Saturday, 24 January 2009

English and unrequited love

I agree with you. It is a very painful part of being human. It is entirely negative. It causes nothing but the pain of loss and ‘what might have been’ for the unloved person and the pain of insufferable guilt for the person who cannot return the love. I do not understand the evolutionary or social advantage of either jealousy or unrequited love. Perhaps it is just an unfortunate by-product of both the need for strong human pair-bonding and of human memory.
I am trying to help one student who has done an undergraduate course in Indonesia and has now started a similar course in Melbourne. She did a ‘crash course’ in academic writing with me. I agreed, foolishly, to help guide her in writing an assignment by email. It is such a struggle and I keep putting it off. In class I helped her compile her notes and we have spent a lot of time teaching her the method of iterative review. But she still cannot get it. Her work is full of repetition, inappropriate word forms, incorrect tenses and badly stitched segments of marketing hype from the internet. I have insisted that I will not mark it, but just highlight in different shades what the errors are so she can correct them herself. They just do not have the habit of reading what they have written.
The biggest mistake here is to teach English from an early age – and teach it by people who are incompetent. It is a massive task to undo the errors that have been acquired over ten or twelve years. That is why there is such a market for commercial English language schools. There is no such market or demand in those commonwealth countries such as India, Malaysia and Singapore where there are competent teachers. I want to scream it from the rooftops:
Stop teaching English! Wait until they are 13, 15 or even in university and you have enough people who can teach them properly. If you are going to allow ex-pats to teach in commercial schools make it compulsory for them to teach English free in school or university too – or, even better, get them to teach teachers. Only allow ex-pats who can actually use their own language competently. Stop pandering to the Anglo-American neo-colonialists and give equal importance to other world languages. When you start teaching any language ban books, pens and white/black boards for the first two or three months so you can get pronunciation right without confusing them.
It fills me with ire the way the young people are being cheated and exploited.
I'd better return to the awfully painful task of going through that essay. Checking students' English can be the most tiresome task under the sun. It is the intellectual equivalent of the chain gang.
Except sometimes.
I have been giving individual tuition to one young man for a long time and I am glad to say that it seems to have been paying off. He comes from a stinking rich family and often goes on mini-holidays to English speaking parts of the world. Whenever he goes I ask him to buy a newspaper and I set him tasks from it on his return. He still makes mistakes but his work is coherent and progresses logically. But I have had a lot of time to ‘corrupt’ his mind with free thought. It is one of the sheer delights of teaching when you can start a job and follow it through.
Most teaching, especially in the commercial schools, does not allow that freedom and means the process is fragmented and goes over the same ground without attempting to properly iron out errors. The idea is to keep the students for as long as possible and keep their fees coming in.
But the thing that makes me really cringe is when someone asks me to, ‘Just look that over for grammar, would you?’