We’re two grandparents born in England (or in the States, or Australia or any other English speaking country) who came on aliyah with a young family. We spoke English at home and our children enjoyed the benefit of extra English chugim (after-school activity — I had to look that word up in the translation). Then our children grew up and found wonderful partners — with whom they speak Hebrew. So the next generation now speaks rudimentary grade school English, and hates the language.
One of my daughters-in-law broached the brilliant suggestion that I step in. They live far from us in the south of Israel and despite all government efforts, the subject is taught on a lower level due to a lack of teachers whose mother-tongue is English. Add to this that most of my family send their children to religious education, and their exposure to television, pop music and even the internet is limited — hence their chances of succeeding in Bagrut (matriculation exams) are very low. The parents do understand how vital English is for their children’s advancement in life, and that is why I was enlisted. Together we started the TINGLE program — The Israeli Next Generation Learns English.
You do not need to have any teaching experience to run the program, but you do need a lot of patience. This is how it works for us.
1. Both you and the other side must have good Skype connection. There is no other way!
2. All lessons are one-on-one. Every child is different, every one deserves individual attention and there is no competition involved.
3. Find a time that suits you both, preferably twice a week. It is very important that no lesson last more than 30 minutes. You can achieve a great deal in that time, and it flies past with a taste for more, rather than drag on and leave you both looking at the clock.
4. Although you have both made a commitment, if either you or the child has to cancel for any reason, that’s fine. If the child wants to reschedule, that’s great, but most kids nowadays have intensive after-school programs and it’s not easy. The classes succeed only when both of you are relaxed.
5. Choose a standard text-book and both of you have a copy in front of you each lesson. It’s easier when you have a plan to follow, rather than invent a lesson each time. Obviously, you can add to, skip, or redo any part of the book according to your inclination. I suggest a book that is one year beneath the child’s present grade, which he or she didn’t learn before. Unless the child was a star pupil, the book will still be a challenge, and not daunting.
6. The best part of the lesson is the opening. The children each have to give me a sentence about something that happened to them. In the beginning of the year, I would hear, “Today, I eat spaghetti.” Near the end, it became, “Someone tried to steal my bike today and I pushed him off.” Never correct the child’s grammar. The kids are trying to express themselves, and nothing is more disparaging than being stopped every other word because the grammar is not quite correct. We have had whole lessons when we just chat about something important to the kid (my parents won’t let me get a dog). But we aren’t working to a curriculum, so what do we care? The point is that the child now sees English as a language, not a lesson in school.
7. Speak English all the time. Translate instructions at first (if you speak Hebrew), but after a few repetitions, the child will understand them. Speak very slowly and clearly, Skype is not always the perfect media.
8. The lessons do not supplement the school classes. If the child asks for help for a test, then it’s up to you whether you will accommodate. But most of us aren’t that good at grammar and might even teach it wrong. Your aim is to promote fluency and the ability to communicate.
9. Have paper and markers at hand. It is much easier to explain the difference between “meet” and “meat” if you can write it down and show it on the screen.
10. I usually give a little homework. Either to translate the words for the next lesson (they are listed in the text book and they all have glossaries at the back) or something fun like making a bookmark. If the child doesn’t do the homework, it’s enough to say “What a shame, now we have to waste our time together here instead of moving on.” The child generally gets the idea and will do it next time.
I do not give prizes or bribes or reprimands. I have never felt the need to. The children receive attention and satisfaction at the achievements, which are always worth much more than any material reward you might offer.
The results of TINGLE are all win-win. You get to connect with grandchildren who live far away. They get to connect with you. The parents get free English lessons. And inevitably, the child’s marks improve, he or she enjoys the subject more in school, and gets a boost for the future just because of you, the caring, giving grandparent.