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Linguaholic

How to teach an illiterate person in your target language


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Since my husband and I volunteer, one of the things we are asked to do is help teach those who are not able to read to do so. This is a challenge since I am teaching a language that is not my native tongue in a culture that is rich in dialectal accents. Do you have any advice for how to teach someone their own written language especially when it is not your native tongue? One of the things I have been doing that seems to help is I am using an audio language guide to give me one set way to say the alphabet. This might sound easy enough but we have found even within the country due to the strong French influence, there are a variety of different ways people here pronounce the abc's. This makes it hard to know which way to teach it. For example, if a Spanish speaking person from Spain were to try and teach a Spanish speaking person from Bolivia, they might teach certain letters a different way. I was told once by a person years ago when I attempted to speak Spanish with them (having learned in Central America), 'I understand you but you speak with a South American accent.' (This has also happened to me recently when attempted to speak French. The group laughed and said, 'You are speaking French but it is like a Malagasy.' So here I am beset with fear that I am going to teach my new student 8 yr old Clara how to read Malagasy like an American! There is no one else who has the patience or time though to do it and I am very happy to take on the task because she is precious and most eager. But if anyone has any good tips I would be forever grateful! 

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You might want to check the ''Naar Nederland'' course approach ;) The first 20 lessons are meant to teach an illiterate person the Dutch alphabet and its sounds. Yep, it's supposed to work for illiterate people speaking any kind o language, even Arabic.   They must learn this well, so they can pass their examination abroad, otherwise they can't make it to the Netherlands.   So it must work.   By the way, they always use Dutch always, so yeah, it's better to never use the student's mother language to explain anything, it's better to just start slow :)  Start with the basics and work with examples. 

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  • 4 weeks later...

I think you should not let fear get in the way of your teaching Clara whom you described as precious and most eager. True that you had your own set of experiences on how people reacted to your pronunciation and such. But do try to remember that the language isn't your first language, and while we can aim for perfection - target languages being our second language only, then there's bound to be some limitation. The important thing is you manage to convey your message the right way. Also, from what I understand, your Clara already knows and speaks Malagasy. Her problem is in recognizing her own language in the written form. I guess what I'm saying is when you say certain words in your own accent, your Clara being a native speaker could easily recognize the word you're trying to say.
Just be gentle with yourself, you'll do fine. The more you focus on what you lack, the more it will hinder your teaching.

Anyway, I found these online:
http://mylanguages.org/learn_malagasy.php

http://ilanguages.org/malagasy_vocabulary.php

 

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If it is a child, I have always found it best that children learn really well from songs and cute little dances that interact with the song. Being repetitive always works as well. I am not sure if you have already tried this method or not. My mother used to teach through made up characters that would act as if they didn't know something well enough and that would cause the other children to say "No! It's ___!" so by them trying to help the character in distress, they would be learning without knowing it. Just try to be confident in whatever method you choose fits best for the person you are trying to teach.

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  • 1 month later...

I don't think you should worry about teaching her like an American or her native; as long as you know how to speak and write the language successfully, then just flow through the same way you learned yours. Like it was suggested, repetition is key in teaching; when you over emphasize a point it is easily retained for longer periods of time than under emphasized words.

Wishing you and Clara the best.

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These are some great responses thanks! To answer @czarina84's question, my problem is that since I am a language learner myself and thus don't consider myself the best choice for teaching a native speaker how to read and write, I am nervous I will give her my accent, poor grammar, etc. That being said, I'm the only one at the moment that can help her so something is better than nothing right? I'm going to incorporate some of the great tips people above have given (thanks for the personal greetings as well darkchild). One thing in addition to these that I have tried to do is invite guests to sit in on our sessions. Native speaker guests. This has been interesting for me because where I live has a mix of people from all over the country. I was finding that they were pronouncing the alphabet a little bit different depending on which part of the country they came from. So two weeks ago I invited a native speaker who speaks the 'official' dialect to speak the alphabet into my phone so that each week we will have one standard of reciting the alphabet. This also happens to be her original language even though she has recently moved into an area that speaks a different yet very similar dialect. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I guess it's definitely a long road and you gotta have a lot of patience. Start off with an English alphabet. It's the only way I see, as the person doesn't know how to write or read. Even though it's kind of very challenging, you should never give up on your students If they are really willing to learn.

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If you are trying to teach a child, it is a whole different ball game to teaching an adult. Children learn quicker, we all know that. Are you trying to teach an adult? you did not mention what specific problem you are having, maybe you can elaborate.

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Wow, Saholy! What a tough, but rewarding thing to be doing! This is my first day on this forum and yours is the first post I have read. I am feeling so inspired. I don't currently have answers to your question, but I'll be thinking about it. I do have a background in Linguistics, and my aunt was a director of a literacy program. I'll see if she has any answers.

I also notice that you know ASL as well as Malagasy Sign Language. That is so cool! I studied sign languages in graduate school and I'd love to learn more of them besides ASL. I'm curious, do you have any Deaf people in your life, or are you just interested in signed languages?

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