Living and learning in India

The Butter CafeSo, after a few weeks in India, surviving my separation from my luggage and contracting bronchitis, I am settling into life in McLeod Ganj, India.

My English class at one of the local English schools,  which is operated by a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) consists of young adults, mostly Tibetan. They are a small but dedicated upper intermediate group and we are working hard together for two hours a day. When we aren’t following the coursebook, I have been encouraging them to give book reviews about the readers they take home. To my great delight, extensive reading is valued at the school and it has a well equipped library full of up-to-date readers. The students seem to love reading and mine are always wanting to read the books recommended by their classmates. The picture below shows a segment of the full library.

One of the books my class is reading is a graded version of The Rabbit Proof Fence and that has given me the opportunity to talk about Australia. We listened to the National Apology to Indigenous Australians and the Tibetans understood the power of the language and its deep significance very well, with Tibet being dominated by the Chinese. Living in exile from the their country, many Indigenous Tibetans in India and other countries live in hope for the day when they can return to their home with full rights to follow their culture, religion and language.

Last week I started an additional songs and poetry class for all levels and have so far introduced two songs. I am not sure that teaching The Cure songs to monks is the most appropriate thing I have ever done, but they took it in good spirit and, by the end, were singing with very clear pronunciation, if not always in tune. We looked at the rhythm, rhyme and symbolism and I will get the students writing their first simple poetry next week on the theme of colours.

I am on the lookout for local Tibetan poets who are experimenting with writing in English now to use as examples for my class and tonight I will attend the launch of a new book of poetry. Hopefully it will be good for demonstrating that poetry writing is accessible and rewarding.

Before teaching each day, I get a taste of being a language learner at the Tibetan Library of Works and Archives. We have two very different class teachers and between them, I feels that I am strengthening my basic Tibetan and ironing out some of the bad habits I have formed. I feel so glad to have this opportunity and know it will lead to better things as I continue to develop my language skills. These are exciting times!

Post script – Saturday night: the poet, Ten Phun, was great and is going to come and talk to my class.

Tibet charity library

balcony view


Teaching Tibetans

In the fascinating town of McLeod Ganj, India, my fifth week will soon be over. The Dalai Lama has been teaching this week so English classes were cancelled for three days.  Unfortunately, as soon as I started teaching I managed to catch a cold and coughed my way through most classes, so the break has been most welcome. Combining three hours a day coordinating volunteers with two hours teaching has been fairly demanding but I am better now and life is settling down again.

Tibetan monks - Sunday activities

Tibetan monks – Sunday is laundry day at the waterfall.

I am slowly getting to know my students. They are nearly all Tibetans although for the last three weeks we were joined by a lovely young Japanese woman who was visiting the area. About half the class are monks from different parts of India and even from Bhutan.  They have come here to study and I think it must be hard for them living in freezing guesthouses with few belongings and very little money.

They are here because they have a strong will to learn and the class is delightful to teach. It is great to have an advanced class and the challenge of guiding them though some of the complexities of English is enjoyable. I have a sneaking suspicion that they are more comfortable when I use more traditional approaches to grammar teaching, but despite that, they they are experiencing a variety of approaches. I still think back to the expression “an eclectic range of approaches” from lectures at the University of Canberra and that’s the way I have been teaching all year.

Over the next few weeks, I want to see them writing more. This skill seems to be a bit neglected by some teachers here. Maybe it is regarded as too hard or unimportant, but I disagree.  English is widely used here and being unable to write in English has the potential at times to leave many Tibetan refugees in a relatively powerless position. It is also the language mostly used in countries that they (remember that we are talking about refugees) often want to emigrate to, such as the UK, Canada, Australia and the USA.

On a side note, the issue of official and national languages of India is a volatile political minefield, but for now, English and Hindi are the (main) official languages of India.  Even though the Constitution states that English is to be phased out in favour of Hindi, Hindi is not universally popular, while English is widely used and sometimes is referred to as the national language. 

McLeod Ganj is a good place to live for a while.  Sometimes it is heart rending to think about the difficult position of the refugees here, always waiting and hoping for world support and a chance to return to their country.  Their spirit is amazing though and their Buddhist traditions help keep them strong.  This is a place no visitor could forget.

Next Stop Thailand

Thanks to WordPress blogger Cornish Kylie, I found out about a great school in Thailand in a small village called Kapong in the province of Phang Nga on Thailand’s west coast. It is where I am going next and I am thrilled about this opportunity to work on my teaching skills in a wonderful environment.

After reading Kylie’s post, I read everything else I could find about the school and contacted them to ask if it was too late to apply for next term which starts in mid-May. After several emails, an application form and two Skype interviews, I have been accepted and am arriving there on 8 May, instead of going to Chiangmai as previously planned.

Yaowawit school is part of a project founded by a German philanthropist following the 2004 tsunami. The Youtube video above tells you a little more about it.

The school is home for over 110 children from socially and financially underprivileged families. They have good quality accommodation for visitors too, which helps support the school and provides opportunities for vocational training. So if anyone wants to come visit that would be great.

Here is the post that made me investigate further and apply.

Meanwhile I will be staying in Bali until the last day of my Thai visa re-entry period.

Sifting through teaching resources

I have been spending a lot of my time getting electronic resources organised for my trip next year. After all, there are only so many favourite books that you can carry on plane trips and there is so much available online.  I am spending heaps of time sifting through it and trying to focus on speaking and listening as those are the skills that  institutions often seem to want from native English speakers.

I would like to share a few of the best free teaching resources that I have found.

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Tiny Texts  This is a great blog created by a Scottish teacher called Annette. She says she got bored with the “Hi. How was your weekend?” scenario at the beginning of every lesson. It’s not for very young learners but I love this blog and if you scroll through the texts there is plenty of variety.

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Tutor Trove  I like this one because Tina has collected some great sources, including some real treasures, and categorised them for us.   Tina is a Canberra friend. Thanks Tina!

Screen Shot 2013-12-07 at 8.07.44 pmFun with Grammar is on Betty Azar’s grammar site. It is a book from the US written by Suzanne Woodward that is full of communicative grammar activities with downloadable chapters.

I recommend all of these. Let me know what you think!

Want to see a great English language learning environment?

This video was made by students in the Australian Migrant English Program here in Canberra. It is an ESL environment (of course) and in the program students learn how to use English in their daily life, in the workplace and for further study.
I have been helping there as a volunteer for the last couple of years while I have been studying and the combination has worked really well for me. As you will see, I have been learning from the best!

I know I will miss them next year.