Friday, June 22, 2012

Le Foyer - Teaching English One Week at a Time

Back in December I posted the start of my story regarding Le Foyer and La Pouponniere (click here) -  the orphanage and the school that takes on young Senegalese woman - with a dormitory style building and classrooms that allows up to 50 young girls, 18-25 years of age to live during the week. They get trained for 2 years there - to learn child care, household chores, cooking, sewing and French (some arrive with only their native African language) with just a pinch of English in the schedule. These young woman make up the base of support for the care of the babies along with many many many other volunteers.  The goal being they will work in a hotel, restaurant or as a nanny/house keeper when they have 'graduated' ;+}. In this case there was a 3rd year group of 6 woman.

To bring you up to speed from that time - I spent the first two Friday's in December with Carine assessing the abilities of the girls to speak or read English or even have a comprehension of vocabulary words. And Carine's additional role was to help assess me with my ability to speak French and English sufficiently since I was going to take this on alone.  Prior to our meeting them I scoured the web for ideas, English lessons, conversation dialogues until my head was spinning. Here I am thinking people get trained in this specialty of ESL. There is so much out there on the net which is wonderful and yet when you really don't know what you should be looking for it's even harder. So you end up looking at everything. And the worst is the combinations and permutations of the search words you use to get to where you think you are going. I failed to track how much time I spent searching, clicking, reading, back buttoning and such that I finally came across a website that provided us with some simple progressive dialogues starting with this - Hello, What is your name? My name is _____?,  Where are you from?, I'm from __________? How old are you? I'm ______ years old.  You'd think I could have just done this myself but no no - it's like the bear who climbed over the mountain to see what he could see. 

After conducting two of our sessions - We concluded the following - 
  • I had a command of French fluency which would be just fine to teach and communicate in both French and English to the girls in order to move along with the lessons. Clearly I surprised myself.  And of course receiving Carine's  'blessing' that my language skills were "très bien" that I could do it without her help.
  • Friday's from 3 - 6 with even a 20 minute break was too long for one person all the time so I should still consider finding someone else to help keep the energy going. 2 people 'team teaching' is a nice dynamic for everyone. So another note off to DWG seeking a new 'teaching colleague'
  • Their command of English was way more elementary than anticipated,  although I'm not exactly sure I knew what to anticipate actually.
  • It was evident to that the free internet material was still going to be a challenge without photos or pictures to promote more of the context and vocabulary
With this perspective in mind I took a trip to the Quatre-Vents book store on our street and met Paul. Paul who speaks both French and English was a sales person "extraordinaire".  And in our experiences here many shop owners and vendors could use just a bit of polishing. Paul could seriously teach his country men and woman a few pointers. He works on the first floor in 2 very specific sections - one being where the bookstore sells all the primary and secondary books on every subject. He's used to the kids bringing in their long list of books for their parents to buy for school every year. We talked about the age of the girls I would be teaching being between 21 - 23 yet their maturity came across much younger and their grasp of English even more elementary - with slightly varying degrees. When we talked about the first 2 sessions and the introductory dialogues we attempted to use - he found an appropriate lesson book and workbook  for me to continue on at a pace that seemed right for them to grasp. And a base with which I could still make up more activities to go along with it.


While this is not the same book - here is an example of the level of dialogue pictures, vocabulary and simple grammar presented (I no longer have the books in hand we used as I gave them to Sister Charito to offer up to the next "English Teachers").  However, I might add that the characters in our book appeared more African and Senegalese along with Senegalese names!

So meet our class of the most lovely, energetic and enthusiastic young women.
Back Row (L-R) - Marianne, Emma, Lucie   Front Row (L-R) Benedicta, Gisele, Marie

I think for about a month I taught by myself  - I would basically make copies of the dialogues, we'd read through them and I would pair the girls up to read them together. There was a fair amount of repetition but it appeared just grasping how to say a particular word in English was necessary.  As we moved through the month and the vocabulary picked up we were able to play Hangman, I Spy and Simon Says.  And of course a little bit of homework was given!

Then one day I received an e-mail from, Rumky,  another member of DWG who was interested in teaming up. I was so happy because it just made for a better dynamic in the classroom and if  I would need to miss a Friday when we were on vacation I wanted to always be sure there was a backup and class would not be cancelled. With only meeting one day a week  keeping the Friday consistent was important. Rumky is from Bangladesh but her English was perfect and her level of French was right on track with mine. I was happy to have her as a partner and she just eased right into the use of the book and dialogues we had available. We incorporated more songs - The Rainbow Song (for colors), Head Shoulders Knees and Toes (body parts), The Hokey Pokey (learning right and left and body parts), If You're Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hand and Jingle Bells (just because) along with fun and funny poems for reinforcement.  

As time went on each week - we could see the confidence building and incremental improvements with reading and comprehending the dialogues. Usually the first time she or I would read it in English and then explain the equivalent context in French. Then we would ask them what words in the dialogue they did not know in English.  When they did not know it we could tell them in French and then heads would nod that they understood - YES!  I have to say I did not come up with this approach on my own - my French teacher at CCF did it to us in class so I said - hmmm - that makes sense  and not re-invent the wheel - we'll do it the same way but in English. The difference however is our French teacher would explain the meaning of the French word we did not understand with other French words. In this case we would just actually tell  the equivalent word in French because of their limited vocabulary.

Many times we would ask ourselves - are they really learning English or at least memorizing it - at times we had to believe they were. Things were clicking but it was at a very slow pace. We also had to tell ourselves we were doing the best we can and it's more than if we were not here on Fridays!  If anything we could see their confidence and comfort with small words and phrases slowly blooming. It was evident this would not be a conversational class and the only conversations they would break into with each other was in Wolof. It was actually rather funny when it happened and I would be saying - "Girls - English- English ;+}". One important attribute that came shinning through was the leadership of 2 girls who had a better command start helping the others. It was very touching. Yet I also knew we could only advance so far meeting only once a week and knowing - no one else was going to speak English the entire week to them until we returned.  In the beginning they would always welcome us with "bonjour" and I would reply back with "hello - this is English class" and not long they comfortably began saying "hello, how are you?". 


This little munchkin I think had a bit more freedom to roam the halls than many of the other babies who were in the other building. She would come into our class sometimes. It's a comfort to see how healthy and strong she was after her time here and at some point - I'm not sure which - will either return to her family or be adopted.

The Hokey Pokey

Yes, sometimes we would veer from the intended lesson plan but work our way back on track again.

Then an unanticipated day came where Rumky had to return to Bangladesh. Time again for me to reach out to our DWG members for another mate for the final two months. I had it in my mind it should be someone who could speak French and English but more importantly the person had to have the available free time.  Think Think - AHA - Dorothy - a member of DWG who arrived around the same time I did - also here on a self imposed sabbatical - representing the southern half of California.  She did not speak French but since she was as Southwest Airlines put it "free to move about the country" this was a great opportunity to do some volunteer work.  Her kids are grown and on their own and she was happy to take on the challenge especially on the set Friday's I knew for sure I would be out.

And below - Dorothy is showing them the words and music to "We Are the World".  A song they really wanted to learn. Interestingly enough however  they associated it  with the Haiti Earthquake Relief as it was redone with Justin Beiber, Miley Cyrus and Pink to name a few in 2010. Who are these people anyway? Dorothy and I turn our clocks back 27 years because we were raised on the original version recorded for USA for Africa when these girls were not even born. In the end - it's all about Michael Jackson (who then was just 25)! But let's not forget - Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen (yeah baby he looked good) and Stevie Wonder to name a few in that video. To stay on track with 'our lessons' - we always did this as the last item of class.

We are the world, we are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day
So let's start giving
There's a choice we're making
We're saving our own lives
It's true we'll make a better day
Just you and me

 BON COURAGE - Emma, Benedicta, Marie, Gisele, Lucie and Marianne


And in case you want to reminisce.


  1. Hilary
    A great report! Full of information and blow-by-blow experiences.
    You've certainly "done good!"

    1. Thanks Dwight. Sometimes it's nice to not have a job so the job of serving others can be so rewarding "Mr Mayor" - okay so that was a bit different ;+}. I hope I can apply the same momentum around volunteerism when we return.

  2. What a beautiful entry to your always wonderful blog!