I still remember what it felt like, standing in front of all my students for the first time. Mr Lee had just introduced me to my class of 30 pupils and told them that I would speak a little Finnish so they could hear what it sounded like. His announcement took me by surprise but I managed to say a few sentences. The kids loved it. They got up from their seats and stared at me in amazement, clearly amused by the weird language I spoke in. ” Madam, madam, what did you say? Say something else!” They yelled laughing, as I stood there smiling in the middle of tiny hands that wanted to touch this odd girl making strange sounds. It was the first time since coming to Africa that I was actually glad that my native language was not English, but this weird language that no one else understood and that sounded so insane it caught everyone’s attention.
I’m not going to lie; It hasn’t been, and is not always, easy being the only one speaking your second or even third language. To be honest, it can be really annoying sometimes, not being able to express yourself as fluently as you’re used to at home and forgetting important words that make the point to your sentence. I’ve always thought of English as my strength, but it is a lot more challenging to speak it all the time compared to just chatting to some strangers you meet on a trip abroad. However, speaking and listening to a language without having the option to switch to another makes you a lot better at it quite quickly.
As a volunteer, your first interest should always be the kids. To my relief, I found that their English was still on a fairly basic level and that I was able to help them improve that despite my limited skills. After all, I have studied English for nearly ten years. I do know I sometimes make errors while speaking to the kids, but I do my best to keep the errors to a minimum. I’ve also found that since I’ve had to learn how to speak English in school as opposed to learning it from my parents and the environment like a native, I actually remember how I learnt it and can use that knowledge when teaching. For example, I remember the rules behind the words ‘some’ and ‘any,’ and how I learnt and remembered them.
Furthermore, teaching English does not only improve the kids’ English, but yours as well. I feel that I learn as much as they do when I’m in front of the class explaining grammar or just talking to the children. Even though your own gain should not be the main reason for volunteering, it is a nice plus.
After 10 weeks on the program I still sometimes struggle with English if I have to explain something complicated, but I don’t think of it as that big of a deal. I’ve received nothing but respect and encouragement from my fellow volunteers and GVI staff members which has been really comforting. In conclusion, your attitude really is the most important thing you’ve got. Work hard, don’t let it be a problem and you’ll soon realise that it actually isn’t. The children need all the help they can get.
By Astrid Kalland – Volunteer
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