Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Project: Teaching English as an Other Language

This will be a project blog.  My goal is to develop an adult literacy program using creative writing tools and the literary arts.

I am currently enrolled in an Artist-Educator program.  This program is teaching me how to use my preferred art-form, the literary arts, to teach other skills in everyday life.

But this isn't the first time I have considered using creative writing skills and literature to teach literacy.  I've been playing with this idea for a few years.  A friend showed me a book that his English literacy class was using to better his English communication.  The text was entirely functional with no love for the English language.  It was teaching English as a useful language whereas I prefer to see the English language as an art-form.  And just as useful that way, too!  English is more useful, in fact, when you think of it as an art-form.  I would love an opportunity to prove this theory through the course of this project and this blog.

About two years ago, I offered to help tutor another friend who needed to improve his English.  I started him reading aloud fiction to me.  On a basic level, I helped him build his vocabulary and be more precise in pronunciation but my hope was to inspire an interest in creative literature and reading.

Moving him onto poetry and song lyrics had a wonderful effect because, reading aloud, he was also exercising a little performance.  It's impossible to read good poetry without some feeling.  I also helped him to analyze the fiction and poetry without the fear of being 'wrong'. 

We then began writing short emails to each other based on the readings, thus working on his English writing skills.  I let him write in Spanish (his native language) and then translate to me in English.  I firmly believe that a writer's voice comes from the language which he/she is most comfortable.  It was important for both of us to see this conversation first in the language which he spoke most comfortably.  We both got to see what was lost in translation -- or gained.

Although my lessons with this student have long since ended, along came this Artist-Educator program, in Sept 2011, that helped me evolve the idea into developing creative writing skills -- to eventually help my potential students write their own stories, poetry and experiences.  I felt this type of lesson would be most empowering for newcomers to Canada -- people who have probably just came from a great story and are embarking on a new one.  All stories that I would love to hear, as a writer myself. 

I would not teach anybody how to write. I can teach English reading, speaking and writing skills but I would not teach anybody how to write. I still need teaching myself.  It's a life-long journey in my opinion.  I would help them to let the writing itself teach them how to write.  

Here, I came to one of the most profound things I discovered during the Artist-Eductor program:  the great thing about art is that it is a teacher in itself.  I think all art forms, just by the act of practicing them (music, dance, painting), can teach the student practical and personal life lessons.  If you give writing the time, patience and practice, it will eventually help you see yourself in wonderful new perspectives -- like a very good friend.  There seems to be that risk of over-teaching and not giving the art its proper space and time.

During this Artist-Educator program, I began to see a real use to using creative writing for more than just English language skills.  It is a wonderful vehicle for overall communication, confidence-building and self-awareness. 

So my goal is to finish the development of this program and possibly end this blog with a launch.  Although, at this stage, it's hard to say what the outcome will be.  Maybe learning English this way is not interesting to anybody else. Maybe it's too slow a method.  Maybe it's too weird.  I have learned that I need to be trained, first, on the standard methods of teaching English as an Other Language.  

I wrote a poem about this when I was teaching that student.  During this time, I wondered if I might make a good ESL teacher for adults.  So when I researched courses I could take I found that there are different names for ESL classes depending.  ESL, ESOL, EFL, ESD.  I particularly took to the term English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)  because i always thought the term 'Other Language' sounded funny in an existential sort of way.    I adjusted the term to suit me to: English as an Other Language.  Maybe I'll share it once I gain some more ground.

Right now I see this project going thus:

1. Start a blog and shame myself into completing this project sooner rather later.
2. Fine-tune program idea.  Fine-tune the working theories.  Fine-tune goals.
3. Research practicality and public interest by interviewing outside sources.
4. Be formally trained to teach English to newcomers.  Both the YMCA and Toronto Public Library have volunteer training programs.
5. Re-work program, theories and goals with new information.
6.Go back to sources.

And then I guess we'll see if it's a GO.

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