September 08, 2014

With the close of August comes the first hint of the fall chill and the start of a new school year...

Actually, in India the end of August means the end of monsoon season, and it begins to grow incredibly hot. No chilly evenings with a mug of hot cider here. (I'm not kidding, I've started a fall-themed Pinterest board because I fear I may go into withdrawal.) But for our workshop, it does mean the start again of English class. 

Sanctuary had been offering English classes in our previous office location, but the chaos of moving put those on hold for a time. Now we are settled, and with the addition of a third intern (myself), there is space to start again. So, flashcards and Expo markers in hand, we started English class on Wednesday! 

English is an unreasonably difficult language to learn. I knew this, being a long time student of it myself, but it's amazing how many of the rules, sub-rules, and exceptions to the rules we really have and take for granted. Plus, while I have a Masters in English and have developed and taught classes before, I have very little formal training in teaching EFL (English as a Foreign Language - since our girls live in a country where English is not the primary language, it is considered a foreign language class here). This means that I am just a few steps ahead of our girls in terms of reviewing grammatical rules that I have not actively studied in depth since the 8th grade. Then of course, someone wants to know the logic behind changing the "y" to an "i" and adding "es" for plural nouns that end in the letter "y" preceded by a consonant. Of course, all I can say was, "I have no idea. That's just the rule!" Thank goodness for Google. I will have the answer for you on Monday, Namita*!

Teaching itself is made even more difficult by the massive differences in skill level that our ladies have. For many, basic vocabulary like "dog," "hand," and "nose" is tedious review. Their primary need is to refine grammar and practice their reading comprehension and writing skills. But there are others for whom the definition of a noun (person, place thing, or idea) presents four entirely new vocabulary words that need explaining. 

But I am challenged and encouraged to find ways around every obstacle when I see our ladies taking notes so diligently in every class. It sounds so cliché, but I'm not understating the situation when I say that for them, learning English is a vital part of their path to independence. Each girl is aware of this, and they desire to help each other learn as a community. The more advanced girls are patient and love helping to explain to the beginners what is going on (particularly when a Hindi translation of a word or grammatical rule becomes necessary). In the U.S., educators easily spend half of their time (or more) trying to get students to care about their subjects and to take communal ownership over everyone's learning (not just their own). Here, both of those things are already in operation - almost as if it was handed over on a silver platter. That's not to say there won't be days where people are just uninterested or sick and tired of waiting for the slower learners to catch up. But I would take this environment over a high tech classroom (or even a white board) any day. Yeah for English class!

"My hope emerges from those places of struggle where I witness individuals positively transforming their lives and the world around them. Educating is always a vocation rooted in hopefulness. As teachers we believe that learning is possible, that nothing can keep an open mind from seeking after knowledge and finding a way to know." Bell Hooks, "Teaching to Transgress"

*Name changed to protect anonymity.

- Written By: Erin Arendse, India Program Liaison 

Lindsey Malcolm