Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Learning a Language

In the last few years the biggest lesson I have learned is that the English lessons that I give are too difficult. The problem arose because I was bored when I presented a lesson. Sometimes I would present a simple lesson but I would move through it much too quickly.
Now I realize how important it is to present a simple and digestible lesson to students. The lesson may be, "What do you eat for dinner?" After going through that lesson, the next step would be a slight variation, such as, "What does she eat for dinner?" That can be followed up with a lesson that asks, "What do you have for lunch?" Then one can move on to, "What is your favorite food?"
Anyone can watch "Lost" or "Heroes" or "Desperate Housewives" and listen to an English speaker that they don't understand. A teacher needs to be understood by their students or everyone is wasting their time. So it is important to present a lesson that is digestible and that reinforces itself. It is important not to overwhelm someone. In pedagogy, this has been described as one's "Zone of Proximal Knowledge."
It is a big challenge for teachers. I am still guilty of doing it. Either I am bored and want to move to quickly or I don't spend enough time creating a suitable lesson.
As I study the Korean language I encounter the same thing. As Koreans try and help me they go so fast. "What was that?" I say and they are already on to something else. Do they think it is helpful if they just keep on talking?
I did have a good lesson from a Korean friend 5 months ago. That is the last one that I think was appropriate to my level. We kept going over one question and just came up with a variety of answers. I was amazed that I was learning something tangible immediately.
Of course I should prepare Korean material that I want to study. I need to be proactive and just get someone to help me with what I have already reviewed or prepared. I have done that and it is invariably a case where I am telling or showing someone something that needs to make them slow down. I have a children's dictionary and that usually is helpful to get someone to slow down and help me at my level.
When I study Korean I watch Korean DVDs. It might be a movie. However, I am currently watching "Winter Sonata" with Bae Yong Jun. It is on DVD so I can avoid the commercials. This gives me good listening practice. It also helps me learn about Korean culture. Culture is an experience that people share. If a Korean has watched "Winter Sonata" or even heard of it, then I have a great conversation starter with them because we are talking about a "shared experience."
I also read Korean Children's stories. I learn vocabulary from these books by learning the word first. After I know the word, then I look up the meaning. I have seen the word many times and I say it and use it. But only later do I try and discern the meaning. The meaning is secondary. It is better to know the word first and use it before you associate it with a meaning from your first language. Reading Children's stories out loud is also a great way to improve one's pronunciation.
Lately I have been reading "Kong Ji Paht Ji." This story is remarkably like "Cinderella." Knowing a Korean story is also a great conversation starter. Culture is shared experience so if you know the title and plot of a Korean story then you will have a great conversation with a Korean about a shared experience.
I hope you all have a great Chuseok! Cheers, Chad

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