Anachan's Corner

One woman's journey through marriage, motherhood, and the classroom…

Dealing With a Language Barrier

Written By: Anachan - Aug• 24•17

This year, one of my students speaks very little English.

I have had students in my classes before who learned English as a second language. For those students, vocabulary proved to be an issue, particularly at the high school level. In addition, when they wrote, sometimes their sentences would end up being structured more as Spanish sentences, rather than English sentences. It was obvious they were thinking in Spanish, then translating when they wrote. They ended up passing my classes, as long as they worked hard, accomplished their assignments and essays, and prepared for their tests.

But I have never had a student with so little English that about the only thing she would say to me in the language was to ask to go to the restroom.

I have her twice: once in algebra 1 and once in English 1.

In algebra, I have come upon a marvelous discovery: Khan Academy has a site in Spanish. It takes a bit more work for me, but I have found I can manage to get her logged on to the Spanish Khan Academy and find an exercise dealing with what we are covering in class. (I know that much Spanish, anyway!) When I discovered she was struggling with Order of Operations,  I realized that her real weakness was in manipulating negative numbers, so I was able to reassign her back to negative numbers. The smile on her face after she did some exercises, then took a quiz and got 87% on it was delightful to see. Next week, when the class starts working on combining like terms, all her assignments will be alternate ones on Khan Academy, where she can receive instruction in Spanish, as well as have Spanish language problems. At the very least, we ought to be able to make some progress in algebra. (Math is rather a universal language, once you move into symbols.)

But in English 1, I am at an impasse. This quarter, we are starting with grammar analysis. How do you get a child to be able to sort out concrete and abstract nouns when she doesn’t even know what the word means? How can a student tell if an adverb is intensive or reflexive–a distinction depending entirely on how the word is used in that particular sentence? How can a student write a required essay researching a career if she cannot read the requirements of the assignment or the online resources? Even if another student helped her work through the homework assignments, the way the class is weighted, with homework only accounting for 20% of the quarter grade, there is no way she can pass the class and gain high school credit without being able to succeed on the tests and essays.

I have never attended school in an actual foreign school, but I do know something about being lost in a sea of unfamiliar language. As a young child, I remember attempting to communicate with a German-speaking child in Austria. I couldn’t understand what she was saying as she tried to teach me how to play badminton, and I remember how helpless I felt. (Honestly, I wasn’t terribly worried at first–just ran with it–but the sight of her relatives apparently snickering at us made me self-conscious. Now, I suspect they were just smiling in that amusement adults sometimes feel when they are observing young children, but at the time, I interpreted it differently.) As a young adult, I spent a year and a half in Japan. This time, I had studied the language to one degree or another for five years, so I could manage some proficiency in reading, but I had never developed listening and speaking fluency. There were days, early on, where my mind eventually just shut off because I was so exhausted trying to process the sounds I was hearing. Because I didn’t give up and kept working on learning the skills I was lacking, I eventually developed a certain degree of fluency. But even then, there were still hours or situations in which I stared uncomprehendingly at someone because they were speaking of a subject for which I did not have the vocabulary. (Like the economics of a carton factory . . .)

Language can separate and isolate an individual. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for a student to be required to be in an institution for eight hours a day and not understand the vast majority of what is going on. There are students who can speak some Spanish, but how do even they attempt to explain identifying independent and subordinate clauses in English sentences?

What this student needs, and what I know the principal is researching for her, is an actual English Language Learners class. Or a computer program. This kind of instruction is outside the scope of my English 1 class, which is designed for students already reasonably proficient in the language who need further skills in organization, analysis, and literature. I hope something can be figured out soon, for her sake.

Summer Reading . . . er . . . Listening . . .

Written By: Anachan - Jul• 03•17

Summer is a great time to read books! Summer is also a great time to listen to audiobooks!

This summer, so far, I have finished Reading Lolita in Tehran, The Ugly Stepsister, The Cry of the Halidon, Lady of Devices, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Shackled (short one by Michael Wisehart which I got as a free download), and a book whose title I’ve forgotten about a teenage dragon shapeshifter.

I am currently reading Hillbilly Elegy, Little Ways to Keep Calm and Carry On, A Storm in Tormay, and Start With Why. (Yes, I read more than one book at a time. Doesn’t everyone?)

And I’ve been listening to audiobooks . . .

You will notice that the books I have listed above (and I may have forgotten a book or two in it) vary widely. I have a couple of memoirs, a leadership book, and a self-help book. I have one Steampunk YA novel, one fairy tale YA novel, one adventure/espionage story, two YA alternate Earth books (the dragon one and Miss Peregrine), and two “other world” books (Three and a half, if you consider that A Storm in Tormay is actually a trilogy in one and Shackled is a prequel novelette.) Very little of it would be considered “highbrow” literature. But that’s what summer is for, right? (On a side note, Smithsonian Magazine published an interesting piece about what books Americans take on vacation. You’ll notice that, by far, the books people take on vacation fall into the Fantasy/Sci-Fi category. Not going to discuss here all the observations my husband and I discussed about why the data might show this.)

My audiobooks this summer, however, have had something of a marathon flavor. You see, before the school year ended, I finally succumbed to temptation and decided to try out a book described as a “B-movie.” In other words, it was unabashedly pulp fiction, but people loved it: Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International (which is free on Kindle right now!)

The author had me with his opening paragraph: “On one otherwise normal Tuesday evening, I had the chance to live the American dream. I was able to throw my incompetent jackass of a boss from a fourteenth-story window.”


(Note: People who know me will most likely have paused in a certain amount of shock at the use of the word “jackass.” No, I don’t use that kind of language, myself. Yes, this author includes some worse words, occasionally. I couldn’t recommend the series to my parents. But the story is so much fun I was willing to overlook the occasional profane word, which is very, very unusual for me.)

The book is the first in a series of five books, four of which I have devoured, one after another. (The last is downloading to the Audible app on my phone, as I type.) The first-person narrator for most of the books, Owen Zastava Pitt, has a down-to-earth style and gets easily sidetracked by the details of firearms and other weaponry. (Not too surprising, as the author used to own a firearms store.) The books are one rollicking adventure after another, with enough suspense to keep the reader guessing, but enough foreshadowing to allow the reader to make some connections along the way. The books don’t take themselves seriously at all, providing much fun and laughs for the reader, while monsters in a variety of forms are slashed and blown to oblivion.

The audiobook narrator, Oliver Wyman, provides impeccable characterization–complete with accents–for the many individuals (and monsters) portrayed in the series. I first encountered his talent while listening to a Brandon Sanderson audiobook entitled Legion, which led to my buying almost all of said author’s works, over time, sometimes in more than one format. (I have one book in Kindle, audio, and print!) The Monster Hunter stories, while fast-paced and enjoyable, are honestly enhanced by this narrator’s skill.

For those who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the books also contain some Easter eggs. In the guise of the worldbuilding which happens in fantasy novels are hidden gems of LDS doctrine and philosophy. Non-members will just view them as a part of the book, but members may find themselves suddenly grinning, as my husband and I did, every time they recognize one.

The reason behind this is that Larry Correia is actually a member of the church. Interestingly enough, I had no idea about this, because he is not usually included in lists compiled by members of member authors. I suspect this is because his style is a bit rougher than is encouraged for consumption by members. (Those crass words I mentioned earlier.) Other LDS authors sometimes have characters who swear, but if they place them in “other worlds,” those swear words can sound completely different, thus making readers forget that, really, they would be considered crass on those worlds. The difference is that Larry Correia’s world is an alternate version of our own, so the swear words are familiar to us.

No, this series of stories will not, in all likelihood, make me smarter. (Unless I actually go and look up all those firearms and blades he mentions . . . I already know what a kukri is, so that’s a start.) But I’m having so much fun listening to them as I garden, cut grass, do dishes, or focus on other mind-numbing tasks that I just don’t care.

After all, it’s summer, and in between the educator conferences and the volunteer work and the writing of the essay to enter graduate school and the stuff I have to do for my kids, I like to have something which is just for the giggles.