Tag Archives: ESL

ESL – Learning English in the Bush


Growing up, I don’t recall that there ever was a concerted push for students to have to learn English rapidly. This was in 1972 when I started school in a little 2 teacher school in the back blocks. The NESB children who joined our school were all very similar, no matter their home country background in that they started school with zero English! Those were the days of play being a huge part of learning and I’m sure that this play contributed hugely to the language development of every single student in the class. Our teacher was fresh out of teacher’s college (a 2YT teacher) and was in her second year in her first appointment. Somehow she coped and accepted all of us and established a strong desire to learn and to improve in all of us.

I remember, at an early age, my mother giving the teacher a kind of backhanded compliment in saying that although she couldn’t stand her (the teacher), one thing about here was that every child she taught came out of her class being able to read and write fluently. To this day, she is probably my greatest role model as a teacher and is someone to whom I will always look up as an example of a great teacher. Interestingly, 17 years later, I was teaching in the same school and the teacher moved back to the district and I taught her daughter in my first teaching job. This was stressful as I was so worried about living up to the standard I had created in my mind. She was so gracious in giving me support and guidance in my early teaching development.

Back to the playground……We, as English native speakers (albeit some of us speaking Aboriginal English) were in a huge minority in our playground. Almost overnight the school had gone from under 30 students in 2 classrooms to over 100 in the same space. Still with only 2 teachers. I’m sure that language development, at times, occurred more by accident than by grand design, but whatever it was, it worked. If you could look back over the roll of students who attended in those years in the early 70’s you would see that the vast majority of us went on to university study and won places in a huge variety of positions both domestic and internationally, which I am sure shows a success rating that most schools would be envious of.

For example: in my family we have myself, an engineer (military) and a pharmacist. A german family has a vet, doctor, banker and teacher. An Italian family has a wine maker, consul attache in Rome, doctor. A Spanish family has movie director and a doctor. Another family has a military weapons specialist. The list of professionals and their qualifications is extensive and I attribute it all back to that one teacher and an interesting set of circumstances.

Today there are very few of those families left in the district with the tobacco farms long gone and the crop and pasture land having been swallowed by big enterprise and becoming mechanised. The days of the multicultural school there have disappeared.

Image: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/mongrelnation/4806718


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Learning Another Language


Something else that’s close to my heart is language learning, especially second language learning. After years in Asia teaching English as a second language I’ve come to believe rather strongly in the whole idea of immersion and experimentation.

Once, years ago, when I was AP, I was covering a year 2 class for the day when we had a number of sick classroom teachers. This particular class was known for being ‘difficult’ and had a range of interesting and strong characters in it. Since the teacher had left basically an empty desk, I decided to fill the morning session with lots of fun, interactive language activities, especially in Personal development and for the first 2 hours spoke only in Bahasa Indonesia to the class. They were amazing! After getting over the initial giggles and looks of disbelief, they settled into the class and began to mimic some things I had said. The big surprise was that within 30 minutes, this group was experimenting with sentence structure and requesting new vocabulary. Within 2 hours we were exchanging basic information in a meaningful way. We hadn’t had any grammatical instruction, only simple phrases and adapting vocabulary to fit. What a great morning!

After the recess break I started the next session in English. The students started using their Indonesian to reply. Clearly they were indicating that this was something they were enjoying. Soon we had morphed back into full-on Indonesian only. It was one of the best teaching days I had experienced and a great experience for myself and the students. The next day, however, was not so good, as the teacher came to me complaining loudly about her class speaking in nonsense that I had taught them and not responding to her in English. Needless to say, I relished interacting with the students throughout the day as they greeted me and exchanged simple pleasantries in Indonesian.

This article that I have attached below reminded me of that day and also reminded me of my own language development as an Indonesian speaker. I lived in an immersion environment in Indonesia by choice, speaking English only when absolutely necessary. It’s uncanny how tolerant local people are of your stumbling attempts in their language and how kind they are in correcting and assisting in pronunciation and grammar. My language skills developed in leaps and bounds ahead of what I had learnt in my years of University study.

Children in a bilingual home, I believe, should be brought up as bilingual, and more if they have the opportunity. Studies have shown that early language development is best for developing the necessary neural pathways for future language development. Also the evidence seems to point to the fact that once you learn an additional languages then subsequent languages are learnt more easily.

I would love to reference and acknowledge the author of the attached article properly, but it was sent to me as a clipping in an email. It is one man’s experience in learning languages. I apologise to the writer and will give proper acknowledgement once I have the full details of the article.

Mouth on the Go

(image courtesy of http://www.uniqueteachingresources.com))

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