 years old.”

    Yes, but that’s asking a bit much for Iraq at this point, and no country IIRC does that, though immersion preschools do exist.

    Part of me would like to say that it would be nice if the US could learn lessons about foreign language education from Iraq. Looking at Iraqi blogs, I cannot help but be blown away by their English skills. No, they can’t pass for native speakers, but they do write better than many people who know nothing but English. How many Americans could write a blog in Spanish, let alone a totally different language like Arabic?

    But the other part of me knows that foreign langauge learning in an Anglophone country is an uphill battle. The best post on this subject I’ve ever seen is Toren Smith’s “The ugly American”:


    “[T]he fact is that if you speak any other language than English, and then learn English, you can go practically anywhere in the world and communicate since it is the second language of choice nearly worldwide. So the motivation value is high and the rewards substantial …

    “It’s just that if you’re raised speaking English, one of the primary motivations for learning a second language is nullified.”

  4. Here’s the Amazon link for Kipps:

    “Young Artie Kipps, draper’s assistant, is desperate to escape a living death in the retail trade. Embarking on self-improvement he allows first a lady, then an unexpected legacy, to turn his head – until, paradoxically, ‘ruin’ saves him. From the savoir faire of high society to the pomp and gravitas of playwrights and socialists, Kipps pokes fun at a gallery of social pretensions.”

    Doesn’t sound anti-Semitic to me, though I don’t know – I never read it.

  5. From the comments on the post, I gather that “fifth grade” in Iraqis like 11th grade here. They start numbering after the primary grades.

    I did wonder why that particular Shakespeare play was chosen.