Tag Archive | "Education"

A French Class in Manhattan without Teachers and Textbooks

A weekly class of ACT FRENCH with wine and cheese, in the Pearl Studios

Five adults were tossing a multicolored kindergarten ball to each other as they conjugated the verb “to be” in French in strong American accents: “Je suis, tu es, il est, nous sommes, vous êtes, ils sont.”

The exercise, part of a class in basic French, was held on a recent Monday night at Pearl Studios, on 8th Avenue and 34th Street, in Manhattan.
“Language is a baby’s thing,” explained Manisha Snoyer, the founder and head teacher of the program, Act French.
“By throwing a ball at someone at the same time you conjugate a verb, you focus on the other and not yourself,” Snoyer said, shaking her curly brown hair. “It resolves self-consciousness and nervousness issues students usually face when learning a new language.”

Snoyer uses this back-to-basics approach in the classes Snoyer she created in the two past years – Act French, Act Spanish, Act Russian, Act Italian, Act American, Act French with wine and cheese and Atelier Francophone.
Snoyer, who speaks French with a light and indefinable accent, is an actress herself. Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., she studied theater for three years at Le Cours Florent, a famous Parisian drama school.
When Snoyer returned to New York, she regretted that French playwrights were not well known in the United States. In order to promote them, she started to teach French plays to fellow actors and actresses.

“Acting in an another language was a great opportunity for the actors to reinvent themselves,” Snoyer said. “They let go the mother tongue pressure, and they become liberated from it.”
Soon enough, Snoyer noticed all the actors and actresses had made great improvements in French. As she started receiving increasing requests from people out of show business, Snoyer decided to expand her classes to all, far from traditional teachers and textbooks.
The program costs $330 for six weeks, and the beginner classes are every Monday evening from 8 to 10. Returning students pay $225.

While Snoyer is confident that she created the “only school in New York that teaches foreign languages with acting games,” it is not entirely true. The Alliance Française has many “traditional” courses for beginner adults. Among them, there is a very similar program called “Acting & Expression,” taught by Eleonore Dyl, a stage director. She promotes the program on the same ground that theater is “fun” and helps “build confidence and learn how to express yourself freely.” A 2-hour weekly class costs $475 per term, for a lower cost than Act French but with a longer commitment.
Back in the small Pearl, the rubber ball stopped bouncing. For the second part of the class, the four students started a role-play in French. They were sitting in a circle on gray folding chairs, next to a closed piano and a huge ballet mirror. Dalit Kaplan, 29, pretended – in French – that she was Silvio Berlusconi. “It is hard but I like the fact that we are in immersion,” Kaplan said.
Interviewing her, Elana Adderley, also 29, a singer and an actress, played at being Julia Roberts. “I have this kind of brain, when I am merging myself into somebody else, I find it easier to be,” Adderley said.
Hannah Kloepfer, in a mustard yellow sweater, listened to the fictional interviews and punctuated the students’ contribution with a boost. “Excellent, Excellent,” she kept on saying, in French.

Kloepfer is American and looks younger than all the students in the room. She has been teaching this beginners class for three weeks, in addition to studying French and Francophone studies at Columbia University. She sometimes mispronounced a word or left a mistake uncorrected, but the beginners wouldn’t notice it.
Like Snoyer, Kloepfer is also an actress.
“Being an actress makes you a better at teaching languages,” explained Snoyer.
Kloepfer, on her side, is thrilled by the method.
“We eliminate the fear,” she said. “I call it an out-of-your-mind-and-into-your-body approach.” She is confident that after the six weeks program, “the students will be able to have a conversation in French or travel to France.”
Koepfler’s favorite moment is the play reading, which takes place in the last 30 minutes of the course. The students rehearsed an excerpt of a French contemporary play by Jean-Luc Lagarce. The passage is full of misunderstandings and arguments.
“There is no complexity in the plot,” Koepfler explained. Ironically, she said, “Complexity is in the communication amongst the characters.”
And as the scene went along, the students read their parts out loud, in clipped and shaky voices. Then began an absurd exchange of “Je ne comprends pas!” (“I don’t understand”) and “- Antoine? – Non, je ne me souviens plus!” (“Antoine? – No, I don’t remember you!”)
“It is very amusing when the actors don’t even understand what they are saying,” murmured Josh Harmon, 26, a law student at New York University.
Harmon was brought here by another 26-year-old, Nina Salpeter. They got married less than a month ago, and Salpeter already has a good level of French.
“It is a bonding activity,” Harmon said. “It could become our secret language at a party if we don’t want anybody to understand us.”
At the end of the semester, the students are expected to stage the little excerpt in front of other students from other classes in other languages.
“We will find out some costumes, maybe hats and accessories,” said Koepfler, smiling and looking very excited.
Next week, they will read works by the more classical writers, like Moliere’s “Les Précieuses ridicules,” a play about very witty ladies who indulge in conversations and word games.
Aside from its literary value, Harmon, the newlywed, remembered one other reason why he followed his wife to the class. “And French is the language of love!” he said.

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Teaching Dance Without Language

By Elaisha Stokes

Peniel Guerrier doesn’t speak much and when he does, it’s in Haitian Creole, a language his students don’t understand. But the barrier is not important for this respected dance teacher, who believes the art of movement should be taught with the body, and not the tongue.

Every Friday at the Djoniba Dance Center in the East Village, Guerrier teaches a group of about 20 dance students and five drummers the tradition of Haitian folkloric dance.

“You don’t speak dance, you dance dance,” said Guerrier. “And that is what I do.”

On a recent day, Guerrier’s class was packed with gyrating students. Their feet stomped and hips thrust, while shoulders and butts moved awkwardly in unison. Most of the students in Guerrier’s class have little or no dance experience. None of them are Haitian.  Guerrier stood at the front of the room, dressed in a red T-shirt and oversized batik pants, dancing gracefully When he clapped, it sounded like lightning. Guerrier did not say a word – and for good reason.  It would be hard to compete with the aggressive pounding of the drums. All of his teaching is done through mimicry and eye contact.

“Dance is physical,” said Guerrier, “and so it should be taught with the body, not with the voice.”

Haitian folkloric dance is an African-based tradition that incorporates a rich variety of physical movements with the rhythms of the drum. There is no hard data on the number of dancers who practice the tradition, but Guerrier remains one of only two notable teachers in New York City.  An hour and a half group dance class with Guerrier costs $17.

While Haitian dance is closely linked to Vodou culture, Guerrier is adamant that his classes are strictly agnostic. For Guerrier, dance is a physical exercise that assures well being of both body and soul.

“What we are teaching here is physical movement,” said Guerrier. “It’s about connecting with your body first.”

Though dance has long been a central part of Guerrier’s life, his true passion has always been education. He attended L’Ecole Nationale des Arts for one year before opening a preschool in Haiti dedicated to teaching the arts. Since moving to America, his efforts have been focused on promoting Haitian cultural traditions through his organization, Tamboula D’Haiti, an educational and dance company.

“Promote, preserve and educate,” said Guerrier. “That’s my motto.”

Guerrier’s teaching technique begins by demonstrating a choreographed sequence of dance steps to his students. The room is then divided into two groups, which face one another. Each groups repeats the movement sequence one at a time, like a bizarre mating ritual. When a student falls behind, Guerrier rushes to their side. He looks them straight in the eye and paces their movements with his own, always remaining silent.

“It’s incredible,” said Eleanor Simon, a senior citizen and 10-year veteran of Guerrier’s class who lives in New Jersey, “Guerrier just knows how to get you to tap into your inner self. He could be looking in the opposite direction from you, and yet he will know exactly when you make a mistake.”

Guerrier said his teaching method is based on years of experience and a belief that the most effective means of communication is often non-verbal.

“When you teach, you have to pay attention to the details,” said Guerrier. “I work with old people, young people, even disabled people. Communication is the key.”

Tessa Wright, 31, agreed. She has been attending Guerrier’s class on and off for the last six years. The tall thin graphic designer started life as a ballerina, but an accident left her with an injury that forced her to leave her dancing life behind. Beyond this, she had grown tired with the dogmatic rigidity of the ballet tradition. When she discovered Haitian folkloric dancing, it was a revelation.

“Haitian dance is a whole new skill set,” said Wright. “It feels more natural than ballet. There’s a lyricism to the movements.”

The movements by their very nature are incredibly complex, accompanying a drum beat that moves at speeds as fast as 260 beats per a minute. Guerrier is adamant that drumming is a critical component in Haitian dance. He considers it to be so critical, in fact, that he teaches a drumming class at the same time as his dance class.

A select group of Haitian students are invited to attend. There is no fee for this service. Guerrier views it as an important component of keeping the folkloric tradition alive. Kenny Joseph, a 21-year-old newcomer, said that learning to drum has helped him connect to his Haitian roots. He said he loves contributing to Guerrier’s dance classes because they allow him to practice his craft.

“Drumming and dancing work hand in hand,” said Joseph. “You can see the rhythm of the drums in the movement of the dancers. You can’t have one without the other.”

Guerrier’s current focus is the launch of a series of educational DVD’s which he hopes will help bring Haitian folkloric dance to a larger audience. He is also working with his students to prepare for their recital next May. It’s a long way off, but it’s a chance for Guerrier to showcase Haitian culture to a larger audience.

“I want to do everything I can to positively promote my culture,” said Guerrier. “Haiti needs to be viewed in a more positive light.”

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With the Hope of Someday Bringing Democracy to Myanmar, Burmese Monks Enroll In ESL Classes

Most Buddhist monks spend their day dedicated to prayer and meditation. For a group of monks in Brooklyn, learning English is also a way to help bring peace to their home country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Linda Ong reports from an E.S.L. class in Brooklyn.


Burmese Monks go to E.S.L. Class

By Linda Ong

When U Gawsita walks into Donna Korol’s adult E.S.L. class in Brooklyn, the room snaps to life. New students stare at his heavy red robes, while regulars casually wave and say, “Good morning, Ko-Sada.” Gawsita acknowledges the greeting with a nod and sits in the back of the classroom. While most Burmese Buddhist monks in the city dedicate their time to prayer and meditation, Gawsita is learning English.

“My English isn’t so good,” said Gawsita. “But, I like it- learning English.”

Every weekday from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Gawsita, 29, attends E.S.L. class at P.S. 19 in Brooklyn. The class, which is run by the New York State’s Office of Education, is offered free to the public and draws in many locals from the neighborhood. Korol’s students, ranging in age from 22 to 81, are a mix of Dominicans, Hispanics, Polish, Bangladeshis, Russians, and Gawsita, a Burmese Buddhist monk. They sit intermingled with one another in individual student desks that are organized in neat rows that face the chalkboard at the front of the room.

On a recent day, the lesson plan began with a class discussion focused on the question, “What is your idea of fun?” The students spontaneously chime in, responding with “helping my kids with homework,” “going to a play,” and “the park,” while others who are early English learners, shy away. Korol conducts her class with ease, flowing from one topic to the next, from reviewing past vocabulary words and tenses to tips on how to pronounce words.

“It’s easier to pair words, like instead of bread, say slice of bread,” she said.

Learning topics often turn into discussions about the news. Prepositions, adverbs, and other parts of speech are lost in conversation, but that doesn’t bother Korol.

“I’ve been teaching E.S.L. for 25 years, and I’ve learned so much from my students,” she said. “They come from so many different backgrounds and I am sensitive to that- I take that into consideration. I want them to be comfortable enough to talk in class.”

The program accepts students at different learning levels, and many join based on their comfort with the current curriculum. For Gawsita, this is his second year in Korol’s class.

“The teacher is very nice, she doesn’t mind if we are late,” he said, laughing. “She teach us very good.”

For Gawsita, the opportunity to learn is still a new idea that he never experienced in his native country of Myanmar, where oppression enforced by the then military-led government made receiving an education difficult for monks and for the majority of civilians.

“I had no chance to learn in Burma, so now I love it,” he said, constantly referring to his iPhone 4S to look up Burmese translations for English vocabulary words.

Prior to coming to America, Gawsita was one of thousands of monks who fled Myanmar to live as refugees at the Thai-Myanmar border of Mae Sot after participating in the 2007 Saffron Revolution. The revolution started as a peaceful protest led by monks, but ended with a military crackdown and many casualties. After testifying in front of the United States Congress as a witness of the revolution, Gawsita came to the U.S. and first settled in Utica. In 2009, he moved to Brooklyn’s Metta Parami Monastery where he now resides with two other monks, U Pyinya and U Agga. U Pyinya occasionally joins U Gawsita to work on his English in Korol’s class, while U Agga is taking G.E.D. classes.

The monks said that learning English is vital to help them to continue to promote democracy in their home country, especially with the increasing number of political prisoner being released in Myanmar. As part of the All Monks Burma Alliance, the three monks work with many international, non-profit, and relief organizations, so communication, they said, is key.

“We work with a lot of American speakers,” said U Agga. “We give presentations at universities, too. We need to improve our English so people know us, what we do, what is happening in Burma.”

The monks’ 18 months of English training has paid dividends, Korol said.

“They have come a long way since they came here,” said Korol. “And, it’s not easy- Burmese and English are very different languages. They’re doing great.”

Israel Leonardo, a native of the Dominican Republic and one of Korol’s top students, speaks often in class and serves as translator to native Spanish speakers who want to join the class. Like many of the adults in the E.S.L. class, Leonardo splits his time between school in the morning, work as an expeditor in a Manhattan restaurant in the afternoon and the evening, and quality time with his kids in between.

“I learn here and then I teach my kids and help them with their homework,” said Leonardo, who is in the mid-20’s, beaming as he talks about his children. “I’m very busy, but it’s worth it.”

Leonardo began taking Korol’s classes around the same time as Gawsita. Since then, Leonardo said that he has developed a sense of camaraderie with Gawsita.

“I was curious at first,” said Leonardo. “But then I got to know them and he’s really nice. Ko-Sada has encouraged me a lot.”

Korol, too, admitted to being initially intrigued by Gawsita, but said she enjoys teaching them and seeing their progress.

“His pronunciation has improved so much from last year,” she said, referring to Gawsita.

Since U Gawsita and U Pyinya joined her course, Korol said that the class has transformed from a predominantly Hispanic class to an international one. In this mix, Korol said that she is not only the teacher, but also the student.

“When you’re here, you’re in the moment. We get to share our experiences, which are very different,” she said. “My students never cease to amaze me. It’s truly a joy.”

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