04 October 2010


Tutor Tales, Volume 22

Teaching a language can be great fun--for both the teacher and the student. It has obvious practical advantages; it can be either black-and-white or in all shades of grey; and the extent of one's learning is easily and fairly assessed, to the satisfaction of both parties. I usually have a blast helping my tutees with their other languages.

SPANISH: Angel Delight's school requires offers Spanish from kindergarten to high school--which makes me slightly green with envy. (My own school offered French only as an elective--and only to high school seniors.) Not that I've ever met a graduate from there who could converse confidently in the language: I suspect it's taught the way most schools teach Latin or Ancient Greek.

That is, Spanish is acknowledged as a part of the Philippines' history and traditions, a contributor to the development of the Filipino language, and a huge part of the school's own culture . . . but if the students don't really make it a part of their quotidian life, that's no big deal.

Since I know barely any Spanish myself, I simply help Angel Delight memorise her new vocabulary week to week by insisting on oral drills. I tried sneaking a Spanish lesson out of her by explaining that one good way to revise one's lessons is by attempting to teach them to someone else (which is true, by the way); but she doesn't seem to like playing teacher very much.

FILIPINO: As I mention from time to time, many Filipino children are having to learn their own national language as a second language. That is Scrap Metal's problem. And judging by the textbook he has to use, his school has given up on pretending that the majority of its students aren't in the same boat. Formatted very much like Angel Delight's Spanish workbook, it's all about the most basic vocabulary (e.g., the names of the rooms of a house) and basic grammar (e.g., the rules for nouns in the plural).

This week, we're memorising adjectives, 99% of which--Tagalog style--begin with "ma-". I'm working on a mock test for my boy right now that brings in last month's animal vocabulary as well.

"Gumuhit ng maitim na aso . . . maputing pusa . . . maliit na baboy . . . malaking palaka . . ."--Draw a black dog . . . a white cat . . . a small pig . . . a big frog . . ." Yes, he may use his crayons.

The colour vocabulary gives me some really fun options. I wish I were creative enough to think of simple ways to teach him the taste vocabulary. Any suggestions for maasim (sour), mapait (bitter) and maanghang (spicy)? I already know what to do for matamis (sweet) and maalat (salty).

CHINESE: This is one language I could never bluff my way through--to Doctor Decimator's eternal satisfaction. His mother thought it would be great for him to know a third language, so she enrolled him in a school founded by the local Chinese community. Most of the other students are ethnic Chinese who speak the language at home and make periodic trips to China or Hong Kong; but for Doctor Decimator, it's like Latin. Which shouldn't have to be such a bad thing--but he is a boy who doesn't rise to challenging occasions very gracefully.

I can't really help him with this, and that's just the way he likes it. Sigh! So there's not much more to say about that . . .

ENGLISH: Now I'm happy to report that I have a new student and even happier to say that she is in high school. (At last--another teenager!) Like hundreds of other Korean students in the Philippines, she is here to earn her high school degree in a school where the main medium of instruction is (purportedly) American English. (I'd say that it's actually Philippine English, but I'm not a linguist and don't think I could back up my claim too well.) It also happens to be the school I taught in for two years, and I got this new job thanks to a recommendation from a former student.

Let's call my new tutee Rain Dancer. She's a pretty capable girl and we both agree that I'm just there for the polishing. Teaching writing again--and to someone who admits she is a perfectionist--is making me newly sensitive about my "technique." (I normally don't remember I have one!) Last week's lesson was about beginning a composition with an image as well as an idea--and then letting the different aspects of the main idea be different angles at which to see the image . . . or different "poses" for it to try. (Yes, I'm still watching reruns of America's Next Top Model.)

We've had only two meetings so far, however, so there's nothing much to report yet.

Image Sources: a) Spanish flag, b) Philippine flag, c) Chinese flag, d) US flag


Belfry Bat said...

Why is *that* the flag you choose for *English*?




Belfry Bat said...

Oh, now I see... "American" English... imagine me grumbling incoherently about... I *do have* relatives who live in the 'States, and I love them dearly... Is there aught to deplore of Merrie England's own English?

Anyways, if folks want to learn "American English" they shouldn't go to the Philippines, they should go to Denver Colorado, or one of the Dakotas, or Wisconsin... you know?

Enbrethiliel said...


If Koreans wanted to learn British English, they'd go to Australia, New Zealand, or of course, the UK.

And there are many Koreans who go to North America. I have some former students who are now in the States and one who is in a Canadian university (if that mollifies you somewhat)--all for the sake of (American) English. It's just easier on the budget to come to the Philippines first.

So please don't give my regularly-paying tutees any ideas about where to take their business, Bat! =P

mrsdarwin said...

I have been "off the grid" for about a month, and I can't tell you how delightful it is to come back to another installment of Tutor Tales.

I tried to teach my girls Spanish last summer,but I think I wasn't serious enough about it and it didn't really take. Also, I don't know any myself. After watching a lot of English movies, my girls are starting to speak fairly convincing British English, though.

Enbrethiliel said...


Hi, Mrs. Darwin! =)

Spanish is a language I should know, if only because Television Espanol is on virtually 24/7 in my grandmother's room and I hear Spanish spoken all the time. But whenever my grandmother hears that I'm trying to grasp some new Spanish grammar, she tries to help me out and only ends up convincing me that an otherwise wonderful language isn't worth having the worst teacher in the world. =P

My own "fairly convincing British English" days are from my teens, when I was crazy about BritPop and wished I had been born in London.