Thursday, December 31, 2015

Learning by Living: A Personal View

Learning English as a kid

Over my lifetime, I have experienced the challenges of learning a foreign language both personally and as an observer.  At eight years old, I was a Korean immigrant in a “sink or swim” language situation: with no prior English language instruction, I was enrolled in a New York public school. Scary and frustrating? You bet. I had been a very good student back in Seoul; in New York, I found myself failing my courses and lashing out in tears at my parents for ruining my life. But at the end of six months, I’d reached full fluency and productivity, able to negotiate all my classes as well as the all-important social world.

Learning Japanese as a young adult

Fast forward 10 years, and I am in college studying Japanese.  I had kept up my Korean thanks to my mother’s efforts, and I found Japanese to be relatively easy.  The grammatical structure, usage patterns and some of the Chinese character-based words were the same between the two languages. So, I had great grades.  However, when I landed in Tokyo during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I couldn’t understand much and probably had that panic-stricken look that many of the Hi-London and Hi-New-York students have upon arrival at our centers.  I made watching Japanese soap operas a part of my study plan that summer and made fast progress in mastering every-day Japanese.

Years later, I had my children in Tokyo and placed them in the local day care center at 4 (the older child) and 9 (the younger child) months with the children of store keepers and company employees who worked in the area as I myself went back to work.  I watched in fascination as they not only picked up Japanese but knew when to speak it to whom. They switched naturally between Japanese and English, with my son adopting the female speech patterns of his caregivers!

Learning French as a mature adult

We left Japan a few years later for London.  In London, we continued our experimentation with our own children and put them into the French school system at the ages of 4 and 2.  My son, at age four, conquered French between September and Christmas by constantly listening, talking, and trying the words out. Monique, at two, took a different approach.  She didn’t speak at all at first, but when she opened her mouth three month later, she was fluent.

You might envy my immersion in English at age eight; I was jealous of how naturally my much younger children picked up their new language – while I was re-visiting my own rusty high school French.  After numerous class hours and living partially in French for almost 20 years, I can understand most conversations but still make mistakes in delivery.

Starting young is a must!

We all know that the younger you start, the easier it is to learn a foreign language. Eight seems to be a bit of a magic number; after that age, even fluent speakers generally seem to retain their native accent. Young children, with their ever- changing brains, are building synapses as they play with friends, interact with the world around them, watch television, and listen to their teachers.  When they are surrounded by new experiences in a foreign country, language acquisition becomes just part of the deal.

We’re learning more about the human brain every day, and scientists tell us that our internal networks are changing and synapses rebuilding every time we learn new skills. Young or old, we can work at reshaping our brains and keeping them flexible. Youth helps, of course, but so does immersive experiential learning.  Sitting in a classroom, doing grammatical exercise in workbooks, listening to language tapes – these tools have their place.  But to really learn a language, to internalize it, get those synapses re-routed and connected, there is no substitute for experiential learning – learning by doing, by throwing yourself into a world where you are hearing and seeing that language all around you. Where you are forced to use the language to negotiate your everyday life. Where you want to learn the language because you want to participate, to connect, to have conversations with your new friends, and to live fully in the world around you.

At Horizon International through Hi-New-York and Hi-London, we are focused on making sure that everyone in your family – old or young, with brains putting up new wiring or re-routing some (ahem!) vintage synapses – benefits from challenging, fun, and immersive learning experiences.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Summer Encounters in English

As the temperature drops in NYC, we look back nostalgically at a summer of exploring not only Manhattan but also Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx…and learning English along the way.

Escaping the Heat in the NY Jungle

The various parks in NYC, including Central Park, were the star attractions for many of our younger students.  We went fishing in its waters, searched for native birds and creepy crawlies in the shady nature reserves, floated across a lake in row boats and cooled off in the water playgrounds.

Our older students escaped the heat along the harbor and on rooftops and beaches.  We discussed water purification using oysters, sustainable agriculture in and around NYC and American ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit as we explored a NYC undergoing a green revolution.

NYC Treats 

There was always something to taste in the neighborhoods.  At a farmers’ market on the Upper West Side, we discovered that honey was being made on the rooftops across NYC.  How cool is it to get honey from as diverse places as the West Village, mid-town Manhattan and Prospect Heights!

On the Lower East Side, we tried bagels with cream cheese (Can  you believe that some of the students had never ever tasted this?!), cherry soda, and Pop Rocks. Our Chinatown visit included soup dumplings from Shanghai, our Brooklyn excursion salted chocolate and our Harlem walk fried chicken and corn bread.  And then there was the cactus and Dominican chicken and rice in Queens!

Of course, in every neighborhood, there was pizza. Enormous and served in slices, we had them in Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Manhattan.  The jury is still out on which is a Hi-New-York favorite!
Fridays were days to say good-bye to new friends and to trade email addresses with promises to keep in touch.  Always a part of the parting were the Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies and Oreos.  It was amazing to see how popular Oreos had become around the world.  Apparently, it is sold in Brazil, Spain, Germany, France, Italy…everyone seems to know and love them!

Encountering the Familiar and the Unfamiliar

There is much in NYC that is familiar to those who live outside of the US, thanks to the numerous movies which have been filmed here.  One young student, upon emerging from the subway in Times Square, exclaimed:  “This is just like the movies!”.  She then saw herself on the big screen above and squealed with pleasure.

There are a few things in NYC, however, that are unfamiliar to foreigners.  A walk through Wholefoods required a stop by the cut fruit section with a discussion on why people would choose to buy what is obviously more expensive than whole fruit.  The next stop was at the breakfast section where a student admired the various pancake mixes.  He was French and couldn’t get over the fact that we would buy a pancake mix instead of throwing together the very few ingredients required to make them.  I think he would have been floored if we had taken him to see the Dunkan Hines cake mixes (in a supermarket other than Wholefoods of course!).

Tipping is also something that bewildered the parents accompanying our young students.  They didn't know when to tip and how much to tip since this is not an accepted practice in most of the countries outside of the US.  They asked:  Why do you need to tip the hairdresser? Aren't you paying them through the price of a haircut?  As much as 20%?! 

Using English to Build Bridges

Hopefully, our students understand better the American way of life after spending time with us in NYC.  Many visitors only scratch the surface of NYC; there is so much more to the city than the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.  To those of us who call NYC our home, the city is as diverse as the people who live in it, and it gives us great pleasure to share ourselves and the city’s many facets with our students. Let's keep in touch!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hi-New-York, Hello-Summer!

While fishing in Central Park, tasting the honey made on the rooftops of Manhattan or riding on the subway to Coney Island, our students and teachers share with each other their stories and dreams.

Isn’t it illegal to sell gum from 1989?

 A favorite stop for our students on the Lower East Side is Economy Candy. Here, you will find Tootsie Rolls, Pop Rocks and other sugared treats that were popular in the 70’s and 80's.

One 10-year-old boy from Turkey was obsessed with superheroes and used his $3 to buy 3 packs of bubble gum with Spiderman cards in them. On his way back to the school, he popped one of the bubble gums into his mouth and “almost broke my teeth!” When he checked the pack, he saw a 1989 expiration date. 10-year-old Maria from Brazil exclaimed: “Isn’t it illegal to sell food from 1989?” The teacher had her say, too. She piped up: “If you save those cards, they might become collectors’ items, and you will make a lot of money!”

What do you want to be when you grow up?

For 16-year-old Manuel, a day on the Intrepid was right up his alley. His grandfather was in the military, and Manuel had just decided to go to the military academy in Spain and learn to design ships. When he said he wanted to “design boats”, we initially thought it was to design yachts...

17-year-old Luisa is interested in animals, nature and wildlife. She would like to become a biologist. An afternoon spent at an oyster farm in NY Harbor opened her eyes to the possibilities of water purification using oysters!

Eric, a member of the Hi-New-York team, dreams of playing a superhero in a movie one day.  He recently auditioned for Spiderman but was told he looked too old to be a teenage Peter Parker.  We are keeping our fingers crossed that he lands the next superhero role!

Friday, May 01, 2015

Top Things to Do in New York City This Summer

There’s no denying it: New York City is a great place to spend the summer. Not only is it a perfect place to learn English, but there’s also plenty of excitement with many outdoor events and activities. During the summer, New Yorkers really take it to the streets:

4th of July Fireworks

Every year, Americans celebrate the anniversary of our independence from England on 4th July, and in New York City, the people certainly know how to do so in style. This is a fantastic day of barbeques, beach parties and music with a wonderful festival atmosphere.

The highlight, of course, is the night-time firework display over Brooklyn Bridge. Although it doesn’t get underway until 9pm, you’ll need to be in place by 5pm if you want to see the show. You’ll find the best viewpoints at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn Heights Promenade and the east side of Lower Manhattan.

Street Fairs

One of New York City’s most endearing characteristics is the huge number of street fairs which spring up all over the city during summer, which feature countless vendors selling hand-made items, games for kids and much more. What better way to connect with a place than to mingle with locals on the streets of their own neighborhoods, enjoying the many delights on offer?

Lists of New York City’s street fairs are readily available; so, you can easily find where to go on any given day. Generally, they tend to get underway at around 11am-12pm and last until 6-7pm.

Ad-hoc Street Games

New York City is a large, bustling city of over 8 million inhabitants. Fortunately, that means there’s never a shortage of players if you want to start a pick-up game. So, no matter what you’re looking for (street hockey, basketball, skateboarding, roller blading, ultimate disk, etc.), chances are there will always be a few spontaneous games getting underway at any point in the city.

And these ad-hoc street games not only provide great fun and useful exercise, but they’re also a great way to meet local people. So, be ready to really get to know the soul of New York City.

Water Play Areas in the Park

Inevitably, New York City’s parks are some of its best loved features. Who wouldn’t love a green space in such a vast concrete jungle, right? But during the summer, water play areas make these parks that extra bit special.

New York City’s parks are just full of water features: sprinklers, fountains, ponds and beautiful spraying statues. And it’s no wonder kids love them so much; they are not only cool and refreshing on a hot summer’s day, but they also provide for endless of hours of fun. For parents looking for great family days out, few things beat letting your children run wild at a water play area in a New York City park.

So, if you are fortunate enough to be in New York City this summer, make sure you don’t miss out on these events and activities. After all, these are some of the things that make New York City such a fantastic city. So do as the locals do, and take it to the streets this summer.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Learning Beyond the Classroom

Make learning more engaging

As summer vacations approaches, kids can’t wait to hit the beach or travel somewhere with their families and / or friends. Very few are eager to study, and many don’t realize that you can combine both work and play beyond the classroom.

Taking learning outside of the classroom is a proven method to increase productivity and understanding, especially in younger kids. Experiential learning contextualizes the focus of the teaching subject. At Hi New York we practice this on all our English courses for children.

Making learning relevant

Young kids are fascinated by new places and new things; they have a natural curiosity which if fed, will manifest itself into the child beginning to better understand the world around him/her.

Taking learning outside of the classroom can let kids’ imaginations fly. Instead of learning about castl
es, let them go to one and re-enact stories and learn by creating. With this method of teaching, kids’ learning comes as a bi-product of them having fun and creating a memorable experience.

It’s amazing how much kids can learn through playing. If you can weave in the lessons and the facts with learning from their own initiative they will remember much more and learn faster.

Teaching English with the experiential approach makes the learning engaging and relevant. It doesn’t over complicate the teaching with grammar which can be hard to grasp at a young age, especially if English is not a first language. English in a practical outdoors sense can be the first step to developing their language skills.

Practical and experiential learning through play doesn’t focus teaching down to a specific syllabus. It can encompass many subjects and let kids try new experiences that can inspire them and help reach their full potential.

Life skills

Learning outside helps kids become aware of the world around them and teach important life skills such as taking on responsibility or improving their ability to engage with adults and one another. A practical understanding of the world can help put learning into perspective.

Experiential learning can not only build language skills but can also help shape kids’ future career paths. It may expose a talent, skill or interest in a field that may turn into a lifelong passion.

It’s a wide world

Every city is an exciting new adventure and has an abundance of things to learn when discovering them. New York City has a rich and extensive history and culture to explore. The tales behind the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Islands, the science behind nature’s furies at the Natural History Museum and the baseball fields and zoo in Central Park.

The kids can learn about the culture and history behind this iconic American city while absorbing the English that is being spoken all round them. Taking learning outside is the perfect way for kids to learn, play and be happy.

When education is fun, the learning experience is more memorable and the impact more lasting.  The memories of using New York City as an English language classroom will stay with them forever.