Thursday, August 06, 2009

Testing patience

Today marks the midpoint of the contract I have with my level 0 student. In forty five hours he has learned to conjugate BE in the present tense, both affirmative and negative forms plus the interrogative form. It took a good 20 hours for him to catch the hang of I/you/he/she/it/we/they and longer for me/you/him/her/it/us/them but the possessives my/your/his/her/our/thier/its are proving to be quite a challenge. I know how it is to be in your mid thirties and start to learn a new language because I went through it myself. I keep reflecting on those months of agony but I can't help feel that I was a faster learner than he. However, I do recall that after three months, which would have been about 150 hours, I was thinking that it was impossible, that I'd never be able to learn French. Discouraged, I almost aborted the effort. Luckily I didn't quit and was able to push through it. Now the powers that be are trying to extend the contract to give him a better chance of having some basic skills. This is fine by me. I'm actually really into this course and I find myself trying all kinds of different things to get those AHA moments of understanding and clarity from him. I suspect he may score on the low end of verbal skills in his native language which complicates things even further. I mean, if you don't know why you're saying something in your own language, how can you understand why you do it in the target language? When he tries to pronounce English words it's almost as if he has rocks in his mouth. I find myself laughing quite a bit at his mangled pronunciations but it's a loving laugh and he gets that.

Every day, Monday through Friday, I drill him on the conjugation of BE in the present tense, and we do the days of the week (still not under his belt), the months (non plus) and the seasons (still has trouble with spring). We do the numbers from one to one hundred. We do family members. Then we read a rudimentary text and practice grammar exercises. He dutifully writes down new vocabulary (at least a hundred words a day) and promptly forgets the vocabulary. I know how that is too. Whenever I'm with the uncles who know the name of every plant and tree in the wilderness, I'm exposed to the various names of things. It's so cool to be walking along and have uncle Tom say something like, "Hey, wild onions," and then he'll kneel down a pop out some onions from the ground. You and I would have looked and thought it was just one of a bazillion weeds littering the landscape. Anyway, despite the mini lessons in nomenclature and how to identify certain plants and trees (jefferson pine vs ponderosa for example) I forget all the information within minutes, useful though I find it. The best way for me to remember something is to repeat it in my mind a bunch of times. I can usually remember a phone number that way when I'm without a pen. As soon as I get to a pen though and write it down, the phone number will magically vanish from my memory. So any good tricks to help with memorization? I'd be much obliged.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think new languages should be taught just like the way a person learns their first language. Baby steps. Imagine trying to get a 2 year old to conjugate verbs? You didn't learn your native tongue over night and it takes time to teach someone a new language. I suppose, or maybe I'm full of bovine feces. ed

Mel said...

I don't know that I've got any tricks. My memory is often tenuous, but it holds onto certain things better than others. For instance, I do well with languages and remembering numbers and dates, as well as some cases I treated years ago, but I suck at remembering faces unless I've learned the name before I've met the face. I also don't recall names unless I've learned them without a face attached.

Personally, I think I get new languages better if I understand some of the rules of grammar up front. That said, if this guy's verbal skills really are marginal en fran├žais, then repetition may be your only real option avec l'anglais.

"Just David!" said...

It's good that you can remember what it was like to learn a new language, that shows compassion. My parents had us kids take a memory course when I was 11 or 12. It was incredible and to this day my memory is really extraordinary. I'm a wealth of information about little things that are totally useless. Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of the course or the book. That's irony, right? I will ask my mother and email you if she remembers.

GayProf said...

It is always seemed to me that somebody learning English has a much steeper climb than an anglophone learning a romance language. English has some many exceptions and crazy rules that it must seem like nonsense. Romance languages, in comparison, seem to have a much more sound logic.

A Lewis said...

May I just say, right out loud, that I have nothing but admiration for you and anyone else who can figure out not only one's own language, but another one. ..... it must be nice to have a mind that actually works!

Rox said...

I say find out his interests and go from there. If he likes the subject matter, it might have a better chance of sticking.

Verb conjugation was always brutal for me too, in both english and french.

Anonymous said...

I have found various sets of index cards to be very useful: smaller ones for the letters of the alphabet, larger ones for whole words, different colors for different types of words, etc. Spread them out on the table and let your student arrange them in the correct way. It is always a good idea to write new words on the board. My students knew next to no English, so the words were simple ones mostly, e.g. table, fish, apple. I wrote the words on index cards, found pictures of these words on the net, printed them out and glued them on index cards and had him match the pictures and the words. If he couldn't remember a word, I'd give him the first letter, then, if necessary, the second and third. It is a tedious process but the end justified the means.

I hope this makes somesense to you.

Kai
osynarellis@yahoo.de

dykewife said...

sometimes to remember i'd rhyme it with a familiar word in a little ditty poem. but it's been a long time since i've done that, i don't remember how to do that.

wcs said...

No memory tricks here, but I do remember that I was a lousy student of my own language (American English).

I learned so much more about English through the process of learning French than I ever did in my English classes.

Mike, Studio city said...

I don't have a comment. just want to say hello, have a nice weekend.