During my second day of Project SHINE, the teacher had me sit in another room and individually ask students sets of questions as preparation for their oral exam. Questions were open-ended and varied from simple ones, like “What is your last name?”, to more complicated scenarios, such as “The doctor gives you a prescription for medicine but you do not know how much to take. What do you do?” The goal is for the students to practice listening to the questions without seeing it on paper and answering them in an appropriate way. Most of the questions seem to deal with practical, real-life scenarios, such as making a doctor’s appointment or introducing oneself. I went through ten different students, most of whom were able to understand and respond to the questions in a comprehensible manner.
One observation and critique of myself is the incorporation of hand movements as I read the questions aloud. For example, if the question was “The doctor says a word you do not understand. What do you do?”, I found myself pointing to the side when I read “doctor”, pointing at the student when I read “you”, and shaking my head when I read “do not understand”.
At the time, my movements were done subconsciously. Looking back, they seemed like a natural reaction from the interviewer’s point of view to convey the questions to a English learner in the easiest way possible. In a real life situation out in society, that may have been helpful. However, in hindsight, I wish I had not done that, especially as part of an ESL class. In many ways, I equate the hand gestures to other forms of simplifying or lowering language quality in an attempt to increase comprehension, such as speaking in incomplete sentences (“Going to park today?). I feel that simplifying English in such ways can not only be disrespectful to learners but also harmful in that they are hearing truncated and sometimes grammatically incorrect English. Some alternatives I have thought of to help ESL students with listening skills but also provide reinforcement if needed is to actively repeat, pause, speak slower, or put emphasis on certain words, thus providing support without lowering quality.
I’ve asked myself why I’ve begun to incorporate more hand gestures (even in speaking to native English speakers, it seems) in my conversations. The obvious association is with the current foreign language class I am taking, American Sign Language (ASL)I’m taking the class to fulfill the concurrent non-Indo European language requirement that must be taken with my Second Language Acquisition class. The goal is to reflect upon your second language acquisition experience. For learning sign language, one major change that I believe beginning learners must go through is changing one’s mindset from using words as the main form of communication to using hands and facial expressions. Though I’m not making the formal ASL movements while I am speaking to the ESL students in SHINE, I do find myself often using hand and facial gestures as a way of communicating with them. While this is not always a bad thing, I do believe that English learners, especially intermediate level learners, will get the most out of an interaction with native speakers when challenged to listening to English without non-verbal cues.