“As a British Pakistani what do I need to be aware of when teaching English outside Britain?”

My students from the Indian subcontinent residing in Stockholm have shared with me the lack of acceptance of their English because it is not Western. This also means that British/North American and Australian/New Zealand English tend to dominate the English-speaking world here. A lot of young Swedes are either into British or American culture. This also determines their fashion sense, their taste in music, and the way they speak especially with their cultural references.

Learn the local language

Personally, the hardest thing about living and working here is my inability to speak the language well. I find this to be a huge cultural barrier, in fact, for this reason, I have committed to a Swedish course which should ensure I reach proficiency level once and for all. Without the language, I know I’ll never fit in.

Managing diversity

I wish Stockholm would learn to manage diversity better. Though I have seen much improvement since 2004, in many respects this is still an area that needs to be developed more. Immigrants (like me) need a sense of belonging but when I turn up at work on Eid and there is no mention of Eid Mubarak, I do feel isolated and alone. The philosophy, it transpired, is to keep it secular and neutral in public spaces.

Or when one of my friends (high up the work ladder) said she used to call her daughter ‘Mohammadan’ when she was little because she was dark-skinned, I find myself shocked and then embarrassed. Do regular people speak like this? Really? Again that sense of alienation envelopes me, I feel as though I’ve been violated but I don’t want to be awkward and cause a scene.

In the classroom

In the classroom, I wonder why students don’t answer back more when they disagree with each other. As a teacher, I have the responsibility to create space for every perspective in the room but very often students don’t volunteer unless they are invited because conflict is better avoided. On the other hand, classrooms are well equipped, all students have computers, and the internet connection and speed can be trusted. What’s more, most students are at least Intermediate (B1) to Upper Intermediate level (B2) so English language teaching is pitched at a high level.

This means it’s easier to use authentic materials and teach unplugged sometimes. Be careful though, on the whole, Swedes like planned well-structured lessons. Plan for at least a term in advance in high school and then inject surprises during the term.

Contracts and pay

I get paid more here than I did in other European countries. When I’ve worked as a trainer, it’s been mostly freelance work and although there’s been a lot of freedom to choose the contracts I wanted, work on the whole was irregular. Some months I made loads of money, other months I was living on beans on toast/Kaviar på knäckebröd.

Fun facts

All big birthdays, including mine, are celebrated by the employer with cake.

SEEME FAIYAZ has been teaching English in Sweden since 2004. She has a Master’s in Peace and Conflict Studies from Uppsala University. She has taught both in the corporate sector working for Danske Bank, Vodafone, and Astra Zeneca as a trainer. She has also worked as a teacher in high schools teaching English to 16 -19 year-olds. She is married to a Swedish diplomat and has traveled to, and taught in, many countries including Italy, Syria, Bangladesh, England, and Turkey. She has two bilingual children. Seeme is British Pakistani and Swedish.