Friday, January 29, 2010

The self-serving volunteer

Back in October I started doing some volunteer work via NYCares. My first project was/is an Early Morning reading program that I do every week. We go and read with kids between grades 2 and 4. This can be fun, frustrating, rewarding--sometimes at the same time. I signed up for it because it takes place at a dual language school and I could learn more about how language is learned. It depends on the child and the situation whether that actually happens of course. But today a little interaction with a young boy was something along the lines I was hoping for. We were reading "The Lorax" and he said someone "colored" the Lorax. And I didn't see it. We went back and forth between two pages and I said the colors were the same and then he came up with the word "ink" and I saw what he meant-sure enough someone had made a couple of small lines in pen on the Lorax. I love those moments when someone uses a different word than I expect because it really makes me think about the language.

In December I started going for English Conversation in Chinatown with adults a few evenings a month. These are immigrants from China and Hong Kong who are working on their English skills. At first I was working with this guy whose English was not good enough to be there quite frankly. It was hard for him to understand me, no matter how slowly I spoke and when he would answer me it was often not an answer that fit my question. It was frustrating for both of us. Lately I have been with other students who can understand and respond much better. We have interesting coconversations, with them sometimes explaining things to me about their lives and with me sometimes teaching them new vocabulary. One example is when two women and I were discussing coupons and one woman said that they don't always work for what you want to buy and I introduced them to the term "fine print." I love it that we are all learning.

I am in awe of them because for most of them, English is not their 2nd language but 3rd sometimes 4th. I have long wanted to be bilingual but have yet to get close. I think about my level of Cantonese and I am nowhere near the level where I could partake of a program like this. I am hoping that my trip to Hong Kong will propel me closer to it at the very least.


  1. Hi Diana,
    I just discovered your blog when you commented on mine!
    If you are ever really coming to Hong Kong, drop me a line. I can give you some travel tips. And -- if this offer doesn't sound too weird from a total stranger -- meet you for a coffee or something and show you around.

  2. Hi Joyce, thanks for stopping by. I have been reading your blog for awhile, so you don't really seem to be a total stranger to me so I would love to meet you for coffee or whatever.

    My plan is to take a 3 week summer course at CUHK to work on my Cantonese. In fact, I just made my flight reservations--I arrive on May 29th and will be there until July 2nd. I gave myself some time on both ends of the class to just enjoy being there.

  3. Hi Diana -- I responded to you at Joyceyland. But here it is again, in case you don't always check back on posts where you left comments. (I sometimes forget).
    There's a list of HK serviced apartments at, about 5 posts down.
    If you stay for a month, that's more economical.