Muses of backpacking the globe and other activites of a few outdoor, travel, and adventure loving urbanites. Including travel info on locals we've been to.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

English by Intimidation

"Forget the Grammar, Learn to Speak!" is the motto of the Callan method of teaching English. And at the Eil School in Rome, we do exactly that. From the moment you step into the classroom until the moment you leave you are inundated with nothing but English. Not just regularly spoken English though, that would be too soft, leave too much room for error. No, at the Eil School we yell. We stand up, look you right in the eyes, and assertively give you the English language as if we were your drill sergeant, and you were Private Pile in "Full Metal Jacket".

A typical class sounds a little like this. "TOMORROW I WILL GO TO THE CINEMA!...WILL I GO TO THE CINEMA TOMORROW!?!?", then without giving them the time to think or even move, we lead the student's answer along with ours. In unison this time, we both yell "YES, YOU WILL GO TO THE CINEMA TOMORROW!!!!" Any error in pronunciation by the student is quickly corrected by repetition from the teacher. For example, if the student struggles with the word "cinema", we repeat it louder and slower with a bit more annunciation. We say, "CI-NE-MA, CI-NE-MA, CI....NE....MA!!!!!!", and eventually they get it.

As my first teaching job in Rome, or anywhere else for that matter, I found this method of teaching to be rather shocking. Don't get me wrong, I'm one of the loudest people around. It just seemed a little bit too forceful for me at first. I thought, "why would anyone subject themselves to being screamed at in a foreign language for weeks on end, and to top it off, pay about 30 euros an hour for the privilege???". Then it hit me when I met students who had worked their way up through the ranks to the higher level classes. They all spoke English. It worked. It worked in the same way training a dog does. Your puppy doesn't know what the fuck "sit" or "stay" or "good boy" means. If you yell it at him/her enough times and show it what to do however, it will. The difference is that a dog can't speak it back to you, people can.

The human brain is a lot more perceptive than we give it credit for. We innately learn what we feel we have to in order to survive or succeed. For example, I live in Italy, I want to order food, no one in my neighborhood speaks English. After 2 months here I can now order food, make variations on my order, and flirt with the girl serving me. Survival baby, survival. I also do my work schedule (Bartending) in Italian, tell Gypsies to fuck off in Italian, explain my illnesses to the pharmacist in Italian, and make sorry attempts to get laid in Italian (almost never actually works but it's worth a shot). You get my drift backpackers? We learn what we have to and not what we want to. That's the brilliance of the human mind.

The irony of the whole matter is that I've lost my voice after teaching for 5 days with bronchitis. I'm on the sidelines for now until my vocal chords heal a bit. But rest assured I'll be there bright and early on Monday morning, ready to scare the English into a few more Romans. In a sadistic way it's fun. And who knows, maybe someday someone can scare some Italian into me.


At 10:21 AM , Blogger Turtle said...

I love it. You definatly would make a good teacher with your language skills.

Thanks for the pictures they really ad to the whole thing.

At 1:20 PM , Anonymous ladybug1580 said...

Wow! I hope you are not teaching while you do your Haitian imitation. Those poor students would be very confused!

At 3:50 PM , Blogger Andy said...

Ha ha Ana. I can still do a mean Haitian accent. The poor students are confused anyway. I should try another accent just for fun. Get them to speak like Boston townies or Southerners or something. That would be hilarious.

At 4:31 PM , Blogger Turtle said...

Yeah that would be hilarious. You could remove the letter "r" from their already sparse vocab.

Get 'em talking like the door men at my hotel.

At 6:59 PM , Blogger Elly said...

If you want to succeed at teaching by yelling and preserving your voice, breathe from your diaphragm. Speak those yellish words from the center of your belly.

Most of us speak right from our throats and that's why you're hoarse. This will be a technique you can use if you ever go into acting. good luck.

At 9:26 AM , Anonymous ladybug15780 said...

Or you can forgo the English altogether and teach them spanglish!


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