Tag Archives: English

It Just Takes Practice

24 Mar

I am continually amazed how spending time with the workers at the Day Worker Center challenges me to rethink my opinions and see things in a new light.

For example, let’s take a look at one young man I’ll call Ricardo. He looks like one of those tough guys with his beanie and hoodie covering part of his face. He tends to have headphones in most of the time, and generally looks like someone you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. But what some people don’t know about Ricardo is that he’s very artistic. He’s been accepted into art school and would like to go if they give him financial aid. I caught a glimpse of him the other day helping some of the kids who come to the center with art projects. He knows how to fold beautiful paper flowers, and evidence of his works lies concealed in small corners or tiny vases around the center.

Or how could I forget how Edy, when I told him I didn’t know how to dance, taught me cumbia there on the spot. “Es facil,” he told me. And it turned out that it was easy. We danced to the music on someone’s portable speakers, much to the amusement of those around us.

Lastly, I think of Andres, a handyman who does all kinds of labor. But he also helps with sewing projects. One volunteer named Naomi comes in every so often to help orchestrate art projects in general; the latest thing has been helping sew patches for a beautiful quilt. The patches themselves are quite impressive, but the quilt as a whole is stunning. Andres was talking about how he learned some English from a friend, but that it still took a lot of effort for him to advance. I told him that it just took practice and that he would get it eventually. When the conversation eventually turned back to the current project, he asked me if I sew. I told him I didn’t. “Por que?” he asked me. Lots of reasons, but the main one was that I just didn’t like it, it took too much time, and I get frustrated.

“It just takes practice. Practice and you’ll get it eventually.” Who knew that I would get my words thrown back at me?


Teaching English is hard, even for the English Teacher

23 Mar

I teach a two hour block on Tuesdays of relatively advanced students. Having a two hour time slot has its challenges. We have time, yet I want to squeeze in as much as possible to make it worth their while. It never works that way.

I’ve been on this homonym kick lately (you remember those, right?). At the level of this particular class, where they can have a basic conversation at least, they’re more aware of English. Which means they’re more aware of its idiosyncrasies. Which means my 30 minute homonym lesson becomes a one hour and fifteen minute homonym lesson.

I got to the center today willing myself to keep it short and move on.,

I began with a basic: to, too, two

This reminded someone of the number four and its counterpart, for. I wrote on the board, “for, four”.

Have you ever tried explaining the meaning of “for”? They started throwing out examples for “for”. Like, “for example”, “for sure”, “I have something for you”. The dictionary didn’t help much; it had about ten different explanations for “for”. And it told me for is a preposition and a conjunction, which is great, except that is a whole other lesson, two in fact.

I went back to my list and we made it through “band” and “banned” without incident. Well, except for the minor set back of using the past tense of banned in a present tense sentence like, “It is banned to smoke here”. Again, several grammar lessons packed into that one sentence.

Another student said, “I read in a book the word “bank” and it wasn’t about where you keep your money.” We put up the words and talked about the place you put your money and a river bank.

“Like the picture on the wall?” he asked.

I said, “No, that’s a cliff. See how high it is? And that body of water is the sea, not a river.” I added “body of water”, “cliff”, “sea”, “ocean”, “shore” to the board. Tangent number three.

Just when I thought we could move on, a student said, “Bank means trust.” I said, “I don’t think so.” He said, “Yes, for example, I bank on the Day Worker’s Center to give me work.” Oh. Teacher gets taught.

So you can see why a simple English lesson is never simple. Even for the English teacher.