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Teaching English

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Posted

One of my language partners, Atsuko, is a mother of a 13 year old. This girl is failing her English class, so Atsuko asked me what she can do. Her daughter doesn't like spelling, she doesn't understand much grammar, she cannot seem to remember words, she cannot follow basic dialogue from her conversation book, and she pretty much hates English. Her mom showed me her books: standard grammar book, workbook, and a conversation book (has pretty pictures of two characters speaking in a variety of situations). I told her I would think about what to do.

I messaged her a day later, and asked her if it would be all right if I could try tutoring her daughter. I already knew she would say yes. I got her to take pictures of a few pages in her conversation book and send them to me.

We met (online) this morning, and it went very well. Both of us learned something. She was really uncomfortable at first and I knew she would be. She didn't talk unless I asked her a direct question. I had to speak entirely in Japanese which was very exhausting. I speak Japanglish with my friends since they know some English as well.

We met for an hour and did the following:

1. Introduced ourselves.

2. I tried to break the ice before starting. I tried to find an interest we share in common. Poked fun at myself for having terrible Japanese. Poked fun at her mom's English.

3. I explained to her how I want to teach her.

4. Showed her how to login to this English website online. http://storytimeforme.com/

5. We did a read along from an interactive picture book on that website.

6. Made her say goodbye a few different ways in English.

We didn't get to her conversation booklet. Next time. We only did 2 pages from the picture book because of the other stuff taking time. I just wanted to thoroughly introduce her to what we are going to do, and get to know her a bit first. Didn't want to overwhelm her with English nonsense.

I prepared by writing down how to say certain things in Japanese that I knew I would have to say.

When we went through the book, we did the following:

1. I broke down the sentences into smaller ones. Although that text looks super simple, as soon as you stick a conjunction in there, it becomes 2x as hard to understand.

"Fern is very excited today because she is going to travel to Africa."

==>

"Fern is very excited today. She is going to travel to Africa."

"Today, Fern is very excited. She will take a trip today. She is going to Africa."

"Fern is excited. Today, she will travel to Africa."

"Today, Fern is going on a trip to Africa. That's why she's so excited!"

This is based on my own experience helping people on lang-8 and getting help. It's EXTREMELY helpful if you give someone multiple ways to communicate the same thing. Yes, the nuances are a bit different. Yes, sometimes you make it sound a bit "off", but when you're learning a language, nuance cannot be internalized until you reach a conversational stage. It's best to focus on proper sentence structure and proper grammar.

2. Asked her simple questions based on what's happening in the picture.

"What is Fern doing on the bed?"

"Where is she going today?"

"What is she wearing?"

"How will Fern travel? What will Fern ride?"

3. Went through the sentence word by word. I would say the word, she would say the word. If she kept saying it wrong I repeated it until she got it. For words like "excited", kinda complex. Start at the end, work backwards. "ed... ed... ted.... ted... ci... ci... cited.... cited.... ex... ex.... cited... excited."

Some details:

When I ask her a question, I warn her first. "Ok, question, answer the question if you can. Even if you can only say 1 word, say the word... ______?" I will ask the question one word at a time, let her think about it for 5 seconds, then ask it again a little faster, pause for 5 seconds to let her think. She couldn't really answer any questions, but as long as she's trying, she will learn. I prompt her with some words.

"What is Fern doing on the bed?" (pause)

"What is Fern doing?" (pause)

"What is on her bed?" (in japanese)

"luggage, もしくは, suitcase"

"pack, to pack, packing, packs" (making hand motions to show I'm packing)

"Fern is..." (pause)

"繰り返して. Fern is..." (pause)

"What is Fern doing on the bed? What is Fern doing?" (pause)

And so on. Leading her to the English, but not giving it away with no effort.

I can't explain certain grammar concepts in English. For example, she doesn't understand "do". To be honest, neither do I lol. When I thought about it, I was like yeah... that makes no sense in those sentences huh... haha. Sometimes "do" in certain sentences just... disappear when you translate it to Japanese. Damn English. I can however, give a bunch of examples, and also check her homework and such.

I will read up on English grammar perhaps.

I told her I will do her homework with her if she wants. I won't do it for her though.

I also mentioned to her that I believe she doesn't hate English, she hates class and bad grades. She didn't respond to that lol.

I need to think about how to make English more interesting.

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Posted

The first portion, where you mention she doesn't seem to be able to remember words. I wonder if that is some learning disability that is making this harder for her. You may actually be going about it the right way. More visual and a person talking to her might make it easier for her to remember words.

Anyway, I think you are doing great. :)

-Scott

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Posted

Mon frere is an English teacher. I showed him this page. He says it's a little too "teacher centred and rote" for his liking. Have you had a go at student-centred learning to see how that works for you both?

There are lots of ways to make English interesting. Many of them involve physical activity, so you're playing a fun, physical game while learning. Over the internet, this is more difficult than when you're in a classroom, but use your imagination, and it can be done. The teacher's personality helps massively, too.

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Posted

He's sent me some advice for you.

Teach principles and rules, rather than specifics. Use specifics to practise. For example, with the packing question, he's trying to teach one word with a system that involves present continous, question forms and first person verbal formation. If his student knew all that, she could properly use pack and other verbs as she learns them.

Also, he doesn't give any indication as to why you form the question as we do. What are you doing? Why start with what, why invert the subject with the auxiliary? Do other auxiliaries work the same way?

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Posted

BTW, as a teacher myself (though of a different discipline, though it is related to what you're trying to tutor), I find that what, where, and how questions are good (What do you start this sentence with? How does this word fit into this sentence? Where does this word go?) but why questions (Why does this word go here? Why is the sentence constructed in this way? Why does the sentence start this way?) are better.

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Posted (edited)

Yo.

It's been a few weeks since I started talking to her, so a couple things...

She's on winter break, so we've only had two formal sessions. Before the second session, I had a chance to look at a sample of homework/tests her mom sent me. I also had a chance to look at her grammar book a little, which was immensely helpful. I can't identify anything in particular that she struggles with, just everything... however, from reading and correcting writing from Japanese people in the past, there's typical mistakes.

The struggle Japanese people seem to have with English is:

- word order

- a/an/the/plural

- remembering verb conjugations

About verb conjugations... When I read writing from Japanese people on the internet, obviously they use tools to help them write. When I talk to them, they really seem to struggle with verb forms, because English verbs are highly irregular. In Japanese, there's 2 irregular verbs in the whole language (that I can think of). All other verbs can be conjugated easily from the dictionary form of the verb. But infinitive verbs in English? Nope. In conversation, if they don't know the conjugation, they just say the infinitive and I'll tell them what is correct.

a/an/the/plural is definitely difficult. There are some rules, sure. But there are many situations where a/an/the/plural can be interchanged and it sounds fine. But you have to remember the level your student is at. It doesn't seem helpful to explain the difference in meaning/nuance in many situations... or why such a thing is even "correct".

Word order? Another thing I have to read about in order to explain. English is a little more rigid than Japanese, so you can't make too many mistakes there or you will speak gibberish.

I have chatted with her on Skype a lot though (text), which is great. Just personal conversations, but I always slip in, "In English we say ___." I'm hoping that when we're speaking, I'll bring it up again and get her to say it. Maybe have the same conversation, but spoken.

I've tried to ask her if there's anything she wants to go over (not necessarily class-related), but she doesn't have an answer for me. I don't know what "student centered" means, but I think talking about things the students wants to talk about is good. It's more interesting, and therefore they will remember it better, which will then build general confidence in approaching the language.

I'm hoping she will see me not simply as a tutor, but also as a friend overseas that happens to speak English and a little Japanese. I like learning about foreign languages because communication is such a fundamental part of being a human being. Being able to talk to people opens up a universe. Even though I haven't gone to Japan yet, that universe has opened up to me. It's waiting for me now. There's people I can share my thoughts and my life with, now that I have learned the language. Before that? They might as well not have existed. Certain experiences would simply have been totally impossible or imaginary.

I am no teacher and I'm not qualified to speak on certain things, but I've been learning Japanese off and on for several years now, so I can speak from that experience. Most people will describe me as quiet, but I do really love talking to people. With a language like English... if you can't understand English there's so many things closed off to you. There's gotta be at least a few things directly relevant to your life and your interests, that would inspire you to learn English. And unlike many other fields, you can apply rudimentary knowledge immediately and cheaply, and get instant feedback from masters (native speakers) instantly.

I'm quite handicapped here but... I want to show people that learning a language is a life-altering experience. And hey, if you're naturally shy like me and sometimes freeze up in conversations, learning another language will help you become more sociable and comfortable talking to whoever.

Teach principles and rules, rather than specifics. Use specifics to practise. For example, with the packing question, he's trying to teach one word with a system that involves present continous, question forms and first person verbal formation. If his student knew all that, she could properly use pack and other verbs as she learns them.

Also, he doesn't give any indication as to why you form the question as we do. What are you doing? Why start with what, why invert the subject with the auxiliary? Do other auxiliaries work the same way?

Yes these things need to be explained, he is right. At her level, I think she just needs to learn basic grammar and learn it well. I want to go over the grammar she is learning in class and attempt to explain it to her, and provide conversational examples.

And concerning rote learning. Her mom told me (and a couple other people I have talked to), that the English education in Japan is unfortunately quite rote and bad. I have also been told by more than one native Japanese that they think Japanese people have the worst English out of all the first world countries lol. I also thought that for a long time.... I knew I wasn't making that shit up.

If your brother has some reading material for me concerning English teaching methodology, I would actually give it a sincere look. Eventually I want to provide Skype lessons for money, so I need to learn right now.

Edited by Michio

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Posted (edited)

http://www.foreignla.../institute.html

Alexander Arguelles has this vision of a language learning institute.

Key characteristics:

- You live there.

- You live and work with other polyglots and native speakers.

- Your study regimen is self-tailored but guided by others who have studied in an intensive environment before. This will help you achieve rapid, efficient progress in the language.

- There is a great variety of learning materials. Everything you need.

- Physical health is also encouraged. Diet + exercise.

- The whole point of the program is to foster self-discipline that will allow you to learn effectively on your own outside of any institution / class.

He has also stated elsewhere that self-study is often more effective than formal classes. He has studied around 60 languages in his life and he speaks about 10 comfortably. So, I'm inclined to give weight to his words.

The thing about self-study... there has to be inner motivation, self-stimulation. There's a mental process occurring in the effective self-learner that isn't happening in the ineffective self-learner.

When you said this,

I find that what, where, and how questions are good (What do you start this sentence with? How does this word fit into this sentence? Where does this word go?) but why questions (Why does this word go here? Why is the sentence constructed in this way? Why does the sentence start this way?) are better.

I realized I ask these questions all the time, subconsciously maybe.

In addition to that, I read a book a long time called "What Smart Students Know". The book is all about how to study / how to learn. The author is a proponent of unschooling/homeschooling. To tell you the truth, I only remember one thing from the book. He wrote,

If you forget everything else in this book, always remember to ask yourself, "What does this remind me of?"

I've never forgotten that, and yes it's truly a powerful question, no matter what you're learning. It causes you to see connections and ask other questions.

For example, I recently tried to say the following in Japanese:

"In the morning, I usually walk to the fitness center, but this time I drove."

Now, a good / natural way to say this in Japanese translates somewhat literally to,

"In the morning, I usually go to the fitness center by walking, but this time I went by car."

The person who corrected me changed my writing:

歩く (to walk) -> 歩いて行きます (to go by walking)

運転します (to drive, to operate) ー> 車で行きます (to go by car)

What does this remind me of? Why did that person correct it like that?

1. It reminds me that the te-form of verbs are related to noun + de (by means of, due to). Sometimes the te-form followed by another verb expresses that the first verb is the means by which you do the second verb.

2. It simply sounds more natural.

3. 運転 might be a little too... literal? It's as if I'm saying "I operated a vehicle". Not wrong, but there is a less strange way to say that.

I can think of other things, but the point is that if I don't ask myself those questions, I'm not learning effectively. It just becomes rote memorization and nothing sticks. I could just memorize the correction, but that's unhelpful.

This requires more effort, but I do it because I'm internally motivated. And honestly, human languages are fucking huge. You can't learn it from one person or one book. It's also something that isn't just learned, but done. I've expressed this before.

Perhaps I need to focus not on "teaching English", but on showing others how to learn English. Your brother's criticism is apt, because I realized I was trying to teach Rosetta Stone style and that doesn't work. Everything I've been doing to learn Japanese works, so it will work for English too. I just need to get other people to do that, yes?

Not sure how to get a 13 year old with seemingly little internal motivation to do this. I hope I can raise her grades first. That will at least raise her confidence and make her associate positive feelings with English. That would be a huge plus.

I'll continue thinking about it.

Edited by Michio
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