I have been in Laos for a while now and I really enjoy the life here in the hot Asian sun. Every day I wake up and look forward to seeing the smiling faces of the pre-schoolers, and today I will tell you a little bit about my work with Mopsy, the dog, in Ban Sikeud Primary School.
We already start teaching English at pre-school because it is a perfect opportunity for the pupils to dive into an English-speaking atmosphere, which enables them to adopt the foreign language intuitively and emotionally with all senses. In addition to that, they do not have any English curriculum yet, which is why the lessons in pre-school do not need to follow any specific guidelines or course book.
I work with the pre-schoolers every day from Monday to Thursday in the morning. In the beginning, I had to transcribe every Lao name into English and I made name signs for every child because – since I have 60 pre-schoolers in 2 classes – it was impossible for me to remember every name. This was very interesting because I got to know many unknown names such as Ponsavane, Mitmisai, Soubandith, Sivilai, Lianelong, Sonmaniyam, Khankam, Tippasone…
When I enter the classroom in the morning, all the children stand up and shout “good morning teacher!”, which makes me smile each time because they do it with so much enthusiasm and love that I know it will be a good day. Then I read out the names of the children of the first group and they line up to go into the pupils’ library room, where I work with them for 20 minutes. Teaching English to the pre-schoolers means to sing, mime, dance, and draw a lot. Every word needs to be contextualised, semanticised, and underlined with a special facial expression or move.
I work with the course book Mopsy and me written by Leonora Fröhlich-Ward and Gisela Schmid-Schönbein. In my opinion, it is perfect for “English beginners” of that age because talking with the small dog-shaped hand puppet Mopsy motivates the children to speak English. During our morning ritual we make a circle and sing a good morning song together. Here we greet everybody in the group by putting our hands together (respectful Lao greeting = nop). Then we start with our lesson. I try to talk about a new topic every week, and in between we do a lot of repetition so that the children remember what they learned already.
My highlight in the second week was when most of the pre-schoolers could answer my questions about their names. Because they are used to repeating after the teachers all the time in their Lao lessons, it took some time for them to understand the difference between repeating after me and answering a question. I experienced just the same as Tobi from Team I when we met on a Monday morning and they could name all the body parts we learned last week. That made me proud and happy.
Up to now, the children cannot only introduce themselves and tell me how they are; they can also sing and perform the “Hokey Pokey” song, which is about body parts, and the “Head and shoulders, knees and toes” song. The children love to sing and to dance – but what they love most is when they are allowed to act and speak with Mopsy on their own. It is impressive how fast the pre-schoolers learn and how good the pronunciation of some children is. I really enjoy the work with the children even if it is hard sometimes to make myself understood. However, in this case I have Kathong (a young Lao woman), who helps me and translates in difficult situations because my little Lao knowledge is often not enough.
At the end of every lesson it is time to say goodbye. We sing a song and shout “bye-bye, Mopsy, see you tomorrow!”, and the children run back to their classrooms.
The wide laughing faces of the children create a feeling of deep satisfaction, happiness, and joy in me – every single day.
Text and photos by P. Kern