July 9, 2014

Reflections on language learning, Day 3.

I'm two days deep into intensive Turkish lessons. As a language teacher myself, I certainly commiserate with our dear teacher, as she must stick out four hours with Alan, me, and beginning Turkish textbooks.

I found myself in a strikingly similar situation last summer, except that I was the teacher. I was assigned to teach level 1 (beginners) at the intensive English program back in Flagstaff. I had never taught very low level learners before, and the class only had two students: two teenagers from Saudi Arabia. One was really bold and had a talent for communicating, though I did have to chastise him for using English swear words in class. The other, a shy guy with a penchant for selfie photos For two hours each day, was stronger with the technical elements of English, like grammar and spelling. The two of them together were truly the odd couple. I met with these guys for two hours every day to practice English listening and speaking. Especially at first, I really had no idea how to teach in such an intense situation. With a larger class size, activities take longer, there is more interaction among students, and teaching feels more fluid. On the other hand, with only two students, I found that my activities shriveled up to half the time I thought they would take. We would be five worksheets into the lesson, and we would still have an hour of class left. I guess the reason I want to describe this experience is that one-to-one or one-to-two teaching is difficult, draining, and most of all, pretty darn boring.

The upshot of a VERY small class is that it is hard for students to slip through the cracks. The teacher knows if you're getting it. The pace of the class is definitely tailored to the students' aptitude, which is an advantage for learning.

So, as Alan and I both had the experience teaching these two guys last summer, we often compare ourselves to them. The shy guy always used mechanical pencils and tended to break the lead often, to which he always made a disappointed face that was so characteristic, I still think of him when I hear lead snap. For the other guy, I felt pretty lucky if he brought a pencil to class. I often brought extra school supplies--no excuses.

Alan is definitely the mechanical pencil user, and as I didn't want the extra weight in my bag, I haven't bought a notebook yet. I do bring pens to class, and I do take lots of notes, do I think I'm a little ahead of the game. Oh, and I haven't busted out any swear words during class...yet!

I started this entry with the intention to write about language learning from a language teacher's perspective. Back on track, Jena:

At the beginning level, it's all about vocabulary and developing good habits. Learners need lots of words to use, and they need practice in creating grammatical structures. This isn't necessarily information from my master's degree; more or less from experience and common sense. Fossilized errors, those mistakes we make so many times in a foreign language that we don't know they are wrong, are very hard to unlearn. Our Turkish teacher, Elvan Hanim (Ms. Elvan), has been drilling us on conjugating possessive pronouns and possessed nouns. In English, we've simplified our parts of our language system over the years (my book, your book, our books), but Turkish uses affixes to show whose book so that the pronoun is rendered optional. My book = benim kitabım, your book = senin kitabın, our books = bizim kitaplarımız. That last one include the stem, "kitap" + plural ending "lar" + possession "ımız." If you're thinking, where are the dots on those i's?, Turkish also has a letter "ı" that sounds like "uh." They also have dotted "i" (sounds like "ee"). Basically, as a language teacher, I tell myself to take things lightly. Language acquisition doesn't happen overnight. As a linguist, I try to dissect the "rules" of the language and understand the technical elements, which to me are very interesting. Turkish vowel harmony is a dream come true for the weary speller of English, but a pain in the neck to remember when you are focused on some other aspect of the language.

After four hours of vowel harmony, affixation, conjugation, nominalization, demonstrative pronoun-ization...I'm wiped out. Alan and I have left our lessons with heads spinning both days so far. The teacher prepares caffeinated tea and coffee during each short break in the lesson, which seems to help our brains keep up with all of the undotted i's and umlauts dancing across the board.

My favorite word so far is müdürlüğü. It's pronounced something like Mewr-dewr-lew-ew. It means directorate, and I see it on all of the official buildings near the harbor. I just love all the decorations above the letters. Umlauts everywhere!

Time to get ready for class! Hoşça kalın!