Sunday, August 14, 2011

English as a Foreign Language: Teaching in Armenia

    I’m sitting in a Model School classroom with 5-7 year old Armenian children. It is an English class for students recruited by the Peace Corps so that we TEFL’s have students for our practice teaching. We are evaluated by trainers and more experienced Peace Corps volunteers then given feed-back on our work. As trainees, we also alternate teaching classes with evaluating our peers as they do the same.  TEFL’s are teachers of English as a foreign language. That will be my job with Peace Corps Armenia along with 21 other trainees in my group. Soon we will each be assigned to a different Armenian town or village, so this practicum is invaluable preparation for what lies ahead.
   Today, I am evaluating 2 young women volunteers, peers who are teaching the 5-7 year old class about colors and farm animals. The children in their class demonstrate a wide variance in use of English because they are young and have experienced minimal instruction in English up to this point, plus most families here do not speak Angleren (English) in their homes.  With pony tails swishing and voices purposefully clear, the teachers review 5 animals and 8 colors which the children began learning during the previous lesson. As I observe and listen to these 2 young teachers, I can’t help but think of “Ding Dong School”, a television show in the ‘50’s which featured Miss Frances, the epitome of an elementary school teacher.  Her methods may be outdated, but she knew how to keep her audience of young viewers interested.  And, so did my 2 peers who were presenting the class today for very young students.  Speaking slowly and very distinctly, the sounds made by each farm animal are added to the older material. Then, “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” is posted on the board in large letters and introduced to the children. The Armenian children follow the lead of their teachers and sing the song, adding an animal and its sound as they go. Their pronunciation is unique, not quite “Angleren”, but close. The children’s laughter adds to the fun of the lesson.
   I wonder, did these young children understand the words they are reading from the board, saying—or singing? That is one challenge each of us who teaches English as a foreign language must overcome. Just as in the US, many Armenian children do a great job of reading words in English yet comprehension of what is read often falls short. Only with time and repeated interaction can a teacher be certain of a child’s abilities. From there, a lesson may be planned and further learning occurs. That is the aim of all TEFL’s---to teach a child to listen to English, to read English, to write in English, to speak English but foremost, to understand English. Then we will be successful.
    The young children in the class today are potentially learning 13 new words in 1-2 days.  David and I haven’t done nearly this well in our Armenian (Hayeren) language class. If during our 2 years of service in Armenia we learn 3-5 new words each day, our vocabulary will increase by 2190-3650 words.   That is a huge number of new words to learn.  ( I think we’ll wait to start learning them until after we swear-in on August 16.)    Judy and David
                 Students receiving certificates at conclusion of Peace Corps Model School                                            

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