Hope for Humanity

A few days ago, a new student arrived in my EAL class in Peru ( EAL- English as an additional language.). The new student speaks Korean and Japanese, and has studied a bit of English; all of the classes, though, are taught in English, except the Spanish class.  So, picture yourself in that situation: You are new to an English speaking school in a Spanish speaking country; you are about 12 years old; you speak two languages that have little to do with where you are now.  Difficult, to say the least.

To begin the class, I asked students to introduce themselves to the new student.  My students are very welcoming so this was easy for them.  They clearly tried to make connections with him as they mentioned music, games, and other cultural ideas that he might be interested in.  Then, one of the newer students introduced himself saying something like, “I am also new here, not quite as new as you, and I found it easy to make friends here.  I hope you also are able to make friends.  I will be your friend.”

I will be your friend.

Imagine the world if this is how everyone received new people, immigrants, refugees, the stranger, the unknown.  It could happen.

I will be your friend.  This gives me hope.

Improvisational ESL

Recently, I was reminded of the power of theater in education.  Thinking about students who are new to English… but not completely new… I have been looking at improvisational theater exercises to get students talking.  This is not a strategy to teach new vocabulary but to build fluency, spontaneity and confidence while speaking.

Imagine having two students create a skit where someone is lost and the other has to help the first person find his or her way.  Imagine adding a third person who says that the first person is wrong.  What would you say?  What would you do?  Can they ask for an additional person to assist?

Make it a little bit harder and open ended: Imagine students creating a skit based off of three nouns- pencil, stove, rake.  Throw in a verb and shake things up a bit.

There are a million scenes that you can have students improvise based on anything that students need to practice.  Try it; see what happens!


I almost had a new student last week. Almost.

Here in Lima I am beginning my own business as a teacher of English. I would like it to expand to reading and writing instruction as well but what Peruvians want most is to be able to hold conversations in English and pass standardized tests such as the TOEFL. OK, I can help with that.

With business cards printed I began to advertise in local shops by pinning my card to bulletin boards and talking to some of the shop owners. I don’t want to advertise too far away because traffic here is a bear!

Later that afternoon the phone rang. An unknown number on my new cell phone! It must be a new student; wow, that was quick! I just put the cards up.

“Where are you? I am here in Calle 10. Can I come over now?” the voice on the other end asked rather urgently.

Because I am on 10th street too I answered, “Sure, let’s meet by the flag poles out front in the park.”

A few minutes later we were sitting on the park bench out front discussing English. “Tell me a bit about yourself,” I began.

“I am originally from the Dominican Republic and I am here in Peru with a construction company. The bosses at the company want me to learn English; it is the only way I can rise to the next level. Right now I know hardly any English so I want to start as soon as possible.”

We discussed how best to get started and decided on one hour a day every day Monday through Friday. Then he pulled out his wallet. He wanted to pay me in advance for next week’s classes. I felt uncomfortable with that. When I lived in Chile and began my English teaching business there I found that there were students with whom I could not work so I wanted to have at least one class before any money exchanged hands. As I listened, I also wondered if he were really a Dominican. I lived with a Dominican for three years and this voice sounded different.

The Dominican was rather insistent. He opened his wallet showing two hundred dollar bills saying, “If I pay now I will be more committed to the work of learning English.”

“Sir, I won’t take any money today and I don’t have change.” I was more insistent. “Let’s meet on Monday and see how things go.”

“OK.” We shook hands and he continued on his way.

On Monday evening I showed up at the appointed time and place. No one was there. I called the number he had given me. Wrong number. I almost had a new student. Almost.

What happened, you ask? After many conversations with family and friends here in Lima we came to the conclusion that the Dominican wanted to pay me with counterfeit bills and receive the change in real Peruvian money. I was on the wrong end of a scam. Almost.