Teaching English to Seniors


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For each idiom in the movie I create an entry like this; so there are sometimes around 200-300 idioms for each movie.

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Teaching English to Seniors Terry Doyle City College of San Francisco

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My Mom, younger brother, nephew, and I… in front of our family home in Fremont, California

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My Teaching Environment Non-credit immigrant adults from many countries, including Mexico, Central and South America, China, Vietnam, Korea, Taiwan, Russia (and countries in the former Soviet Union) and countries where Arabic is spoken, especially Yemen (in order of number of students from these countries) Beginning ESL (level 1) Video ESL (level 5-8) (8 is the highest level)

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Sources of information My personal teaching experiences over the years An e-mail survey on our ESL department list-serve about teaching seniors. A recorded interview with Marina and Larisa about techniques and strategies that worked for them My experiences as a “senior” student of Chinese and Japanese.

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Success Stories: Larisa Came to San Francisco from Latvia in 1993 at the age of 56 “Couldn’t understand a word for half a year” “Couldn’t speak and couldn’t understand colloquial speech” “Needed to expand my vocabulary and comprehension to communicate” Completed a computerized accounting certificate program at City College and found employment at age 60. Joined my Video ESL class 4 years ago

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Success Stories: Victor Came to San Francisco in the late 1990s Started studying at City College in beginning level one Progressed to level 8, and takes the Video ESL class some semesters Writes beautiful essays and stories

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Success Stories: Igor Came to San Francisco in the late 1990s from Russia Worked as the director of an engineering research institute in Russia Started studying at City College in beginning level one Started taking my Video ESL classes in 2004

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Success Stories: Marina Came to San Francisco from Russia in the late 1990s Worked as a mathematics professor at Moscow University Started studying in level 4 at City College in the late 1990s Started taking my Video ESL classes in 2004

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Teaching Seniors differently from other students Enlarge print in handouts “Everything I do on the computer and handouts is big print (16 or 18 font size) because they have eyesight challenges” Reserving front seats for “seniors” Promote interaction with younger students. “Pair senior students with students who don’t mind the extra effort it takes to work with a slower student.” “I really like the way seniors in my Literacy class interacted with the younger students. It was surprising to see the way some of them bonded and helped each other in the class.”

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Teaching Seniors differently from other students (continued) Different content “Try to do things more relevant to them (for example, more about health concerns, less about jobs)” “We do content that includes as much multi-generational stories as possible.” Repetition, repetition, repetition!  “I try to go over things more slowly.” “ I repeat way more than I do in my other classes.  This includes content, teaching steps, computer programs, etc. (especially in computer skills because they are digital learners, not digital natives)”

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Teaching Seniors differently from other students (continued) Speak louder or turn up the volume. “I make sure that if the student has vision or hearing problems I adjust my teaching to accommodate these.” “I have the volume on the listening exercises up high because of hearing challenges.” “It’s necessary to understand that poor eyesight and hearing impairment is normal for seniors. So materials that are used must take those things into account.”

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The importance of ESL classes to the lives of “senior” students. “Very important. ESL classes provide an important social network and keep people mentally engaged.” “I believe very important.  Many come for the social nature of the class – they tell me they don’t do much at home.  They come even after knee surgery, when they have trouble hearing, when they use a walker.  If they come with all those challenges that means they really want to be here! “

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The importance of ESL classes to the lives of “senior” students (continued) “Also, in terms of the English with computers classes, this is a digital world and they know they are learning vital skills to navigate it.  Some are sponsoring relatives and wanted to learn how to navigate websites so they could understand the process.  Others were so happy to set up email accounts and send emails to family.” “ I think the fact that most of my seniors come very regularly speaks for itself.”

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The importance of ESL classes to the lives of “senior” students (continued) “Very. Some need it to talk to their grandkids. “Very important. It’s good for their brain function.” “It’s a social outlet for some.”

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Do you think seniors can be taught more effectively in classes with only seniors? Many students and teachers said “No”, but consider this teacher’s words: “I have mixed feelings about this.  In my class with 50-50 seniors and younger students, I do like that I have a large number that need specialized help, but then the younger students can feel bored and ready to move on.  On the other hand, many times a younger student is paired up with a senior as their partner – they can also offer support.”

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Larisa’s and Marina’s opinions about useful techniques and strategies Idioms in context Audio Books Idiom Dialogues Discussions with classmates at a similar level of proficiency Movies: watching many times

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Idioms in context. “With a context (a movie), I can remember better, I can better understand how to apply them” “This way, (referring to a Russian newspaper with a list of idioms with explanations), even though it’s interesting, it’s difficult to memorize.” (Larisa)

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An example from my Idioms glossary for Joy Luck Club. NOUN has more to do with NOUN = be related to; be connected to June (narrating): Their connection with each other had more to do with hope... than joy or luck. (page 1 of the movie script) 1. A: Why did she quit school? Was she doing badly in her classes? B: Actually, it had more to do with his financial situation. His boss cut back on his hours, and the tuition was raised, so he couldn’t afford it anymore. 2. A: Doctor Hoang? Why do I feel a pain in my chest? Do I have a heart problem? B: The pain has more to do with your esophagus. You have what is called acid reflux.

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And also phrasal verbs look down on (B3) = look at somebody in a condescending manner; feel that you are better than another person June (narrating): Over there, nobody will look down on her. (page 1 of the movie script) A. He looks down on everybody, so he has few friends. B. When he was younger he was more modest, but after he became successful, he looks down on all his peers.

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Audio Books “I listen several times. Then I read it and find parts I didn’t understand on the tape.” “And it goes directly into the brain.” “No distractions, you know.” “But in my situation, I can’t watch movies at home because I have family members who speak Russian all the time. They didn’t … I can’t concentrate.” (Larisa)

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Idiom Dialogues (example 1) (using idioms from the movie Grace is Gone.) 1.A: Shall we go out for dinner now? B: Oh, I’m so busy. I don’t think I have time for dinner. A: Oh, well, what if I go out and get a Chinese take away and bring it back here. We could eat while we’re working. B: Oh, my gosh. Could you? That would be awesome if you could do that. Thanks a million. Really!!!

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Idiom Dialogues (example 2) A: My friends and I are going bowling today. Would you like to join us? B: No, I’ve got to study for my test in my math class tomorrow. Then I also have to write my essay for my Englis composition class. A: But today is a holiday. You ought to get some fun out of life, too. Don't be a party pooper. B: No, I just can’t. I’ve got too much studying to do. Next time, I’ll join you. A: Nope. Sorry. This is a one time only offer. B: Well, OK, then, why not? What time are you going?

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Movies: watching many times Watching videos and DVDs is very useful. “I know, when you watch a movie again and again, you notice all the details. The text is very good. The author thinks about every sentence. When you go to a movie theater, watch a movie and come out, you don’t remember all these things.” (Larisa)

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Closing thoughts: what senior English learners have in common Isolation from English speaking communities: Senior immigrants live with families, with whom they usually speak only their first language Senior immigrants seldom make English-speaking friends outside their English classes. For seniors, the English class is their only chance to socialize with people in English.

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What Larisa said about “isolation” “Seniors are very isolated in their homes, isolated from other Americans because they don’t work, so they can communicate with family members, close friends, usually their native language. So no communication. Even though they are living in the United States, an English speaking country, there is no communication” (with English speaking people.)

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Closing thoughts: Age vs. educational background Age doesn’t seem to be a predicting factor for success in learning English. Educational background seems more important. (But this is just my opinion based on observation of classes over the years)

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However, Larisa said… “And now I can even read the newspaper. Only last year, I started. Only! I’m here 16 years. I never expected that I couldn’t learn English in 3 – 5 years. But 16 years, and I don’t know English, still. And I’m still afraid to open my mouth. Sometimes I go to the symphony, and some woman comes up to me and tries to make a conversation, and I’m afraid.”

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But Marina replied: “It’s because you are not so brave. … Even if it’s not so grammatical. If you understand what they say, answer in a simple way. It works.”

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Closing thoughts: paucity of materials Most commercially produced textbooks are produced for younger learners - - emphasis on job preparation - - topics are aimed at young learners - - even the print doesn’t consider the needs of senior learners

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Closing thoughts: Age vs. language proficiency level Level more important: “Discussions are good when I can discuss with a person the same language level as I have. Sometimes, I talk with another student who can barely understand, so it’s not interesting?” (Larisa)