Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Adventures in Teaching

For the past eight months, I've been a comedian, a referee, a public speaker, a grammar ghoul, a cultural ambassador, a translator and a mime.  Once, I even did a magic trick.  Sounds like a lot for one job.

Welcome to the world of teaching English as a second language.

In November, I finished my certification to teach English and it has been an amazing experience. Tough work, but well worth the reward.  I tip my hat to teachers of all subjects everywhere and sincerely apologize to all of my teachers for ever being a pain in the ass in class.

Except to my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Birch.  She totally had it coming.

Teaching English is a fabulously fun way to spend the day - I love interacting with my students and finding out more and more about them as they increasingly become more comfortable using the language.  They are wonderful and it is really hard not to get attached to every single one of them.  Plus, in Switzerland the pay isn't anything to sneeze at either.

And it can be hilarious.

Take, for instance, the day that I caught my 60-something year old student trying to set fire to his homework.  Why look up a word like 'flint' when you can just whip one out and show everyone how it works?  Since we're not going to use that dictionary, let try it on that next!

Or the night that I got locked in the school.  In my classroom.  With my students.  Finally all those cheesy jokes my uncle told me through the years came to really good use - instant entertainment and a bonus lesson for students while you wait for the world's most patient and kind school administrator to come set you free.

Or the cheeky student who has learned a lot of English from HBO and thinks that the f-word (or c-word because he also was a fan of British telly) should liberally be peppered into everyday conversation.

Or the email where my one female student in a class full of guys was going to be absent from class and wished me a "fun day with the gays."  Thanks - I will have a fun day with the gays.  All the gays I know ARE super fun!

Or the cheese rape.

Now, it's not what you think.  No one actually raped anything - that's a horrid idea.  However, sometimes languages mix in the mind.  I myself accidentally say "thanke" rather than either "danke" or "thanks".  When one is learning a new language, a word from another language may randomly pop in to join the party.  In a country with 4 national languages, this happens pretty often and it actually has a name - interference.

A few months back, I was teaching a conversational course and we were going over giving commands in English and reviewing some vocabulary about food.  It seemed like a great idea to have the students make short presentations about how to cook their favorite dish.  One of the ladies in the course, a lovely and polite woman in her 60s, was explaining to the class how to make fondue from scratch.

For a little background knowledge:  grate (v.) as in to grate cheese is "reiben" or "raspeln" in German. Mix in a little pronunciation troubles and we get:

"First, you rape the cheese."


"You rape the cheese."

                                                  "Ah ha!  It's 'grate'" * I write it on the board and mime it to make sure                                                                                       this is right.*

"Yes. Grate.  You have to rape a lot of cheese."

                                                  "Gr. Gr. Grate. The other word means something else not good."

"Grate the cheese."


"So after you have raped the cheese...."

We took a short break and came back and practiced the word "grate" for a bit more. I decided not to bring up the meaning of "rape" to the student, lest it discourage her from speaking in class anymore and potentially making a mistake.

But that is the essence of learning a language.  You have to be brave enough to make the mistakes to get past them.  When I was learning ASL, I thought I was telling a group of teens who I was trying to help learn to use their new iPads that I was thinking about something, but I really accidentally signed that I was a "lesbian expert." They thought it was hysterical.  And, to be honest, it is.

God and random German speakers überall only know what kind of crazy things I've said thinking I was saying something legit.

So here's to all of the students everywhere, being brave enough to make the mistakes.  Cheers!

Note:  No cheese was raped in the writing of this blog post.