Saturday, November 22, 2008
Nina introduced all guests - about 35 - at some length. Of me she said: "He was a very successful English professor, but not with me". ! She went on to explain that she was absolutely determined to continue lessons with me now that life was settling down a little. Anton told me there had been some very hard times recently.
Most teachers assume that if a private pupil gives up lessons it is because there is something wrong with the lessons. There is a fair chance, in Nina's case as in others, that this was not the case and that the reason lies outside the lesson.
My immediate, spontaneous though is that if/when she does return the "method" must be very much what she wants. It will be up to me to put my convictions to work in the framework of her expressed wishes.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Nina also said: " After this break, I must begin all over again." I immediately did some of the basic stuff she's learned like days of the week and so on, but she commented:"Oh no. I've not forgotten that."
My feeling at the end of the lesson was that we had somehow lost it, that we had developed a dynamic that had been lost by the three week plus break. Another way of putting it is that the visit to the Seychelles had provided an aim and a motivation and now that the trip was over the situation was different.
I felt a strong need - anathema to a true dogmetist - to work out a plan for the next session, to cover some basic structures or tenses or introduce the idea of the 3000 most frequently used lexical items - something of that kind. I'd been following Nina's wishes and wants, as far as I could ascertain them, but now that these, post Seychelles, were no longer clear, I felt the need to in introduce structure from outside, from me.
In the event, I've not had to put these ideas to the test. Anton wrote an email on Nina's behalf saying she was involved in end of term examinations etc. and she would contact me about our next meeting when she was free.
"Don't call us, we'll call you."
I've thought about these few lessons a lot, and have come to the conclusion that Nina's motivation was indeed powered by the forthcoming visit to the Seychelles. When that visit was over, the strong wish to learn English, given a very busy time at school, evaporated. I honestly think that the "dogme" approach i.e. working from Nina's assumed needs and not from a textbook achieved modest results and was suited to the circumstances.
What do you think, dear reader?
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Friday, February 29, 2008
In their last session - I was trying to imagine some of the questions people here and guests in the hotel might ask them - we practised things like:
When are you going to the Seychelles?
to South Germany
(Nina tends to say: "When you going...."
(I'm going to the Seychelles in) March
I'm trying to get them to answer with one word "March" and not the whole sentence, which sounds very stilted to me.
(I am going away) this weekend.
(We are going to South Germany) next month.
I don't know /when we are going to South Germany).
"I don't know seems a useful expression to know!
When did you last go to Kazakhstan?
We played the "Now you ask me" game - always good for a laugh. "No. You ask me." Nina repeats: "You ask me."
(I last went to Kazashstan in) 2000.
I can't remember.
What time do you usually go to school on Mondays?
get up on Sundays?
(I usually go to school on Mondays at) 7:30.
I try to make all these examples things Nina might well have said, or want to say. I'm trying to ensure that I teach her, assist her to learn, what she wants to say or might want to say. This is the principle that guides me, not covering particular structures, tenses or lexical items.
Now, with the hiatus of the Seychelles visit, I feel the need for a change of gear. Perhaps I will switch to talking about paintings - I know she is especially fond of Russian art. I'm wondering, too if we shouldn't work a bit with recordings - from the BBC, for example. News items. I must think this through
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Nina pleased that she can understand parts of what I say.
Leaving she said: " Understanding comes first, pronunciation can come later. Grammar I can do at home. What is really good is that you speak to us in English."
What is amusing is to see Nina and myself adjusting our positions and moving them as far as we can in the direction of the other person's position.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Basically I attempted having a conversation with her about whom she had visited and about her family in general. What I was trying to do was provide her with the lexical items to give basic information about herself.
I was born in Kazakhstan.
My son was born in Dnepropetrovsk.
I've got a sister and a brother. Both of them are older than me.
Anton was born in Osnabrueck.
We visited Anton's mother-in-law, his first wife's mother.
We also used as much of the old stuff as I could bring in:
days of the week, months of the year, ordinals, cardinals.
I also recorded the lesson and hope to post a bit of it to this blog.
We ended singing:
"One, two, three, four, five
Once I caught a fish alive."
Now the "but" bit.
Nina, like the Russian student I tried to teach in English from Zero 1, said whenever she had learned something before she was used to having homework and things to learn at home. (I'd reassured her at the beginning of the hour saying the bulk of the learning would go on during our lessons together and that there dangers about learning at home alone, i.e. embedding the wrong pronunciation. She did say, though, that she wanted to continue, and to continue doing it my way - for the time being.
She is bringing some Kazakhstan English CDs next week for us to look at together and decide if they are appropriate for her to use. "The man on the CD has written and sings all the songs himself, not classical songs but purpose-made to illustrate what he is teaching."
I'm going to have to make a few compromises, though some of them will only be cosmetic.
I think I'll make a list of all the words I have introduced first and, terrorised by the written word, she can learn them by heart and practice them with Anton getting the pronunciation wrong.
Friday, February 1, 2008
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Monday, January 28, 2008
Nina was alone today. We bumped into Nina and Anton at a fantastic concert last night, given by a young South Korean violinist, born in Germany. That seemed to good a coincidence not to exploit , so I produced the following simple dialogue.
A: What did you think of the concert last night?
B: I thought it was fantastic. /marvellous
A: I agree. The violinist was extraordinary. I don’t mind admitting that at the end of the third piece there was water in my eyes. Her playing was very, very moving.
B: The pianist was outstanding, too.
First though, I checked with Nina that she wants to work on her pronunciation Yes. So, after a couple of words about how important it is to get vowel sounds correct (conforming to the norm) for the sake of comprehensibility (This in German, course) we worked on:/i:/ /i/ /e/ /ae/ (Pardon my rough phonetic symbols).
Predictably, /i/ causes a problem.
I made sure she understood, first (German. Don't tell anyone I'm using German) and she had the text, and then, to her initial dismay I made her turn the paper over and we went through the dialogue and I concentrated on getting her to repeat after me, paying attention to everything going i.e. intonation and stress as well as sounds. Then, not wanting to bully, I let her have the text and we took turns, reading out the lines of the dialogue. She asked if we could swap roles and do it a final time.
With 10 - 15 minutes to go I switched to "Free conversation" !!!
Having drilled her in a fake conversation, I wanted to see if we could have a real conversation. "With a little help....." It is amazing how far we got.
We talked about the concert. "What did you think about the concert last night, Nina.
What about the pianist.
I asked her if she played an instrument - no, but Anton plays the violin.
Where was the violinist born?
Where was she born?
Where was Anton born?
I knew she had a son. Where was your son born?
Has Anton got a son? Ho. He has two daughters.
Have you any brothers or sister?
z z z z z
I also managed to bring in uncle, aunt and mother-in-law because they are off to visit Anton's first wife's mother.
We worked hard but Nina said again that I make her believe she can learn some English. And she liked the fact I correct her, but sparingly: "Anton corrects everything that I get wrong and that makes me angry.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
I wrote asking Anon to expand on his/her statement - Less Dennis more dogme. This is what (s)he wrote:
Let's go back to the first blog entry:
"In the first week *I got them* counting, days of the week, months of the
year etc. and saying after me and then delivering the lines of a simple
monologue and a short dialogue for them to repeat as they drove home"
It was my gloss of that entry that led me to believe you were not letting
the people in the room direct the lessons, and that the language was not
emerging but being derived by one Dennis Newson. I think I could find
other examples if I had time to search. What do you think?
"Emerge" in such a context sounds insider jargon. I found out what Nina wants - they are really Nina's lessons but Anton asked to sit in - by talking to her at some length. My professionality and experience come into play into assessing what language might suit her needs.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Learning English from Zero
As they were leaving Nina said:
"Very interesting. You have given me courage. I think perhaps it is possible after all to learn something new at the age of 60."
Just ran into a friend on Skype chat, let's call him or her Anon, who said he or she had visited this blog and had wanted to write as a comment - "Less Dennis and more dogme." :-) Friends.
I believe, though, that that remark is based on a misunderstanding of the dogme message:
From the dogme site at:
.....a belief that language learning is both socially motivated and socially constructed, and to this end we are seeking alternatives to models of instruction that are mediated primarily through materials and whose objective is the delivery of "grammar mcnuggets". We are looking for ways of exploiting the learning opportunities offered by the raw material of the classroom,
that is the language that emerges from the needs, interests, concerns and desires of the people in the room.
Socially motivated= Anton and Nina want to go and mix with people in the Seychelles. Nina explained that recently when they were on holiday in a country where a lot of English was spoken they met some very nice people and she was very frustrated that she could not say a word to them or understand what they were saying to her.
Socially constructed = Language is a product of the urge to communicate with others and you have to conform to social norms otherwise you will not be understood.
needs, interests, concerns, desires = They want English for the Seychelles and that is what I'm trying to deliver - more precisely, trying to help them to be able to deliver it.
So, where am I going wrong Anon?
I followed my planned compromise and let them have the text of the dialogue from the beginning. They both demonstrated immediately what I already know - the text can tyrannize and embed wrong pronunciation.
Anton: headache toothache /hedeitchi: / /tu:theitchi:/ ( Excuse home-made phonetic representation).
They began to see my point. If they allow me to rehearse the pronunciation of words so that the pronunciation is secure enough to withstand the tyranny of the written word, such errors would be minimised.
Nina closely watches my mouth when I am demonstrating the pronunciation of words and moves her pronunciation quickly in the direction of mine.
Shortly, I'll publish (in the Blogger sense) the dialogues I create for them.
Someone suggested we sing together. Well, I've prepaared the way. We practised the words of "One, two, three, four, five." On Monday, we'll sing it.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Sunday, January 20, 2008
This week I started a new attempt: "English from zero take 2". This time the potential learners are Nina, a friend and colleague of my wife's, and her German partner, Anton. Nina comes from Kazakhstan, trained as an Astrophysicist, she is now a teacher of and teacher trainer in German as a second language. Anton is a retired business man and has a few words of English. Nina claims she does not know a single word. They are both between 50 and 60ish.
In the first week I got them counting, days of the week, months of the year etc. and saying after me and then delivering the lines of a simple monologue and a short dialogue for them to repeat as they drove home:
Anton: What do you think of Dennis's study, Nina?
Nina: What do you think, Anton?
Anton: No comment.
And now for the pedagogy....
I think of myself as liberal, but late in the day it strikes me that when it comes to teaching I'm so convinced of certain things that I am positively dictatorial.
In a one-to-two situation where the learners want to learn enough English to cope on a forthcoming visit to the Seychelles, I've set my sights on giving them practice in speaking English - and understanding it - in likely situations - asking the way, taking taxis, ordering meals, talking to Reception at the hotel, and so on.
Half an hour in to Hour 1, I was still holding on to a simple script I'd written for them when Nina said: "Actually. I'm a visual learner. I need to have the text so that I can see whether it is one word or five."
Well, I believe so strongly that, ultimately,she will make better progress if she suffers at first without the text, that I note I'm a bit unwilling to budge.
What would you do?
Watch this space - or visit the new blog, when I have set it up.
PS I'm in a situation where it would be perverse not to use German, our common language, though the amount of German will decrease as their English increases. I don't translate, but I give a quick gloss in German to ensure they understand what they are saying, and then switch off the German channel. I make a point of not giving the German for contextually obvious instructions - Now you, Nina. No, not you, Anton. Repeat after me. Again etc. etc.