Applying Social Norms to English Language Acquisition

When the ESL teacher came back from her recent surgery, as a substitute for her classes, she insisted that I move on from vocabulary tests to English grammar. This was the first time teaching English language acquisition as a second language to high school students. As a substitute, I would help fifth grade remember which words were hyphenated, like one-way or baby-sit. In high school, I assigned vocabulary words and definitions to ESL students. Grammar is tough for anyone in any language. I can still recall learning Spanish grammar in Spanish 4 Honors. It was not as easy as I imagined, but it is definitely something to consider.

Present Perfect Continuous. Well, what is that? Does an average Native English speaker understand this concept in English grammar? Probably not. We simply utilize a language without understanding what exactly goes on in everything we do when we use it. Well, present means now.  So, what makes the present perfect? I have had a few rough days in the past, but I cannot recall that the present is completely perfect. There are still a few rough potholes in the road. What about the next word? Continuous. That must mean it is still happening, like progressive or uninterrupted. So, something that is happening perfectly without taking a break? Ah, commitment. 

When I explained to the students that present perfect continuous is an event or activity that started in the past and has continued up until now, they were hesitant on what to understand first. So, I gave them examples about living in Connecticut.

I have been living in Connecticut for my entire life.

They started to understand the concept, but they needed just one more solid connection. Ah, relationships! I decided to apply social norms to their English language acquisition.  I randomly used one of my students as an example:

“Ok, so let’s say [name goes here] has two really cute guys interested in her. They both text her something very similar to each other, but one of them uses present perfect continuous.”

I wrote on the white board to show the examples of each message that the guys sent:

I thought about you.

Well, okay? Are they good thoughts? What were you even thinking about that made me the subject of interest? Is this a phase you are going through or is there something significant behind these thoughts? Did this just happen recently? Well, clearly, it has because of the context and choice of words used in expressing these sudden feelings.

I have been thinking about you.

I asked the class what the difference was between the two sentences, and which guy should the girl reconsider for a date. This sparked a lot of interest. Why? Well, we all use a language to communicate our feelings, whether it is verbal or non-verbal, but this is personal. This is about making decisions that could possibly make or break a heart. So to them, it matters what happens next. The class thought about the idea, applied it to their own life, learned more about the situation, and engaged with the overall idea with each other.

I believe one student said something like,

“Well, one guy thought about me, but the other has been thinking about me for a long time.”

I was proud of their discovery, and explained to them the significance of commitment behind present perfect continuous:

“Exactly! This guy could have just thought about you yesterday. The other guy has been thinking about you for a while. If a guy texts you, maybe he was bored just because he thought about you for that moment. The other guy has been anticipating to text you to see how you were doing. Present perfect continuous is all about commitment. They have been doing this for a while.”

After grading the tests distributed that following Friday, I was extremely pleased with the results. In addition, the majority of them correctly answered the bonus question of defining and providing an example of present perfect continuous.


Similes, and Metaphors, and Hormonal Teens. Oh my!

The last week of substituting was full of mixed emotions. It was the count down to winter vacation as well as the finish line for teaching thirty students as their teacher recovers from surgery since late September. I passed out student evaluation worksheets the week before. I read them over the weekend, and I came up with a plan. These students wanted something to learn. They wanted me to become firm, and professional while maintaining the optimistic side that always smiles back at them. I came up with a lesson plan of idioms, similes, metaphors, puns, bilingual puns, and analogies. Hey, why not kill more than a handful of birds with one stone?

I also came up with a new teaching method called T.A.L.E.N.T. In order to learn a foreign language, or any other subject of interest, you need to have talent. You need to Think, Apply, Learn, Engage, Network, and Transform. I will discuss this method in another blog post.

When I explained to my ESL class that similes compare two things together using the words, “like,” or, “as,” I wondered why a sudden urge to giggle and laugh filtered through the classroom. Then, I understood exactly what they discovered. Try to say, “like or as,” for at least five to ten times as fast as you can. Then, do what you will with your discovery.

As far as the bilingual puns, the majority of the students all come from a Spanish background. So, I found some relevant images over the Internet to share with them. A bilingual pun is a pun created by a play on words or phrases in two language that sound similar together, regardless of the linguistic differences.

Well, here are some examples of what I showed them.

In English, anyone should understand or figure out that this fury animal above is called a llama, and more than one llama can be referred as  llamas. In Spanish, the reflexive verb “to call or name oneself”  is conjugated to compliment the context of the verb. So, “llamarse” needs to be conjugated to “te llamas” which translates as,  “you call yourself.” Now, throw in cómo to make it into a question. “What do you call yourself?” In other words, what’s your name or the literal translation how do you call yourself?

I presented a joke in Spanish on the SmartBoard. I translated it in English. “What does a fish do in the summer?” The answer was nada. I received a few giggles from understanding the pun. So, it was not necessarily a bilingual pun because it was entirely in Spanish, however it was a Spanish pun. It was relevant to understanding puns and bilingual puns. I went through a few more, and they finally understood the concept I was trying to convey on the SmartBoard.

Finally, to conclude everything right after analogies, I presented a few YouTube videos that primarily focused on popular songs using similes and metaphors. I am sure the students learned something from this week. I know I did.