1. i had an interview of sorts yesterday, with a big HR boss at a German car company. i’ve been teaching there since May but my name seems to have finally appeared on the big boss’s radar, after a new student said she wanted me and not some other (no doubt lesser) teacher; there was apparently some kind of tug of war, won on my behalf by my “school” (in reality an older teacher who does the marketing work and engages teachers to do the work). i teach some of the new student’s colleagues and though i’m only a reasonably competent teacher, they seem to like me, so there it is. The boss wanted to meet me, to see what all the fuss was about, and i duly went. It was fairly routine except for one point, where i likened a good lesson to a productive torture session; i fancied i saw a momentary unease in her eyes. i probably shouldn’t have said it but it was too amusing not to.

2. i had my first lesson with Eva, the new student, on Tuesday; she’s a delightful, tall, pretty woman, late 20s i guess, shy, but willing to be tempted into speech. She believes her English is terrible; it’s actually pretty good, but it’s not yet been made “live”. My job is mainly to let her feel English as a living language, to talk cogently, and to encourage her, to listen with attention and interest. The listener is important. When i attended an “Italian group” in Manchester, the other participants being elderly, jaded schoolteachers, i found myself unable to manage even functional Italian. A couple of years later i had Italian lessons in Kassel, with a friend, and found i could talk in basic Italian without much difficulty, for the whole 90 minute lesson. In Manchester, the others were typical teachers, i.e. pretentious non-entities who disapproved of my entire being (i had the same experience doing my CELTA in 2009 – the trainers disliked me intensely); in Kassel, my teacher was a beautiful young Sardinian woman, a friend, an architect by training; she worked in an ice cream salon and only taught Italian for a couple of hours a week.

The only difference, by which one might account for my enormous difficulty in Manchester, and my fluency in Kassel, is the listener. A good listener welcomes one’s words, is interested, sympathetic, enabling. i was pleased to note that Eva was at first embarrassed, awkward, tentative, but after about half an hour became bolder and passionate, forgetting to be shy when, for example, i asked why she had hated her first job (a secretary), or why she didn’t want to live in the city. She was surprised to find i’d worked as a secretary for 2 years, and that i’d done even worse work before, for 3 years. i find these variously hideous temp jobs useful now – without them, i doubt i’d have the same understanding of office-world, of just how bad bad jobs can be; and since almost everyone has had a bad job or dislikes elements of office work, we can readily connect on this.

After finishing her apprenticeship, she was told she must be a secretary. She had hated this first job because she was under constant supervision, and would, for example, be ordered to make the boss coffee. i am no feminist but i was rather taken aback, and ventured frowningly: “that sounds like something from the 50s.”

“It is normal,” she said, resigned. “In Germany if you are a woman you will be a secretary and make coffee.”

“No one ever asked me to make them coffee.” i felt retrospectively offended, that my coffee-making-skills had never been valued. “Though that was probably because they knew i would have spat in it.”

She was greatly pleased with this image, laughing. A milestone in learning a language, this, the first real laughter. Her boss stuck his head in the door and found us chortling away; a good thing he missed the spectacle of me miming spitting into a cup of coffee and presenting it to someone with a charming smile, though i’ve done worse in some lessons.

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