Sunday, July 5, 2009

Teaching Kids English

I’m sitting in the office at the Ahali Center for Community Development the other day and Sobhi, one of my supervisors, calls me in.

“Maysoon is on the phone for you.”

“Uhhh, who’s Maysoon?” I ask.

“She’s the wife of one of our board members.”

Oh shit, I think. In the States, Board members are usually rich, powerful, and not to be ignored. “What should I do?”

“Pick up!”

“This is Nick”

“Hi, Nike” (some people mispronounce my name. They spell it Nike and say it Nyke. Rhymes with bike. It turns out that in Arabic, something that sounds like "Nick" means "Go f***." So Nick can't be my name.) “This is Maysoon. The last intern – his name is Seth – he talks to my children. Just talks. English. So, will you talk with them? Teach them English?”

“Uhhhh . . . “ and I cover the phone and ask Sobhi, “What should I do?” Sobhi just raises his shoulders, as if to say 'I don’t know.'

“Suurreee” I say with a question mark added on the last e.
“OK. We’ll see you tomorrow at five.”

So I guess you will


Well, I am now teaching a group of six boys, ages 9-14, English. And you know what? It’s a piece of cake! Twice a week Maysoon brings the boys (and two of the boys’ adorable younger sister) into the office. And we just talk.

I have set up some games – A rock, paper, scissors tournament, Hangman, and word searches – and they play them. If we’re not playing, we’re just talking. (I am also trying to introduce them to a diverse set of American and English music. Yesterday was a rotation between “Sgt. Pepper” and “Thriller.” Next time I will play "Pet Sounds" and "The Velvet Underground and Nico).


All of the boys are amazing well behaved. They treat me with a level of respect and interest that I would never have given me had I been their age and in their position. I keep think they are going to TP my house, or something.

Their English is mixed. Their vocabulary is very limited, but their grammar and pronunciation is spot on. I actually feel like they are getting better.


What does their behavior and manners say about Arab youth in Israel? I’m not sure. They could be outliers, though I have not yet met a truly rude kid here. Either way, they are certainly a pleasure to teach.


Oddly, there has only been one man hung in hangman. They managed to guess “Barack Obama,” “New York City,” “Brazil,” and “Jazz.” What word did they miss? “Hummus.”

Very strange.

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