Saturday, November 22, 2008

Nina's 60th. birthday

Invited to Nina's 60th. birthday party. After a few introductory remarks Anton announced that he and Nina were married two days ago!

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 returns

Nina and Anton came for a lesson a couple of weeks ago, soon after they had returned from the Seychelles. It seemed appropriate to get them to tell me as much as they could about their three-week visit. Anton and I helped Nina to contribute and I summarised a lot in German after I'd spoken in English to keep her with us. I also told them what I had been up to, using the same technique - always English first, followed by a one-off summary in German. I remembered Nina's recent remark: "What is good is that you speak to us in English."
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

Thoughts during the interval

I admit, while Nina is away, I found myself thinking: What now? The approach so far has been OK, but mustn't I know go for frequently occurring structures etc.? I think the answer is: No. Go for Nina's needs or assumed needs.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Changing gear

Nina and Anton are off to the Seychelles for two weeks and it will be another 3-4 weeks before I see them.

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?
South Germany?
the cinema?
a concert?

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 and Anton here after a break of one week - my wife was in hospital and I was not available.

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

Nina is contented

Nina was here the day before yesterday. She said she was feeling extremely pleased with the way we were working. "First, I'm pleased with myself. I've studied all my life, but I feared I could not study any more. But I've shown myself that I can. Only three lessons and I feel I can already recognise some words when I hear them. Then I want to thank you for teaching me in the way that you do. I enjoy it so much. For years I have wanted to learn English, and now I'm learning it."

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Lesson 4

Today is Saturday. On Monday I had another lesson with Nina, who had been away for a few days.

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.