When I was in Luang Prabang, Laos last month,I went to an organization called Big Brother Mouse. This is a bookstore that gives out new books, written in Laotian, to kids all over Laos so that they will have something to read (sometimes the ones they give out are the first books a kid has ever seen. I can’t imagine!). At the Big Brother Mouse bookstore, every morning they use the shop to teach people English who can’t speak it very well. If you speak English fluently, and you’re in the city, you can volunteer for one or two hours in the morning to teach people who can only speak a bit.
The first person at the bookshop the morning I went was a monk; he was 19 years old and, of course, he had all of his hair shaved off and was wearing a bright orange robe. He is the one I started talking to and helping. He had a notebook with him full of English words he didn’t know how to pronounce, but he had heard someone say them so he wrote them down to ask when he came for his morning practice at the bookshop.
Once we started, my Aunt Shannon and I would say the word to the monk and he would repeat it back to us slowly and cautiously as he sounded out the words and letters exactly how we said them. He had small words like cheap, sleep, sheep and leap. He also had some words that didn’t exist and we didn’t tell him they weren’t real words, we just told him the sound of the letters since he was working on pronunciation.
Soon, a bunch of other Laotian people came in and wanted to talk with us. They were all teenagers and young adult boys. My aunt and I were the only English speakers at the bookshop that morning (thank goodness we went!), so my aunt took half the group and I worked with half the group and we split up and talked to them.
After the boys sat down at our long table, they introduced themselves and I introduced myself (the monk was still there, so he introduced himself too). Then, we started talking about English words they didn’t understand and things they couldn’t pronounce. All of them spoke English pretty well. Well, well enough that you could have a full conversation with them, but not enough to talk politics, as my Aunt would say, or about anything really big.
The monk had trouble saying the “th” sound because in Laos, they don’t make that sound, so I showed him how you bite your tongue and then blow air through your teeth. Only about half of the time he got the sound, but it’s better than nothing and he said he would keep practicing once he left.
I want to become a teacher when I grow up, and now that I have taught people how to speak English, I think teaching is a little difficult, especially when teaching something people aren’t totally used to learning. Teaching people how to speak English was neat and I hope that I can do it again because it makes me really happy and I feel like I’m heading toward my goal of becoming a teacher. When I worked with the people that day, each one of them was so interested in learning. We laughed so much, and they tried hard to learn and asked a lot of questions since they only have free native English speakers once a day.
Most of the Laotians I taught that day want to have jobs in tourism, so they need to know English for tourists. So, I felt that just giving an hour of my time while I was traveling was easy, and when other people go to Luang Prabang and give an hour of their time, that time adds up and we can all really help these people for a long time.
Extra Travel Information
If you want to help out too if you’re in Laos (or if you want to donate for books for them), it’s Big Brother Mouse in Luang Prabang, and every morning between 9am and 11am you can just show up and there will be people waiting to practice English with you!