Thursday, September 2, 2010

I Haven't Written Lately

English grammar. No ones favorite subject. Unless you're weird, I guess. I am supposed to be teaching my Level 5 students the past participle. This is a daring feat.

First, I must create a basic approach to understand this tense of grammar. And in doing so, elicit how such grammar is utilized.

I typed up a spreadsheet of the most commonly used irregular verbs in the present tense, the simple past, and the past participle. They can use their faithfully-worn Spanish-English dictionaries and translate the verbs they don't already know.

The trouble is, explaining a form of grammar that most English speakers don't often use. It isn't generally conversational English. Saying that "I haven't written lately," could just as easily be altered to "I didn't write today," or "I wrote five days ago."

As a student of the Spanish language, I suffer along with my students, and anyone else learning a foreign language. It is extremely difficult. Grammar is an ugly beast. Most native speakers don't speak correctly, anyway. Everyone makes mistakes, no matter who they are. Or whom. I don't even know.

This is what I'm typing about: at what point do I pass along information that is confusing and barely useful to intermediate students of a foreign language, and at what point do I focus more on conversational English? On commonly used words and phrases, practicing pronunciation and correcting mistakes.

I am a non-traditional learner: I don't learn well from a book alone. I must practice the information, I must use my hands, I need to try it out for myself. This being said, you get the idea of what type of teacher I am. I make them play Charades, and 20 Questions and Mother May I and Guess Who? I bring in music and teach them lyrics of my favorite songs. I give them advertisements from magazines and have them write a commercial, then act it out. Every class, I pick a topic from a list and elicit a discussion, sometimes an argument. I try to get them to express their opinions and feel comfortable with spontaneous conversation and debate. I make them pay 25 cents each time they speak Spanish without my permission. I keep the coins in a plastic baggie on the desk. I told them at the end of class, we'll spend the money together: we'll go out to eat, we'll drink a beer and go dancing.

We'll celebrate the fact that, good grades or no, they have just spent just over two months of intensive English classes. We'll celebrate the effort, since it's about the journey, not the destination.

And this is what they should have learnt.