Teaching English


In addition to our regular duties at CIATEQ, Julie and I have started teaching English to some of our colleagues.  We are not trained to teach the language to beginners, so we have set up informal conversation classes for those who already have some proficiency in English.  We worked through CIATEQ´s Human Resource department to get the classes started, but since they have a rule that employees are not allowed to take off during the normal work day for other activities, our classes meet from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm.  We´ve started with five classes per week (three for me and two for Julie) with about four or five students in each group, but we may consolidate that into four sessions since not all those who signed up originally have continued attending, given work constraints.

Our colleagues are mostly engineers, but there are also graduate students doing research here.  Their English proficiency varies.  Some have lived or traveled in the U.S. or Canada and others have learned their English in school.   Many attend international conferences as part of their work and have to prepare and present technical papers in English.  We use language training materials that we either find online at English as a Second Language (ESL) websites or the BBC´s excellent Learning English website.  We also have supporting technical information about teaching English from the Peace Corps library. 

Each week we pick a different topic to discuss at the beginning of class.  Previous topics have included: 

  • Are multinational corporations a help or a hindrance to local communities?
  • Is bullfighting a cultural heritage to be preserved or a cruel sport to be banned?
  • How can we be more environmentally-conscious in recognition of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day (April 22nd)?
  • Are men and women treated equally in the workplace?

Already we´ve had some interesting discussions and the students seem very eager to discuss their views.  For example, they generally don´t like the idea of bullfighting because of the killing of the bull and potential injury to the horses (one women commented that she cheers for the bull, not the matador); however, they also understand its cultural significance.  While many students were unenthusiastic about the sport, only a few favored its outright abolition, as some animal rights advocates in Spain have proposed.  In Mexico, many smaller towns have annual fairs where bullfighting plays an important role in the overall event.  There are two bullfighting rings in the Querétaro area where there are spectacles mostly in May and then again in December, but we haven´t made any plans yet to attend.

During these conversations or readings in class, we sometimes notice problems with particular grammar points.  In these cases, we look for suitable material online to explain the issue in class.  For example, one issue we´ve noticed is the question of when to pronounce the “ed” in past participles because are very few silent vowels in Spanish and many speakers say the ¨ed¨ in all cases.  Verbs like waited, started, stranded, and wanted, all pronounce the “ed” as a separate syllable.  However, verbs like stopped, opened, closed, and walked, pronounce the “ed” as either a “t” or “d” sound, not as a separate syllable.  Who had thought about that before?  Not us! 

Teaching English has caused us to think more carefully about why we say things the way we do.  When we go through grammar exercises in class, we try to have clear reasons for the correct answers, instead of just saying that it sounds right to us.  That doesn´t help non-native speakers understand the correct answer.  These classes already have been very rewarding to us, but require a bit of preparation time to assemble enough materials (grammar exercises, newspaper articles, and discussion topics) to fill the hour class.  The classes have given us the opportunity to get to know some of the CIATEQ employees a little better and to help, in a small way, these engineers improve their English language skills. 

Some of you reading this blog entry may know some useful websites or instructional books for teaching English as a second language.  If so, we´d love to know about them!


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2 Responses to “Teaching English”

  1. Alan Says:

    Interesting work . . . I know when my cousin was studying French (her third language) should would provide these technical descriptions on how French was different than Spanish was different from English . . . and I had no clue of why English was the way it was.

    On your point on verb pronunciation (e.g., stopped pronounced as ‘stopt’). I’m not sure i agree that its pronounced that way.

    And since you’re on grammar . . . consider how you might improve these sentences:
    “. . . for those already with some proficiency in English.”
    “. . . require a bit of preparation time to assembly enough materials . . . ”

    I applied for IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (where we believe multinationals help local communities). Hope to hear next month. 🙂

    Glad you’re enjoying urselves.

  2. Catherine Brousseau Says:

    Your teaching English is a sure signal that you are getting comfortable with Spanish (though I know it is not necessary). I am amazed at how busy you and Julie seem to be, and having a good time as well. Your journal entries are a real treat. Thanks…and be well. Catherine

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