Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Under the Table or Not ... Keep Patience and ...

Continue Your Lesson

Reading Vladimira's post about young learners brought me back to my first steps in teaching English one-to-one and how I learned from my little pupil to be more creative, mindful and patient.

Young learners are different. Adults are interested in the language itself, trying to find some system and logic, while children's main concern is not the words but the action or, in other words, what is happening. Young learners perceive a foreign language as a new discovery, a game, if only the game is really interesting. They trust us waiting for something new, need our encouragement and are ready to be creative and funny. But they stop when they are not interested any more or bored, or even worse, are forced to do anything they don't like.

My pupil was a six-year-old girl, rather smart who had some experience in learning English with another teacher. She knew the ABC and could read a bit. The girl was eager to learn - we played different vocabulary and phonic games, sing songs, read to each other. Everything went smoothly, but... One day I came to her and saw her scowling face.  She refused to learn English and hid under the table. I whispered the parents not to interfere, sat on a sofa with a teddy-bear and a doll and began reading a book. Reading to myself I made some remarks smiling and laughing from time to time: 

"Oh, it's so interesting!"
"Well, it couldn't be so!"


Then I heard a voice from under the table: "What's amazing?" It was a good sign! The girl spoke in her L1, so not to make her more frustrated I also spoke to her in L1. 

"The book is amazing."

"Why is it amazing?"

"Because it's about one little boy who is living in a forest with the animals."

Now I think you guessed it was a story about Mowgli.

"Where are his parents?" enquiried the voice from under the table.

"I don't know. I'll have to read the book to the end to find out. But now we are going to do some exercises to the first chapter and paint the pictures."

"We? Who are we?"

"The teddy-bear, the doll and me. They have read the book with me and now know how to paint the pictures."

"I also want to paint the pictures," said the voice from under the table.

"But first you'll have to read the book."

"OK," she said. And with words the girl left her shelter and sat on the sofa next to me showing interest in reading. The rest of the lesson went smoothly. It was my little victory.




Saturday, 12 January 2013


Last year was a good one for me in my professional growth (luckily I met a lot of  great teachers around the world on Facebook and Twitter), and in my learning (I always try to be up-to-date with my English and ... started learning French).

But one thing was rather challenging to me: I had a new student, a ten-year-old girl, 4th grade of primary school. She is dyslexic but she is a hard-working and rather intelligent girl struggling with her disability in reading, writing and spelling. I have been teaching English one-to-one for more than fifteen years but have never encountered such a problem so close before. 

The girl was bullied by her classmates and treated badly by the teachers who thought her being lazy and unmotivated. Neither her class teacher nor her English teacher (both rather experienced ones) had not thought that the reason of her poor learning was dyslexia. (I wish we were taught something about it at universities.) What is more, once her class teacher ridiculed her for her poor reading before the whole class! It is incredible! The girl has already had a very low self-esteem and thinks she is stupid. Her parents were also unaware of their girl's problem and did not know how to help her. So I turned out to be the first one who revealed her disability and advised to show the girl to speech therapist and psychologist. Now the diagnosis is confirmed.  I hope the situation at school will change for the best soon. Building self-confidence and friendly atmosphere are major elements of day-to-day teaching  in the classroom.

Surfing the Net I found out that in some countries the rights of children with dyslexia are protected by law. But not in our country. This may seem strange, but we don't even have a law on special education for different categories of children with difficulties. Ten years ago a project was created but it is still a project. Our dyslexic children receive low quality education, it is hard for them to learn and very difficult to go to colleges or universities.

By the way, the girl is good at art and acting. I still teach her English. We are struggling together and I am trying to do my best to help her because I made a difference. 



Monday, 5 March 2012

How I learned Hungarian

Inspired by Brad Patterson's How I learned Chinese (blog challenge part 2), I also decided to jump into his challenge. Thanks, Brad! You are a real mover and shaker!

This is my first blog - challenge #one. The first step is always hard! :)

I was in my late twenties when I came to work in Hungary. It was April. I left cold Moscow with its melting snow and dirty streets. The city looked grey and gloomy. People hurried somewhere, their faces were unsmiling, anxious and worried. And then I found myself in another world, full of sun, flowers, and ... singing Hungarians! It was amazing!

Though trained to be an English teacher, I did another job at that time dealing with publishing and advertising. I was sure my English would help me a lot as it was and still is a global language. How mistaken I was! Well, I also knew Spanish and Italian a bit (holiday level), but it did not help me even read the signs in the streets or in the shop windows! And what was worse, I found nobody who spoke English, because German was the main foreign language taught at schools. I bought an English-Hungarian phrasebook and started "talking" using my hands and mimic. I should have learned some Hungarian before my trip! So first thing I rushed to the courses.

It was rather amazing to watch how this difficult agglutinative language was sticking to me! I immersed myself in it listening to the radio, watching TV and films at the cinema. But at first, it was just a flow of unfamiliar sounds! But soon I felt myself like a clever dog: understanding everything but unable to speak! And I came persistently to my goal.

My first teacher was a native-speaker. She had quite a good command of Russian, but her explanations of grammar were not clear enough, so it was easier for me to read a coursebook by myself. She spoke only Russian at the lessons. What was worse, she made lots of mistakes in Russian, sometimes even created her own Russian words, which didn't really exist. Her lessons were boring. It was a grammar-lexical approach. We read texts, translated them, did lots of exercises, but we did not speak at all. I wonder what was more interesting to her: to teach us Hungarian or brush up her own knowledge of Russian. Another teacher was Russian, who graduated from Budapest University. She was also an English teacher like myself. Her lessons were great, motivating, inspiring and interesting. And she spoke only in Hungarian! So the question "Is it better to have a native-speaking or non-native speaking teacher?" is still under discussion.  

After two years of living in the country I was rather solid in Hungarian.  I loved their language, their culture, music and songs and noticed that Hungarians became much more friendly to me. I met a lot of Russians who came to work in Hungary for the second or even third time and knew just a couple of words or phrases in Hungarian like  "this" pointing to some things in the shops or markets, "good" is they were going to buy it and "thanks". And they often used me or their own kids as interpreters. They had plenty of free time, but no desire to learn.  Why? Lazy? Maybe so.  When you come to work and live in a foreign country and don't speak their language, you cannot really experience the   culture .

By the way, my Russian teacher of Hungarian once told me that though Hungarian was rather difficult, it could be much more easily and quickly restored than English. As my Hungarian has rusted a little(?) bit, I am going to check whether it's true or not.