The Teacher Has Become The Student

Today, I was teaching, and then I was learning.  Just like that.  There was no middle ground.  Complete reversal.

It was in a beginner class, my lowest level.  We started going through a list of vocabulary words in their book, and I asked if they knew what the first one meant.  They were terms to describe places people live (i.e. crowded, busy, traditional, quiet).  They told me they did know the first one, and then they all said something incomprehensible.

Uh-oh.  They look really confident about that answer, but I have no idea what they just said.  Wait, I think it was Hungarian.  That's better than just really, really, really bad pronunciation.

It was Hungarian.  It was their word for this particular vocabulary word.  Then they asked me to repeat it.  I tried and failed, a few times.  Finally, a frustrated girl got up and walked to the board.  She wrote the Hungarian word under the English word.  I said it, got corrected, said it again, and was cheered!

The girl went back to her seat, but came back up for the next word.  Then she just stayed up at the front, and wrote the Hungarian word for each one.  They would struggle through an English pronunciation, and I would struggle through a Hungarian one.  It was all quite comical - for everyone involved.

I wouldn't normally do this.  My job is to teach English, and sometimes it's too distracting if we try to bring Hungarian into the picture.  This, however, was the exception.  More than teach them, I'm supposed to increase the comfort level of speaking English.  Right and wrong isn't as important as just trying.  They were certainly trying.

This class has been one of my biggest challenges.  I taught them on my first day, and they didn't speak one word of English.  All my preparations had been for students that know something, anything.  They knew nothing.  My backup plan was to tell about myself by drawing pictures on the board.  There weren't markers.  By the end of that lesson, I know that some of them were thinking "this class is going to be horrible, I have no idea what that guy was saying, I hate English already!"  Of course, those thoughts were in Hungarian.

Now, they've improved quite a bit, but are still beginners.  It's awesome to see their knowledge and confidence increase.  I think my bad Hungarian pronunciations made a difference to them.  Instead of being the "native speaker" who everyone turns to when there's a question about the language, I was also a beginner.  They had to sound out words, and I still made mistakes.  Now we both know how the other feels.

But, I still think they know more than they let on to.  We were playing hangman, and the word was "classroom".  They had figured out three letters of the word, and they read like this:  _ _ A S S _ _ _ _ .  I saw one boy nudge his friend, whisper something, and they both laughed.  They're full of surprises.

I don't think this'll ever get old.