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ESL Follies

 One of the many things I do in RL is run a class in English as a 2nd language for our post-docs, graduate students and (occasionally) new staff at the research institute where I am on the faculty.  The class had its very first meeting today, and it was pretty amusing.  I have seven 'students', 5 Chinese (from 4 different areas of China), one Indian from Bengal and one Georgian (the former Soviet Republic, not our southern State).  ::gratuitous cracks about how they don't speak English there either will be dealt with by the loss of House Points and detention with Flich::  :-)   I am to help them with their comprehension and pronunciation, and help them delve the mysteries of English grammar.  In order to be able to attend, their spoken English must be judged as 'poor' by their P.I. or the Office of Education.  Keep in mind that these people all passed their TOEFL exam.

And how did I end up doing this, well you may ask, as I am (to paraphrase Dr. McCoy) dammit Jim, a scientist, not an English professor?   No good deed goes unpunished, apparently.  I'm chair of our departmental post-doc seminar committee (that sounds impressive, but it's one of those jobs that gets given to the jr. staff because it's a pain), and I have made a habit of having a debriefing after each person's talk, going over what worked, what didn't and how the presentation could be improved.  I've also been known to do the same for post-docs about to go out and give a job seminar.  For foreign post-docs (which, sadly, now comprise the majority), this includes help with their English.  News of this filtered up the food chain, and the Institute Chair (who happens to have someone in his lab who is now taking the course)  thought it would be a grand idea to offer help with English to the wider Institute community, and, since I was already doing this (sort of) for my department, and since I'm not teaching this year otherwise (having been given a sabbatical because of my illness),  wouldn't I consider doing this while they decide whether it would be a good idea to hire an actual teacher of English (and oh, BTW isn't it time for your mid-term review soon)?  Yep, that's right: blackmail.  Academia - what's not to like?  ::snort::

So here are these poor people, expecting someone who actually knows how to teach English and getting someone who has a great deal of enthusiasm for the subject, but no clue how to start.  I spent a lot of time going over ESL websites, combing the library for ideas and working feverishly to try to put something together that seems coherent and won't be a waste of anyone's time, but still feels as if it's been thrown together from five feet away.  Ugh.  Class seemed to go OK today, but then the Georgian student threw me for a loop (note to self: add 'threw me for a loop' to list of idiomatic expressions).  "Something I am confused over," he said.  "If plural of mouse is mice and plural of louse is lice, why is not plural of house hice?"  Ideas, anyone?
 

Comments

atdelphi
Sep. 29th, 2010 10:44 pm (UTC)
Oh boy, this is why English is so...interesting to teach as a second language. I don't have much practical advice, but if you want to forestall the many future questions of "why does this conjugate this way but this conjugates that way," it wouldn't hurt to talk just briefly about the whole thing of how English started out as a collection of Germanic dialects and then, through cultural influence and military invasion, came to take on parts of Latin, Norse, and French. From there, some words regularised and some didn't, and in addition the Great Vowel Shift of the 15th to 18th century made some spellings redundant or counter-intuitive.

So in short, students, "This word conjugates/declines/is pronounced/is spelled this way because it is, and we all just have to deal with it, I'm afraid."
albalark
Sep. 30th, 2010 02:47 pm (UTC)
That's pretty much what did - lol! I hemmed and hawed and said something like, "Well, in English rules are made only to be broken at the earliest opportunity, and there are some things we'll just have to memorize."

English started out as a collection of Germanic dialects and then, through cultural influence and military invasion, came to take on parts of Latin, Norse, and French. From there, some words regularised and some didn't, and in addition the Great Vowel Shift of the 15th to 18th century made some spellings redundant or counter-intuitive.

::is in awe of your etymological knowledge:: Thanks for your help, Delphi!
atdelphi
Sep. 30th, 2010 03:05 pm (UTC)
Minored in Linguistics. :-D I have no teaching experience besides putting together a slightly pointed house style guide for my boss, but if you run into any nitpicky English questions, I'm always happy to dust off the textbooks and help.