Need help with teaching English

Joe   Tue Aug 14, 2007 9:32 am GMT
While not a teacher in the true sense of the word (ie meaning I teach at a formal school for pay) I help a lot of my Mexican friends to learn English. The problem I constantly have is that I cannot get them to just accept English words and phrases without needing a translation into Spanish. Everytime they see a new phrase they want me to translate it into Spanish, but a lot of these phrases are very English-sounding and would not sound good in Spanish.

When I learned Spanish (which I speak so well that the Mexican customs agents thought I was of Mexican parents) I learned it by trying to figure out what phrases mean in the context of Spanish only. I then imitated these phrases, and I guess I went too far, because some Mexicans say I speak with such a high-level vocabulary that there's no way I didn't learn Spanish in school (I didn't; I spoke my first word of Spanish at the age of 20, I'm 22 now).

I try to explain to them how I did it, but they insist that they need a translation into Spanish or they will not understand. I tell them that I never needed any translations into English, but they just write it off as me being "intelligent". Also, I try to tell them, "do not say any phrases you have never seen or heard before" but they do anyway, and make such horrible mistakes as "how are your fathers?" (I only have one father! English doesn't have a masculine dominance like Spanish does!) And my favorite was when I was with my girlfriend and one of them asked me "you two are boyfriends?" (NO! We're boyfriend and girlfriend, she's not a man!) I also try to explain to them that in your brain, you should get the idea down that "orange" for example means "orange" and not "naranja". I try telling them to think of the words "orange" and "naranja" as synonyms rather than as translations, but it doesn't work.

Nothing I do seems to get through to them. They want everything translated, they literally translate phrases into English making horrible, sometimes embarrassing English in the process, and through it all they get frustrated with me thinking that I'm just too smart for them. How can I convince them to learn English in context, without translations, and without saying any phrases unless they know them?

M56   Tue Aug 14, 2007 9:41 am GMT
<How can I convince them to learn English in context, without translations, and without saying any phrases unless they know them?>

Find them a teacher who doesn't speak their language. Or spend a week together learning Hungarian, or another language that you do not share -with you also as a student. Many teacher-training courses make would-be teachers go through a similar experience.
Humble   Wed Aug 15, 2007 5:33 am GMT
I don't see any tragedy, Joe.
It's quite natural people can't help using their native language patterns. Let them learn it as a new word - padres=parents.
I always explain to my pupils similar tricky things by comparing them in both languages.
I only cut using the native language when I'm sure I'll be understood.
K. T.   Thu Aug 16, 2007 1:21 am GMT
I think forcing near-monolingual ESL teachers to take a direct method class is a good thing! I've been there. I've been the "foreigner" and I know what it's like.
K. T.   Thu Aug 16, 2007 1:30 am GMT
If the ESL teacher speaks the student's language, I see no problem in using the student's language to help understanding. I know that people get soooooooooooooooooooooooo upset about this, but how many ESL teachers could learn through the direct method alone? I cornered a couple of teachers on this once.

"Could YOU learn Russian by the direct method only with no explanation in English?" I think I got my point across. Noone has told me other languages are "verboten" again.


Are your Mexican friend literate in Spanish? I'm not trying to put them down. I've known middle-class Mexicans, but they usually speak English well. Usually the only Mexicans who can't speak English are exchange students, older people or the ones who come to the US for economic opportunity. I've found that some in the latter category are really illiterate even in Spanish.

K. T.
K. T.   Thu Aug 16, 2007 1:36 am GMT
Yappari! I left out a "s" on "friends"... On my soapbox again, I guess.

According to acquaintances who teach ESL, Spanish speakers tend to drop out of ESL classes. I haven't seen this with other language groups so much. I really wonder if it is because of the educational level obtained in the home country. It would be daunting to study a foreign language if one only went to the first or second grade.
Rodrigo (COL)   Fri Aug 17, 2007 10:10 pm GMT
I've been studying English for the last nine years and unfortunately the only advice I can give you is to be patient. My classmates always annoy teachers almost every day with the phrase "She didn't cAme yesterday" and beginning sentences with "Is that..." I completely agrre with the idea of a teacher who doesn't, or refuses, to speak Spanish.