My second stint in ESL in 1995: a warehouse that had once been the apprentice mechanics’ garage. Me, some plastic chairs snaffled from the store cupboard under the stairs and a board – sometimes chalk, sometimes not. Between 12 and 15 refugees came and huddled on the stairs of the centre – a place, a safe place where no questions were asked and their souls could rest for a time. “Could you teach them some survival English, Candy?” I defy anyone who has ever been a teacher to say,”No!”. We sat in our warehouse, freezing through the winter and stifled through the summer – talking. They came from parts of Africa that before then I had never really thought about in any coherent way – Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia – they had all suffered tragedies and injustices, violence and trauma that I still wish I had never heard about. And they spoke no English. But we talked. Where it came from or how, I know not. I can only surmise it came from the human need to connect with another through language – the only thing we really had in common. Vocabulary like “tears” and “pain”, “heart” and “bullet”, “fire” and “death”, “run” and “fear”. Questions asked and answered: Where I came from, what I need, what I left behind and what it means to me, what happened and what happens now? And so we came to a language we all understood – a purging and a weeping, a coming together and a tentative moving forward. Where are they now, I wonder? Did they ever go home? Did they ever find another space, another purpose, another reality?
This is dogme teaching – long before it was dogme teaching……
What an absolutely beautiful story, thank you so much for sharing and looking forward to more dogme posts!
I know this experience although my own experience was me talking in broken Malay with English and they in Malay and together through the words we did share and sand and fingers, we were able to talk for hours and hours.
Honestly what I am going to write next is going to sound as corny as all get out but I read once that there is “a language of the universe” about how whenever we need to share our souls and communicate with others, we do, no matter what words we have.
An incredibly powerful post, Candy. And an incredibly intense experience for all involved I imagine. Nothing I have every experienced in my classes comes anywhere near the personal intensity of communication you describe. You’re really setting the stakes high for Karenne’s challenge 🙂
Great story, Candy, movingly recounted. It reminded me very much of this extract from a short story by a New Zealand writer, recalling his experience in a language school in Auckland. It transpires that one of the students has died accidentally.
…now any semblance of instruction had broken down.
Or had it? What does a teacher do at a language school?
You talk, essentially. You need some kind of crutch – a textbook, a theme – but the main thing is to talk and cause the students to talk. There are the ESOL dogmas: the Four Skills – two active (Speaking, Writing), two passive (Listening, Reading); the Three ‘P’s – Presentation, Practice, Performance. Essentially, though, it’s talking that’s required.
We talked that day….
Jack Ross, A strange day at the language school. Landfall, 203, Autumn 2002. pp. 119-125
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You should go for short story writing. Beautifully and movingly written.
Thank you so much. This came from a very sad place in my life, but also a very rich place.