Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Guess and win ;)

Two weeks ago my 1st graders were learning about farm animals.
I prepared a little cut and paste activity and they were all busy trying to finish as soon as possible to get a star and a hug from their teacher.

At some point a very cute little boy called Uğur placed a small, folded piece of paper in my hand. I thought it was rubbish and told him to throw it away twice.

He declined and lingered around me mumbling something in Turkish. Finally, he pulled my head down, grabbed my hand again and whispered to my ear: ‘Teacher, is hediye (gift)’.

I looked at the piece of paper and asked what it was. The boy said ‘It’s ................... ‘.

Question 1: can you guess what he created i.e what the gift actually was?

Question 2: whose face can you see in the background of the picture?

The winner of this little contest is free to claim his/ her prize J

(A guided tour around Istanbul, a dinner or a special teacher’s hug, for example ;)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How I Learned Your Language – part 3 Russian

This is going be to be the saddest and shortest of my posts in the series. Despite many of the similarities between my mother tongue, Polish, and Russian, I never learned to speak that beautiful language.

I started my Russian classes in grade 5, just because the school couldn’t find an English teacher. I don’t remember a lot from that period – we learned the Cyrillic alphabet, the teacher was strict and we dreamed of learning English.

Russian returned in high school. As the majority of students were total beginners, we learned the alphabet again and the teacher, hmm... For three years she was constantly watering the flowers in the classroom making us, at the same time, create various dialogues in pairs. I don’t remember learning anything more than the present tense.

The classes, as you can imagine, were identical and dull. It was very easy to get the highest grade as the very rare tests she had been preparing were extremely easy, not to say banal. Consequently, none of us made any attempt to study or revise the language at home and our level of motivation to learn Russian at that time was close to zero.

Looking back, what an utter waste of time it was.

I came across on opinion once. The person who expressed it claimed that students’ motivation is inherent and the teacher cannot influence or change it no matter how hard s/he tries.

What are your opinions on this matter?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

How I Learned Your Language – part 2 French

Although French is typically seen as the most romantic language, my journey with the mother tongue of Balzac and Hugo was not romantic at all. My intentions, on the other hand, were of a very passionate nature. It was my second year at university and a guy I had a crush on chose French as a second language to study. Needless to say that was my initial motivation to take up that particular course.

Here are some basic facts for you understand what I'm writing about:

-         the teacher was Polish but spoke French 95% of the time
-         we had four 45min classes a week
-         the group consisted of real and false beginners
-         we used a book called ‘Tempo’ from time to time relying mostly on some photocopied worksheets
-         the teacher never used miming, pictures or realia to set up contexts or explain vocabulary
-         he spoke most of the time and constantly urged us to do so
-         the most difficult areas of French for me were: the pronunciation and the tenses (not really the usage but verb forms)
-         the most difficult skills: writing (as we spoke most of the time I had no clue how to write in French) and listening (I was able to figure out which verb someone used but had no idea in which tense)

Without further ado, I’ll simply say that I hated these classes.

The teacher talked. We listened. He would then choose a person he wanted to talk to. In the meantime he would write some words or grammar items on the board, explaining it all in French. We would note it down, guessing we had just learned passive voice or reported speech. Then he would choose someone else to talk to and ‘teach’ us some other things. If you asked you clarification – you got it, in French.

Looking back, the main problem was combining real and false beginners. The false beginners very quickly remembered what they had lost and became the stars of the class. The rest of the people, including me, were sitting with their mouths wide open most of the time trying to figure out what was going on. You can’t imagine how frustrating it felt.

And then there was the end-of-the-course exam. I nearly failed the grammar and writing part. But, as I was told, I almost reached level B1 in speaking. Some people might say that the teacher was doing a great job then! Fluency triumphed over accuracy.

Yet prior to the test, I had spent weeks learning vocabulary and basic grammar with the help of a computer programme called ‘Learn basic French in 4 weeks’. It gave me an opportunity to systematize what I had acquired and take some control over the chaos.

Maybe I’m an exception but I like to know exactly when and how to use a language. Guessing and uncertainty are a nightmare. That’s why I believe that it makes sense to introduce things gradually and practise them long enough to ensure retention. Otherwise, even if students are ready to get the meaning and usage of something ‘beyond’ their level, they will not be able to or willing to use it. Why?

a)      because they won’t remember it
b)      because they will remember only the narrow context in which it was explained
c)      because they will be struggling to formulate it accurately

Obviously you can throw, let’s say 3rd conditional, at beginners occasionally but not all the time and as matter of principle.

On a final note:

-         I have never spoken to a native French speaker and have always dreaded doing so
-         The best part of the course was watching the musical Notre Dame de Paris and guessing what the people in it were singing about
-         My level of French now is most likely A0
-         A LEARNER wrote that post, not a teacher
-         That cute guy I mentioned at the beginning eventually chose Spanish so we never studied together L

So, how shall we interpret that?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

How I Learned Your Language – part 1 Kashubian

This is going to be an interesting post for two reasons:

a)      most of you have never heard of Kashubian
b)      I myself don’t remember learning the language so it kind of doesn't fit into the series

To begin with, in order to raise your interest, here are some little-known facts about Kashubian(s) :)
  • Kashubians are believed to have black palates
  • A typical Kashubian wedding lasts 3 days. Day 1 (usually Friday) – on a wedding day's eve everyone gathers in the bride’s house and breaks empty bottles on the doorstep and drinks vodka. Day 2 (usually Saturday) – the actual wedding takes place and everyone drinks vodka. Day 3 (usually Sunday) – everyone has fun at the after-the-wedding party and drinks vodka (in shots). 
  •  Kashubians have always felt Polish and never strove for independence
  • There is a Kashubian community in Canada

And here is my story:

Until recently, Kashubian has been considered a dialect of Polish, spoken in the north of the country in a region called Pomerelia. A few years ago it has been granted the status of an official regional language and nowadays students can learn it at school. There are many sites dedicated to spreading Kashubian culture, language and traditions. You can even listen to Radio Kaszebe.

Years ago, on the other hand, the situation was totally different. My parents’ generation was picked on and punished for speaking Kashubian at school. They spoke Kashubian at home but never learned to read or write in it. Obviously they know Polish as well so I guess they might be called bilingual.

I grew up in a village (crucial factor - that’s where the language is usually spoken) and all the people in my family know Kashubian. I always thought it’s almost the same as Polish but apparently speakers of Polish, who don’t know it, can’t understand it at all.

My parents talk to each other, their siblings and parents in this very language. Yet they never spoke it to me. Even when my grandma asked me questions in Kashubian I always answered in Polish and nobody saw anything strange in it. As a result, me and my cousins i.e. the younger generation fully understand Kashubian but can’t speak it.

By ‘can’t speak it’ I mean produce extended stretches of utterance without hesitation causing strain. To be honest, any real ‘Kaszeba’ will immediately figure out that I’m not a ‘native’.

Who am I then?
Can I consider myself bilingual?
I always thought of myself as a weirdo but maybe that’s what happens to children brought up in bilingual families?

What do you think? Have you had similar experiences? 

As always, I'd love to hear your stories :)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New series: How I Learned Your Language

Many recent posts (especially this one and that one) made me think a lot about learning languages and how the process affects teaching. Many books have been written about SLA but I haven’t come across one written by a nonNEST discussing how he/she learned English.

That’s why I’ve decided to start my first series called ‘How I Learned your Language’.

Although my teaching experience is limited, I’ve been learning languages for more than 20 years. First came Russian, then English, French and Turkish. And there has always been Kashubian.

I have enough material for at least 5 posts but I’d love to hear your stories. If you want to share your experiences please contact me using the button in the top left hand corner or email me directly.

Here are a few things you might consider:
  • is the language you have been learning similar to your mother tongue?
  • how old were you when you started learning?
  • did you learn it as EFL or ESL i.e. in a native speaking environment or not?
  • was you teacher a native speaker or not?
  • which methods did he/she use?
  • what was the language of instruction?
  • which coursebooks did you use (if any)?
  • what was the most difficult/ easiest part of the language to master?
  • what is your preferred learning style?

Now which language should I start with? Any suggestions?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Tale of an Expat

Yesterday I read Alan Maley’s wonderful article in ETPThe article called ‘Over the Wall...’ was about four novels discussing the issue of immigration to the UK.

Contrary to thousands of Poles, I didn’t choose England to settle in. Yet the stories and plights of immigrants in the article sounded very familiar.

Most of my close friends know that I came to Turkey in 2007 with a credit waiting to be paid. I guess you might say I sort of escaped from Poland leaving the credit behind. But I had to do it – the money was necessary for my first months in Istanbul.

And then all the problems began.
  • During my first week while eating lahmacun, my tooth broke and I had to visit a dentist (80YTL with the help of my Turkish friend whose uncle was a dentist).
  • The Euro rate at that time was very low and I ended up having a lot less money than I expected. Having paid the deposit and rent for the apartment (plus an extra 500 YTL for the furniture) I was left with around 300 TL for a month and a half.
  • As my turist visa was valid for month only I had to get myself a residence permit for which my school refused to pay. We ended up spending the whole day in the Aksaray Yabanci Şubesi in exactly one hundered queues not knowing how the whole process was going to end. Mind you, I didn’t have the 570 YTL to pay for my Ikamet or the 3000$ in my account which was required. To cut a long story short, the school was taking the 570 YTL from my salary in installments. How generous.
  •  I had to save as I wanted to pay off the credit by Christmas so I was eating lots during lunch at school so as not to spend money on food later. The result was even worse – I probably gained around 10 kg that year.
  • Somehow, I expected Istanbul to be warm so I had taken mostly summer clothes from home. Obviously it wasn’t so I had to wear layers of T-shirts and tops in winter as it was, actually, pretty cold that year.
  • The food sold in stores was a lot different from home. It took me a few months and a lot of experimenting to find Turkish equivalents of what I was used to eat. After 2 years I can find bread similar to the one we have in Poland but a) some other things are not sold here at all, b) the ones you manage to find are usually outrageously expensive.
  • In the area where I lived hardly anyone spoke English – my Turkish friend had to accompany me to the hairdresser’s every time and, what a surprise, I always had a different haircut and hair colour that I wanted. Apparently Turkish hairdressers do it to everyone lol J
  • I met some people during CELTA and ended up working with one but most of the time I felt extremely lonely. I didn’t have a laptop, there were no English books around and I did my share of sightseeing before. During a Christmas party my South African friend told me how to switch the language to original on the Digiturk remote control. That was awesome! I became a fan of Crime&Investigation Network as finally, there was something on TV that I could understand!
  • So many times I got into the wrong bus in the morning and had to catch a taxi to be at school on time. If you have ever used Istanbul’s public transport in the morning, you know what I mean. Traffic, dolmuşes, minibuses, service buses, green buses and blues buses, taxis and people. LOOOts of people running to get on something that will take them to work.
  • I had the unfortunate chance of learning the word fortçuluk and that was not nice especially that the fortçuluk took place more than once. I guess it happens in many countries but it has never happened to me back home.
Yeah, immigration is tough and definitely not for the faint-hearted. Despite all my hardships here in Istanbul I haven never regretted my decision to work there. I’ve learned a lot about Turkey, Turks and myself. Although I had to start everything from scratch again, it was worth all what I’d been through.

How about you expat teachers? 

What was the most difficult thing for you to accept or deal with in your new countries? 

Would love to hear your stories!