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The worst student I have ever had

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Joined: 12 Aug 2003
Posts: 33
Location: Spain

PostPosted: Fri Jul 03, 2009 7:48 am    Post subject: The worst student I have ever had Reply with quote

Hi People!
Just wondering if anyone had any ideas on this. We have a student at our school who seems to be impossible to teach. Now, I've been teaching for 11 years and I've had some bad ones but you get through it. This one, bless her, is beyond comparison. Not only does she have severe pronunciation problems (try to get her to repeat anything that begins with "H" and has one syllable and she always says "hop." Doesn't matter if it's hat, heat, hurt, hog, hurt, hill etc) but her memory is a work of art. There have been two of us teaching her for two years now (thought it better to share this responsiblity) and we use the direct method for most of the time (repeats, questions, meaning through images etc) but now and again we try something different out of desperation. However, every couple of weeks or so she wants to know the difference between "yes, he is," and "Yes, he does." Even though we go through a routine of short form exercises (and games) every week without fail. I even suggested she take three classes a week instead of her habitual two, a piece of advice that she seemed to take two and has stuck with, but apart from an ability to read and understand simple texts, she has not really improved. And now we have to suffer her saying "hop" and looking at us and shrugging her shoulders for an extra day every week. Perhaps we should hire a hitman to take her out. Help! All joking aside, her comprehension of texts has improved no end. Introducing her to something new can be done soley in English (although sometimes you have to throw in a Spanish word or two or you'll be there all day) and when I have any degree of success with this student I actually feel has if it were worth getting out of bed that day. Plus, she really is a very nice woman and I would really like to help her. Getting her to read texts aloud has clearly helped but for every step forward she takes two back. Has anybody had similar problems? I'm not quite ready to give up on her yet. Mind you, I'm not far off it!
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Joined: 03 Jun 2009
Posts: 3

PostPosted: Fri Jul 03, 2009 2:37 pm    Post subject: about pronunciation Reply with quote

Hi there,

I'm sorry to hear your story teaching that woman who obviously has a pronunciation problem.You are quite a patient teacher. I think following tapes or vedios of pronouncing materials to practise pronunciation is the best way to improve. for example, to practise "a:" for a week, one hour for each day.Always remind your student of the key points to notice when pronouncing a certain phonetic symbol like having your mouth wide open or tightly closed. This reminding should appear whenever she meets with a word or a sentence with that symbol. You'd better have her practise vowels before consonants as vowls are the key for pronunciation.
I actually have a lot more to know about her and hope i can help more. Let's keep in contact if u like. My skype number is [email protected]. BTW, I can send you some materials for practising pronunciation.

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Joined: 18 May 2003
Posts: 1377
Location: San Francisco, California

PostPosted: Sat Jul 04, 2009 5:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Is it possible she has some kind of a learning disability? If so, perhaps there are some special methods that could be used that we ESL/EFL teachers don't usually know about.
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Joined: 12 Aug 2003
Posts: 33
Location: Spain

PostPosted: Sat Jul 04, 2009 8:36 pm    Post subject: Bravely soldiering on Reply with quote

Hi People!
Thanks a bunch for your encouragement and ideas. I’m always impressed by how supportive everybody is at this site. I think her pronunciation problems are mostly to do with consonants. I went through a form of “vowel training” with her and was surprised at how well she did. This is the thing with a student like this; every class after hers is a piece of cake and you really begin to hone your skills, and when she does well you feel 10 feet tall. She struggles so much with consonants though and we have discussed the possibility that she could have special needs. However, she’s a secretary and is constantly answering phones, taking notes and doing secretary things. In fact, one of the main problems is that she is not allowed by her boss to ignore the phone. It was a condition he made when he agreed to pay for the classes. So, phones going off left, right and centre don’t help much. Mind you, returning to the question of learning problems, both me and my colleague have noticed that she sometimes doesn’t write a full word, this could be habitual, a kind of shorthand; but we’ve even noticed that she doesn’t understand the difference between a noun, adjective and verb in Spanish. She once told me that a certain verb in Spanish (soler) didn’t exist and we came to the conclusion that it was because I used an infinitive (in conversation, not in class I should add) and that she didn’t understand it out of context. As such, we try and keep grammar to a minimum and keep everything in context. But I think we should explore the possibilities of special needs lesson plans. Thanks again! I’ll be in touch about that pronunciation material. Sounds interesting.
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Joined: 01 Sep 2005
Posts: 151

PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 5:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You say that she isn't allowed to ignore the phone so I assume you're trying to teach her as she is doing her normal job. This won't work, as the last two years of your lives have already proven! You and your colleague will continue to make no progress until you remove her from her professional, Spanish, surroundings and start to teach her in something resembling an English language environment. She needs to focus on the task in hand, and at the moment that task continues to be a Spanish speaking secretary and not a student of English.
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Joined: 12 Aug 2003
Posts: 33
Location: Spain

PostPosted: Thu Jul 09, 2009 5:21 am    Post subject: Not much difference Reply with quote

That only really happens on busy days. The classes are normally around breakfast time and the phones tends not to ring. I twould be a lot better if she could turn it off though but try telling that to her boss! However, I'm used to teaching people in that kind of environment, some people can do it and others can't. This one really has a different kind of problem. Even in the most ideal conditions she would struggle. I have suggested she turn off the phone before. The response was laughter.
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Joined: 21 Jul 2007
Posts: 43
Location: Morocco

PostPosted: Sat Aug 15, 2009 11:52 am    Post subject: Same problem! Reply with quote

I'm an EFL teacher, I had a girl studying in third year of High School. Whenever I asked her to read a text, she wouldn't because she had pronunciation problems. So, I decided to ask her read the next session's text at home so that she can pronounce correctly but she didn't do it. I discussed this problem with her but all what she said "there no problem, I just have pronunciation problems". I told the administration about her. They to know what was the problem but no way. This lasted 4 or 5 sessions and she left school.

I still don't know what her problem was!
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Joined: 12 Oct 2008
Posts: 7

PostPosted: Mon Sep 21, 2009 6:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It does sound like a learning disability.
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Sally Olsen

Joined: 08 Apr 2004
Posts: 1322
Location: Canada,France, Brazil, Japan, Mongolia, Greenland, Canada, Mongolia, Ethiopia next

PostPosted: Mon Sep 21, 2009 5:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If it is a learning disability, then it is best to find a way that she can learn without having to do pronunciation exercises. You don't ask a duck to climb trees or a tiger to stay under water forever. We all have our capabilities and it seems that doing pronunciation exercises is not one of hers.

However, you have outlined many things you have done with her that do work, so concentrate on doing those and finding more so she can learn despite having a disability. She has proven this with her successes.

There are many pathways to learning something. We tend just to follow the one we have learned to teach, but it is good for us and the students to try different things.

The video approach is one way with you reading the text to her with exaggerated mouth movements which you video. It is probably better to have the video take a picture of your whole face rather than just the mouth but you could try both and see if it helps.

Tapes of the text are good if she can listen over and over as she follows along, perhaps at lunch time each day. Make sure it is a woman's voice that she is imitating.

No one is ever going to come up to her and say, "Say H" and many people leave h out of their speech and are still understood. I guess you could try the "My Fair Lady" professor's trick of putting marbles in her mouth or saying it near a candle to see the movement of flame when she says it correctly - In Hartford, Hereford and Hampshire hurricanes hardly happen.

It seems that positive reinforcement works and so the more things that you find to encourage, the better she will get.
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