I've just added a new student to my list of lessons: asked by a member of Project Hope to give some private tutoring to this young boy, I went along and met the family yesterday, and again today.
His mother speaks English, is about my age and works as a social worker with women who have been abused. She is very kind, and after the lesson we ate a lovely meal that she had prepared.
She has four children, and I'm helping the middle son with his English: one look at his school books and the complexity of the vocabulary, compared with his ability to speak told me that this was an urgent job! I've signed up for three lessons a week, trying to do the only thing I know how to do: instill an enthusiasm and interest in the language so that a natural curiosity and desire to learn comes from the student himself and takes over when I leave off. So often the teaching of a language bares little resemblance to the language as a living, useful and fascinating thing. Also, there is a limit to what you can actually teach in five weeks.
Hopefully it's working, and after only two lessons he was proudly translating over dinner what we had learnt in class, and correcting his younger brother. Towards the end of our lesson two of his friends came in, so I expanded the lesson to include them. Then a friend of his sister came in, looking stressed and holding a copy of 'Jane Eyre'. I asked her what the problem was. Nothing trivial, of course, just an 11pm deadline, that night, for a summary on the ending of the book, to be handed in for her Open University course.
Now I think I read 'Jane Eyre', about 30 years ago, and I do not remember anything about it. She showed me on the computer what her summary was supposed to encompass, and it made me laugh aloud. A question so convoluted and complex, so pompous and banal that even a mother-tongue English speaker shouldn't have to answer it. I am a fan of simplifying language as much as possible, especially for students of it, building up more complicated grammar and vocabulary slowly.
Anyway, we did the only thing we could do: looked up on the web the ending of Jane Eyre, wrote down a few inflated paragraphs about the situation in which the poor Jane found herself, and filled it out with waffle. That should do the trick. I hastily backed out of the apartment, before her 30 classmates found me, and asked for help too...
The father of the young boy had come to pick me up at the beginning of the afternoon. I had been told that he had been a prisoner for 13 years, and on hunger strike for some of that time. He was a very quiet, wrinkled man, probably about my age again, with a 30-yr old car. I noticed his hands on the steering wheel: two fingers and a thumb on his left hand missing. Once at the flat he disappeared and I didn't see him again.