Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Unexpected Challenge

Two language conversation classes today-- in the French group, I am a participant; in the English one, I function as une animatrice. So there are six of us in the French group and four in the English group, all coming together to practice speaking what is for us a second language. Except that all the people in the French group speak French at approximately the same level and we have little difficulty, despite our various accents, in understanding one another. (The facilitators surmised that we had all attained at least the Intermediate level.)

The English group was another matter entirely. This was the very first session--an experimental class scheduled from now until Christmas. One of the other animators was not able to make it in today and the second "teacher" was 15 minutes late. That left me "in charge". I don't know what I was expecting, but it was certainly not this. The course was set up (and advertised) as a "Conversation" Course, the assumption being that participants could already speak English, however haltingly, and had signed up to "practice" and/or expand on an already established level of proficiency. What I found, to my great surprise, was that three of the four particiants spoke no English at all.

I was, of course, totally unprepared for this. I started by attempting to get them to associate words with actions, speaking slowly and pointing to objects so that they could identify the word with the object. ("Give me the cup" ... "What color is the cup?" ... "Give me the glove" ... What color is the glove?", etc.) Two of them knew the names for colors in English but the other two stared, uncomprending, with a blank expression, one of them reverting back to French when responding to a question. I ended up sometimes prefacing a remark with its French equivalent, which if this were a total language emersion course, would defeat the purpose.

Afterwards, one of the participants suggested that for next time we should get everyone to read a paragraph out loud in English so they could learn better pronounciation. Another suggested maybe we could do a role-play for everyday situations (like going to the supermarket or making an appointment by telephone). But you need some basic vocabulary to do this and at least a rudimentary knowledge of a few verbs.

Oh boy, what a challenge! The task of "facilitating in a conversation group" has suddenly evolved into now trying to teach a small group of adults a completely new language, starting from scratch.

Where do I begin?!!!

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