Guest post about Lateens

guest post by Laura Elena Morales Garza

My name is Laura Elena and I’m a psychologist and an English teacher, with a Master’s Degree on Linguistics in English. I started teaching at 17 and have been doing so for the last 30 years. I’ve taught ESL in all levels, from elementary school through University, and from beginners – advanced. For the last 13 years I’ve been teaching at a private university in Mexico, and have been in charge of the language department for the last 5. I’m currently teaching the advanced level and my main focus is to have students become proficient in the use of the language; most of my students have  had contact with English since they were toddlers, and have studied in bilingual schools, or private schools where ESL is a very important part of the school curriculum.

As part of my Advanced English class I decided to use some of the material from brandlateen.com.  I selected 13 different entries, printed them out and gave a different one to each student. My students read them on their own and then we all sat down together to share and discuss each story.

My class is made up of 19 students with an Advanced English level, with a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) score of over 550 pts. They are all freshmen in a Private University, and most of them started learning ESL since they were 5 or 6 years old.

The whole activity took about 80 minutes and students shared and discussed personal experiences:

  • A girl had lived for some time in the USA and she had the experience of working as an interpreter for some government agency; among the things she had to do were to tell people they had lost their job, or that they were required to have certain papers in order for them to receive some service. She had to do this with people who spoke only Spanish, and she had to live difficult moments when these people asked her to help them and to tell her employer not to fire them or to ask for something. She said she couldn’t do all this, she only had to translate and she couldn’t help these people, making her have mixed feelings.
  • Several  students have had the experience of helping their parents when they have gone to the States as the parents don’t speak English and they do; so they’ve been translators several times and under different circumstances. One of the boys has not only been a translator when traveling, but he’s had to help with the business; his father has  a franchise from an international company, and he’s had to help with contracts and business issues. He feels the pressure, as a  lot depends on his performance, and not only the written papers, but also on the interviews and phone calls he constantly has to make.
  •  The students mentioned how they identify with the description of Lateens depicted in several stories, even though they are Mexicans living in Mexico, they feel they have the same roots, share cultural experiences and family stories.
  •  About homosexuality they feel that it’s a big taboo in our society, so they concluded that it must be really difficult for a lateen to accept his/her homosexuality. Mixed feelings, which are normal in these cases, become even stronger when lateens are living in an “open” society, but in a very narrow-minded culture at home.
  •  When talking about reading students reported how little they read! It is a big problem in our country, and students are used to reading only when it is mandatory for school – several of them even reported that the only reading they have done this semester are the two books that are mandatory for my subject!  I asked them if they were read to when they were children, and only 3 or 4 students remembered being read to before going to bed.  We have a Chinese exchange student girl in this class and she had never had this experience, she even had trouble understanding what I meant, but then she grasped the idea and was happy to report that her grandmother always told her stories before going to bed – reading to children is not part of her culture, but telling stories is, and it normally is done by elders.
  •  There were a lot of comments on how Hispanics will be taking over a few years from now, as long as they become aware of the power they can have should they decide to continue studying. Given the large number of Hispanics living in the US, education and unity can make the difference.

All in all the activity proved to be very productive, not only because students were able to practice their English, but because through a meaningful experience they were able to analyze and discuss current problems that we sometimes don’t know about. We normally look at immigration problems related to deportation or jobs our migrants may obtain. Brandlateen blog gave us an insight into everyday situations, and it gave us an opportunity to reflect and analyze our own life.

After class, and to round up the activity, the students were asked to go into the web page and give feedback to either the entry they had read in class, or to a different one. It was very satisfactory to learn that most of them read some more of the entries and gave feedback to a different one from the one they had originally read.

3 comments

1 Karina Díaz { 06.22.11 at 5:10 am }

Laura,
I can’t believe it!! Your text makes me smile, because I can see your dedication and your professionalism. Thank’s for everything, this class is more than a class, is a period of my life that I really learned a lots. Everyday you teached us with differents types of exercices, there are not another way to practice English. Thank’s for all topics, for all skills, and thank’s for listen our opinions.

2 Jessica Franco { 10.02.11 at 11:22 pm }

I totally agree with Karina, because although you have not been my teacher for a long time, i have learned a lot with you!
I just can say thank you for your time and your dedication!

3 Carlos Poblano { 10.03.11 at 6:45 am }

I’m one of her student and i had the experience to live in Michigan for about 9 years, meanwhile i had the chance to be in many ESL classes and with different teacher, and this is the first teacher/class where I’m actually doing things i like and at the same time learning advanced English to a way i can really improve my English and not like i was there. I’m happy to have her as a teacher and i believe she does a great job and i hope she keeps her working as well as this.

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