Sunday, July 30, 2017

What Can 9 Weeks in NYC Achieve?

Two Swiss children, 8 and 6 years old, came to New York with their parents in the spring with no formal English instruction prior to their visit. By the end of their 9 weeks with us, they were confidently communicating in English.

The Teacher’s Perspective

Both are very intelligent children, and after they got going, they seemed to just soak up the language. Both of them started the session unable to hold a basic conversation in English and finished the session being able to understand a wide range of conversational points, including the future and past tenses. And that's with me speaking English at a normal conversational speed with some repetition.

At first, the children were nervous, and their confidence level in the language was not high, leading them to sometimes get discouraged and/or frustrated. However, towards weeks 4-6, we saw the children do a complete switch in their approach to English, with them initiating the conversations, picking up words with relative ease and being able to express themselves clearly.  If they didn't understand something, they would ask questions to prompt understanding. One of the biggest achievements for these two was probably overcoming their fear of speaking English with me!

It's hard to pinpoint where they've improved the most. They picked up vocabulary at an amazing rate. It was a slower process at first, but towards the end of the program, they were using words that I had taught them only two days before. They have covered in 9 weeks what would take an adult a year to learn.  

The Mother’s Perspective

Since the children came with a very basic knowledge of English, I did not know what to expect for them. After 9 weeks in the program, we are very happy to see them communicating and understanding what is being said, especially our older child. She loves to show us that she can speak the language, and it’s great to watch her. Our son too has made tremendous progress. He’s younger; so, he does not write and relies on his sister to speak, but he understands better.

There were endless possibilities here with the Hi-New-York team, each day something new. I feel as if the children know NY better than the parents! They love the museums, especially the ones with modern equipment, computers and interactive stations for children.

We enjoyed New York as a family too.  Going to the beach with children is always a great experience, especially in a big city like NY. The children always have a great time playing in the sand and swimming. We went to Fire Island, just one hour away from the city, and we all really enjoyed it. Central Park is another great place. Our children love picnics. Unlike in restaurants, where they have to stay seated for several hours, as soon as they have finished eating, they can play and run around. They really love that, and it’s so easy in NY since you can buy food everywhere. Just grab and go and eat in the park!

We will miss the variety of food and cuisines that New York has to offer and its accessibility. Hell’s Kitchen was great for us.  We loved walking on 8th Avenue and selecting the type of restaurant and food we wanted; the options are just limitless. Just the idea that we can get ice cream 24/7 from the shop downstairs is also amazing. Back home, our choices are much more limited, or we have to plan ahead.

The Children’s Perspective

A: I like the parks, candy stores and museums.  But New York is dirty!

N: The parks and toy stores.  I don’t like shopping!  

Friday, March 03, 2017

My New York City Experience

This piece was written by Manuel, one of our interns.


Before coming  to New York this year, we were in Miami several times. I thought New York  would be a  city like any other, with big cars, people spending most of their time on the phone, and expensive restaurants.

I also had my reservations about the internship my mother had organized for me. I thought that this internship would be something that I wouldn’t like, something that would make me feel more insecure.  I couldn’t have even imagined how  different it would be.

First Impressions

The first thing that I noticed as  I was arriving  was the landing track, which was basically in the water.  I couldn’t believe it! The next interesting thing that I noticed were the buildings. They were so tall. I had never seen something like that, even in Miami.

On the first day with Hi-New-York, while I was going up on  the elevator with my family, I was so nervous that I couldn't even move.  While I was waiting with my two brothers, I noticed that the place didn’t look so bad. After waiting for five minutes, my teacher came, and I realized that it would be ok.  She seemed nice and fun.

Lasting Impressions

I passed the whole day with her,  her assistant and the kids. The same night, I felt much better and relieved that everything I thought was wrong. The days started to pass, and each one was better than the last one.  I think that the best day of all was when we went to the Transit Museum and met someone from the past who told us about being on an elevated train during a blizzard.  It was so interesting and fun. 

Now that my internship is coming to an end, I realize that the biggest difference between Buenos Aires and New York is the people.  The level of focus that they showed in every activity is incredible. It doesn’t matter if it is only a simple activity.  They do it the best they can to prove to themselves that they can do it well.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Oh, What a Beautiful Season!

Fall in NYC! 

To me, fall is the best time to be in New York City-- summer’s stifling heat and is like a jungle. Like the blinding green of a jungle, certain things stand out-- skyscrapers, monuments, museums, etc.-- which every visitor should experience. Yet just as a jungle teems with life hidden from anyone lacking the knowledge to find it, NYC has many hidden gems that the average tourist never gets to experience. At Hi-New-York, we structure our programs to include the biggest tourist highlights and those special places only native New Yorkers know about, along with everything in between.
humidity is replaced by a pleasant cool air, and the changing leaves add streaks of color to our concrete jungle. As the most diverse (over 800 languages are spoken in the five boroughs) and exciting city in the country, NYC really

Life in Every Corner

During our visit to the Natural History Museum, we studied the similarities and differences between humans and our mammalian relatives. This was the perfect way to learn vocabulary like thumb, knee, fur, etc. The students were especially awed by the herd of elephants that marches through the African mammals section and the massive mountain gorillas.  The sight of the gorillas led one student to remark, “They look like we do!”  Mission accomplished.

At the Aquarium, students got to see the fish made famous by the movie Finding Nemo up close and personal, along with penguins, otters and octopuses, to name just a few of the sea critters that call the aquarium home. However, the sea lion show was by far the biggest hit for our students. Their jaws were on the floor the whole time watching their incredible acrobatic stunts.

The highlight of the Bronx Zoo was a 4-D movie with vibrating seats and mist that fell on the audience from the ceiling. It’s not surprising that this was the favorite part of the zoo for the students, but the animals were not far behind! Their favorite were the mountain gorillas, many of whom were right up against the glass of their enclosure, including a mother and baby.

Tasty Treats!

At an edible garden in NYC, students helped staff members prepare a soup with many of the ingredients straight from the garden and then got to taste it! They had a great time as assistant chefs, learning about the importance of eating healthy, fresh food and enjoying the garden on a sunny, beautiful fall day-- all while practicing their English!

Although the soup was tasty, the most delicious day we had this fall was a tour of a chocolate factory. An expert chocolate maker guided us through every step of the process, from drying and shelling the cacao beans to liquefying the pure chocolate to the process of adding specialty flavors. Although the students found the tour interesting, their favorite part was the many chocolate samples they got along the way, including some tasty chocolate soda!

Leafy greens were for the tasting on a rooftop farm overlooking the East River.  The students learned about what crops the farm grows, who the customers are, and some challenges of farming in the middle of the biggest city in the country. All this while enjoying breathtaking views of Manhattan.

From All Walks of Life

Our students had the privilege of walking through the exclusive Harvard Club in Midtown Manhattan this fall. The Clubhouse, which has been in use since 1894, was one of the first buildings to be named a New York City landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. From the rooftop restaurant to the hotel rooms for members to the halls and rooms with mounted moose heads and such, I am afraid it was a bit intimidating for some :-)

Louis Armstrong’s house in Queens and the tenements on the Lower East Side were also places we explored. Through music, food and personal stories, we learned about and celebrated the diversity of the people who have made NYC their homes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Romance Novelist in the Making!

The story below was written by our teen student Mariana who was inspired by the romantic possibilities in New York City.

A New York Love Story

I graduated from high school with my two best friends.  We wanted to go to college in New York.  Amanda was the smart and realistic girl in the group, Camille was the funny and shy girl, and I, Gabriella, was the romantic and passionate one. We wanted to have a lot of fun, meet some guys and make our dreams come true in New York. We loved New York and wanted to be a part of this busy city. We bought a loft near Downtown because NYU is there.  We were there to study business, art and education.

It was our first day at NYU.  It is a big campus with many people, and the buildings are quite spread out.I am the only one who takes business.  The three of us have different classes. Amanda is in education and Camille in art. The teachers are so good, but I was nervous.

“Are you okay?” asked the guy next to me with a smile.
“Yes, I am okay,” I answered.
“I am Jason,” he said giving me his hand.
“I am Gabriella.” I took his hand and smiled.
“So.. what are you doing in business?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” I asked confused.
“ You seem like a drama student,” he answered.
“What?!” I started to laugh.
“Is everything okay?” asked the teacher.
“Yes,” he answered.
“Are you coming to the welcome party?” he asked.
“Maybe with my friends,” I said.
“See you there,” he said with a smile.

I ran to the education building.  Camille was just getting out.

“We have to go to the education party!” I said very excitedly.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because I met a guy,” I answered.
“Really? Me too!” she said.
We went to the art building and found Amanda drawing something in her notebook.
“Are you ready?” she asked.
“Yes” I answered.

We went home to choose our outfits. I chose a blue shirt, white shorts and high heels. Camille chose a pink dress with flats, and Amanda didn’t want to go.
The party was at the auditorium.  It was very big and full. Camille and I were very shy, but then a girl invited us to dance with her group. A few hours later, Amanda decided to come, and we danced some more.

“Camille,” said Jason heading over to my friend.
“Don’t you remember me?” I asked, very confused.
“I’m sorry, but no,” he answered.
“I am from business,” I said.
“I am in education, sorry,” he said and continued to talk to Camille.
“Amanda,” I called my other friend.
“Yes?” she answered.
“I think I am crazy,” I said.
“Why?” she asked.
“I swear I met a guy today, and he is talking to Camille,” I said.
“Where?” she asked.
“There,” I pointed.
Amanda took off her glasses, and started to clean them.
“Gabriella,” she said.
“Yes?” I asked.
“I met the same guy,” she answered.
“No way!” I started to laugh.
“What are you laughing at?” she asked.  She was very angry.
“This is very funny,” I answered.
We went to find something to drink, and Jason came to us.
“Amanda” he said.

Amanda was drinking coca-cola, and when she saw him, she threw the coca-cola all over  Jason’s shirt.
“Are you crazy?!” he asked.
I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t breathe.
“You flirted with my best friends!” she answered, very angry.
“No, I didn’t,” he answered, very confused.
“You’re a liar,” she said.
“Bro, that coca-cola goes with your eyes,” said a guy exactly like Jason.  He was laughing very hard like me.
“Shut up,” said the other guy.
“Amanda, they’re twins!” I said.
“No, we are triplets,” answered another one.
“He is Henry, the one with the coca-cola is James, and I am Jason,” he said.
Amanda was so embarrassed, Camille was very confused, and I was laughing very hard
“Do you want to go?” asked Jason.
“Yes,” I said.

We went out to the soccer field, and we lay down on the grass.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you about my brothers,” he said.
“It’s okay.  It was funny,” I said with a smile.
“Do you want to go out with me sometime?” he asked.
“Yes, but I have a question,” I said.
“What?” he asked.
“How do I know it’s you and not one of your brothers?” I asked.
He started to laugh.
“Because I have a scar near my eyebrow,” he said.

Two days later, he invited me to Coney Island, and we went to the beach and ate ice cream. We rode all the rollercoasters, he won a teddy bear for me, and we kissed at the top of the ferris wheel.  Amanda went on a date with James to the Brooklyn Bridge.  They drew Manhattan in their notebooks. Camille went to Brooklyn by boat with Henry, and they ate macaroons.

Going to New York was the best thing that ever happened to us.  We found the love of our lives, and our dreams came true.  A few years later, Amanda’s drawings were exhibited in the Whitney Museum, Camille became a great teacher at NYU, and I was working on Wall Street.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Hey There Summer!

It's a Small World After All

As the voices of nations and groups rejecting "outsiders" grow louder all around us, the young students who come together to learn English on the Upper East Side only know that they like to play with each other.  To the Jewish girl from Berlin, a Muslim boy from Istanbul and a Catholic boy from Modena, there are no lines they shouldn't cross.  They fish (one even caught something - finally!) together, they play hang man together, and they whiz through the hall of mirrors together.  We can only wonder at the beauty of the friendships formed and hope that each of them keeps some of these memories with them into adulthood.

Glorious Food (and Drink)!

There have been many firsts for our teen students during the past few weeks.  The first soup dumplings and lycees in Chinatown.  The first bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon on the Lower East Side.  The first ginger ale and cherry soda - again on the Lower East Side.  The first Nathan's hot dog on Coney Island.  The first American pizza slice in Brooklyn. 

And then there are the old favorites.  Chocolate chip cookies.  Oreos. Donuts.  Yum yum!

So Very Different from Home

We always find it interesting to discuss the similarities and differences between cities.  When compared to Tokyo and Moscow, the people are more diverse in NYC, but the subways/metros and buildings feel about the same. When compared to Villadolid, everything is different.  The buildings are taller, the streets are wider, and there is much more diversity in the people and food in NYC.  Maria, Keiko and Dimitry, however, prefer home.  NYC is a great place to visit, but...

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!