Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Hearing Deaf

As I readied myself for tutoring ESL in Highland last week, I had no idea how quickly the class would progress.

I left my two mentees on spelling and came back to irregular verbs and past participles.

How to explain the difference between shook and shaken?

"Well, you have to use a helping verb before the past participle," I said. "I shook versus I was shaken."

But one question leads to another. I had to then explain "helping" verbs, also known as linking verbs.

Anyone remember those: Is, am, was, were, be, being, been? Honestly, I can only recite them because my high school English teacher had us memorize them as if our very futures depended on the knowledge.

"But why? What is the difference?" Jane asked me.

So I tried talking about active and passive voice and brevity.

Nothing. I was frustrated, feeling useless. She was frustrated as well.

"Sometimes, I feel like a deaf person," Jane said. "I can hear people, but I can't understand."

It seemed like the best thing to do was to take a break from grammar. 

Helen, who speaks very well and has been in the country for more than twenty years, said for the first three years of living in the states, she used to run inside her house if she saw her neighbor outside because she was embarrassed that she could not speak.

Jane's experiences remind me of the lack of American hospitality. No welcome wagons here.

"People are too busy to try and understand me," she said, with a shrug.

We go back to the task at hand. She writes in her book, picking up the past participle in writing, but confounded as to its purpose. How do I explain that English is a ridiculous, beautiful language that most native speakers cannot fully understand?

I gave the women my number, encouraging them to call. Especially Jane, who works in housekeeping and has no real way to practice the language she seeks to know.

No calls came over the week, but I am hopeful that tonight will prove to be a more positive experience for all of us.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Phonetics - ahhhh

For my handful of readers out there, I am still blogging. Last week just got away from me.

Last Tuesday, I headed back to Highland to tutor ESL. Instead of three women, I worked with two. Because the women aren't keen on their names being used, I am giving them pseudonyms.

I felt a bit more prepared the second time around. Part of that was because I had brought books for the women to keep.

For Jane, I chose "In Mania's Memory," memoirs on the Holocaust. I thought this would be good for her, because she speaks Polish and said she likes nonfiction stories. And, a large portion of the book takes place in her home country.

"This is a subject that I am interested in," she said, politely taking the book.

For Helen, who speaks Albanian, I chose a photo book with captions. This woman is a riot. She's quick, and will give me instruction when it's needed. She also told me she has a short attention span when it comes to reading, so I figured the shorter, the better.

Helen wants to work on spelling. So, with the help of a workbook, we chose words with similar patterns.

Destruct, destruction and distract, distraction.

Amazingly, both woman seem to have the "tion" ending down.

"It's because when I took my citizen test, I had to say 'citizen, and I would pronounce it 'cit-i-tee-own' " Helen said, like an Italian from Brooklyn.

It's the vowels that confuse both women. And this forces me to enunciate with gusto.

A's are used where u's should be. Destruct becomes Destract, which would be a word if it were spelled Distract...

So, I wrote a list of words on the board.

Up               Sap

Tuck            Tack

Suck            Sack

"Hear the difference? Suuuuuuuuck versus Saaaaaaaack."

It worked. Sort of.

While spelling proved to be challenging. Jane also wanted to work on vocabulary. She has a difficult time recalling words when she wants to. So, we played a game similar to twenty questions. Only instead of me asking, I had her describe objects, locations and occupations.

She did amazing, describing "computer," "Great Wall of China" and "tour guide."

I'm excited to meet with the women this week and go over unfamiliar words in the books I gave them. I hope that they have made progress. Above all though, I hope they know that their hard work will pay off for them.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Time to 'Tackle' English

Teaching is harder than I thought. (Wait for all of the teachers out there to collectively say 'duh').

I knew tutoring ESL would be challenging, I just had no idea how ill-prepared I would be. When I headed over to Highland Thursday, I met Rich Trice, an English teacher at Lakeland High School who is also the instructor for the Adult Basic Education classes and ESL program.

After chatting with him for a bit, he led me to three women who had emigrated from Eastern Europe. The women, all middle-aged, were at varying levels.

One had been here for more than twenty years, and can speak fine, but wants to improve spelling. Another can speak fairly well, but has a hard time recalling words when she needs them. The third needs help in both, but conversation is key.

Before we started with actual work, we chatted. I wanted to get to know them. I asked where they were from, what they do and what they need help with.

I also asked them if they had any questions from the assignment they had been given, and one of the women asked me what "tackle" meant.

"Well, it can be used as a football term," I said, followed by a demonstration. "It's also a verb for when I want to work on a difficult project. I will tackle this assignment and get it done," I added, while I pantomimed by writing furiously.

Then, being a transplant Yooper, I said, "Tackle can also be a fisherman's term. Like, a bunch of lures."

Here, I had went wrong. After describing lures, I went to the board and drew out a fish with hooks.
"See, the bunches of lures is makes tackle."

Then I looked at the full list of words. All of the words were active verbs dealing with sports. Great. Had I confused them more than helping them?

To get the conversation going again, I had two of the women talk to me about their holiday traditions, while having the one who needs spelling help write about it. I was able to read nearly everything that was written, but I think she thought it was horrible, preferring to work on sentences.

This week, I will go back and give it another try. This volunteer stint may take a bit more time. How can I help if I am not a little consistant? It may stray a bit from the blog's original intent, but I think it's worth it.

If anyone has any advice or tips, please contact me. For those who are interested in helping out in the Highland area, please call the Adult Education office at (248) 676-8398 or email adulted@huronvalley.k12.mi.us.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I Before E Except After C -- Sometimes?

About six months ago, I decided to write a blog on volunteerism. My goal was to work once a week with a nonprofit organization on my own time, and then write about it for one year.

I can't believe I am halfway there. So far, it's been a rewarding if not tough personal challenge. I have met many dedicated people who strive to make the community a better place. I am astounded at the hours people give.

For being a self-described ultimate planner, this project has tested these abilities. It seems I am always struggling to get my gigs in order. Part of this is because I am just not home much. I'm always playing catch up, whether it's laundry or sleep. I am hoping that this fall will give me a better opportunity to get organized.

Today, I will assist with Adult Basic Education and English as a Second Language classes with Huron Valley Schools.

I've never done anything like this before, so I am not sure what to expect. But I do know how wonderful and complicated the English language can be, and I am hopeful that this might end up being a monthly volunteer gig.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Prison Break

Cinderella chills in the grass.
Hanging with my new pals, Cinderella and Uncle Charlie, proved to be both tiring and gratifying, during a crisp weekday morning. My temporary four-legged friends are animals that I wish I could have, but unfortunately, don't have enough time for. Fortunately, there are volunteer opportunities that allow me to hang with the pooches on a short-term basis.

Before work Wednesday morning, I stopped off at the Oakland County Adoption Center to see what I could help with. When I opened the doors, chaos and a cacophony greeted me. Dogs on leashes were going out and coming in, people were crowding a reception area, and the noise is too jarring to recreate.

This was a little different than what I expected.

After getting a brief orientation and a leash, I got Cinderella, a reddish fawn colored dog of some mixed breed. She was beyond eager to get outside for some playtime. We walked around for a while on the grass near the building, and some defunct looking detention center. I decided to take her to a fairly large-sized fenced in park, and threw some tennis balls for her to fetch. Someone should have taught Cinderella the rules, because I spent most of my time retrieving the ball instead of having them dropped at my feet. Since Cinderella wasn't interested in games, I just ran next to her and gave lots of rubs and "good girls" in my animal voice. You know the voice, thick, syrupy -- the one that's used on babies and drives people nuts.

After about a half-hour, I decided I should give another dog a chance at some freedom. I met another volunteer, Sue, who said she usually walks the dogs for fifteen minutes so that they all get a chance for some fresh air. I figured I made Cinderella's day.

While I enjoy walking the dogs, there does seem to be some disorganization. There is no clipboard or sheet showing which dogs have been walked. So, I asked Sue if she knew what dog I should take, and she suggested Uncle Charlie. This dog is big, black and perhaps a husky, lab mix. At twelve years old, he was much mellower than Cinderella, but proved to be a fun companion.

After another half-hour, I brought him back in. I'm not going to lie, the cages make me sad. Talk about sterile -- there are no blankets or toys in the cages. Instead, the cages are made up of a thick wire bottom so that when the animal goes to the bathroom, a mop can be used to clean up without ever having to open the door. But I do realize the restraints that Oakland County has and what it can provide.

Even more depressing, cats were everywhere in cages, lining the walls. I was told there were more than three hundred, and that some would be euthanized if they couldn't be adopted out. I know some people will rant and rave that I went did not go to a specific "no kill" shelter. But no-kill shelters have a limit on what they take, and so does the county. So, if you know anyone wants a kitten or cat, please stop on by. There were cats of all ages, sizes and colors.

Volunteers are always welcome to walk dogs or pet and comb the cats after submitting a volunteer form. I will surely go back again.

To check it out, visit Oakland County Adoption Center.