Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"I" Before "E" Except After "C"

I've mentioned before that I teach an ESL class. I really enjoy doing it. My students are great. They are eager to learn, they are patient, and they are so grateful. Often, though, when they come to class they are nervous, they are discouraged, and they are afraid to ask questions because they are afraid of not being able to clearly express themselves. The more they come to class, though, the braver they get. Slowly, they become more comfortable trying to speak in English in front of native English speakers. Very slowly.

There are a lot of people out there who would say they should have learned English already, especially since they are living in the U.S. But my students are from varied backgrounds. Many of them (my class is mostly women) came to this country when their husband was transferred here through the company he works for, or when one of them took a new job. They are far away from everything familiar to them and they didn't have time to properly study English before the move took place. They came here and they feel alone. They are nervous about trying to get to know people in this new place because it is hard enough to make friends when you move to a new city, imagine how it feels to move to a new country and have trouble communicating with people, much less just getting to know them. But they don't give up. They keep trying.

Many might ask just what is so hard and scary about it all. To those who would pose such a question, I can assure you, learning English is plenty difficult. We don't follow our own grammar rules most of the time, we speak in slang more often than not, words are hardly spelled like they sound, we have a plethora of idiomatic expressions that, when taken literally, don't make ANY sense, and when you add text speak into the mix (and while I don't teach it - frankly, because I hate it and wish it would stop - you have to consider their struggles with it, because my students aren't computer illiterate and do send emails and use facebook like the rest of us) it is BEYOND complicated.

I often think about all of this when I prepare the weekly lessons. My lessons usually have several parts. I usually begin with either new vocabulary, or a new set of grammar rules. I then usually include the real definition of commonly used idiomatic expressions. After that we will either have conversation practice (and if time allows I usually make them change conversation partners more than once, and try to get them to speak to a student who does not share their native language so that they MUST practice in English and can't slip into their native tongue, which they can do without even really realizing it sometimes), or writing practice. Then the class ends with a short Bible lesson, that also serves as reading practice (I only get an hour and a half, once a week, I have to make every minute count for all it's worth, so I do). During last week's lesson, after our writing exercise, one of my students asked me if I could help her with her spelling. She speaks English very well, but is quiet and reserved because she gets so nervous sometimes, and most of what she had learned before coming to my class, she learned by listening. So, she knows the words to use, but has trouble with written communications because she never learned how to spell the words correctly. So, this week, I set out to do a lesson on spelling.

It seemed simple enough at first. I could teach them the old school rules that most of us learned in elementary school. I intended to start with the ever popular "I before E except after C" which works when you use words like "receive" and "piece", but the exceptions seem endless. That little mnemonic device actually has three parts.

Part One:

"I" Before "E" Except After "C"

Part Two:

Unless It Sounds Like "A"
As in "Sleigh", "Freight", And "Weigh".

Part Three:

Or If The "C" Sounds Like "Ch" or "Sh"
Like in "Ancient" And "Sufficient".

The full rule explains away some exceptions to the simplified rule, but not others, like: Caffeine, Protein, Science, Weird, Seize, etc. After trying to figure out how to explain the rule and the exceptions I was almost ready to throw my hands in the air and give up. I didn't want to make their heads spin, or confuse them so much they got discouraged and gave up trying. I have to thank God for the small miracle that any of us native English speakers ever learned how to read or properly spell anything. It's enough to make you crazy.

So I put that lesson on the back burner for now, so I can have some more time to figure out how to make it clear. Don't worry, I found an appropriate lesson for this week. Of course, I also found a new respect for early elementary school teachers everywhere. God Bless All of You. It is hard enough to teach this stuff to adults, teaching it to a large room of small children with no end to their energy and with short attention spans, and all with endless patience and a constant smile on your face ought to get you nominated for sainthood.

And to all the middle and high school English teachers who have to remind their students things like there is "a rat" in separate, or it is significant that you can "Sign If I Can't", and any other number of endless mnemonics that you use or create to help your students remember things, when they have reached that age when they think they know everything and basically tune you out every chance they get, your next in line on the sainthood list.

And just for the record I don't mean to say that math, science, or history teachers don't also deserve a lot of respect for what they do. But just for the sake of making my point, when 2 and 2 equals 5 sometimes, or when Newton's laws start changing regularly, or when The Revolutionary War changes dates, get back to me and we'll talk about the saint thing.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Love of a Good Dog is a Gift From God

I heard a song recently that I thought was just hilarious. It's called "Like My Dog" by Billy Currington. The whole song is about the way he wants his girlfriend to love him like his dog loves him, which, in essence, is unconditionally. It's funny because it's true and anyone who has ever had a dog knows it.

Dogs love you no matter who you are and what you do. If you beat them (although, I personally believe there is a special place in Hell for anyone who abuses their dog) and they will still love you. You can be gone all day, or just for five minutes, and when you come home they act like getting to see you is the best thing EVER. A dog just loves you for exactly who you are. The more I thought about this, the more I thought about how this is a great example of how God love us. It is pretty much the closest thing on Earth that I can think of right now. You may know of better examples, but I like this one.

My dog is always excited to spend time with me. He would never leave my side and spend every waking moment with me if I would let him. All I have to do is say his name and I have his full and complete attention. When I ask him questions (which, granted, consist mostly of whether or not he wants a treat, his dinner, to go outside, or to go to bed), he doesn't speak to me in plain English, but I never have to doubt his answer, He is very clear. All I have to do is pay attention. Even when I am tired and have had a rough day, he is content just to sit at my feet and be with me. When I do have energy, he acts like going for a walk with me, or even just playing tug o' war with is toy is the most important and exciting part of his day.

A dog doesn't care what you have done in the past. They don't care what mistakes you have made. They don't care what kind of house or apartment you live in. They just love you. They don't care if you are rich or poor. Just love them back, that's all they want from you. I see God's love like that. It doesn't matter who you have been, or what you have done. It doesn't matter how long you have been angry, bitter, sad, lonely, or any plethora of emotions that have been holding you back. Your life might be plagued by mistakes, bad choices, struggles of every kind, it doesn't matter. The Lord already loves you and cares about you, all you have to do is accept Him as your Savior and allow Him into your heart to know His love.

He will be happy to have you accept Him as your Heavenly Father. He will desire that you spend every waking moment together. All you have to do is say His name and you will have His full and complete attention. When you are tired and weary, He actually wants you to give your cares to Him. And when you ask Him questions, even if He doesn't answer you in plain English, He will speak to your heart and all you have to do is learn to listen (which, yes, can be hard, but so very worth it). God's love is more amazing than words could ever really express.

Now does being a Christian mean that you will never make another mistake, never experience another sorrow, and never feel anything but ecstatic ever again? No. Let me be very clear about that. But that is really the beauty of it all. Give it your best, try, love the Lord with all your heart. He will forgive your mistakes. When you are full of sorrow, you have the comfort of knowing He will NEVER abandon you, but will remain by your side. You will never be truly alone. He will be with you always.

I once had the privilege of seeing Switchfoot in concert. Don't judge my taste in music, I still dig them. And Jon Foreman, the lead singer, said something that I still remember and love. He said, "Thrift stores are the closest thing we have to redemption. Everything gets a second chance." I loved it because it painted a great picture. It doesn't matter if one person no longer sees the beauty in you, God does and has already paid the price for you. I think (to reverse roles in the main analogy of this post) to rescue a dog is like that. A dog that someone else decided not to love anymore, for whatever reason, you take home and love. We are like that. The rest of the world make have walked out on us, but God will welcome us with open arms. He wants us to come home to Him. He wants us to love Him. He wants us to feel His love for us.

Maybe this analogy doesn't make sense to you. Maybe I didn't express myself as well as I had hoped. So let me just end by saying that God loves you. He wants you to come home to Him. He wants you to accept Him as your Lord and Savior. He does not promise that the road ahead will be easy. But He will walk each step with you, if you will let Him.