Things that I think and do
The long-awaited sequel to I don’t speak French, I just kiss tha…oh, wait (1)
Last week I wrote about my explosion into the world of language teaching…or rather how I’ve gained a grand total of two students and work on an extremely part-time basis. It’s fortunate that a clientele of two appears to be a convenient limit, not only in terms of my time but also my abilities.
I mentioned that I had made it clear to both parties that I am not qualified and nor am I, usually, by any conventional sense a teacher. Pleasingly they both seem to have accepted this and are kind enough to keep any misgivings to themselves, because teaching English and French has turned out to be remarkably challenging for me.
Not that I think teachers have it easy; I have unbounded respect for anyone who voluntarily lays bare their ability to retain and then relay information – perhaps more so for those who choose to do it in front of a large group of youths. Nor do I have any illusions about the work teachers put in outside the classroom. I don’t particularly want to get into a debate about the value of teachers in society, but I believe they have a lot of crap to put up with and they’re pretty bloody useful people to have around.
Somehow though I’ve still been surprised about the number of considerations to…well, consider. The footballer guy to whom I’m teaching English is particularly enjoyable, mostly because I have to teach him in French. If you’ve ever tried to explain the difference between “that” and “which” in French you’ll understand the kind of issue this poses. In fact, trying to explain it in English is hard enough.
It took me a while to get a rhythm established for planning the lessons. They’re an hour and a half, which is a really long time when you’re trying to think of interactive stuff to do instead of just lecturing. Now I try and get some reading exercises involved as well as a new grammatical point and vocabulary for “daily conversations” – if he ever needs to ask if the town hall is next to the swimming pool, he’s got it nailed.
Speaking practise is also a part of it, but trying to get anything out of him is like getting the last squeeze of toothpaste out of the tube. He knows a lot of the words, he’s just incredibly imaginative and – dare I say it – leads a fantastically dull life. A life which, I learn, involves either training or sleeping. Even the question, ‘if you had three week’s holiday, what would you do?’ prompted the thrilling response, ‘I don’t know…maybe I would sleep’. What a time to be alive.
Explaining grammar to him can be just as trying. The hardest part of that, to be fair, is trying to work out how to describe something that I have never really had to learn and just take for granted. I’ve never before realised that “must” is a weird linguistic tic. Is it a verb? It has no past or future tense, because we have to use ‘have to’ for that. I had no idea that there were rules about when to use different past tenses, but I can confirm that there are many. I went through this all with today and he seemed to understand, but he understood all about “must” two weeks ago and has now forgotten so we’ll see how this one plays out.
When I’m not causing him some mild cranial haemorrhaging with the complexity of the English past continuous, however, lessons have their lighter side. Highlights so far include him asking me what to say to pick up women – his initial courageous plan involved going into town, approaching a real life woman and asking her where she lived. His optimism (both in his plan and the fact that he thought I’d be able to help him in any way) is always endearing. Most recently he came up with a plan to write a letter to a woman he saw at the hospital this week; he couldn’t talk to her at the time and since decided that writing a letter to the nameless receptionist he saw briefly one afternoon is the way ahead. Then again, he is a professional footballer so it might carry a bit more clout.
It’s quite some stroke of luck to land this job really – I can think of far more taxing things to do, even though it involves going to Penarth several times a week. And for a single twenty-something footballer living what sounds like an incredibly dull life (training and sleep seem to occupy the majority of his days) and who probably just wants to be able to talk to nice ladies, he’s very enthusiastic about learning. Although on reflection that could mostly be because he wants to talk to nice ladies.
PS. If you got the terrible and laboured attempt at a pun in the title, 50,000 Internet Points to you.