Teaching Thomas: New Student

I have just taken up  a new gig tutoring a kindergarten boy on his English pronunciation. Even though he was born in the US, his teacher has expressed concern over his pronunciation, mostly because his only linguistic exposure to English is during school. His grandmother takes care of him while the parents are at work so at home, they only speak Cantonese to him. The mother is concered with this.

I can’t help but to feel sorry for this boy. I’ll refer to him as Thomas because of his fascination with the popular children’s show about trains. What happens in the early stages of his life will certainly greatly affect how he speaks English in the future. I can imagine how helpless and concerned his parents feel, knowing the issue at stake here and not being able to help because their own English is heavily accented, but also feeling the necessity to expose him to their native language and culture. The grandmother spends the most time with the boy, because the parents work. They see this as the root of the problem. Would the parents go so far as to actively decrease the time spent between the grandmother and the grandson by taking him away from her? They very well might… for the sake of Thoma’s linguistic fluency.

He is a very energetic boy, showing all the characteristics of the typical curious, sometimes bratty boy. He always wants to show me his toys, his books – anything that we happen to stumble on while pronouncing the sounds of the alphabet. I get the sense that he sees me more as an older brother, an older companion, than a teacher, which has its goods and bads.

His natural curiosity makes him an active learner, asking questions and making connections to things he’s learned in the past. On the other hand, it also makes him easily distracted. When we came upon the work spider, his attention immediately diverted to that of Spiderman, and then to showing me his Spiderman backpack.

I am making lesson plans for each lesson with him. I ended up only going through a small portion of what I had planned for the first lesson. I had really no idea what level he was at so the first lesson consisted of going through phonics flashcards and seeing how many words and sounds he knew. I’ve found that he cannot read yet so that certainly makes things more challenging.


One thought on “Teaching Thomas: New Student

  1. Thomas’ family is really lucky to have such a supportive tutor and advocate. I sympathise with their need for Thomas to achieve English fluency. It is possibly achieved at the expense of losing the heritage language that ties him to his home culture and allows him to communicate with family members whose primary language is Cantonese. The scenario is common to many newcomers.

    Similar to others who started learning a new language at a young age, Thomas will soon attain the fluency and proficiency of a native speaker. Often the price is loss of the mother tongue, forming a linguistic and cultural chasm that runs deep within the household, dividing the family along audible lines and much more.

    I recall a mother who once mentioned she didn’t really have a way to leave a note on the fridge for her son – something so simple that we all take for granted. English as the dominant language has replaced her son’s mother tongue and the family now lacks a common ground where everyone can express themselves fully at their cognitive levels.


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