Things that I think and do
When I chose what to do for my undergraduate degree, I decided to do history and French pretty much only because I’d been quite good at them at school and enjoyed them (insofar as one can enjoy such things at school).
In fact it turns out that employers don’t usually care if you can debate the nature of masculinity and gendered race relations in 1920s America, or if you know exactly when to use the subjunctive in French, or if you can make it through a day of lectures while horrifically hungover.
I’m sure that some of the skills are transferable, and it’s probably the case that I’m just not very good at those (and don’t know what they are). But to me it seems that a degree in history and French is useful only if I want to be a historian, possibly based in France. And I don’t.
That’s all moot now anyway because I’ve deviated wildly from that academic path. Three years of history, during which I learned more than anyone ever needs to know about medieval saints, Jewish ghettos in 16th century Venice and what England was like in Daniel Defoe’s time, has so far proved useful very occasionally in pub quizzes.
My degree in French, however, is much more constructive. It means I can teach.
I can earn money, on a very part-time basis, educating people who haven’t spent nine years learning endless verb tables and useless vocabulary. It’s as simple as creating a post on Gumtree (other advertising sites are available – although I’d struggle to name any) and waiting for the responses to flood in.
Currently I teach French to one very pleasant and capable chap who’s lucky enough to have a girlfriend in Paris and is willing to pay me to teach him how to communicate with her in her own language. He’s making good progress, and I feel (and I imagine he probably does as well) that my relatively low fee is commensurate with my competence in teaching, so everyone’s happy. Especially him, as he has a Parisian girlfriend.
My other student (I should have mentioned, I only have two; Gumtree is hardly an entrepreneurial goldmine) is a little different. For a start, I teach him English. He’s also a professional footballer.
It’s a surreal story. I got a reply one day to my ad, and the guy said something to the effect of, ‘I’m interested in lessons, but I’ll get back to you after the weekend’. He didn’t get back to me (that happens a lot) and I shrugged it off. About a week later I was working elsewhere and after finishing discovered three or four missed calls from him, and a mysterious and cryptic voicemail: ‘please call me back as soon as possible, the lessons with the footballer will start tomorrow’.
Was he involved in some kind of spy ring? Was I supposed to reply with another code? ‘The yeti has eaten all the Bourbon biscuits’, or something like that? Who is ‘the footballer’? Is that gang code for something entirely different?
Well, no. The caller was in fact the director of an international company that specialises in teaching languages to footballers who have moved out of their native country – how I’m guessing it works is that football clubs pay him to find teachers to teach their newbies. Quite why the director of an international football language company was looking for teachers on Gumtree is an enigma, but there we go.
Thusly I was sent off to meet said footballer for a consultation lesson – a posh term meaning that I’d meet him and hope he liked me. I won’t divulge his identity (although I don’t think it’s written anywhere that I can’t, I suppose it’s just precluded by the nature of working with minor sportspeople) but he’s a newly-arrived Francophone footballist for the big(ish) club nearest me. A brief internet search will probably reveal who he is, but that’s up to you really.
It was made abundantly clear, both in the advert and in subsequent correspondence, that I am by no means a Socrates or an Aristotle of the language teaching world; I’m probably slightly above Jack Black à la School of Rock. I have no formal teaching or language teaching qualifications, and I’d always thought I should really sort that out if I’m going to do any teaching. And yet here I am, spending several evenings a week trying to explain the finer points of English grammar to, and translating chat-up lines for, a professional footballer. It’s like the American Dream, if that dream involves getting a train to wet, dark and cold Penarth and attempting to illustrate how to use “which” and “get” in English.
This, then, is how I pass many of my evenings. The footballer likes me (and I quite like him actually) so lessons have not yet come to an abrupt end – in fact they’re going quite well. And it turns out that, for this job at least, no TEFL qualifications were required. In fact he only took my word for it that I have a French degree at all. I did think it was a little strange that he gets his freelance employees from Gumtree and doesn’t check if they have what degrees they claim to, but then I got paid for the first time and rapidly stopped caring.