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English as a Second Language..?

July 5, 2011

Hi everyone,

I hope you are all enjoying what you are doing and above all learning. Since Heston in Gettysburg started I feel like the summer is passing by so fast. We are already into week five and for me the experience feels both like doing what you already know how to do but also doing something new every day.
The first part of my job here is to teach English classes for the migrant families from Adams County. Teaching is supplemented by helping Jorge (my boss at the LIU) with socializing the families and encouraging them to better explore the community and its resources. However, you can imagine that for the majority of people (they are mostly from Mexico and we have some from Puerto Rico) the fact that they are not fluent in English prevents them from exploring and developing on their own. In a new country and facing a language barrier, life outside their own tight-knit community is indeed hard.

Prior to meeting the families I had prepared myself for teaching in a very structured way, including a lot of grammar, writing, and reading. As a bilingual speaker myself I still remember the way I was taught English for many years. My studying habits were built gradually due to many years in the classroom and I wanted my students this summer to have the same experience. However, I quickly realized that, first, I did not have a lot of time and, second the needs of the migrant population were quite different. As working adults their first priority is to provide the best for their families, which can be really difficult when they are not fluent in English. At the same time I am occasionally quite baffled because I do realize that without structural knowledge of the language it is very difficult to make progress. While the other tutors are very fond of the Rosetta Stone approach (this is computer program, which is available in many languages, and you learn by yourself by repeating, matching, and listening) I feel that repeating foreign words and sentences without being able to understand where everything comes from might not actually be a tool to master the language. I do have to make a compromise with my own ideas and let the class begin with some Rosetta Stone time because it still gives them some computer experience. I have made the decision not to be trying to complete change the way the classes happen for the simple reason that I only have a bit more than two month. I am just trying to give as much as I can from myself during the time we have the students, which might include body language, objects, and whatever other ideas I can incorporate to make myself understood…!

I started my post with LEARNING because I am starting to realize how much I also learn along with my students. I have learned that I have to be passionate but patient, demanding but very understanding of various circumstances, but above all that it is very important to have someone or somewhere to go to and be able to receive help in the form of a survival tool. And by survival I don’t refer to psychical needs but to the needs of the society we are part of. My students need to be educated how to communicate so that they actually benefit fully the advanced and well off society for which they fled their homes. As parents they need English not so much for themselves but for their children so that they are able to address all of the issues their children might face, both good and bad. Maybe I am not talking about English as a Second Language anymore…maybe for some people it is English for a Different Life…!

Have a bright week!

Aleks

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