i am still alive and i have enough work to survive and buy the occasional Schnitzel. i feel chipper at present – a familiar consequence of suddenly having enough money, after a year of destitution & sordid grimmance. i even have some free time, as i more & more teach at a German car company, who pay twice as much as McLingua (and so i can survive without having to teach 12 hours a day). i refused to continue with the Peruvian bitch group after a particularly hellish lesson, and my retard group ended, so i now have a fairly good schedule.

i only have one difficult group, difficult because it’s big, i never know who will turn up, and each student has quite different demands, expectations, etc. There’s a dry-as-dust lawyer who wants grammar and seriousness; two guys who just want to chat; 3 girls who talk (loudly) to each other in German, ignoring everyone else, and then complain and say the lesson isn’t relevant to their hyper-specialised departments; and so on.

Germans are not an easy bunch. They aren’t, on the whole, very talkative, and they do like to complain. A few have had enough different teachers to have some realistic perspective. Perhaps some have some idea what it means, to teach a language. And most are fairly decent. But there are always some filthy Bosche.

The filthy Bosche fall into several categories but the two chief malebolge:

1. The tourist: Fritz doesn’t really expect or want to improve her English, she just likes leaving her office and getting some networking and chit-chat, preferably in German. She generally gives one-word answers to all questions, but will chatter volubly in Bosche with her filthy accomplices.

2. The complaining bitch: Hermann expects the teacher to transfer English directly into her brain, without any effort or even minimal participation on her part. Hermann thinks that, just as you pay for your Schnitzel and it is delivered, so her company has paid for English and it should therefore be delivered into her brain. She doesn’t want to talk, doesn’t want to answer any questions, is highly suspicious of roleplays, will at most tolerate grammar drills. She complains about everything. She is angry that her English isn’t perfect; she blames her teacher.

i enjoy most of my classes but no longer have much interest in the job. i turn up, chat, correct grammar, think of roleplays, questions, go home. i am a better teacher than most; i’m now probably as good as anyone i know. But i get very little done. Beginners can improve, but it is rare for intermediate students to do more than learn a few new words and get a little more comfortable with the language. Their grammar rarely changes. And most of my students are intermediate, and usually too old to absorb new grammar.

i can teach grammar drills but it’s like dropping a supposed catalyst into a solution – it should transform everything but instead it just falls to the bottom and lies there, inert. The students get the grammar drills right; but none of it carries over into spontaneous conversation. i suspect they need a certain (vast) amount of practice to absorb the grammar drills; for the catalyst to react.

But even then, they also need the right attitude; they need to feel it is important, or nothing will happen. My father, for example, has lived in England for the last 50 years and still says things like “well eghhhh I am taking this pills for 10 year, eghhhhh”, because he doesn’t care about language. Most of my students respond to error correction by batting it away as irrelevant. i now recognise a particular “don’t bother me with details” look, and know there is no point even trying to teach them. This is the case with most of my students. They say things like “I think his meaning is different as mine. For 2 days I have became a documentation over this” no matter how many times i correct and drill.

My own expectations change. i no longer think grammar very important, as long as the students don’t sound too much like brain-damaged neanderthals. Relevant vocabulary, listening comprehension, and fluency, are far more important than acquiring rarefied grammars (e.g. the 3rd Conditional, Past Perfect Progressive, Future Perfect Passive).

The grammar will never sink in without enormous quantities of speaking practice. To understand, e.g. the different conditionals probably requires hundreds (or thousands) of different examples, over a child’s first few years, and the child absorbs grammar as an adult generally cannot. To expect a 40-year-old student to get to this level after a 90 minute lesson – idiocy but no one wants to come out and say it.

I no longer really think of myself as a teacher. It isn’t, i think, possible to teach a language (or perhaps anything). All one can do is help the student learn. If the student is unwilling to learn, if he won’t come out halfway – and they generally won’t – there is, as the Bosche say, “no chance”.

Advertisements