Volunteering in Asia forum
English teaching in northern Laos
20th October, 2010
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If anyone is planning to visit the caves in Vieng Xai (and is wondering if there's anything else to do there), I strongly recommend volunteering at a small ESL school in the village. It's run by a guy named Make Phomvilay, and it's located near the Vieng Xai Caves Visitor Center. I was there in March and June last year and spent many hours helping the students practice basic English. You don't need to be a trained teacher, and you don't need to sign on for the long term. The kids just need practice speaking with foreigners, and if you can spare only a couple of hours, that's two more hours of practice they wouldn't have had otherwise.
There's also an ESL school in Sam Neua , located across the street from the town's only Internet shop. It's run by a guy named Mr. Khamkeo, and I'll be surprised if he doesn't find you first -- he and his students are always on the lookout for foreigners to visit their classroom.
Finally, there's a guide at the Vieng Xai Caves Visitor Center named Mr. Bounmisay who teaches an ESL class in nearby Phou Xay, which is a short walk from Vieng Xai. He's always happy to host foreigners in his classroom.
For more information about volunteering at these schools, check out this page on my website ... http://www.johnmikulenka.com/english-teaching/laos/
Houaphanh province was my favorite place in Laos, and volunteering in these classrooms made all the difference.
(or as the locals might remember me: Mr. John)
P.S. If anyone has recently passed through Vieng Xai and/or Sam Neua and has current information about these schools, please post it here. Thanks!
#1 Posted: 27/1/2011 - 23:47
John, as you have also posted this on ThornTree, I will answer in a similar vein. Having unqualified people "teaching@a class is not a good idea. Conversation, with the teacher present, is satisfactory, but volunteering to teach for any period is fraught with dangers. Many of these volunteers have hidden agendas, and further the damage they do to the students English language learning is often very hard to repair.
Just one example of what I am talking about - you have misspelled the verb; "helping the students practice basic English" It should be practise, not "practice" and this is even though you have a CELTA.
#2 Posted: 28/1/2011 - 09:01
Rufus, I am afraid you are off the mark on this one on several levels. One, practice with a native speaker is indispensable. In my wife's village the woman who teaches English can read and write it, but she can not speak it comprehensibly nor understand the spoken word very well. She's had no practice. Which leads us to the second point - You are incorrect concerning the word practice:
v. prac·ticed, prac·tic·ing, prac·tic·es
1. To do or perform habitually or customarily; make a habit of: practices courtesy in social situations.
2. To do or perform (something) repeatedly in order to acquire or polish a skill: practice a dance step.
Practise with an "s" is the English spelling of the word.
#3 Posted: 28/1/2011 - 10:39
reply #3 in this thread is worth reading.
Which leads us to the second point - You are incorrect concerning the word practice
American English is not the one & only correct form of English in the world.
#4 Posted: 28/1/2011 - 12:20
Wandering, that is true. But neither is it incorrect, which Refus stated it was.
#5 Posted: 28/1/2011 - 13:36
And I should have said "British" vice "English", which is confusing in the last sentence of post #3.
#6 Posted: 28/1/2011 - 13:39
Mac, American spelling is a bastardisation of the English language. Further, did you notice that the op had completed a CELTA? This stands for Certificate in English Language Testing for Adults. This is a certificate administered by Cambridge. It is an International certificate for the teaching of the English language. It teaches British English.
Furthermore, while I agree with your comment about speaking with a native speaker, the op did say he was "teaching". I reiterate - unqualified teachers do more harm than good.
#7 Posted: 28/1/2011 - 17:18
"Mac, American spelling is a bastardisation of the English language."
And English is a bastardisation of German and Latin (with a healthy dose of other influences thrown in). American spelling is every bit as valid as British spelling. Languages aren't static. Using either or when instructing is completely valid. One is not superior to the other. It is certainly not accurate to state that "practice" was mispelled.
I don't see anywhere were the poster mentioned "CELTA". Perhaps he posted it elsewhere and ytou saw it and referenced it. I noted he mentioned ESL, and ESL uses both forms. But at any rate, it is VERY CLEAR to me that he is talking about helping students practice and work basic grammar. And any native speaker (well, within limits) can do that.
When I first moved here there was a teacher from Ghana in Saimun, Yasothon province. He was a trained teacher with a university degree, but spoke with a heavy accent. Some would say that would disqualify him. He was there about 15 months, and then had to leave. Now they have a totally unqualified Thai who can't speak English at all. Tell me what's better. Those kids in the sticks are lucky to get any exposure at all.
#8 Posted: 28/1/2011 - 18:44
20th October, 2010
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Thanks for the support, MADMAC. And thanks for the very strict vetting of my intentions, qualifications, and spelling ability, Rufus. My post kicked up similar suspicion and derision over on Thorn Tree, and I've tried to post a clarification there. Just want to say here that most tourists pass through Vieng Xai and Sam Neua thinking there's nothing to do except see the caves. How exactly does that kind of myopic tourism benefit anyone except 2 or 3 hotel owners and an equivalent number of English-speaking guides? Many locals would love to be able to speak English with a foreigner, and many of them know the difference between learning the language from a Lao teacher and learning it from a native speaker. With proper intentions and supervision (of course), volunteering in an ESL classroom can make everyone's tourism experience a lot richer. The vast majority of foreigners can only offer a couple hours of conversation practice, which is greatly appreciated. So let's follow the example of my friends in Houaphanh province and focus on how this can help rather than on how it can go sour.
#9 Posted: 28/1/2011 - 19:58
As an experienced ESL teachers with over 30 years experience in various countries, I believe I am qualified in commenting. As I stated, inexperienced teaching is fraught will danger. I have head to spend months correcting poor pronunciation and learned mistakes because of poor teaching. The students suffer and become confused.
Mac, if you are a CELTA trained teacher and teaching British English, (as CELTA teachers do), then pronunciation was misspelled.
#10 Posted: 29/1/2011 - 07:40
Should read "I have had" in the above post - embarrassing
Just one further point; you have to be consistent in spelling and pronunciation. Students become confused very easily. You say aluminum, I say aluminium. To Lao students the word sound totally different..
#11 Posted: 29/1/2011 - 09:10
To my ears the word sounds totally different too. But the Lao students just have to get used to it, because that's part of the fundamental challenge of learning English. Once you start applying it, you have to deal with the various accents (US, British, Canadian, Australian). Hell, I can't even understand half of what a Scot says. At any rate, exposure to native speakers is, in my opinion, worth the negative of occassionally learning something incorrect. Perhaps you would prefer to see English as it is used as a lingua Franca in the world standardized, but that's not going to happen.
#12 Posted: 29/1/2011 - 09:36
Do you mean "standardised", Mac?
#13 Posted: 29/1/2011 - 16:06
Sometimes it seems like there is a belief in 'native-speaker ownership' of English. Surely non-native speakers can adapt it as much as they like as long as it facilitates communication and maintains a semblance of the original. Do people in Laos need perfect English? Wouldn't good conversational English be more obtainable and just as useful for the majority of speakers? Who cares if pronunciation or grammar is off as long as it works.
#14 Posted: 29/1/2011 - 18:59
stand·ard·ize   /ˈstændərˌdaɪz/ Show Spelled [stan-der-dahyz] Show IPA verb, -ized, -iz·ing.
–verb (used with object)
to bring to or make of an established standard size, weight, quality, strength, or the like: to standardize manufactured parts.
to compare with or test by a standard.
to choose or establish a standard for.
–verb (used without object)
to become standardized.
Use standardized in a Sentence
See images of standardized
Search standardized on the Web
Also, especially British , stand·ard·ise .
I'm not a Pom, so it's standardized!!!
#15 Posted: 29/1/2011 - 19:20
"Who cares if pronunciation or grammar is off as long as it works."
That's the point - it often does not work. Lao and Thai are tonal languages and the people of both countries are sensitive to pronunciation.
Mac, I am not a Brit either, but "standardise" is common usage everywhere except the US. Next you will be wanting to use mm/dd/yy which makes no sense at all. Or perhaps go to the first floor of the Talat Sao mall when the rest of us are on the ground floor.
#16 Posted: 30/1/2011 - 08:23
Rufus, it doesn't matter whether or not you think their "bastadization" is a less efficient or specific form. That form is spoken as a native languge by some 300 million people. So lots of English teachers abroad are using it. British English is not the only form being taught, in Laos or anywhere else. Nor will it be in the future. So you certainly can't say someone is "Wrong" when they use it as their teaching reference point.
#17 Posted: 30/1/2011 - 09:28
Heck most Germans speak better English than people from England. Ever heard a Mancunian (Manchester) mangle the language? I'd rather hear it from a shopkeeper out of Mumbai. Knew a German with one of the Kaosan Road degrees from Oxford, had a great job in Japan, bothered the certified types no end. Ever thought of branching out Rufus?
If English is going to be the lingua franca we got to let loose with the rules. Men baw?
#18 Posted: 30/1/2011 - 11:43
surely when speaking English this matters less? They can say Oxford or Owcksford or Oxfurd or Oxfod and still be understood by an English speaker. 'Listening' might be a problem though, I did not think about it from that angle.
Strong accents here in the UK can be tough. My friend moved here from China and he couldn't believe how much he was struggling.
#19 Posted: 30/1/2011 - 19:02
26th October, 2011
Messaging not enabled.
I don't know if you are still reading this post, but here is some advice for you, since you see fit to bestow your condescending advice on others.
Don't be a perfectionist. Perfection in language does not exist. Perfectionism is, to use your words, "fraught with danger." How many students, in your 30 years of teaching, have you observed who get 100% all the time? The whole point of education is to improve and to do the best we can with the resources available, not to be perfect. So get off your high horse and stop looking down at people to try to make yourself feel better about what you can do and other people can't.
Students in Laos generally have very little access to native speakers or teachers of English (unless they have money), particularly in small places like Sam Neua. Most families here are poor and are grateful for people like John. Wouldn't you rather have a mediocre education than no education at all? Isn't it better to have decently good pronunciation and grammar, if the alternative is bad or non-existent pronunciation and grammar?
People who are willing to "give" freely of themselves, to help young people better their skills should not be discouraged. Why assume they have negative ulterior motives? Don't you have ulterior motives for teaching, other than to improve the students' education? Don't you ask for your paycheck at the end of the month? Doesn't it make you feel strong and superior when you mark their pages full of red ink and tell them what all their mistakes are?
I had plenty of teachers like you in school. Teachers who concentrate on the smallest mistakes and focus on the negatives rather than the positives. Pretty soon, it discourages and wears a person down. These kinds of teachers didn't encourage or motivate me or bring any fun to the classroom. In these classes, I usually got bored quite quickly and ended up staring out the window or talking to my friends because I didn't respect those teachers. I don't blame them for how they were because they probably got treated the same way when they were in school, but I certainly didn't look forward to coming to their classes and I wasn't motivated to follow in their footsteps.
Oh and by the way, here is your sentence:
"...but volunteering to teach for any period is fraught with dangers. Many of these volunteers have hidden agendas, and further the damage they do to the students English language learning is often very hard to repair."
Even with your 30 years of "superior" experience, aren't you missing an apostrophe in the word "students", since it is possessive in this case and further, shouldn't the comma be after further, not before the "and"?
Lighten up Rufus! and please don't write back solely to point out any grammer or spelling mistakes I may have made. My teachers in English class were quite strict and boring. Consequently, I didn't pay very close attention.
#20 Posted: 27/10/2011 - 15:22
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