Sunday, January 12, 2014

Teaching and Learning Together

By: Michelle Markowitz
ENP Intern

When I signed up to help tutor Ethiopian-Israeli high school students in English, I didn’t realize that I was going to learn a few things about the English language too!  On my first day as a volunteer in one of ENP’s academic assistance after-school programs, the teacher taught a lesson on the Present Perfect tense.  Present Perfect—has anyone, ever, heard of this?  I was sure I used it all of the time, but I had no idea what it was!  And so, I listened closely to the lesson, alongside the 4 high school girls who I was there to tutor, and learned how to create sentences and questions using the present perfect sense—for example, “Have you eaten today?  Yes, I have eaten a sandwich.”

Even though I have been in ulpan for almost 4 months now, it only took me five minutes to decide that English is much harder to learn than Hebrew.  There are no rules in English, the way there are in Hebrew.  And Hebrew only has three tenses, where English has things like the Present Perfect. 
After the teacher taught the lesson, I worked with two of the girls to complete a supplementary worksheet to review the use of the Present Perfect.  I was asked to only speak to the students in English—and they understood every word I said!   The girls I worked with were extremely intelligent and articulate, even in a language that is not their mother tongue.  They completed the worksheet with ease, and helped translate words for each other that they did not understand.  It was lucky that I was able to explain the English words that they didn’t understand in Hebrew. 

As a high school student who was overextended, with constant after-school commitments, I know firsthand how hard it is to concentrate and remain energetic after a full day of school.  But the four girls who I had the joy to meet last week, and who I am really excited to continue working with, were on the ball!  They were energetic, smart, engaged, and they really wanted to learn.  They were excited to be part of this program, and to receive supplementary work which will further challenge them and expand their knowledge regarding reading, writing, and speaking English.  I’m looking forward to establishing meaningful and lasting relationships with these girls, as I aid them in the development of their English speaking skills each week.