Today is my first free day in about two weeks (last weekend spent on the road to and from Bratislava). My days pass in a muddle of grammar. i leave my flat before 0700, return around 2200, not however working all day – there are often sizeable gaps between lessons, just not long enough to go home. i try to learn German, with middling success – e.g. i can read Rilke, slowly, but could not make myself understood in Burger King last Saturday, when i asked if the Sixt leasing company was nearby (the cashier stared at me like a dying cow; he finally mooed, painfully: “Sex? I cannot understand”). i age. i read. i write reviews for The Dabbler (they send me the books for free, so it saves me money, not that i think my opinions are of any importance). i survive on fast food, green tea, and nuts.

Teaching continues. It’s a strange job, half-entertainer, half-technician. For example, i taught a pleasant East German woman all day on Saturday, from 0930 to 1615. She had had an old school teacher all day on Thursday & Friday, and she was sick of relentless grammar drills, so we spent most of the time chatting, about: the goodness of trees, stone buildings, Kafka, ginger tea; the badness of concrete, cars, modernity. i corrected her grammar but she tended to brush it aside as of no importance. The time passed very quickly. i felt half-guilty about not really sticking to the “business English” in the book, but at least taught the important words and grammar. i only felt half-guilty as i know, beyond a certain basic level, a student needs living speech, to feel the language can be vital; when they really connect to the language, so they feel they are the language, then they learn. i am good at this, with most students – and when i can’t do it, i usually just give them lots of business English articles to read, and lots of grammar drills. It is highly enjoyable but all the same requires enormous output of energy – when it works, i get the energy back, from the students; afterwards, however, i feel too abuzz with words & thoughts & echoes of the student, so i often dream of my students and analyse their characters as i would Iago or Rosalind. So though i enjoy this part of the job, 13 €/45 minutes (at my main employer) is paltry; it’s enough to subsist, in a small flat, without a car, without holidays, getting books for free from the Dabbler. Given the students pay 50 €/45 minutes, i feel quite weary and uninterested in trying to survive as a teacher. i suppose it’s possible, but a lifetime of these 15 hour days, with at the end just enough money to pay the rent and buy a pizza on Fridays – this does not thrill.

The other half of the job, the technician, is trickier. This is all grammar. It is often difficult to explain why we use a particular grammar; i feel that such & such a use is right, but to deduce general principles, and to teach them, is not easy. For example, teaching the difference between which and that, or by and until. There is always a simple definition but it doesn’t cover all uses. Consider:

The meeting will end by 6 pm.

The meeting will last until 6 pm.

The first means the meeting will end no later than 6 pm; it could end at 5.45 or 5 pm, for example. The second means it won’t end before 6 pm. It suggests it will end at 6 pm but this is not certain. This looks like a simple rule. But consider:

Send me the data by 6 pm.
You have until 6 pm to send me the data.

Here, the meaning is the same, the earlier distinction between by and until does not hold. So, it seems, there is no definition i can present, i am reduced to saying “you need to feel the difference”. The student needs to hear enough sentences, until (hah) they feel the difference. i suppose i could say by tends to come at the end, just before the time bracket; and that until comes earlier, but what kind of help is this? These are Germans, they want orderly rules, grammar that makes sense.

Relative clauses, now. Here, there is some clarity. An example i used with the Kid:

Dobermanns that are German are ferocious.
Dobermanns, which are German, are ferocious.

Here the difference is clear; i could even, i think, express it in logical notation though i would rather not. However, consider:

McDonalds is a company that sells cheeseburgers.
McDonalds is a company which sells cheeseburgers.

Here, both feel fine. i would tend to use which here but that also sounds okay to me; it even depends on my mood. We spent a good 30 minutes just thinking of examples of that and which and trying to discern some logic in the difference. In the end, all i could say is that sometimes there is a clear difference, sometimes not. Nice, good work Elberry, no wonder you don’t get paid more than the minimum wage.

So this is my life at present.

postscript: i realise that one difference between by and until is that one can’t really use a verb like end or start or begin or finish with until; and in the “send me the email” examples, i think until goes with have, not send – so one could say “you have until 6 pm to finish”. Perhaps (perhaps) therefore i have found a rule. But it is typical of me that such things do not come easily, as if my mind does not want to look at language in this way; and indeed, it does not.

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