Sunday, May 18, 2008

Giving and Receiving Gifts

I consider it a part of my responsibility as an ESL tutor to address cultural issues and especially cultural differences that enable my ESL students to understand "American culture" a little better. As most of my ESL students are very advanced, I don't often make culture the main topic of any lesson. Of course, it invariably comes up. There isn't really any way to avoid it! The student usually brings the topic to class.

The depth of our discussion about culture depends on the topic and the interest of the English language learner. I'm often able to explain the origin of many aspects of "American culture," the "why" of what we do, and a bit of history about the custom. To further our conversation practice, I also elicit information about the customs in the student's home culture.

Last week, a student stumped me by asking me the "why" of something we Americans do. She wanted to know why we often ask when receiving a present, "Should I open it now?" First, I was able to confirm that, yes, we usually do ask this question. However, the "why" of it was something I couldn't definitively answer. I speculated that it has something to do with economics and embarrassment. That the receiver of a gift doesn't want the giver to feel embarrassed about the cost of the gift, whether it is a costly or an inexpensive gift.

I'd love to hear some suggestions from other people familiar with American culture as to why we ask, "Should I open it now or later?" And I also welcome non-Americans to share their customs around receiving gifts in their home countries.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

ESL, Human Rights, and Same-Sex Marriages

Today is one of those days in the blogosphere where bloggers around the world are encouraged to write something in support of human rights. This is a particularly noteworthy day for human rights in the state of California.

Today, May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court overturned a ban on same-sex marriages in the state of California. This means that it is now legal (actually, it goes into effect in 30 days) for people of the same sex to legally marry each other in the state and to enjoy the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as married couples of opposite genders.

I believe that this is an issue of human rights as it is an issue of equality. And in the United States, where we are supposed to have a separation of church and state, the Supreme Court's decision helps to clarify this separation.

This is certainly an ESL conversation topic I will be addressing with my conversation students in the next couple of days.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

ESL Students and the Electoral College

This is an exciting time in American politics. I had never thought that there would be an opportunity in my lifetime for a woman or an African American to possibly be the president of the U.S.

For my ESL students who are visiting from other countries, they are having a great opportunity to experience this time in American history (although, I realize that this may be my ethnocentric outlook!).

These days I find myself not only being an ESL tutor, but also a "civics" teacher. And one of the most difficult things to explain is the Electoral College, delegates, and superdelegates, etc. I must admit that I've had to review some of what I learned years ago in high school (and I don't think we learned about superdelegates back then!), and I find that it's still very difficult for me to explain and for my advanced ESL students to understand.

Such is American politics.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Needs Assessment or "Wing It"

An anonymous reader writes:

Hi there, What are your suggestions on the initial assessment of new students? Do you have a particular type of assessment that you give students or do you "wing-it?"

Love you site -- what a resource!

My response:

Hi Reader,

As a starting point, I use a Needs Analysis form I've adapted from various other Needs Assessment forms I've run across in previous teaching jobs. I've hesitated to post it to my sites because I really do also wing it depending on the student, and I haven't edited the form I use to reflect this.

Since I usually work one-on-one with very advanced English language learners, they are usually able to articulate what it is they want to work on. Mostly, I listen to what they say and how they say it and then take notes on what I think needs to be improved. This helps me to be able to tell my potential student how I would proceed in working with them. If they want to work on their writing skills, I ask them to send me a writing sample before our first class, and I analyze that before we meet.

My first meeting with potential students is always free as I do a Needs Analysis to determine their strengths and challenges. It also gives us both a chance to decide if we would like to work together, with no obligation.

Another reason that it's important to have a "form" is that it lets potential students know that you're a professional. I've had numerous students comment on the fact that the process is very professional. They seem to appreciate this and want to work with me more.

Good luck,
Teaching ESL to Adults