I came to work last night to meet my student for the week. I was not a little reluctant – Sunday night, one new student, info said he was a lecturer in Neurology. I did Psych way back when the DSMIII was the standard diagnostic and statistical manual for mental disorders, but it isn’t really neurology and besides, I had no idea of his level. I really would rather have been at home.
Sitting in the lounge at the school, I waited for him to appear, wondering what to talk about and would one glass of wine be enough to keep my courage up through the next three hours. Then he came into the room. You know that kind of person that just makes you feel relaxed? An aura of calm and warmth and gentleness filled the room as we smiled at each other and shook hands. The next three hours just melted away.
He told me the difference between Neurology and Psychiatry; he told me about all the different Neuro- things there were: like Neuro- Marketing, Neuro -IT, Neuro-Economics. We spoke about anti-psychotic drugs and how their efficacy is in question; we spoke about bio-feedback loops; we spoke about dopamine and serotonin and endorphins and what each of them does and how miniscule amounts can change someone’s whole outlook on life.
He told me that major depression is on the increase in the developed countries around the world. He doesn’t know why for sure, but there is talk amongst the fraternity that it is to do with a perceived lack of control over rapid change and a lack of human interaction. Social interaction – with real, warm, live people – is crucial in maintaining mental health. The degree of isolation because of increasing “connectedness” to pieces of hardware is a major contributing factor to the increase in depression. It is also a major factor in autism and late onset of speech, both of which are also on the increase. Sitting a child in front of TV or a computer console (strange, the double meaning of that word…) disengages the child from any real human interaction and the pathway between the left brain, which recognises the word and the right brain which attaches meaning to the word and crucially, to the limbic system which attaches emotion to the word, just doesn’t develop, leaving the child non-communicative and emotionally detached.
And then we spoke about memory. Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are on the increase in developed countries – and the onset is getting earlier and earlier. One of the theories being investigated is that older people in developed countries are marginalised, slowly losing their place and status in society and suffering all the feelings – physical, emotional and spiritual – of helplessness, hopelessness and uselesness that that brings. In developing countries, on the other hand, where older people have a safe and respected place in their communities, the incidence of Alzheimer’s and dementia is not nearly so high and is not on the increase to the same alarming degree.
Putting myEFL teacher’s hat on, I would put him at only just an A2 on the CEFR – maybe not even. He has no verbs, prepositions, articles; he uses nouns almost exclusively; there is no grammatical structure to his sentences; he told me that speaking with me was “delicious” (I loved that!). But I’m in a place where I don’t know where to start really. He is giving a presentation of his work at a congress in Prague in May. He has all the vocabulary he needs and feels he knows enough grammar, which is true if he does any number of grammar tests. What he gains in these areas, he loses when he tries to speak and his listening is also “broken” (his word).
We have one week. I shall bring the dogme strategies of retrieval, recasting, repeating, recording and recycling to our lessons. I have to trust them to do the job for this amazing, wise, warm-hearted gentle man.