Friday, September 9, 2011

Back to, not me.

Today I had my second session with my tutoring group. Now, before everyone gets all excited thinking I have a group of students that I will be bringing into fluency in just a few short months you should probably know that they are a group of four little girls ages six and seven. They are not already English speakers who need a little polish put on their skills, but kids who are still learning to write their own names. This is a long term project.

They are absolutely adorable. Our first meeting a month ago was a fun, get-to-know each other kind of time. Thank goodness. Two of them were missing their top front teeth. I never knew until that day just how many sounds use the tongue against the front teeth. Add to that their difficulty with the "th" sound (it doesn't exist in the Italian language) and you can probably start to understand how much fun we had. Spit everywhere, and when you're six spit is funny.

It's a month later and their teeth have grown in. "Th" is still a struggle, but the spit factor has been reduced significantly (not gone, just reduced). Maybe I should clarify that when I say I'm tutoring English, I am not teaching them to read and write. I am providing pronunciation. As a mother tongue English speaker, and even better as an American, my value is in teaching them to speak fluently using American inflections and phrases. They will learn to read and write English at school. In fact, part of our time was spent finishing their homework as school starts next week. You heard me right. They have homework over the summer and these tiny girls who are still learning to read and write Italian are doing English homework.

It's hard to believe that they're starting English in their first or second year of public school, isn't it? The ubiquitous "they" say that language is easiest to learn at an early age. I suppose that must be the reasoning. It's too bad Minnesota keeps pulling money out of education. I have a feeling that if Americans had to learn another language, if they had to express themselves in another language and custom, that their perspective on a whole lot of issues might become less narrow. More flexible. More thoughtful. Or that could be just wishful thinking.

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