Saturday, April 16, 2016


ESL First Days

Any teach who has ever graced a classroom will tell you that the days before school returns are filled with a strange mix of frantic planning, organising, optimism and a heady dose of fear (who knows what the new batch of students will be like?). And this time around, I could add a dash of homesickness, a large heaping of curiosity and some self-doubt into the mix. The last time I stood in front of a whiteboard was 5 years ago in a secondary-school classroom in a public school in a small Australian town. Teaching 15 year olds about the gender discourses present in Shakespearean text seems a world away from where I currently sit looking through the pages of an ESL curriculum and sharpening pencils in the shadows of the Chilcotin Mountains.

Like a number of my fellow Aussies, I am what you might consider language deficient. I can throw around a sentence or two and have been known to speak at length about a topic that interests me (much to the boredom of some people I’m sure). But what I mean by deficient is the fact that the only language I know how to speak is English. A perk of being born into an English speaking world, and at the same time a drawback of spending my life on a large island far removed from most other continents. So when I first began to contemplate how my lessons would look with students who are proficient in their native tongue (Italian and Swish German it turned out) but absolute beginners in English, I was a little nervous to say the least. Like so many times before I scoured through resources online, I looked over past lessons and the piles of plans left by my predecessor and tried to get myself as ready as I could for the coming challenge.

I am not going to pretend the past few weeks have gone seamlessly, nor can I say that I have transformed anyone into an English expert (yet!). There have been a few bumps in the road; watching a student cut down a small tree when I said “Yes, one” (meaning one branch) and he heard “Yes, one” (meaning one whole tree) could definitely be considered a bump. But there have also been moments of sheer enjoyment like explaining to a student that the often hear lyrics of Western pop music “cheese my baby” are actually “she’s my baby” and watching his face light up with understanding as we all laughed at the misinterpreted lyric (no wonder he thinks English is a strange language). All it takes is one glint of recognition, one proud smile, one neatly written sentence or one “Oh now I get it!” and you know that the hard work and miscommunications are definitely worth it.

I have been reminded again and again that the joy in teaching comes sometimes when you least expect it, sometimes not for years and sometimes it looks nothing like you first thought it would. But amongst all the adverbs, punctuation and endless rules, what I really hope for my students is that they find the capacity to connect with the people around them, to feel confident in their ability to share their ideas and feelings and thoughts and to enjoy their wild adventure in the Canadian mountains. So as I sit with my morning tea, thinking about the approaching lesson and wondering what curve balls might come my way today, I am also really looking forward to unlocking a few more puzzle pieces with my class and at the same time, quietly giving thanks for the invention of Google Translator.


About Unknown

We are a licensed guide outfitter and we conduct guided wilderness adventures throughout our 5,000 square km operating area. This guide area has been operational since 1880, making it the oldest in British Columbia. More about us HERE.

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