Since the last post on this blog, I have given up on taking Thai classes at UH (I did pass Thai 101 in the fall thanks to a cram session the night before the final exam), but don’t want to give up on learning Thai. I arrived in Thailand yesterday and have already settled into my dorm/hotel room at the university where my grad students will be teaching English. I do have to get to work planning the two seminar classes they will also be taking with me, but first, I wanted to get to work on my own language learning.
We took the song taew (pickup truck-base fixed route taxi) out to Big C, the Walmart of Thailand, for supplies. I bought a pile of children’s books, including an alphabet book (with space to practice writing letters), a numbers book (with space to practice making the shapes of Thai numbers), a book about Thailand, a children’s English-Thai dictionary with the words in categorical lists (including a list of shellfish and one of insects), and a bunch of bilingual English-Thai story books.
My haul from the children’s books section of Big C today.
I wonder what kind of shellfish a hippopotamus is.
Since the rainy season has already started with a vengeance, I anticipate there will be a lot of time where I am confined indoors and need to entertain myself. Here’s my language-learning plan:
- Review the consonants that I already know and then make sure I know the sounds made by the ones I don’t know.
- Make sure I remember all the vowels.
- Start reading! The bilingual books should be useful because I can also work on deducing grammar and word order by comparing the sentences in Thai and English. One of my books is called “Fruity Sports Day” and tells the story of a group of anthropomorphic fruits (grouped by color) who like to wrestle and take breaks to eat vegetables.
There’s something just a bit disconcerting about this group of fruits getting excited about eating vegetables. Does this count as cannibalism?
- The book about Thailand does not have any English connected to it, so I imagine it will be a bit harder. I will be very happy if I can read it by the end of this summer.
An added reward will be getting to read about elephants, which are awesome.
- And as an added bonus, I also bought a book that will teach me how to draw tropical fruits as well as how to write their names. This should come in handy when I go to the fruit stand and want to order some chopped fruit without resorting to pointing.
I must confess that I will probably do better at learning to read Thai than I will at drawing bananas.
I’ll try to post some updates on my progress. In the meantime, now I need to start thinking about what I will teach my grad students next week.
I also bought some cute penguin office supplies (plastic folders and a notebook) in which to keep my research and teaching materials.
I’m taking Thai 101 this semester and am keeping a private language learner diary. What I’ve realized through writing is that the class is essentially following a grammar-translation syllabus. We are learning random words and using them almost entirely to complete grammar exercises (in the half of the class that is meant for oral communication) and written translations (in the half of the class that is meant for literacy). I know nothing about Thai. That’s why I’m taking the class. But I do know quite a lot about language teaching, and I know this approach is not helping most of us progress towards a goal of being able to communicate in the language.
Last week I got so frustrated with how the class was going that I started brainstorming simple ways that the teachers could make the class more interactive and more productive for us as learners. I looked through several language teacher resource books I have collected over the years and found even more great activities. I wrote up a list and sent it to my teachers. One teacher wrote back and essentially told me that we would do these things next semester because this semester she can’t allow us to talk with each other for fear of making a mistake. (I intend to write more–a lot more–about this later. Stay tuned!)
Since my Thai teachers weren’t receptive to my ideas, I hope someone out there in the interwebs will appreciate this list.
For reading and writing
- Manipulatives. Give us cards with the words that we have covered so far (maybe color coded by part of speech–verb, noun, question word, etc.) and let us play around making sentences. We can start by making simple sentences (2-3 cards) and then add to it.
- Writing on the board. One student writes a couple words on the board in a sentence. then another student comes up and adds a word to the sentence where it fits. We keep building the sentence (even if it is silly) until we can’t add more.
- Which doesn’t belong? Give us four cards, where three of the words are related (for example, uncle, grandchild, child) and the fourth is not (maybe a food word). We have to read all the words and choose the one that doesn’t fit.
- Spelling race. Two groups of students each get a complete set of letter cards. The teacher calls out a word and the teams race to see who can find the right letters to make the word faster. Or the teams could write on the board.
- Strip story. The teacher prepares a story of 5-10 sentences and prints the story so that each sentence is on a separate line. Cut the strips apart and mix them up. Students have to read the sentences and put them in the appropriate order. This would be good to do with partners so the partners can discuss what the best order is.
For oral language
- Review families of vocabulary words. As a class, we can brainstorm (and write on the board) all the words we have learned for a group of related words, such as office supplies, stores, places, etc. Then we can practice asking and answering questions specifically about a single family of words.
- Dialogues substitution drills. For a single structure, we can practice a short conversation (two students asking and answering questions). Then we can substitute just a few words and practice the same dialogue with the new words. Let pairs of students practice together instead of going around the room so we get more chance to practice speaking.
- Draw a picture. For listening comprehension, the teacher reads a short description or dialog and the students draw a picture of what they hear. Or one student could describe a person or a scene to a partner who draws what he hears.
- Role play. Have pairs of students play roles (store clerk and customer, waiter and diner) and make up dialogues to act out.
- Opinion polls. Each student asks a different question of all the other students (for ex, What food do you like? Where do you come from? Do you go to the beach often?) and keeps a record of their answers. Then the person who asked the question gives a report to the class (2 students like Chinese food. 4 like Mexican food.).
- Guessing game. The teacher has a picture of an object or activity that she keeps hidden from the class. Students ask questions (What color is it? Do you eat it?); the teacher answers. Students then try to guess what the object is with yes/no questions. Then a student can choose a picture and others can ask him/her questions.
- Same or different? Students sit facing a partner. Each person gets a picture card with a scene (a picture of students sitting in the classroom; people eating at a restaurant–pictures that have a lot of detail). Some pairs have the same picture and other pairs have different pictures. The students have to ask each other yes/no questions about their pictures to figure out if they have the same picture.
- Planning a weekend trip. Students work in pairs or groups of three to make plans for a vacation for the whole class. They need to choose where they will go and what they will do there. Then each group presents their ideas to the class and tries to convince the other students to choose their plan. The class can vote on the best proposal.
- Question and answer cards. The teacher prepares a set of cards with questions and another set of cards with answers to those questions (could have more than one answer to the same question). Students get one question card and at least one answer card. They have to ask their classmates their question and try to find who has the answer to their card, while also answering questions from other students.
- Telephone messages. Give each student a telephone number. Students act out calling another student and leaving a voice message with the phone number to call back.
In case you’re wondering what these great books are, here’s a bibliography:
Adams, N., & Childs, L. (1981). Word sponges: Enriching ways to soak up spare moments. Palo Alto, CA: Dale Seymour Publications.
Klippel, F. (1984). Keep talking: Communicative fluency activities for language teaching. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Ur, P. (1988). Grammar practice activities: A practical guide for teachers. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Ur, P., & Wright, A. (1992). Five-minute activities: A resource book of short activities. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.