Updated: Jan 24, 2021
By Evelina Silveira
Dina entered my life a few hundred black screens ago. I met her back in March just at the beginning of the pandemic and, like many Muslim women in Gulf countries, for modesty reasons she chose not to turn on her camera for her English lessons. An amicable, middle-aged, and middle-class educator, she lives in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
At first, the thought of teaching a student, I could not see, seemed overwhelming and rather pointless especially when I am trying to teach pronunciation. Her request for two hours a day seemed overboard, but I decided to give it a shot. Eight months later, she is still not on camera, but it has not been an obstacle to our growing friendship. We have shared our fears, many laughs, and learned lots of vocabulary together.
She is quite an educated, advanced, and well-read student who truly does not need lessons –but she vehemently insists she wants to sound like a native speaker. With my help we have overcome some of the more challenging pronunciation sounds for Arabs like the: “er” “short I sound”, “j” sound, and others. Working on her intonation and stress, Dina sounds more pleasant now, and gone are the days when she came across as harsh while reading.
Hence, how do you maintain a stimulating environment for learning vocabulary? It means taking risks and perhaps going out of your comfort zone and trying new ways.
One method I use which is incredibly popular with my students is to find outrageous, old black and white photos that capture universal themes. You would be amazed at the varied interpretations of photographs from student to student. They allow their imagination to go wild and construct a story using disjointed vocabulary words. For reluctant students, this is one way that persuades them to open up. You will both be confounded at the results!
If you encounter a creative student who enjoys drama, you can play - “The Real Housewives of Riyadh”! Entertaining from the get-go, the game I invented represents my answer to reviewing vocabulary innovatively and memorably. I wanted a novel strategy for practicing our words while having a barrel of laughs. I place a list of incongruous vocabulary that we have studied together, for example, pariah”, “rebuke”, “ostentatious”, “surreptitiously”, “supplant”, “predator”, “ravenously”, “traitorous” and the story begins to unfold.
In a boisterous tone, I begin the episode by me yelling at her for trying to steal my husband. And then before you know it we are having a full-on verbal altercation using all of the vocabulary words. The conversation moves from the regular vernacular to downright ridiculous. I recall one of the last lines in our drama was, “ You better stop wearing those red stiletto sandals under your abaya!”.
Feel free to share your ideas. In your next lesson, don't be afraid to try out "The Real Housewives of _______________", you may be in for a pleasant surprise.
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