Yesterday I did something I never thought I’d do…teach English. I’ll be teaching a one-hour class two days a week to the teachers at my school here, and another two-hour class on Sundays for the people who can’t make it during the week. I’ve heard that, with teaching English, you’re either really into it or you’re really not. I’m really not, but, it something that everybody really wants so if they’re willing to put their time and effort into it I suppose I am also. Yesterday we learned the alphabet and one animal for each letter. It was really funny listening to them trying to pronounce lizard and zebra. I tried to give them easy words or words that sound very similar in Spanish and English, like elephant (elefante) and giraffe (jirafe). The thing that I’m doing differently than my K’iche’ teacher is I’m explaining to them how to hold their tongue and mouth and how to move the air to make all the sounds. My K’iche’ teacher doesn’t do that, she just says, “no, it’s kach not kah” or “it’s qa not qua”, when I really can’t tell the difference between kach and kah or qa and qua. I tell her multiple times per day, “I know you can hear the difference because you’re trained, but I can’t hear the difference. Can you explain to me what goes on with my tongue and throat to make that sound?” All she can do is repeat that “it’s not kach, its kah”. It’s frustrating.
So I’m going to do my best not to frustrate my pupils like she frustrates me. There’s a whole ton of other stuff that bugs me about my classes in K’iche’, for example, the unstructured, unplanned nature of each day. We’ll learn two or three worlds having to do with parts of the body, then we’ll learn two colors that are found nowhere on the body, then we’ll learn three verbs that have nothing to do with the body or colors, then we’ll learn five fruits. I could understand if here theme for the day was words that all end in q’ and k’, and that would account for the seeming-randomness of the groups of words, but even in pronunciation I cannot find a common thread. She was also incapable of explaining to me the difference between the future tense and the present tense. She gave me examples of two verbs: to jump and to work, then we conjugated them, but differently. I asked her in as many ways as I could think of the reasons for the differences in the two sets of conjugated verbs. All she could tell me was “here, there is one person. Here, there is more than one person.” “Well, yes, I understand that, but here this one person is different than this same person there. Why are the patterns different?” She couldn’t answer. She could have simply told me that there is one pattern for the present and one pattern for the future, but instead she tried to explain to me how “this one thing you can do without materials, and this thing you need materials”. She was trying to get at, this thing you can do now, and this other thing you have to wait until later to do. Why the words present and future didn’t pop into her head, I don’t know.
I know I’ve written in the past how with Guatemalans you have to repeat yourself over and over and over, saying the same thing to get it to stick. I have to figure out some way to tell her that I don’t need that. She has only one way of explaining things, and if I don’t understand she just repeats the same thing, perhaps slower, perhaps louder, perhaps she annunciates different words or uses gestures. But she is incapable of thinking about more than one explanation to a problem. Which is frustrating, because I’ve always prided myself in my teaching and coaching on figuring out may ways to explain, show, or walk the students through the problem because I understand that everybody learns in different ways.