My English Students
Quite by accident, I have acquired a group of young people interested in practicing their skills in listening and speaking English. This endeavor, while somewhat time consuming, has brought me a great deal of pleasure, entertainment, and enlightenment. While they practice their English with me, I also have relearned a lot English I haven't thought about in years -- lay and lie, sit and set, lead and led, etc. It also has broadened my understanding of life in México and the history of this area. And I am very pleased that I have acquired several new friends.
It began with Nery in 2006.
In November ’06 as I was coming out of my neighborhood tienda, a young man road up on his bicycle and said, in pretty good English, “I’d like to be your friend to practice my English.” That stuck me as a fun idea, so I welcomed him to come to my house. Since we live on the same street only a block apart, he already knew where I was.
Since that day, Nery has been coming to my house two or three mornings each week for conversations about just about everything under the sun. We spend some time on grammar and difficult words. One of our favorite subjects is food. He brought me some very tasty things from his mother’s kitchen which gave me the idea of asking her to do some cooking stories for my website. That’s how I met Adriana Rosales and started new cooking adventures at her house.
His English has gotten quite good. He will be starting college this fall (2008) – computer science. He’s 24-years old and has waited this long for college because the family could afford to send only one son at a time to college. His older brother recently graduated, so now it’s Nery’s turn.
Four nights per week, Nery goes to a private English school taught by a friend of mine. The teacher concentrates on grammar and vocabulary; there is little time for conversation practice – that’s where I come in. Nery has brought two fellow students to my house for conversations, but they lacked stick-to-itiveness, so they dropped out pretty quickly.
Recently, he brought another. Misael is a 17-year old high school senior who plans to go to medical school like his older sister. He is determined to learn English. He is also very bright and funny. I have really been lucky to have these two gems come knocking on my door.
Misael’s English is not nearly as good as Nery’s, so to encourage him to talk more, I started asking him questions about his school and course of study. ¡Boy, did that turn out to be an eye-opener!
There are five public high schools in Lerdo. They are as different as night and day, but that’s another story for another day. In Misael’s school, sophomore students are given a battery of aptitude tests and discussions with a counselor to determine which academic track the students should take. Among the available tracks are business, computer science, mechanics, construction, clinical laboratory, and others. Misael was accepted into the clinical lab track.
In this final semester before graduation, his courses include math, biology, human metabolism, biochemistry, and a couple of others. He says all his teachers are excellent, know their subjects, and present them well. I was surprise when he said they draw blood to run various lab tests. But I was completely blown away when he said the male students were asked to bring semen samples, so the class could study sperm under the microscopes. Can you imagine the uproar such an assignment would cause in the USA? Misael took the assignment in stride and seemed to think it not at all unusual. He made some jokes about it that I won’t repeat here.
When he graduates from this clinical lab program, if his grades are good enough, and if he passes the entrance exam, he will be eligible to enter directly into medical school, just as his sister did. At this writing, he is attending a cram course every Saturday morning to prepare for the entrance exam. I have no doubt that he will pass. He is a very bright guy along with being personable, handsome and eager to learn.
A couple of weeks after Misael joined us, he asked if his girlfriend could come. She also attends the evening English school with Nery and Misael. She is at the beginner level and is rather shy about speaking with us. But that will change.
She attends the same high school as Misael. She is in the business track.
Through her I met her parents. They have a gorditas business that I featured in a picture story.
Nery with his iPod wires is standing behind Karla and Misael
UPDATE Karla and Misael are no longer together, and she doesn't come for lessons now.
August 08: I have added another student. Alex is a veterinary medicine student. He came to my house with Nery a few times a while back, but had to drop out because of schedule problems at school and his competitive bicycle racing. He says no more bike racing, so he will have time for English conversations. I hope so. Like the others, he's bright and interesting.
March 2008: Saturday night my three students and their class-mates from the evening English school put together a carne asada party at my house. What a fun time with a patio full of teenagers doing their best to speak English. The boys cooked the carne on the charcoal grill, and did a good job of it. I sat with the ladies and talked with them until they lapsed into gossiping in Spanish and playing with their cell phones. They couldn't understand why I do not have a cell. They seemed to think it really strange that someone could actually not want one.
They did a good job of cleaning up the patio, but my kitchen was a disaster area.
May 2008: My English classes have taken a bit of a technical turn. The guys have signed up with Skype, so we are chatting via computer as well in person. VoIP has a big advantage for them -- they don't have to walk to my house in the hot sun. It has the disadvantage that we can't write words or look at printed matter.
July 2008: They have taken their college placement exams and are nervously awaiting the results.
We had another patio party, but this one was a bust thanks to a rain storm.
August 2008: Misael is hard at work in Med school. He has a bone-crushing class schedule (7:00AM to 3:00PM and 7:00PM to 9:00PM) and mountains of home study work, so I don't expect to see much of him from now on.
Karla didn't make the cut for her first choice, so she is going to lay out this semester and try again in the spring. Karla only comes with Misael, so I probably won't see much of her either.
Nery made it into the computer science program he was aiming for. He was lucky with his schedule -- 7:00AM to 2:00PM, no split day. His two problem classes are English and math. He speaks better English than the teacher, so he is trying to get in an advanced class. My guess is that he is better than the advanced class, and probably better than any of the teachers.
He has a problem with math. He was never very good at math, and he has been out of high school for about 6 years. Rolly to the rescue. I'm a retired engineer, and I taught math in the Air Force a hell of a long time ago. So now English lessons for Nery will be math tutoring in English, and maybe some HTML too.
He is taking a course in HTML without a textbook. Just lecture notes. So I gave him my HTML-5 book which I never use anyway. (HTML is the computer language used to write webpages among other things.) Each student has his own computer station which will be a big help.
September 16, 2008: My friend Johnny who ran the English school where my students attended was murdered last night. The preliminary investigation points to a bar room fight that followed him home. He was an outstanding English teacher and will be sorely missed.
November 11, 2008: The time demands of college have greatly reduced the visits of my students. I see most of them about once a week. I kind of miss the more frequent interaction.
Nery just came by for a visit with a surprise. We met two years ago this month, and now his English has reached the point that some beginning students from Johnny's old school have recruited him to teach them. Somehow he finds time to squeeze in an hour each evening (M-F) to teach a group of six at a community center down town. On weekends he is teaching his brother and sister-in-law in his home. I don't know when he sleeps.
Makes me feel good that my student is now sharing his skill with others.
November 15, 2008: Nery came by for his Saturday visit. I was surprised to learn that all his college homework must be done on a computer and turned in via the internet. The school has a special website were students upload their homework each day. The site closes at 11:45PM. Nery says sometimes he is in a terrible rush to get an assignment done by closing time. He said even his math homework must be done on the computer. There are 4 students in his group who do not have the internet at home, so they have to use an internet café. That must be a real drag.
Made me feel really old to remember how my professors used to beg for typed papers.
May 12, 2009: It’s been a while since I reported on my favorite hobby, so here’s some catching up.
Misael is so busy in medical school that he has not been to my house in several months. His gf Carla has come without him a few times, but her English is so beginner that we don’t get very far.
Nery has been visiting me for two and a half years. I rate him as completely bilingual. Most of the time now we just talk about “ships and shoes and sealing wax.” We sometimes work on uncommon idioms and strange sayings – straight shooter, hit the jackpot, damn Yankee, dead as a door nail, etc.
He is exempt from English classes at his college, but he continues to attend them as the teacher’s aid. The teacher is Mexican who grew up in the USA, so he is, effectively, a native English speaker. For a while last winter, Nery was teaching English at the Lerdo community center, but he gave it up at Christmas because of the time press of school. He is still teaching his older brother and girl friend.
He has set a goal to be number one in his class, Last term he came in third with an average of 93. He was beat by a guy with 95 and a lady with 97. Nery says the lady will be very hard to beat because she is super smart.
He was on Spring break when the virus scare hit, so his vacation was extended for a week. He expects to go back to school next week. The school has a strange schedule; they run all year, no summer break. His next break will come next Christmas. He’s worried about the next quarter because he will be taking calculus, and math is his Achilles’ heal.
Alex continues to improve his English, but this semester at his veterinary medicine college has been a disaster. It was marred by two faculty strikes that lasted several days each time. The college said those days would be made up, but now they have reneged on that because of the virus mess. He has been out of school for two weeks now because of the virus, and the school says they have decided to end the semester now – no further class until next fall. The students were given a lot of home work to be complete by this Friday. There will be no final exams; grades will be based on homework. Alex feels his education has been cheated. He has a chance to make up for some of the loss through an unofficial internship his father (also a vet) has arranges with a colleague in Durango city who has a large horse practice.
Looks like my students will be mostly gone this summer.
May 27, 2009: Alex's semester from hell just got worse. He went online to check his final grades -- all 80s and 90s except one which was 32. Alarmed, he called the professor to find out what happened. Turns out his lab partner had failed to turn in the lab notes and reports for the semester. The team had four guys. They pleaded with the professor to accept the work late and not to penalized those who had nothing to do with the snafu. The professor refused.
Alex is upset about flunking the course and the manner in which it happened, but the real problem is that he needs a minimum score of 70 to retain his scholarship. That is serious.
On the brighter side, he expects to go to Durango in a few days to spend the summer as an intern. He told me a bit more about the situation. The doctor has a large horse practice, and he also teats dogs. He has a veterinarian hospital with kennels for dogs and a corral for horses. It's a high-tech operation with X-ray machines, sonic scanner, etc, and a surgical suite. The doctor speaks English and has agreed to speak English with Alex as much as possible.
September 5 2010: I can't believe it's been over a year since I added to this story. When this adventure started almost 4 years ago, Misael and Carla were still in high school, Alex was a freshman in college, and Nery was looking forward to enrolling in a few months. Today they are in their second and third years of college.
Misael and Carla have broken up. She's now working and going to college, so she has no time left for English practice. The three guys are also pretty stress with school, but we do still get together.
The guys continue to do well in college. Misael in medical school, Alex in veterinary, and Nery in computer science. Nery leads with an overall grade average of 99.5. He's number 2 in his class. Number 1 is a girl with an average of 99.9. Nery says she is so smart that he has no chance of beating her. So he has done the next best thing -- she's his girl friend. Together they leave the rest of the class in the dust. Nery says the attrition rate in his class has been about 50% over the past two years.
Nery's school is very high-tech. Each student in the computer science program has his own workstation with a 30" high-res monitor. One of his most challenging courses is graphic design and animated modeling using Maya software. It is the same software that has been used in such movies as Avatar, Ice Age, its sequel Ice Age: The Meltdown, Geng: The Adventure Begins, Monsters vs. Aliens and others. Next year, the school will begin a graduate degree program in Maya. I have urged Nery to consider it. Proficiency with Maya is a real money-making skill.
Look here for a bit about each of the colleges my guys attend.
Friday 2 November 2011 Misa (Misael) came by the other day. I don't get to see him much now that he is in his 4th year (4 of 5) in medical school. It seems like just yesterday that he was graduating from high school and anxious about getting admitted to medical school.
He took an advanced science program in high school that allowed him to go directly into medical school if he could pass the entrance exam. More than one thousand applicants applied for the ninty seats in the freshman class. He said that over half that starting group is gone now -- dropped out or flunked out.
He has been having classes in the emergency room giving shots, and stuff. He has sewed up a few wounds and next week will start learning to put a cast on broken arms or legs. Before he started to school, he said he had no interest in surgery; now he wants to be a neurosurgeon.
4 May 2912 Nery's Graduation Day
17 June 2012 Now
it's Alex' turn to graduate from his veterinary studies. He has now
completed all the course work, but he can't put Doctor with his name
just yet. He still has a research project to complete and write a
thesis based upon the research. It may be another year before he
compete his doctorate.
While this is a large dairy farm with over 1,000 cows, it is not the main business of the company. It's a show farm for an international company that manufactures milking machines and turn-key milking parlors. They also offer computer software, consulting and other dairy-related services -- everything for a dairy farm except the cows.
To celebrate today, the four of us went to our favorite Chinese place, the Oriental Grill in Torreón. We started with Peking Duck followed by 6 dishes and dessert. The Peking Duck was assembled table-side by our waiter (who speaks excellent English). Good show and good food.