November 29, 2008
At this point I’m mostly teaching lower level students. I just started a beginner’s class, so they’re learning basic stuff like, “Hello, I’m ___. What’s your name?” Actually, they already seemed to know that, but we still spent about an hour on it, trying to get the pronunciation right and adding in some phrases like “Nice to meet you. How are you? I’m fine, ok, not so good.” Needless to say, instructing them to do anything is tough, but miming and demonstrating get the point across eventually. (How do you check instructions when all they know is ‘What’s your name’?) In order to make something like the alphabet and greetings more interesting, we’ve been trained to play games with our students, and if possible, get them moving (which helps with the boredom of repeating the same phrase over and over.) I’ve asked them to race each other, jump, mingle as though at a party, play hangman, telephone, and tic tac toe, and act out a story. They always comply, but sometimes reluctantly – what does this crazy American want us to do? Why do we have to leave our seats? She wants us to mime? I played “I spy” with one class- I said, “I spy something white.” One student replied, “You!” Um…correct. So, sometimes the kids classes and the adult classes blur. Most of them seem to enjoy the infantilizing, with only a few exceptions. You have to make it clear that although it’s a game, they really are practicing English. If any of you know any cool kids games I’ve forgotten, please tell me. You can convert almost anything into an English teaching activity (or experiment).
Despite my countless efforts to entertain them, or perhaps because of them, I’ve gotten some tips from my students. One was “you should teach vocabulary better.” Well, I’ll give it a shot. She may have meant that I should teach more vocabulary, but it’s possible that she’s asking me to improve my teaching skills in general. It was too difficult to get her to elaborate. Another student put her tips on paper, some of which I didn’t understand and others that may be beyond the level of her class (elementary). She wanted us to have class discussions. This is possible and fun with higher levels – you throw out a topic and get them to chat about it. When they can’t think of a word, you help them out and you correct their grammar and pronunciation. Common topics include relationships, customs, personal information (not too personal obviously), and taboos. One teacher had an AIDS lesson – in it she discovered that a student believed that an effective way of avoiding HIV infection is to wait at least 10 minutes after sex before taking a shower. Immediate shower = AIDS. What about no shower? I don’t know.
The only time sex has come up in one of my classes was while doing a reading about Romeo and Juliet. The textbook asked students to think of the meaning of certain highlighted phrases. One phrase was “spent the night together.” I didn’t notice until we were going over the answers as a class, and I got all awkward and blushed when we got to that one. I hesitantly asked what it meant, and one student replied “to have sec.” Sure does, moving along…I failed to correct her pronunciation. I was the prudie this time (more on prudery later). The kiddos are still little terrors, but terrors I can kind of handle. Just let the shrieking slide as long as they sort of participate most of the time. They don’t seem to have the usual childlike desire to gain my approval (some do, and I love them.)
I had dinner with a student (a girl, you pervs) – not exactly a no no, but also not something you want to make a habit of. I already spend a lot of time thinking about and helping out my students, so I want my free time to be mine. There’s the worry that it’ll become an impromptu tutoring session. There are always exceptions, though. At some point she asked how much I pay for rent, and I told her about $380/month. She thought this a fortune because she shares a 5 floor house and pays about $100/month. I could pay less if I shared, but I’m not good at sharing – never absorbed those Kindergarten lessons. Plus, the price is inflated due to the aforementioned foreigner tax and my inability to haggle. She told me that she works in advertising and explained that she works a lot. Later on she asked how much money I make in a month. I haven’t gotten a month’s pay check yet, but I think after taxes, it works out to be around $1000-1200/month. Not much by American standards. I then proceeded to explain how although people here think of us teachers as wealthy, we’re really not…we’re definitely comfortable living in Vietnam, but not really rich. She then told me she makes only $400/month. Wow. I’m an asshole. A rich asshole! Well, if you’re going to be an asshole, may as well be a rich one, right?
December 2, 2008
In a few days it’ll be my Vietnamese 3 month anniversary. In some ways, it feels like it’s been much longer and in other ways it seems like I’m still a newbie tourist. I feel pretty well adjusted, but also still quite naive. I just had a hard time ordering coffee for God’s sake, something I thought I’d mastered. But does this make sense to you: I ordered a ca phe sua, which gets me a coffee with sweetened milk. Good stuff usually. The waiter wanted more information, so I added “da” which means with ice. He then pointed to the menu. It had ca phe listed 8 times, each with a number next to it and with varying prices. But that was it. “Ca phe 1, ca phe 2, ca phe 3…” He wanted me to choose a number. Not knowing what the numbers could mean, I refused to choose for a while and kept repeating “ca phe sua da”. It didn’t work. We ended up agreeing on bon (or 4). I got what I expected.
So, I was hoping that in my stay in Vietnam, I would passively absorb the language. I would effortlessly pick it up through my fumblings with students, waiters, and pho ladies. Nope. To my dismay, it doesn’t work that way. I only know a few phrases and numbers. I might actually have to make an effort. Dern. Given that I’m not one for self-discipline (my conversational Vietnamese cds remained untouched until a week ago), I accepted an invitation to join Jouke and another teacher for some Vietnamese lessons. We’ve only had two lessons so far, and it’s been fun. Fun and difficult. I learned that I’ve been ordering a chamberpot for breakfast every morning, and I’ve told my students that I ride a goat to class. Hence the laughter. They always find my roll calling hysterical on the first class day. I assumed it was because I was butchering their names with my poor pronunciation. Well, I am, but my mistakes translate into actual words. Who knows what I’ve been calling these people. For example, Ngoc can either mean pearl or stupid depending on how you say it. They don’t seem to get offended, although I’ve surely called a number of my students stupid.
Here are some other meanings of some Vietnamese names: flower, the sun, fall, perfumed grass, and a good child. I know my name is purported to mean princess, but no one calls me princess, although they absolutely should. I’m not sure if this is how it works in Vietnam, or do they simply call each other sun, flower, good child, etc? Hi perfumed grass, how’s it going? Not really too strange, but different. Another random difference – I asked a student how old he is. He looked a little conflicted about how to answer the relatively simple question, and not because he didn’t understand the question. The class then explained that in Vietnam, they start counting age from conception – that is, birthday plus 9 months or so. Ok, how old are you in Western years? Vietnamese years? Pro-lifers back home would find this logical and appropriate I’m sure. It just seems complicated to me. What if you were premature? It also forces you to think about your parents having sex, which most people understand as a factual historical event, but hate to acknowledge. At least in my culture.
And speaking of prudery, I’ve already talked about my own, but I’ll move along to others. I’m moving into a house/apartment complex with Jouke in a few weeks. The family owners live in the house and there are 3 floors rented out to foreigners. We each have our own bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen, so it’s like any other apartment complex, with the exception of having to walk through the family’s living space to get to your room. So, the family’s pretty familiar with the tenants’ comings and goings. When I was discussing with the landlady through a translator my impending stay, she said that it’s ok if we have visitors, but please, no overnight guests. Jouke and I assumed it was our landlady’s er…conservative values. Jouke protested saying that we pay a lot of money and should be able to have whomever we want in our rooms. The plus side to renting to foreigners is that you can charge us prices no sane local person would pay. The cost of this, though, is that you have to deal with our late morning and night hours, our unkempt appearance (especially in the morning), our slutty tendencies, and our general lack of morals. We’re Godless slutmobiles. And we have the notion that we should generally be left to live as we please so long as we’re not getting into too much trouble. We didn’t give that whole speech to the landlady, but she told us that the police give her trouble if there are overnight guests unaccounted for. Neighbors talk and presumably record our every move. Mitchell’s landlady forbade him from bed buddies as well, saying it’s illegal. We ended up compromising by agreeing that if we have a slumber party, we need to give the landlady the guests’ information beforehand. Not too practical (see, in our culture, the courting phase can be quite short), but whatever. I’m unclear about what the real deal is. Mitchell said that it’s illegal to even rent a hotel room together if you’re an unmarried couple. Hence the plethora of hotels that rent by the hour and don’t ask questions. This may be the one and only case where the gays have an advantage over us straights – they can pretend to be just friends.
Maybe I’ll pose the question to my higher level students. Should extra-marital sex be illegal? Write a summary and hand it in next week. Ew- then I’d have to talk about sex, which they will surely pronounce sec, leading us to chant the word over and over until they get it right. My colleagues may wonder why they can hear “Sex!” being shouted repeatedly in my room. I can do a gap fill activity using the classic Salt n’ Pepa song “Let’s talk about sex.” I’ll have the most popular class.
Read Full Post »