Thursday, April 30, 2009

English in Chile- A Story

The neighbor has been insisting she would like her kids to learn English. I decide I would try to help. These are the neighbors who have been wonderful to us. They have 5 children but the 11 year twin girls seemed like likely subjects. English is taught in all the schools in Chile yet none(or few) of the young people speak or seem to understand English. I found this hard to believe-surely they are just shy or reticent to act or sound foolish, I thought.

The twins came over with their English school books-both adorable with their long, dark hair and big brown eyes. But when I spoke any English, their eyes clouded and I could tell they understood nothing at all. I looked at their books. Written in English at about a "Tom Sawyer" level, I asked if they could read it. They nod and read-correctly-a paragraph. But they understood nothing of what they read. Nothing. They recited English like a memorized poem in another language. And understood nothing.

We went on to their English lesson they had done in class. There was a paragraph and the typical "who, what, when, where" questions for comprehension. Because they were done in class, they had the answers, they were done with the lesson. But they didn't know what "swim" or "boat" or "run" meant. They could easily "read" the paragraph but with no meaning.

I don't know if they'll come back for help. I speak little Spanish and explained meanings through mostly pictures and pantomimes. They did understand the paragraph when we were done-you could see it in their eyes. They would say the word in Spanish(I understand more than I can speak) "Correr" after I said the English "Run"so I knew they understood. But they have good grades in English, why would 11 yr olds waste their Saturday morning? Unbelievable to me.

And how can I explain it's good to be bilingual when this is my first experience in learning another language?

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