English as a Second Language

28 Apr

As part of the requirements of WorldTeach, I need to sit in and observe 25 hours of English as a Second Language classes before I go to Ecuador in September. This is to help me see what types of classes I’ll be giving and methods of teaching. Though I’ll have to take more classes throughout the summer somewhere in or around Boston, I’ve started sitting in on some classes at UMass. The few classes I’ve sat in on have already taught me so much and opened my eyes in to things I never even considered.

Take a typical foreign language class: Spanish, French, Italian, Etc. You start off learning greetings, vocab, and verbs. As time goes on you learn irregular verbs and different grammar structures. For a native speaker of any language, however, everything is learned “trial by fire” method. That is, of course, unless you advance to the point of taking high level classes at a university. But for everyone else, you simply learn the language by hearing your parents, your friends, and any one else you encounter speaking. Reading helps and always improves your language skills. And even as you get older you occasionally need to look up a word.

So, during the class, when the professor was explaining irregular verbs in English and the difference in the nouns and adjectives that I always take for granted as simply understanding through 21 years of experience, it blew my mind. I had no idea that English even had irregular verbs. I should have, of course, but it just never occurred to me. I simply know how to speak English correctly, and incorrectly, when appropriate. The professor also said that most irregular verbs in English come from German, which I had no idea of.

Then I thought of the German word “prost,” which translates to “toast,” meaning both the salutation before a drink and the breakfast. I wondered if prost shares roots with the word “rose,” an irregular English verb. After all, bread rises. It could be a long shot, but it’s something so new and interesting to think about that it almost confuses me in my own language.

Some of the students have asked me for help in translating and pronouncing words like “bees” and “sew.” These words, which most native English speakers take for granted, are actually very difficult for non-natives to understand at first.

Hearing the students try to speak English, I tried to translate my own experiences. I thought back to my own Spanish classes and when I tried to translate or dictate. Even in Spain when I talked to Spaniards. I tried to imagine if I sounded like them, and how I would have sounded to a local, and I thought about myself as the local in the class. It was a total mind-blow out; just imagining things in foreign languages and hypothetically thinking loses so much in the translation.

Either way, it’s a really interesting thing to think about. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to be at an advanced level of speaking Spanish to step back and clearly identify with a native speaker, or if I’ll always just sound foreign. On the other hand, I know that it’s possible to speak fluidly and always wonder if you’re saying the right thing. With enough practice and time, however, I hope that by this time next year I can be saying that I clearly understand Spanish. And though you can never truly understand a language like a native unless you grew up with it, at least it’s a small victory for the little guy, just trying to gain another skill.

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