Thursday, July 22, 2010

Teaching English

The little girl who visits me on alternate evenings. She is now becoming more comfortable coming home, and opening up wonderfully. She has begun going to a children's activity center and the question "what did you do today?" opens up a flood that I need to stop with a stern call to studies. She paints excellently, has an astounding grasp of mathematics and a keen interest in the world around her. She is also exceedingly generous and often brings me little gifts like this flower she made.

The problem is, I feel like a fraud when I coach her. I have bitten off far more than I can chew, and it is sheer bloody-mindedness and the reluctance to withdraw what little help I am without offering a better alternative that is making me continue.

I am supposed to be helping her with Maths and English. The Maths she only needs the slightest help with, and the English she needs far more than I can give her. It is not her intelligence that is at fault. It is the education system. Its emphasis on focusing on the exams means that children like her get by with concealing the real state of their knowledge till they are suddenly thrown into the world.

She reads her English text well including words like 'attended', and 'jealous', and 'regularly'. She translates each paragraph correctly into Hindi. All this made me think that she is competent in English. No, she isn't. She has simply memorized the textbook.

Trying to converse with her in English made me realize that she actually has an extremely poor vocabulary. She did not know the meaning of 'you' or 'me'. This has me stumped, because I cannot conquer the large gap between what she knows and what she has learnt by heart. Getting her to translate a simple new sentence,"what is the time?" is impossible, because she tries to translate each word. We end up tied into knots because not only do Hindi and English have their subjects and predicates at different ends, but they also split verbs in a maddening manner.

For a while, I said goodbye to the school curriculum and focused on language games. The BBC games were a little out-of-context, but she had good fun with the graphics and would actually listen and try to understand the instructions. And making words with scrabble tiles was fun too, though that game usually ended with us building a house instead.This starting from scratch would probably yield results given time

But now exams are around the corner. I know that her parents expect that she'll do better because of the time she spends here, and the only way to do that is by dropping this and 'doing her lessons' which is learning the questions and answers by rote..knowing that if the question is worded even a little differently, she does not have the language skills to know what is being asked of her.

I have no idea what to do..should I sit down with her father and explain matters to him? Tell him that it is important she develop basic language skills now, before the gap between her curriculum and her skills is unbridgable? And even if I do, will I still be able to teach her, knowing that she has an utter phobia towards the language? I want her to know that English has an applicability outside the classroom, that there is pleasure in the written word. I show her my books- the few with pictures in them- and plan on buying some appropriate for her soon, but will that be enough? Is it any surprise that I feel like a fraud?


Grumpy Granny said...

I could write a novel on this subject! I studied Spanish in school from the time I was 7 until nearly in college. I could read, write and translate well, and pronounce correctly, but I couldn't SPEAK it in a conversation beyond the most basic things. This is how they teach foreign languages here, too, so don't fret. However, I think speaking with the girl's father might be a good idea. She will have to take the tests based on how they teach for testing, but if you could help her really grasp the concept of another language at an early age, you would be doing her a great service.

Just my humble opinion.


chicu said...

wow, GG. You went through that too? it's sad that we haven't stumbled upon a better way of teaching languages..I do plan to talk with her father, and explain that she can study for the tests with me, but we should focus on everyday language skills

Grumpy Granny said...

That's a great idea. There are many practical things you could teach her in English; for example, how to cook! Or any kind of activity that she is interested in, to learn how to explain that in another language makes it a bit easier because she would already be motivated by liking the activity.

Also, check out the Rosetta Stone series of language CDs. I have read in a number of travel magazines that this is one of the best series for truly learning another language. They might offer you some insight in HOW to teach.

Good luck!


Anonymous said...

whatever you do, please keep at it.

you are making a difference to this child's life.

that is rare.