Monday, May 22, 2006

Home Alone

Well, the wife's in Toronto on business and isn't coming back until tomorrow night. I've been on my own since Friday. On Saturday, I drove the family (abuelitos y cunado) out to Cota, a suburb of Bogota. We had a really nice lunch and it was a beautiful day. At night, I went with my cunado to a party at one of his friend's house. It's traditional in Colombia to play Parchisi for money at parties. Very odd. I haven't played in a VERY long time and barely remembered the rules. But when the stakes are less than $1, well, it's not exactly a big gamble. Beer, aguardiente, and parchisi means a good time. I went home early to wait for my nightly phone call.

Yesterday I did absolutely nothing. It was awesome. Well, to be fair, I did my homework, but that was it. Never left the house; never got dressed.

I started working at an English Institute this morning. I've been teaching private classes, but this was the first time at an actual institute with a designed curriculum. I'm not convinced I'm going to like it. For starters, it's usual to teach between 6am-10am. I did 6-8am this morning. If there's one thing I hate, it's waking up at 5am. It's too damn early to think, not to mention drink coffee or function properly.

At any rate, the major problem is that the course and curriculum are really stupid. I fear that the people who are taking the class are not getting their money's worth. To properly explain this, I have to describe the structure of the course.

Each student has their own course book. The book is divided into lessons (40, I think). Each lesson contains a small vocabulary section, some reading, and some grammar (and exercises). This isn't all bad in itself. Sure, it has a healthy dose of stupidity. For example, today's vocabulary was "Extreme Sports", which I'm sure will be oh so useful. At any rate, the big problem isn't really the course material.

No, the real problem is that each "session" lasts for 1 hour and then the teacher moves to another group. Students do two sessions at a time, for the most part. The company thinks this is their brilliant idea that will put them over the top versus the competition (in addition to paying their teachers scraps from Longshank's table). Instead, it smacks of colossal idiocy. The point is, one hour doesn't allow for continuity or, more importantly, deviation from the script. We, as teachers, have 10 minutes or less of that hour to spend in conversation - which, frankly, is the most important thing for beginning to intermediate students.

Take this morning, for example. Just as I was getting a feel for the two students in my group, it was necessary to switch to a different room and start anew with a different student. To me, that is stupid. These students want intensive instruction in English but the curriculum is definitely not intensive and the structure of the course is, frankly, designed for disruption, not continuity. Instead of spending significant time practicing with topical English (day to day discussion), we're spending time learning the various names for watersports and crimes (the 2nd lesson was the different types of theft). It's amazing that this company has been around for 10 years.

Of course, all of this is in stark contrast to my language institute, High Technology in Learning. Their system is quite clever really and I have very much enjoyed my course. Tomorrow will mark the conclusion of the Basic level and I feel good about where I am. My understanding and comprehension are doing very well, and I've mastered the art of bad conversational Spanish. Seriously, I'm doing very well and my teacher is very pleased with my progress. To go from zero ("yo quiero Taco Bell") to basic competency in less than 2 months is pretty rock solid.

Indeed, there is something totally unexpected and pleasing about conversing in a different language. In fact, I find myself really starting to enjoy my classes. I think in the beginning it's extremely difficult to enjoy the process - instead, progress is slow, painful, and frustrating. But now that I have a feel for the language and my vocabulary is advancing, I'm enjoying being able to express myself. It's like I tangibly accomplish something every single day and that's a good feeling.

At any rate, I give High Technology in Learning my highest recommendation. Converting to dollars, it cost somewhere in the range of $700 for 120 hours of instruction, which I believe to be reasonable. The course is cleverly designed, the institute is a very nice environment, and the teacher, while having some quirky ideas, is competent, patient, and at times, brilliant. I think I'll definitely be enrolling in the Intermediate course.


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