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2005-02-10 - 2:27 p.m.

What means “Even”, Joan?

“What means “Even”, Joan?” Michelle asked out of the blue.

“ What does “even” mean? I corrected. How did you hear the word used, Michelle?” I asked, knowing that it could have referred to even numbers, but suspecting that was not the usage she had in mind. I demonstrated “even” as in level, flat, or smooth. That was not it. How about “get even” or “break even”? I wondered.

For the past several months, I’ve been tutoring Michelle, a 4th grade Korean girl, three times a week in spoken English. Although she was born in the United States when her father was a graduate student, until this fall she had lived in Korea since an infant. The father returned to Davis as a Visiting Fellow. Although the mother stayed in Korea to work, Michelle came to the United States to practice her English. Both she and her father found it difficult to be here without the mother, happily, arrived for an extended stay just a few days before Christmas. She will be here for a few more weeks before returning to work in Korea.

Even though Michelle had learned to read and write English in a special school in Korea, she lacked confidence in speaking at school. In the three months we’ve been working, she has made enormous progress.

I’ve used articulatory feedback that I learned in Lindamood-Bell training, e.g. where to place the tongue when enunciating the ‘l’ sound in “whole”, for instance. When we began working, she, her father and her mother pronounced it with ‘r’ sound, which I explained to them has a meaning that might embarrass her if she read it that way in class. When I explained what "whore" meant, they agreed it important that she practice placing her tongue behind her teeth. So now, she has applied that same technique to all ‘l’ words most of the time. Or at least she can self-correct if I point to the ‘l’ in the word.

She came in yesterday in tears, having just had an argument with her mother. So we talked about even-tempered, unexcitable, and again I demonstrated. This still didn’t seem to fit the sentence she’d heard. We added the word to her “Ask Dad” list, so that perhaps he could tell her a similar word in Korean, so that she might understand.

And then she started reading a book she’d selected from my bookshelf. On about page three, “Even before the household was awake, the kitten…” and then “Even if…. By the end of the session, she seemed to have the idea and had attached a Korean word to it. Progress!

Just as she was about to leave, she said, “Oh, Joan, one more question. How do I find the perimeter and area of a figure like this,” and she drew a rectangle with another rectangle attached to it.”

“Well, what are the dimensions, Michelle?”

She wrote down some numbers next to two sides of the main rectangle and one side of the small attachment. I explained and guided her through the process. Today, she understood my words and was able to use hers to express her needs – and in math terms. More progress.

The “even” issue is settled. We continue to work on practicing consonants – the hearing and feeling associated with sounds, which sounds have lips …air…teeth and which ones have voice. These are things we don’t usually think about unless we teach a deaf child or a child who has speech issues.

P/B – Where are your lips? The first sound is just a puff of air, the second has voice, which you can feel if you place your hand on your throat. F/V – where do you put your teeth? Again, the first sound is with a puff of air; the second has voice. T/D – where do you place your tongue? he first is with a puff of air; the second has voice. K/G – Where does the tongue do? Does it touch the bottom teeth at the sides as you say K? It is just with a puff of air whereas the G is with voice.

We use a mirror so that she can compare where her tongue, teeth, lips are placed for a given letter with what she sees when I speak. This in combination with hand on my throat to feel what the sound is like and then trying to replicate that feeling with her hand on her own throat - an effective way to do voice training.

Even Michelle can feel how much easier English is for her now, how much more confident she is after just a few months. By the end of this year when she goes back to Korea, I predict she will be fluent in English.

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