Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How many continents are there?

[As a part of National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), I'm posting here once a day during November.  Today is Day 12.]

Yesterday in my "Special English Class" we did a lesson about the continents and oceans.  These students have a textbook called "The American Textbook," which presents a variety of topics (science, social studies, arts, music) as they would be found in a U.S. textbook or class.

After the kids opened their books to the lesson's page, a girl's hand shot straight up in the air before we could even start the reading: "Um, but teacher, it says here that there are seven continents.  That's wrong."  She and her friend started arguing talking, trying to name them all and count them in Korean, and then in English.  I interrupted and said, "Yes, we'll talk about it," because this wasn't the first time I'd been told that there were not seven continents.

Depending on your background and life experiences, you may be wondering how there could be any debate whatsoever between the number of continents.

It was during my first year living in Spain that I was first accused of being wrong when I said there were seven continents on Earth.  I quickly learned that in Spain (and other Spanish-speaking countries, it turns out), they are taught that there are six continents.  They do not distinguish between North and South America; rather, the continent is "America".

That explained why South Americans would say "Soy americano" (I'm American), and why some would be bothered when U.S. Americans would call the United States "America" for short - as if we were claiming the whole continent!

Spanish world map with 6 continents
Source 

So yesterday these two Korean girls told me that they have both North and South America as continents, but not Australia.  So Australia must be lumped in with Asia then?  I'm meeting with a Korean on Thursday for a language exchange -- hopefully I remember to ask about this and can update here later in the week.

There are other ways to divide the continents, too.  Some models have "Oceania" instead of "Australia", which encompasses Australia and some surrounding island countries.  Other models just completely ignore Antarctica.  And some models use "Eurasia", combining Europe and Asia.  At least that model avoids needing to decide if Russia is a part of Europe or Asia.

What continents were you taught in school? Where are you from?
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