September 20, 2014

Finding my Sea Legs

The wait is finally over. I’ve taught a handful of beginner classes at the English Prep School. My rosters have exotic names like Kübranur, Yiğit, Mustafa, Serdar and Vasfiye. Some names are a little more familiar: Ömer, Bünyamin, Hüseyin, and Muhammad; or at least less intimidating to pronounce: Seda, Elif, and Merve.

The lessons themselves have tested my worth as a teacher. Teaching a linguistically homogenous group of beginners, who also happen to be 18 and away from home for the first time, has a variety of challenges. The students and I are creating a delightful pigeon language between English and Turkish to help explain more complex directions. So far, the Turkish equivalents of classroom language (read, write, listen, speak, now, later, today, homework) that I learned from our Turkish teacher in İzmir are among the most useful. My students seem to appreciate my linguistic accommodation, however minimal, to aid their understanding of the barrage of English now thrown at them six or more hours per day. I can deeply empathize with students for whom understanding the directions of an activity is the most challenging part. In our Turkish textbook, the directions often looked like:

Aşağıdaki karışık kelimelerden anlamlı ve kurallı cümleler kurunuz.

Honestly, looking at the sentence I just copied from the book, I’m still not totally sure what it says. Something to the effect of unscramble the words to make sentences. The point is, if I can help my students understand the complex and sometimes cryptic language of textbook directions, I will do it. I also remember how sometimes it was such a relief if my Turkish teacher could just tell me the English translation of a word. The stronger students in class may be able to figure out the meaning from an English explanation, but students who are struggling will appreciate the translation. When I don’t know the Turkish word, I can ask students. This way, lower students gain understanding, and I learn a new word. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

Finding my sea legs in a new teaching environment is exhausting. I feel like I could hibernate all weekend. Alan and I have plans for later today to go to the big grocery store with lots of foreign imports. A friend is taking us in his car, so it’s time to stock up.