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Teaching someone who knows NO English - new teacher, ideas?

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 27, 2010 12:03 am    Post subject: Teaching someone who knows NO English - new teacher, ideas? Reply with quote

I am volunteering to teach ESL through an organization called Literacy Volunteers. I went to their training seminars and bought a book called LitStart. They have assigned me my first student. She is a 50-something from Ukraine who scored a 1 (the bottom) on the Best Plus assessment. I'm nervous and not sure the best way to go about this.

What is the best way to start? I'm guessing I will have to use pictures and try to teach her some nouns and slowly try to form simple sentences. Should I integrate the written word at all? Or should I stick with conversation for a while? I'm not sure how well she can read and write in her native language, if at all. Her Best Plus score makes me think maybe she can't. What sorts of activities and/or nouns would be best?

Also, I need to schedule my meetings through her son, who presumably speaks English. Should I invite him to come to our first session? It's going to be very difficult if I can't even say "Hi, my name is ____. What is your name?"

Any other general advice for a new teacher who is scared would be nice. I worry I won't know how to get anywhere with her and that it's just going to be really awkward and uncomfortable for her (and me).
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Sally Olsen

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

PostPosted: Sat Feb 27, 2010 1:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

You are in for a wonderful experience. You are making a friend that will be there for you the rest of your life because you gave of yourself when she needed it.

Take along pictures of you, your family and tell her simply through pictures about your life. Encourage her to bring pictures too and find out all you can from the son. Write down names of family members and places where she has lived and what she does for hobbies or fun or her interests, names of food she cooks and anything else that will give you a hook. She will learn words that start with the letters of her name first and then the names of her children and so on. Get the spelling right.

Work on things that are important to her. She might want to talk to her doctor or find the bargains in shopping. I bring along the masses of flyers we get every week and my student goes through them like a hunter for the best deals. It is a great way to teach numbers and money plus the names of things.

Don't limit yourself to just nouns. Teach her to say phrases that will make her life easier and facilitate communication with others even though she can't carry on the conversation; she will appear friendly and other people will talk to her. "Hi, my name is .... How are you? Come in. Sit down.
Would you like some tea, coffee, juice? How are your children?" If you repeat them with the actions every time she will learn them like a formula but feel good about it. In Canada, we always start the conversation with the weather -"Cold enough for you, eh?"

Find out from her son if she can go shopping on her own, if she knows her name, address, phone number and what 911 is for. You could help her with those first if she doesn't.

Flash cards are great - alphabet, numbers, time, months of the year, days of the week, calendars. You can play games with them and test her to show her she is improving.

Walk around the area you teach and see if you can find things to read - exit signs, up and down buttons on the elevators, garbage directions so that the reading is practical.

You can bring a digital camera and take pictures of her surroundings and then label them. She will learn what she knows faster. Don't forget to put phrases where you can. Open the door. Close the drawer.

Bring a tape recorder and tape everything you do and send it home with her. I tape for half an hour and then we listen to it and I write down what I said in a notebook. It makes you keep things simple. I was trying to teach her a, b and c. She learned the c was "and c" Of course, she didn't understand what I was saying and just parroted so it keeps you focused and aware of what you are teaching her.

Lots of enthusiasm for progress and lots of laughter at mistakes.

For the last 10 minutes get her to teach you her language. It will make her feel better that you make mistakes too and can't imitate the sounds.

If you can get a simple book and learn to read and write her language with her, she will progress much faster in English. There are so many literacy skills that we learn without knowing it when we learn to read, she will not learn those as naturally as she would knowing her own language and many are transferrable and those that aren't are interesting to point out.

Take along a picture book once in awhile - photos of her homeland or some event like the Olympics so that she can comment as much as she can about adult things. Even a quick thumb though the newspaper will produce one or two photos she can relate to and you can name the things in the picture.

She will find her own way to keep things in her head. Saying it over and over is my student's favourite. But do use a lot of writing to try and anchor the learning. If she is illiterate it won't mean much at the beginning but once she learns her name and address she might get the idea that these scribbles are important. It is a good way to leave something with her to do, to write three letters of the alphabet or 5 numbers.

Cook, do some crafts, listen to some music, try on clothes, and just have some fun at least once a month.

Get her to bring her documents like her children's school records or letters from the teacher or rent forms or anything she is worried about and help her fill out forms to practice her name address and phone number. Send her letters with pictures labeled.

If you have an extra 10 minutes a day get her to phone you and at first have planned conversations. "Hi, this is .... How are you? I am fine, how are you? How is (family's names). Good. Goodbye."

Be super patient. At the beginning it is very slow and frustrating. That is why is it so great to learn her language because it will make you aware of how hard it is to learn because you probably don't really care if you learn her language and she might not really want to learn yours but is being forced to by the situation.
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