Thursday, September 13, 2007

Religious freedom and useful turtles.

A title like that can only mean I've been tutoring. =)

I was going over the months of the year with my student, we'd gone through them a couple of times and when we got back around to September I reminded her that it was "this month". She stopped me and said "Africa - tomorrow - no eat." I'm not the most culturally aware person but I know that Ramadan is a fasting holiday, so I guessed that she was talking about Ramadan. So I said "For Ramadan you don't eat in the day time, you eat at night" and she corrected me "No. Tomorrow - no eat" and asked "America - no eat tomorrow?"

Hmm... so how to explain religious diversity & our first amendment right to freedom of religion without using the words: religion, Jewish, Christian, church, temple, freedom, or constitution? So I told her, "In America, tomorrow - no eating is good, eating is good. Some people eat - good, some people don't eat - good." I'm not sure if she understood me. I'm not sure what exposure she's had to people of other religions. But I taught her the word "fast" (later regretting that I'd taught her the vastly more obscure definition of the word before teaching her the more common definition!), and the word "pray." And she confirmed that yes, that's what she'd be doing tomorrow. So that was good.

Then later, we were going over some alphabet picture cards (A- apple, B-ball). For each item, I'd ask her if she liked the item or not, hoping to get an idea of what she might like to learn about next. When we got to T - turtle, she explained that in her country "sit on... have baby .... go to sleep... " and then she mimed something and I tried to figure out what she was saying "You sit on the turtle?"
"No, baby"
"You saw a baby turtle?"
"No, drink water... go to bed... baby... turtle"
And I go back and forth with her for a while, trying to understand what on earth she's talking about. Do they eat the baby turtle? "No" Do you drink the water that the turtle's been swimming in? "No." I've got no clue. She patiently tries to explain it to me "Have baby... drink water... go to bed" and she mimes something I'm just not getting. I start thinking maybe this is a way for pregnant women to induce labor. The kids are laughing at me. I asked my student why the kids were laughing at me - and she starts laughing at me! Poor American girl doesn't know what to do with a turtle. So we moved on.

When I got home, I did a little Google-fu, searching for the words she'd been saying. It turns out that turtles are used as a cure for bed wetting! If your kid wets the bed (drink water - go to bed), you sit him or her on a turtle and that stops it. Well, of course that's what you use turtles for! How could I miss that? =P

This, of course, means that I will have the honor and privilege of teaching her bathroom vocabulary next week. Wish me luck!

In other news, on Tuesday I went to the information session for the Oxford Seminars TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate course. The instructor had done the Peace Corps for two years in China and then went on to teach in Taiwan, so she had a lot of first hand experience. But she'd also had a masters in teaching before she left... so that didn't really sell me on the program they are offering. Tonight I'm going to the information session for the Cambridge CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults) course. It's a lot more expensive than the Oxford program, but also more widely respected. So far I have not been impressed with the company, but I'm giving them a second chance tonight. I've got a lot of thinking & deciding to do.


Michael5000 said...

Aw man, what a great intercultural communication story. You're such a rocking ESL Tutor! Someone truly brilliant must have recruited you into ESL work!

Michael5000 said...

Oh, and: that was a real Googling coup!

Rebel said...

[quote]Someone truly brilliant must have recruited you into ESL work![/quote]

LOL! Naturally =P

Bezzie said...

Well they do have those weird yoga birthing balls so I could see where a turtle might come in handy.

Magatha said...

I wonder how that turtle home remedy got started? It's very funny, how would you ever think of something so very idiosyncratic as that?

I love your tales of ESL teaching.

Eryn said...

I love it!

Batty said...

Beliefs, religious or otherwise, are difficult to explain. You did an amazing job.

Karin said...

Excellent story! "Of course that's what you use turtles for!"

I took the Cambridge CELTA course and found it to be helpful. I already had a Bachelor's in Education and several years teaching experience and still found it to be practical, instructive and knee-deep in teaching time from the get go. It was pleasingly challenging for me and seemed overwhelming for my counterparts who had never taught or tutored a day in their lives before.

You sound like you have a very good ESL Teacher head on your shoulders, so you should do juuuuusssst fine.

Everyone learned a lot and I found it was worth the time and money.