October 10, 2012

The boys are wearing suits. Is there anything more adorable than a 7 year-old boy in a suit? The girls at this school are wearing black jumper dresses with white lace trim and any kind of pants/jeans/leggings underneath. Their long black hair is done up in braids or buns or ponytails, and adorned with white poufy bows or flowers.

Class begins with all the students standing. The teacher says “Good morning, students.” They respond, in unison, “Good morning, Teacher.” It continues, “How are you?” “I’m fine, teacher, how are you?” “Fine. Thank you. Please sit down.” The students sit down, and, for some of them, that will be the only English they speak today.

Today was my second day visiting classrooms. Since I am a teacher trainer, I do not have my own students. Instead, every other week I will sit-in on the classrooms at three different schools and interact with the students and team teach with the official teacher. The English the students are taught here is very formal with a heavy focus on grammar. I have seen the older students’ notebooks and their writing is accurate and they use complete sentences. But, when you speak to them, or when they ask a question, it is clear that they are struggling.

I am all too familiar with this, from the students’ perspective. I studied Spanish for 4 years in high school and Italian for 2 years in college; I studied a few other languages on my own for a few months here and there.

But, I only speak English.

And that’s why I’m here, literally on the other side of the world, because I know how difficult it is to learn a language when your only exposure is a few hours a week between class time and homework assignments. Without the opportunity to speak with a native speaker, a language doesn’t move from the page; it doesn’t become natural. Of course, the difference is that I studied Spanish in San Diego where there was ample opportunity to speak to native speakers yet I was so embarrassed about being wrong that I wouldn’t dare, whereas here in Mongolia, I may be the only native English speaker, and the only American, these students have ever seen.

In each of the four classrooms today, I introduced myself by answering questions the students thought up. For the most part, the questions were pretty straightforward: “What is your name?” “How old are you?” “Where are you from?” “Can you ride a horse?” Somewhere in there, I realized that I am a good fit for this position because I have no guard to let down.

The second class asked me to sing a song in English. In a classroom with 45 students, at ten-something in the morning, I sang a verse from the first song that popped into my head, Corner of the Sky from Pippin, a musical I did in high school.

Several of the classes asked “what are your hobbies?” but one asked a follow-up question, “What does yoga look like?” How could I not show them? I flowed into a Warrior I, Warrior II, Reverse Warrior, Triangle, explaining each position as I settled into it. I looked up to see camera phones pointed my way.

I will give them what they want, if they are asking in English. There’s no telling the foolishness I will endure, smiling all the way.

And what do I get from it? One class sang the Mongolian version of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” And I was happy.

daily schedule

June 30, 2012

Since we arrived in our host community (just 2 weeks ago!), our daily schedule has been: 9-1 Mongolian language lesson, lunch at home, 2:30-5:30 either TEFL or Cross Cultural training (except for Thursdays when we have the afternoon free). Evenings have been a mixture of hiking, movie nights at Steven’s, soccer, volleyball, or basketball in the park, group dinners on a rotating schedule (someone likened it to our host families arranging play-dates for their American kids), and study nights at home.

The TEFL training includes things we need to know in order to effectively teach English (such as lesson planning); I really appreciate this since my English-teaching experience has been more casual than formal. I’m sure this part is standard Peace Corps training regardless of site, whereas the Cross Cultural training is, of course, site specific. We learned a couple of Mongolian Games—Hozor is easily our favorite!—and presented Mongolian history and religion in small groups. This was our first chance to collaborate with our site-mates (there are 10 of us) and also our first chance to see one another as teachers, not just classmates.

The first micro-teaching experience was this Friday. We started by creating a lesson plan, not knowing the skill level of our students or the number of students we would have. (My understanding was that this was more for our benefit—a chance to get our sea-legs, if you will—than for our students’ benefit, though I’m sure they all walked away having learned something.) My partner Gwen and I taught clothing, specifically the phrase “I am wearing…” with appropriate vocabulary. That our 4 students participated was very encouraging! Since they were somewhat familiar with the material, we were able to incorporate colors and an additional game to make the 40-minute class.

Of note, I had assumed I would spend time distinguishing between the beginnings of SHIRT vs. SKIRT, but it turned out that the vowel was the trouble spot for our students—SHIRT/SKIRT came out as SHORT/SKORT. If you think that is strange, Mongolian has 4 letters devoted to what I think of as the “O”-sounds (think “pot” “book” “food” “told”), three of which I still can’t differentiate, making both reading and spelling certain words nearly impossible for me. Mercifully, Mongolian also has the “vowel-harmony” rule, meaning there are only a few combinations allowed, so if you get one of the “O”s the others will be the same!

BTW, each “O” in the game Hozor would be pronounced with the sound from “book.”

PS, more pictures added here.