Monday, October 21, 2013

My ESL Class 2013

The only way that we can live, is if we grow. 
The only way that we can grow is if we change. 
The only way that we can change is if we learn. 
The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. 
And the only way that we can become exposed is if 
we throw ourselves out into the open. 
Do it. Throw yourself.
~ C. JoyBell C.  

I haven't written yet about my ESL class this year.  During this, our fifth year of existence, our little, church-sponsored, un-certified, free program - with only 2 classes (mine for beginners and another one for intermediate / advanced students) - suddenly took off and both classes have been routinely full to the bursting point, with close to 30 students attending each.  

That is, of course, until the night I took in my camera, to document the masses...  
And only half of my regulars showed up!  ;)

So, here are shots of half my students - working together on translating the lyrics from "Put A Little Love in Your Heart" from English into Spanish.  

I have a couple of families this year - one mom with one son and one mom with two sons.  A dad is usually accompanied by his two teenage daughters - but they are bilingual and I am usually trying to prevent them from just giving the dad all the answers.  ;)

I love this exercise!  I always start by talking about how translating is a two stage process - first, looking up each word in their dictionaries and then, second, taking that string of individual words (which often won't form a reasonable sentence in the new language) and trying to make sense out of them.  I talk about how computer-based translation programs struggle with that second task and can't always do it.  

Together, we see first hand how challenging it is, when we spend 5 minutes or more "discussing" (easily mistaken for arguing) how to translate a seemingly simple phrase like, "Think of your fellow man, lend him a helping hand..."  

"Fellow man" was the tricky bit last week.  Some people keep wanting to use the word "amigos" - which means friends.  Their Spanish is better than mine  - obviously! - so I usually defer to them as the experts.  But sometimes I try to hold my ground, when I am not sure if the Spanish word captures the nuanced meaning of the English word.  In this case, I felt like "amigos" refers to people you know and care for - and I wanted to emphasize that, in this song, "fellow man" refers to everyone on earth, whether you know them or not.  

Eventually, someone proposed an alternative and as soon as they heard it, everyone liked it.  (For anyone who knows Spanish and is curious, we settled on "prójimo".)  

In a somewhat ironic twist, this is actually the translation that Google Translate recommended - after all my talk about how difficult this is for computers!  ;)

Anyways, I love watching how everyone digs in and starts looking up words and proposing interpretations - and then how that engagement extends to the group discussion when we settle on the final translation of every line of the song.  

I hope that the words and phrases that they translate this way are more memorable and that this exercise builds their vocabulary.  But I think that the process of translating is very valuable in general and I also hope they are building a skill that they can use all the time.  

Back to our growth spurt, I can't handle 30 students at a time very well - if that many continue to attend regularly, I may have to split the group and, instead of having class from 7 to 8:30 each Tuesday, have 2 class sessions - one from 6:30 to 7:30 and one from 7:30 to 8:30...  

But, for now, it's really excited to see our program grow and have yet another group of motivated, engaged and inspiring people in my life!  :)


  1. Have you thought about have several assistants in each class? This is a wonderful extended effort to assist the families.

    1. That's a great idea, Dorothy! I'll bring it up with my students and see what they say... Thanks! :)