I’ve started teaching again. Just 6 hours a week (plus 3 hours commute plus untold hours over-preparing due to my I’ve-been-out-of-the-workforce-for-a-year angst). So, a little extra busy. But it’s good to get back in it. My students are a couple of Chinese programmers who work for Dell. Their main concerns are pronunciation and communicating socially with their coworkers. I have to say that it’s a challenge helping middle-aged Asian students, especially men, with these kinds of issues. They’ll be the first to admit this. When they were students, (and this situation is common all throughout Asia) English instruction started in junior high. All of the English teachers were Chinese. The teachers themselves rarely spoke English, let alone encouraged their students to do so. Rather, the class was geared toward passing a test. So the majority of time was spent learning vocabulary, conjugating irregular verbs and memorizing grammar rules. In fact, they could probably kick any American high school student’s ass in any of those skills. They passed the TOEFL and got into U.S. universities. Imagine their dismay when they arrived and realized they could not carry on a conversation with an American. It generally takes 2-3 years to learn social language (in an immersion situation), and they’ve been in the States over a decade. But without guidance, it’s easy to get some bad habits really ingrained. So that’s what I’m doing… trying to break bad habits.
And what I said about men being more of a challenge is seriously not sexist. So don’t be getting all Dr. Laura on me. Having said that, it’s totally anecdotal. I’ve just noticed, as have many ESL teachers I’ve worked with, that a larger percentage of men (especially older than, say, 22) seem to struggle more with language than the larger percentage of women. I have no idea why. I’m sure there’s a study out there that looks into that, but I haven’t read it. My other theory is that people who can play a musical instrument also do better with languages, especially in terms of pronunciation. I’m guessing it has something to do with being able to pick out the subtleties of sound. After all, if you can’t hear the differences, you can’t duplicate them.
Despite all my pontification on the subject, I still find it extremely difficult to teach pronunciation. Teaching conversation is fun, but sometimes it feels like an exercise in futility. I know students go out and make the same mistakes they’ve been making for years, regardless of how many times I “correct” them in class. Worse yet, students don’t go out and make mistakes at all. They just never use the second language in a natural environment. Lord knows that’ll never work. (Thus, my obsession with dual language school.) But, hey, I did the same thing when we lived in Korea. After struggling with communication all day, it’s nice to come home and relax into your first language.
Oh, I also want to say that Uncle Joe has been an award-winning babysitter, making it possible for me to even teach this class. V-Chip loves him. Maybe we should actually pay him sometime…