This is part of a series of blogposts about my lessons with M, a very enthusiastic nine-year-old girl. She is a pleasure to speak to, and knows a lot of English. She’s also almost completely blind. Each lesson is one hour, one-to-one, at her house.
Today’s lesson started with M telling me she’d listened to Oliver Twist again. She has an audiobook version of the story on two CDs which was given to her by her teacher in Saint Petersburg. She’s seen the film in Russian, and listened to the CDs in English. I asked her to tell me the story.
What followed was another (to me anyway!) extraordinary example of M’s capacity to retain language. She remembers a lot of her favourite sections verbatim, and enjoys acting out parts of the story. Her intonation is excellent, much better than a lot of my students of a similar level, and there was even the trace of a London accent in some of the quotes of direct speech. Her favourite character is Nancy, who “lives with the cruel, wicked man Bill Sykes. He murderous.” She repeated almost the whole dialogue between Mr Bumble and the Master in the workhouse, after Oliver Twist had asked “Can I have some more?”, with only very minor errors. I think it’s like how I would learn the lyrics of a song purely by hearing it again and again, when there are always some things that you mishear or don’t notice.
What I was worried about here was that M might be repeating the sounds without really understanding the words, so I challenged her on some of them, but she always dealt with them without a problem. One example was ‘apprentice’ – she defined it as a student, and I asked what they would learn.
M: You’re learning cook and you’ll be a cooker.
S: You’re learning to cook and you’ll be a cook. A cook is the job, a cooker is a machine.
M: [laughs!] Hah, you’ll be a machine! No, no, you’ll be a cook.
M also took the opportunity to ask me more about workhouses, and whether we still have them in the UK. I said that they disappeared about a hundred years ago, which she said was very good because they’re horrible places.
During this I made a note of some of the sentences she made mistakes with, mostly grammar mistakes which are common to Russian speakers. I’m going to try to come up with rhymes to help her remember some of them. Here they are, in case you have any suggestions:
She very shouted on him. [She shouted at him a lot.]
He don’t want lived in the workhouse. [He didn’t want to live in the workhouse.]
He went in London. [He went to London.]
It’s how porridge, but with a little bit water. [It’s like porridge, but with a little bit of water. – this use of ‘how’ for ‘like’ is one of her main mistakes, which I tried to correct during the lesson, but didn’t manage to get across]
It’s present me my teacher in Saint Petersburg. [My teacher in St. P. gave it to me.]
We then moved on to talking about the Romans. The other audiobook which M has with her is called Visit London and includes a section about the Romans. She can repeat a short part of it.
I asked her if she knew what the Romans looked like, and she said she had a soldier and a gladiator. She fetched the models, each about 8cm tall and made of metal. We talked about the clothes they were wearing, and their weapons, and why the shield had a metal part on the front of it (the boss). I taught her ‘helmet’, ‘shield’ and ‘sword’.
She asked about normal Romans and I said that I would bring some things next time to help her find out what a normal Roman looked like. I haven’t worked out exactly how to do this yet, but I suspect we’ll dress her up in a sheet like a toga. One of my jobs for the weekend…
I asked her more about her sight, and from what I can gather, she has always been visually impaired, although she said that her left eye used to be bad and her right eye better, but now they’ve switched.
With her soldiers, I asked M what colour they were. She needed a lot of light, taking them to the window, and holding them close to her eyes, before telling me they were light, probably white. I said they were grey, and held them next to white paper for her to see the difference. This showed me that her colour vision is very limited, although I couldn’t find out whether it used to be better – she’s definitely aware of different ideas of colour, but they’re very difficult (impossible?) for her to see now.
She asked about me too, and I showed her my glasses. I’ve had glasses since I was six, and can’t see distances or screens clearly without them, although I don’t wear them when I’m doing anything close, including during our lesson.
M enjoys watching TV, especially cartoons, her favourite being Duck Tales, which happened to be one of my favourites when I was a kid, although I don’t remember it that well (potential future lessons there…).
“Your eyes are two TV sets in your body.” She said that she doesn’t understand how you see (which reinforces what I said above), and that she’d talked to her school friends about it. “It’s how cartoons. When you can’t see, you can’t see cartoons in your head.”
Before next lesson
When we only had a few minutes left, M asked about the story, but I said she’d told me a lot today and we’d nearly run out of time so I would start it next lesson. I’d brought Sleeping Beauty, but decided during the lesson that I’ll try Alice in Wonderland with her – we have a higher level reader of that, and I think she’ll enjoy the challenge. I told her the name of the story, but failed to get across the idea of ‘Wonderland’, which is another thing for me to work out.
So in summary, I need to:
- Work out how to dress M up as a ‘normal’ Roman;
- Come up with sentences/chants/drills to correct some of her mistakes, particularly ‘how’ for ‘like’;
- Think of a better way to convey the idea of Wonderland, without giving away too much of the story (from what she said, she doesn’t know it – I hope!);
- Watch Duck Tales again!