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‘Penguin’ is a hard word

September 23, 2011
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I headed to Brian Coyle on Wednesday to try to start getting “back in the saddle” working with ESL students. I’ve been feeling a little disconnected to the language education scene since leaving Austria a year ago (has it been a year? yikes!). And Brian Coyle, from the times I’ve been there, has this awesome community feel and just seems like a fun place to be, so it was my first choice of places to volunteer. (Not to mention it’s only a 5-minute walk from the U.)

Some of Wednesday’s revelations:

If you wind up volunteering in a large class with a disparate language levels, you just have go dive in. None of this sideline, easing in, “observation” business. ESL is a full-contact sport. I was told to go with five adult students, work on a reading exercise, and just run with it. For three hours. Three hours later, we’d learned that “Rara is a penguin. She lives with a family in Japan.” and were all pretty much ready to gouge our eyes out. These students were still cementing phonics rules and just starting to work on building some reading fluency, so that’s a lot of brain strain (and eye strain).

Near the end of class, I started to feel this palpable frustration slowly creep in. I think one or two of the students may have hit that “When is this ever going to click?” wall. I recognized it from my own experience in Turkey: you feel like you’ve practiced the phrases a thousand times, and your brain just starts rejecting them from overload. I also think there’s just something so inherently frustrating about being an adult, and having all of the fluency and articulateness in your native language, and finding yourself suddenly tongue-tied when you enter a second language. Next time, I want to be more in tune to when the frustration is kicking in and try to redirect the class to an activity that is a little more affirming before we hit that wall. So, I’m in the market for more self-affirming language learning activities…

Also, “penguin” is a really hard word to read.

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