As I began my TESOL course in Phuket, I met all types of people wanting to be teachers. Some students needed to work immediately after graduation and others were going on to a college or university to further their academic careers. I was in the position of having to return home and finish other work commitments before I could embark on a teaching career. I soon realized that if I was going to be confident in my new found teaching skills and to have the opportunity to build on what I had learned, I was going to have to do something proactive in the area of teaching English as a second language even though I was not in the position to take a full time teaching position. In pondering my predicament, I realized that I did have an option that would serve me and people seeking help in their English speaking skills.
Volunteer work! I soon discovered two ways to volunteer my teaching services. First, I discovered that most American cities have literacy centers to help their cities immigrants learn how to speak English at little or no cost to them. I was happy to see my city had just a center for our large Spanish community as well as for immigrants from other countries . Since I do have other commitments and I am unable to give my full attention or time to the literacy center, I contacted them and asked if they take volunteer teachers. They were thrilled to have a TESOL course graduate willing to teach at the literacy center at no expense to them. This gives me the opportunity to teach on weekends or evenings while I fulfill my other work commitments during the day. Another option in volunteer work is that I also travel extensively and realized that I could volunteer my teaching skills at schools, restaurants, hotels and resorts of the places I am traveling to. Teaching in these settings does a couple of things. It gives me the opportunity to extend my network connections of possible future employment when I am ready to pursue a full time teaching position and these settings are also a possible way to discount my travel expenses. You can ask if a hotel has a need for a basic class in hotel vocabulary or simple hotel phrases for employees to use. If they do, I just may get a discounted or free room while I am there on my stay. Restaurants may need a class or two in basic menu vocabulary or replies to patron’s food requests. These restaurants may be more than willing to treat me to a meal for my services. These are just two ways a TESOL graduate could keep their teaching skills fresh and gain experience.
Volunteer work is a great way to continue to teach and get the class room experience needed to be a better teacher while helping the community. Now, thanks to local literacy centers, the TESOL graduate will have the opportunity to have a consistent experience teaching in a classroom setting if they are not in the position to teach full time. Volunteer work will also give the TESOL graduate additional work experience to put on their teaching resume when the time comes to venture out into the teaching world. I know I will feel more confident in my abilities when my opportunity comes to become a full time TESOL teacher.
Teaching English as a Second Language to the Deaf
“Can you teach me English?” While I’d been asked this question before numerous times during my military tour in Korea, I have to admit that the circumstances of this current request caught me unprepared.
From 2004-2005, I’d been studying Korean sign language (KSL) at an association for the handicapped in Pyeongtaek City, Korea. While our KSL instructor could hear, we frequently had members of the local deaf community visit to practice with us and share their insights into their lifestyle and culture.
The young man that approached me with the question above was named Jun Kim, although he went by the English name “Tommy.” He worked for a company that manufactured hearing aids, and was hoping to go to the U.S. at some point to study at Gaudellette University, a school for the hearing-impaired known in deaf communities world-wide.
Jump ahead two weeks later, to the food court of E-Mart, a local department store and supermarket. In addition to myself and Tommy, we were joined by two of Tommy’s friends (both deaf) and one of the association employees (hearing.)
Two of the deaf students had lost their hearing at a young age, and were able to pronounce words with difficulty. The third either couldn’t speak at all, or was unwilling to and wanted to focus entirely on reading and writing. The hearing student was the typical “false beginner” discussed in lesson 19 of our course material; she had studied English at school, but had never really applied it; much had been forgotten, although she tended to recall it quickly upon review.
My false beginner, however, proved vital to teaching the deaf students, as she was fluent in KSL and a licensed interpreter. My Korean was “conversational” and my KSL only capable of handling basic and simple exchanges; as long as I could explain a grammar point or vocabulary item to her, however, she had the sign language skills to provide a full explanation to the deaf students.
Luckily, everyone had the same textbook. Apparently, they’d gotten together beforehand and found one that they were all satisfied with, and which suited their current English ability. My Korean was sufficient to explain English grammar points using the written Korean equivalent, after which they’d attempt the exercises in the book. Where the students had made a mistake, I would write the correct answer, as well as provide a sentence in which their incorrect answer would have been appropriate.
We also worked on reading exercises. My deaf students would read a short passage or paragraph, while signing their interpretation. Where they were incorrect or unsure of the meaning, I would sign or write it.
For my deaf students that also wanted to practice speaking, we developed a workable method of improving their pronunciation. As is the case with English sign languages, Korean has a set of signs that correspond to their alphabet, as well as signs that stand for complete ideas, nouns, verbs, etc. Using the Korean alphabet signs, I was able to “pronounce” the word by spelling it out. By combining this with upward or downward hand motions, as well as loosening or tightening my signing hand, I was able to indicate accents on words, long or short syllables, and all the other little peculiarities of pronunciation not apparent when just seeing the word on the page.
This method did have its drawbacks, however. Korean consonants and vowels don’t match up perfectly with American equivalents, and vice-versa. The Korean “r” sound is a good example; it’s actually midway between an “r” and “l” sound, with a bit of a roll to it. Explaining the difference without speech required simple trial and error, with numerous repetitions.
While my Korean and sign language abilities would have made it difficult, if not impossible, to use these methods with more advanced students, for the level of my students (low intermediate) it was sufficient, and I think we were able to improve their English abilities. It was a very rewarding experience, and provided an insight into a side of Korean society rarely seen by Westerners.
Su-Hwa Kyo-Shil [Korean Sign Language for Beginners], Jae-Hoon Yeon, Su-Heom Publishing, 2001