Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Say What?

One important aspect of English-language education that often gets overlooked is, I believe, pronunciation. I have met many students of English who are, for the most part, quite fluent, even able to get through a master's program in an English-speaking university, but who constantly struggle to make themselves understood to native-English speakers. This is true not only of students, but of professors in universities, as well. Not only is it frustrating for both speaker and listener, but, it may also make the non-native speakers question their language abilities and doubt themselves.

I think the problem is easily solved, but it requires explicit instruction. The vast majority of students are not able to pick up the correct pronunciation by simply listening and emulating a native speaker. In addition, in all languages, there are specific aspects of an ESL student's first language that cause difficulty when learning English, and these must be acknowledged and understood.
Here are a few common pronunciation problems for Korean speakers when they are learning English, because I'm too lazy to write them all out myself.

One of the most important differences between English and many languages is that it is a stress-timed language, as opposed to a syllable-timed language (such as French and Japanese). Syllable-timed languages give equal weight to each syllable in a word, whereas English (and German, Russian, and Mandarin) are stressed-timed languages, in which certain syllables and certain content words (such as nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs) must be stressed. Alongside the stress, of course, must be taught the unstress (the schwa - the most common sound in the English language). English teachers need to focus on word and sentence stress/unstress patterns (which I am not going to define or describe further, since voluminous amounts of information exist already on the topic, and there is no need for me to repeat it here). Just know that as a teacher, you need to be aware of it, and of the addition interference or difficulties that your students may have based on their first language.

Teaching American English Pronunciation, by Peter Avery and Susan Erlich, is a book I would not teach without.

And here are some techniques for teaching pronunciation.

Here's yet another good site to get you started.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Top 50 Blogs for Teaching Abroad

Well, somehow or another, we made it to a list of Top 50 Teaching Abroad blogs. Some of the blogs listed are particularly worthy, so check them out!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why? I write to remind myself.

So why would I start blogging about Korea when we are still here in Canada and our plans to move to South Korea are more than seven months away?

One reason is because traveling, nay, relocating to the other ends of the earth, is (insert appropriate adjective plus exclamatory punctuation here) enough when done alone or as a couple, but it is a different game entirely when preparing to move as a familial unit: dad, mom, son (age 7 at departure time), and daughter (three and a half at DT). There are all the regular preparations to be done when moving overseas (immunizations, passports, visas, insurance, other assorted important documents, etc., not to mention the luggage), but it is now X4. Blogging on this topic is a good way keep a record of our family's preparations for our big adventure.

This leads to another question: why are we going to Korea, anyway? South Korea's a crazy place, with even crazier neighbours. The air is bad. Sometimes, people's habits and behaviours or beliefs range from bewildering to absolutely infuriating and unjust. Our family and friends are all here in town with us, for the most part. We live in a good neighborhood, generally safe, close to conveniences. I have a pretty decent job that I quite like; I never dread going to work, I like the people I work with, I like my actual work (teaching English for Academic Prep at a university), with a good pension and benefits plan. The air is clean. We don't have a lot of money, but we're able to afford not having to pay for daycare so that Matthew can stay at home with the kids, namely just Roo, since Bo is in school all day. (The benefits of being able to afford having a stay at home parent with kids when they're young is invaluable... a topic I'll cover at a later date). We have a Subaru station wagon (white, not too flashy, especially in this neighborhood!), and we live in a cul-de-sac with little traffic. We rent in a neighborhood where we could never even begin to imagine being able to afford to buy a home, a quieter area with winding, unnecessary roads.

Yet, as the years pass, we realize we're settling, albeit uncomfortably so, into a life that neither one of us had dreamed was for us. We're realizing that our grand dreams of travel, of exploration and adventure, of education for our children, are going to pass if we continue to just settle for our present life. We continue to feel itchy and restless because we've seemed to have done exactly that, settled into the suburbs, and into a life that neither of us dreamed for ourselves.

Life seems good. It is good! But perhaps the biggest reason we want to leave this life is because we live among people from a culture with values and beliefs, in many cases, in opposition to our own. The vast majority of the upper-middle class who surround us, and, it seems, our entire culture, value money or the evidence of that money by way of a variety of possessions, instead of time with their children. Actual time spent with their children, as opposed to the time spent working in order to provide iPods, or other devices for distracting their kids' attention from the real world. Time spent teaching their children how to be disciplined and hard-working, positive and well-behaved people who know how to interact with others in the world. To impart upon their children an appreciation for the things they appreciate by spending time doing these things with them... cooking, music, art, sports, gardening, etc.

I am referring to the people who work so desperately hard to fit an image in order to garner the respect and admiration of others around them (by flaunting an existence of wealth by owning a certain amount of property, owning more than one car, outfitting their kids with the proper accountrements of a "Jersey Shore"-obsessed youth - just watch South Park's "It's a Jersey Thing" for their own unmistakable commentary - and so on and on and on...), instead of the respect and admiration of their husband/wife and children.

It would be naive, if not downright stupid, to think that "moving up the ladder" is not present in Korea. In fact, "keeping up with the Kims" is fiercer than the North American "Joneses." So why move us all to Korea? Because the fact remains that we are not Korean, and we will never fit there. We have no desire nor expectation of fitting into Korean society and keeping up with it. We do, on the other hand, feel intense pressure to fit in and keep up with the society and larger culture to which we belong now. And it really doesn't sit well with us.

If we don't prepare now, we will probably never go. We might stay in the suburbs where life is good enough, and we'll settle into becoming the type of people we swore we never would when we first decided upon spending the rest of our lives together.

There are other reasons why we've chosen Korea, such as being able to get quite a good job, and being able to save money, and being able to live overseas with our children, but the biggest is to live our dreams and make them come true. The first step is Korea, and then who knows where?! Possibly living in Israel, or learning how to do organic farming, or studying French in Montreal. And, or course, settling, when we are ready (in maybe 4-5 years, when Bo would be about eleven and Roo eight), into a house in a place (likely in Canada) that we can afford, where we can work at something we love, and where we are surrounded by a community with whom we feel a sense of belonging and solidarity. We might very well have chickens. We would need to have a large garden.

So to answer the original question - why blog? - I write in order to remind myself of keeping to our dreams and not settling, and to maintain an account of the process.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's that time of the month...

...when I feel about ready to explode from stress. For the past week and a half, we've had Hanukkah and Roo's third birthday, both of which have necessitated lots of visiting with extended family (...), and my "Lady Grammar" performance, which went over well at the Language Centre's final party.

Now it's time to gear up for my mother's hasty second marriage. Well, not hasty in that she and my father have been happily divorced since 2000 (for a sum total of 20 years if you count their initial, therapy-inducing ten). I mean hasty in the sense that she and her husband-to-be, Helmut, (yes, that is his name!) have been courting since July of this year. Although they used to know each other in the early 1980s (they used to be couples friends during the drop-off years of disintegrating first marriages), and although there was some "attraction" there, nothing happened, then divorce, then his subsequent marriage, etc, etc.... Anyway, she's blissfully in love, and I'm happy for her.

I had thought that Celine Dion might be involved in this celebration, and by gum, she be! Mom will surprise Helmut with a song ("Then You Looked at Me"), which she'll sing and I'll play on acoustic guitar. It's a pretty huge step for her to actually stand in front of people to perform in this way, so I think it's pretty cool. I don't even care that it's Celine Dion! Bo and Roo and I have also been practicing a song that they'll be singing, and which I'll play, "Hinneh ma Tov." That's exactly how we sound. And look.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I'm not such a grinch...most of the time...

Though I don't subscribe to the theology touted in Handel's masterpiece, this video still made my heart grow three sizes today! Stunning! You can find out more about Random Acts of Culture here.

Then my cynical side notes the irony of the fact that this great piece of music is being performed in what may be our own culture's hall of worship.

A Recipe for the Holidays

It never ceases to amaze me at how responsibilities, tasks, important events that require preparation and foresight, and illness all seem to occur so often at precisely the same moment, creating stress and anxiety and general ill-will among all those affected. Nowhere is this pattern more prevalent than during this time of seasonal expectations.

I can once again count myself as a victim of the phenomenon described above. Here's my recipe:

Take a cup of your daughter's third birthday party preparations and mix it with the final grammar tests and essays you must have finished marking within the next 48 hours. Don't forget those final report cards that need to be finished on Monday, either! Throw in the rehearsal time for your "Lady Grammar" act you'll be performing tomorrow night at the Language Centre's final party (you know, the one you signed up for at the beginning of November, when birthdays, finals, and holidays were but a faint speck on winter's horizon). Don't forget to fold in the errands necessary for that performance, such as hunting for an electric guitar, high-hat and kick drum when you own none of those instruments and don't know many people who do. In a pan, heat the oil necessary to fry all your Hanukkah preparations (cooking, decorating, practicing songs for your son's Hebrew class, finding and wrapping gifts, preparing a culturally-sensitive lesson for the grade one goyim in your son's class). Add a generous cup of consideration and thoughtfulness towards your husband (which, truth be told, can be especially hard to come by over the holiday season). Measure out 3 tablespoons of flu and cold-like symptoms, and divide them equally among your husband, son, and daughter, but don't add them at the same time: add them in intervals of several days, so that you can maximize the length of time that their illnesses last. Add a dash (OK, make that two or three dashes) of stress related to extended family and their expectations. Stir well, and allow the mixture to ferment in a warm, moist place until your mother's second marriage in a week and a half (the one in which you are expected to play a significant musical role, for which you have not even begun thinking about yet, let alone preparing - you just know that it might involve a Celine Dion song, which makes you exceedingly uncomfortable), and then voila! La piece de resistance! Serve with a stiff drink, or, better yet, several.

Happy Holidays, everyone!!! 건배!