Feb 22, 2009

We Don't Read Here in Peru

I have heard, since I first began to teach English here in Peru, that "here in Peru, we don't read." For the most part, it seems to be true. Many of the instructors that I worked with in CIVIME confessed that they do not read anything, except what is absolutely necessary to complete their lesson plan for the week or the day (and their English vocabulary was severely lacking, yet they did nothing to improve it. How you teach a language if you don't speak it is completely beyond me.) People tell me they just don't have time to open a book. I find that appalling. One of the best ways to increase your understanding and vocabulary is to read, especially things that are of interest to you. I've had a hard time getting people here to accept that idea. There is no real emphasis on literacy here, even in Spanish.

So I decided to do an experiment this month. ICPNA, where I work, is launching a reading program for the English courses of Basic 8 through 12. Nothing is done for Basic 1 through Basic 7, perhaps the idea is that they don't have sufficient vocabulary to understand a reading...I'm not sure. But I know that from the time my daughter was born until she was in the fourth grade, I read her bedtime stories. When she was 4, she began to actively participate in the story telling, reading one page or maybe just a paragraph if she was tired, and then I would read another. Through the reading and the funny character voices and the pictures, she learned a lot of vocabulary and grammar. I didn't test her and we only read things that were fun and interesting. It was just for fun. Now she's a voracious reader, quite an articulate speaker and outspoken in her opinions. I can't take any credit for that. She did it on her own. I did what I enjoyed doing, and she did what came naturally to her.

This month I took "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" to work with me and read it and acted it out in my Basic 4 class, on the second Friday of the cycle. I simply read it and used a couple of pictures and different voices to represent the characters or the story. I didn't test them over it, I didn't explain anything, and then I sent the story home with them. I asked them to bring it back the following Friday and we'd read through it again. Just to see what they thought of the idea. Just for fun.

They LOVED the story. In fact, they had all taken the story home and read it several times and learned some words and could participate in the story. When I read "trip-trap, trip-trap went Little Billy Goat Gruff's tiny hooves", all the students were pounding their feet on the floor till LBGG made it across to the other side safely. When the Troll leaped up on the bridge to confront a goat, they all yelled in a deep, cranky voice, "HAAARRRR! Who's that crossing my bridge?!" And when Big Billy Goat Gruff charged the troll and sent him up the river, they cheered for BBGG, just like my little girl did when she was 3 years old.

So, who says that here in Peru, they don't read? Given a fun or interesting piece to read, I think anyone would be willing to read, even if they are in Peru. I think I'll do this again next month, if I have any classes from Basic 1 through 7, and just see what happens. I think if I can appeal to the kid in them, the students might read just for the fun of it. It's only three talking goats and an ugly troll, but maybe from that could spring great things. I think the instructors from the public school system and other institutes are doing the students here a terrible disservice to assume that they will not read, or that they don't want to. To perpetuate an attitude like that is disgusting to me.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff and I are on a literacy crusade in my part of Lima.


Pondside said...

I'm in total agreement with regarding reading - the earlier and the more, the better. My children were like your daughter - stories, then'reading' the stories themselves, then really reading and now voracious readers.
Good for you and The Three Billygoats Gruff!

Margaret Cloud said...

Kathleen, how do the kids do there lessons if they can not read them. That is terrible not to read, I feel sorry for them, and proud of you, good luck on what you are striving for. Thank you for coming by. One more question, is it hard to get the lessons through to them?

Kathleen said...

Let me clarify something: these are ADULTS that I teach during the week. They read a little, although not very well and only when it's absolutely necessary whether it's in English or in Spanish. Because of this, they often do not have much of a vocabulary in either language, nor do they read well at all in either language. BUT! They are in the institute, which is one of the very best in Latin America, to improve and learn as much as possible.

It's true that some never make it through the program. Some of them just cannot grasp the ideas put forth in English, and some of them simply are not open to learniing more than the most rudimentary words and phrases, which is mostly what they use in Spanish, too.

In agreement with Pondside, the younger they begin, the better. The older students have to be very motivated in order to acheive what most younger students do much more easily. However, we do have some grandparents that study because they have grandchildren in an English-speaking country who have never learned to speak Spanish.

Kathleen said...

Hi Margaret,

Sometimes it is very difficult to get the ideas across to the students, especially the older adults. Their lives have been hard, sometimes unimaginable for me, and they have difficulty embracing ideas that they have no hope of experiencing in real life. Reaching across that chasm of hopelessness is one obstacle tht all teachers in ICPNA strive to do.

We are encouraged to help students "personalize" the language by using situations that are real for them, but many of them come from families that are poor. The adults may be those women who sell sodas or candies on the street to make a living, or sings on the bus for pocket change, the men may be one of those who enters a bus to push screwdrivers up his nose for enough money to make ends meet. The children may well be working the intersections in town, turning flips, juggling, or dancing at the red light to help the family make a living. Tell me how I can turn a lesson about making airline reservations to go on vacation to Paris into a personal experience for any of these people, even though it's only the grammar and vocabulary that I want them to learn. Yes, sometimes it's difficult to get the ideas across in the lesson.

marit said...

It's a tough world...But I would have thought that when the students were admitted to this school that they were really interested in learning and eager to do so. I think it's important to start reading as soon as possible,I did that with my 4, and they all like to read, some more than others, but then again we have always had easy access to books and magazines. Good luck with your efforts.

Karen B. said...

Thanks for sharing this, I'm happy to hear that the love for TBGG is universal. Keep up the good work!

Greenlee's Forest said...

Kathleen, you're doing a wonderful job! It can't be easy, and if you are dealing with people who prefer not to read (or even do not like it), there is hardly much convincing to try.
But! As you say, there are those who perhaps haven't thought to pick up a book and when offered, will enjoy it.