the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pre-Taiwan Reflection

Where to begin? Again, my short volunteer experience with Chinese
students here in LA makes me incredibly optimistic about what my
students will be like in Taiwan. They worked hard and most have good
attitudes. However, many things will be different: age, country of
residence, student life vs. retiree. I don't want to have any false
expectations for my students, but I'm hopeful already that this will be
a great experience.

I'm also pretty happy to be working with a local public college, local
instructors, and local churches. It might be overwhelming, but working
with local groups seems to give things more the air of true
international cooperation.

My bags are packed, I have all my nylon clothes and sweat rags from
teaching in humid Japan. Hopefully I'll be able to cope with the heat
and humidity that I've heard so much about.

I'm surprised at the amount of synonyms from Japanese to Chinese.
Actually, historically I guess this isn't surprising as China was very
influential on early Japan. Although it isn't a main goal of my trip,
and it's supposed to be really hard, learning a little Chinese in my two
to three weeks is something I'm looking forward to.

Also, the idea of pairs of teachers who have had at least one year of
experience working in the program before and new "teacher's assistants"
working together. This focus on team says so much. I'm really grateful
that the program seems to value communication, experience and partnership.

I guess that's all for now. If I have a spare minute during the next
few weeks, I'll write some "Mid-Taiwan" reflections.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Volunteer ESL

On Saturday I had the opportunity to volunteer at an ESL program at a
nearby Baptist church. The program is rather small but respectable.
There are only two levels, a high and a low level class, but both use
good materials and modify them in an effort to make them even more
useful for their students.

The neighborhood is mostly Chinese, and the students are mostly Chinese
as well. They are mostly older students (60+) some of whom have lived
here for nearly 20 years but have always lived and worked in the Chinese
part of town and hence use little English.

The lessons seemed to be useful for the students. In the low level, the
lesson was about occupations. They could use these words to talk about
themselves, their children, friends, relatives, etc. in simple
sentences. In the high level, the lesson was about marriage ceremonies
and customs in the US and China.

In the low level class, the teacher was an older man from the English
speaking congregation. In the upper level class, the teacher was a man
who had taught English in China from the Chinese congregation. Very few
of the students go to the church regularly.

The focus seems to be on speaking skills, but both teachers seem to lack
training on pronunciation mechanics. Of course since they are volunteer
teachers, the pieces of their lessons also sometimes seem to lack a
clear purpose. As a volunteer, I want to find a way to politely make
suggestions without over stepping my bounds or embarrassing the teacher.

UPDATE: I went to the program on Wednesday and was delightfully
surprised to find about four teachers teaching about 40 students. The
activities were slightly more varied with large group, partner work and
small group work. Some of the students from Saturdays also come on
Wednesdays. I was glad to see them again. :)

One of the teachers had been to Taiwan for a two weeks teaching English,
and she gave me the contact information of a missionary turned English
teaching materials maker whose materials they were using. Evidently
this is the same material used in public schools.

There was also one Japanese student there. I was talking to her partner
about the typical pronunciation problems for Chinese speakers. I looked
at her and said, "Kaori, I know you're not Chinese, but that might still
be helpful." She smiled. When we talked later I found out that she had
recently married an American and moved to the States. She mentioned she
hadn't met any other Japanese people since she moved to LA, so I invited
her to a nearby Japanese fellowship that I know of. We'll see how that
turns out.

Even though it will only be for a short time, being involved in this
program has truly been a blessing!