Tuesday, March 01, 2011

English For Special Needs (Or: Do I STUTTER?)

So I actually saw THE KING'S SPEECH and liked it pretty well, although of course British films without gangsters or zombies in them usually bore me to death.

Coincidentally, I'm teaching classes on Communication now, about half of which involves teaching the students to do short presentations, and I've got a kind-heated stutterer in my class.

Now apparently he's mostly conquered his stutter in Arabic; but when he tries to speak in English it comes roaring back. I have actually seen this before, with a Russian guy I taught in New York, and once (God help us all) in a Spanish class I took in college.

So with the help of THE KING'S SPEECH I advised the kid about breathing, taking pauses and "bouncing" onto difficult consonant sounds, and with that, along with my logical step-by-step approach to teaching them to do presentations, he's pretty happy with his progress.

(A lot of the teachers apparently just say, "Okay tomorrow you do a five-minute presentation on whatever", without much in the way of preliminaries. Sadistic, that.)

I've never seen any professional literature on the subject of second-language teaching for people with special needs -- uh, not that I've actually looked for it -- but this is definitely a field for the future. Perhaps I'll be a pioneer in it.

(Never mind the people who need psychologists more than English teachers -- and there were plenty of those. Let's stick with talking about specific learning disorders here.)

More than once I've had strong suspicions that I've been teaching people with dyslexia or some other kind of "special learning need" or whatever -- but there have been some more profound and obvious challenges.

There was an individual female student trying to learn English who had cerebral palsy, or something similar, when I worked in Russia. Never had to teach her and of course I was aghast that they would even ask anybody to try; that's WAY out of our pay-grade.

I had a woman in one class in Russia who clearly had Asperger's or some other kind of autism spectrum disorder, and had a lot of trouble communicating naturally -- again, whatever progress she'd made in her native language was lost when trying to speak in English.

Teaching children is hard enough, but when I worked teaching 2-4 year olds at a day-care in Phuket, to be brutally frank, some of the children seemed so profoundly "special need"-ed that 100 years ago they probably would have been suffocated at birth or chained up in the basement.

They just toss them in with the others, but what are they going to do, turn down their entrance money? Not likely. Language Fuck School back in Russia would take money from Martian or deaf-mutes alike and tell them they had trained specialists available. Then toss them in a room with some poor back-packer kid and hope for the best.

So, just another day in the thankless, difficult life of an English teacher. . .

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