Thursday, February 05, 2009

Why I'm NOT allowed to make references to 'Mind Your Language'

So teaching. I remember that. I remember how I flounced out of my previous teaching placement at (nameremoved) College. Difference of opinion la la la. Say no more. But obviously I needed to do some more practice. Practice getting better. And being less flouncy.

But December/January wasn't a great time to be looking for a new placement. This 'Christmas' thing was happening and no one was answering my emails. Then apparently it was 'New Year' and no one was answering my phone calls. Hmmm. Work shy.

But happily now it is February and all is well. (Why can I never spell Feburary - it makes no sense - and if I'm to be an English teacher I need understand these basic rules "r before u especially after b"?)

All is well but all is very changed. New college, new course to get my head round, new students - all new. Not GCSE, not A2 or AS, but ESOL. Yes, that's right, come on, everyone knows what ESOL is, right?

I do. I've looked it up (a while ago). English for Speakers of Other Languages.

See, you worked that out anyway. So not chippy teenagers trying to put one over on the 'student teacher' but, well, people from overseas, wanting to learn English.

How odd. Not what I had in mind. Not something I'd ever really considered before to be honest. You hear about people going abroad to teach English (TEFL). You can get that qualification in about a month as far as I can work out. It always seemed quite an exciting idea if you were a young graduate to flounce off to Tokyo and teach English, have affairs, go to the Sudan, organise a lesson where you call a teddy bear a name that ends up getting you arrested.

But, teaching people from overseas English in Britain, you rarely hear about that. My last memory of it (for those old enough to remember the dark politically uncorrect years of the 1970s) was: 'Mind Your Language'.

As Wikipedia describes it: "The series focuses on the adult students of the English as a Foreign Language class in a London school. The classes take place in the early evening, and are taught by Mr. Brown. The class consists of foreigners with varying degrees of English proficiency. The humour of the show is derived from the students misunderstanding English words or terms, and plays up to the cultural stereotype of their individual nation of origin." A series for which the phrase, "not politically correct" was probably invented...

Although, that's pretty funny actually. I'm sure there are are lots of offensive bits and highly dubious racial stereotyping (especially of the Asian characters I seem to remember) but really all that's happening in that clip is: this speaking English lark, this teaching lark - it's hard. Misunderstandings are funny. Understanding someone speaking in a different language is hard. So hard, it's a joke. Like I really need to brush up on my grammar and to ensure that I know the answers - or admit that I don't. "I'll get back to you on that one..." Best to be honest. What is the pluperfect tense? Why is there no plural of sheep? Why does my local greengrocer sell vegetables labelled 'corjets' & 'auberjeans'?

So that is my new adventure. It's new and I'm enthused (although temporarily off sick).

I'm teaching at Level 2 - which is (apparently) one step below the GCSE equivalent - but really isn't. It's a way to go to get there. Some of the students have only been in the country since September. But those ones are young and seem to pick it up all too easily - although they're also the most prone to the usual mobile phone misuse and general messing about. Oh! The youth of today...

But it's nice and good that people coming here want to speak English, that they are prepared to put in the effort - do homework - and in the meantime work in rubbishy cleaning jobs. I think you need a decent standard of English to become a citizen too, which is also a good thing, I'm sure.

So in some ways they don't have a choice, but in other ways some of them do. Lots of people live within their ethnic communities and survive with very little knowledge of English. In fact, in some ways, the larger the community is, and the more resources it has, the less need there is to actually learn the language of the country. Like Brits on the Costa Del Sol or in Dubai, if you've got everything laid on for you: entertainment, shops, jobs, tv channels, friends - why would you bother learning a difficult second language?

So I bow down (not literally) to my new students and hope that they will be hard working and willing. Although I already know that some of them like to be cheeky and turn up late, and want to leave early and leave their mobiles turned on cos they're expecting a very important call from bla bla bla.....

That's just part of what being a teacher is all about. Learning to cope with that sort of billshut.

All the same, the mix of students is very interesting, being made up primarily of asylum seekers (and those granted asylum? I'm not sure yet) Iraqi Kurds, Eritreans, Iranians, Somalian women, people from the Congo - then in the higher ability levels various European nationals: Russians, Polish people, young people from Spain. A mixture of economic migrants from eastern europe (with a sprinkling of young people from Spain coming to Manchester because it's Manchester), and people from countries where they threatened with death due to some religious, racial or political reason.

But I'm not there to decide on cases or reasons why some get sent back and some don't. I'm just there to help them speak English. I like that. It makes life more simple. Makes me feel like I know why and what I'm supposed to be doing. I didn't feel that so much when I was teaching bored students to get a slightly higher grade at GCSE. So maybe this is right for me. Maybe I am Mr Brown from 'Mind Your Language.'

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