Saturday, January 14, 2012

The R's and L's of Teaching in Thailand

I’ve probably taught more English here in Thailand than I did all semester in Korea. For my first week we hammered out a schedule for who I would be teaching and when. There are three sets of house parents and several more house helpers for each of the three houses. It took that entire first week to make it—to figure out who wanted lessons, when they were free to do it, what their skill level was—but at the end of the week we had a nice, neat schedule.

We look at it all the time (my students now know how to say “schedule” and the page in my notebook is dog-eared), but we have yet to actually follow it. I suspect that we never actually will. That’s okay: there’s always room to learn flexibility.

Lots and lots and lots of flexibility. I think I’m going to take up yoga again.

I teach outside, so there’s all sorts of distractions. The flies are a constant companion. Not only do they like to land on you for some reason—is it a game for them? Or is my skin the fly equivalent to pile of pillows?—but they also love to buhuzzbuhuzz around me and my students as we talk about pronouns. Besides the sounds of butchered English (Thais have a terrible time with their th’s, ironically, and of course r’s and l’s sound identical to them), you can hear the teak leaves falling.

Yes, you can hear them falling. This is because teak leaves are enormous. They are bigger than my head; some are about the size of my torso. It’s fall here, too, so the leaves make this beautiful, resounding crackle/crunch as they pull away from the tree and lightly bang into other browning leaves on the way down. Stepping on them is a pleasure and a half.

My students are eager to learn—sometimes too eager. Some days I end up teaching all day only to be followed home for more and more conversation practice. On Thursday, when P’Joy and P’Bank’s lesson was over, they stayed for the next lesson with P’Bow and P’Jiap.[1] I love it—except that everyone present had very different levels of English ability and the lesson quickly devolved into chaos.

As I tried to teach the possessive pronouns (Thai doesn’t have them in the first place, so it’s exceptionally confusing for everyone), P’Jiap, who has been working ahead, wanted me to check her answers, while P’Bow suggested to me, “you write!” out a list of American names so she could see the spelling. P’Joy handed me the dictionary so I could look up “Pedro” for her and P’Bank asked me how to pronounce “take a nap.” So while I explained that Susan *point* is a girl and this *point* is the camera she owns *mime clutching something to my chest* so it is her camera, P’Joy looked bewildered, P’Bow held out her notebook so I could write it down for the third time, P’Jiap tuned out all that English talk, took her workbook back, and turned to the next page, while P’Bank—ignoring the possessive pronouns as too advanced—practiced his pronunciation by occasionally telling me to “take a nap.”

I wish, P'Bank. I wish.

P'Bank and P'Jiap - Husband and Wife. They got better
at possessive pronouns when they practiced saying
"Bank is my husband" and "Jiap is my wife."

P'Bow is all things adorable.

P'Ton is crazy about learning English. Last week we talked
about the difference between, "It's sort of like cheese" and
"It's a sort of cheese."

[1] P is sort of an honorific: it means older and you use it in front of someone’s name to say “Older Sister Joy” or “Older Brother Bank.” The girls call me P’Elaine.

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