Sunday, September 14, 2008

Learning English, Teaching English

A Sunday afternoon in Recoletta, the first warm and sunny day in nearly two weeks. In just two weeks more, the city will hatch from its winter cocoon into a full-fledged spring, with the purple blossoms blooming everywhere, sweaters shed, the cafe patios teeming with patrons far into the evening every day of the week. I am awaiting the warm weather, but these last thawing days of the Argentine winter are peaceful.

Nick and I are sitting outside at a cafe that is filled with people bundled in sweaters but soaking up these rare rays. A musician is playing in the plaza, portenos in berets and pashminas are strolling by, the Recoletta Cemetery stands across from us, regally and stoically. It feels so good to sit in the sun and rest our minds after our first week of class.

Class is an intensive mix of learning the rules (and more often, broken rules) of our native tongue, and learning how to teach these rules (that are so hard for even us native speakers to memorize) to non-native speakers. From 10-5 we learn from our instructor, Gaby, and demonstrate our knowledge through skits, presentations, and lesson plans. We were excited as well as exhausted by Friday night.

On Thursday and Friday evening everyone in our class taught his or her first two lessons. I was an anxious mess in the hours before my first class, but as soon as I stood up in front of the students and realized they were there solely to learn, without expectations, I relaxed and really had fun.

My first class was a group of beginners that called me "Miss Teacher," and made me laugh so much with their good-natured teasing. One older woman in the class, Hebe, gave me a chocolate and kissed my cheek when class ended. Nick's Friday class was especially interesting. He taught an advanced class, choosing American politics as the topic. As he walked in, he was abuzz with nervousness, and when he walked out, he looked elated.

"How was it?" I asked him.

"Awesome."

It turns out the advanced class is extremely advanced, understanding how to express complex concepts in English, and they come to the class so as to practice conversational English. That being said, Nick's students allready knew the political terms he introduced, and they moved swiftly into a political discussion. The students had a profound understanding of the American political system, and shared with Nick their views on McCain, Obama, healthcare, immigration, and foreign policy. Nick had one man in the class perform a skit in which the student acted as McCain and presented his platform to the class. The student was hilarious and told the class he was going to "drill for oil in Alaska, cut taxes for the rich, leave everyone on their own for healthcare--because that is the price of freedom--, and kick some ass in the world." Then another student stood up and pretended to be Obama, explaining that he would "give everyone a choripan [a sausage sandwich] and a glass of wine everyday, move troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and send them to Argentina and Venezuela instead, and move all American factories to Mexico so that at least the US environment was preserved." They were having so much fun with the exercises and discussion, and Nick was amazed at their familiarity with US politics and their ability to express these jokes and views in English. We both were humbled by our students' knowledge and realized we need to step up to the plate and be just as well-versed in Argentine politics (and, eventually espanol...eek!).

My Friday calss was at an intermediate level and they were so much fun to work with--so animated and so interactive. I chose music as the class subject, teaching musical genres and instruments in English. Nick came up with a wonderful idea for that lesson--to have one student act as a journalist and "interview" another student pretending to be a rockstar. I asked Lucy, a fashionable and extremely sweet middle-aged woman, to interview Fernando, an older professor-ish gentlemen infatuated with dancing who had grabbed Nick in Thursday night's class and tangoed with him. In their skit, Fernando explained that he was a musician that was "very deep," and "saw the whole world in one person." He explained how his concerts played "music inspired by the problems in the world, and his band threw live frogs into the audience to be crazy." He had us all cracking up, and left Lucy wondering if she had understood him correctly.

It was such an amazing week, brain-draining but inspiring and motivating. We are both pumped to teach some English.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

I am glad that I ran across your blog. It sounds like you are having a great time teaching English in Argentina. I am a teacher in NYC and I teach English at a middle school in Spanish Harlem. I have my students writing blogs, maybe we can exchange emails and have our students be pen pals (or email pals). Check out my blog esl-melissa.blogspot.com or mleon010.blogspot.com if you want to get in touch.

By the way check out this new travel site I found, baraaza.com. I think you will like it.