Wednesday, January 28, 2004

A common frustration of language teachers is students who don’t engage with the material. “What did you do at the weekend?”, I asked a student;


Can’t they make it up? We’ve been learning and practising the past simple for a couple of lessons now; it should be obvious I’m giving them an opportunity to practise using it in open conversation. They’ve paid for lessons; now why don’t they use them? And besides, they didn’t do nothing, did they? If they stayed in bed all weekend, then say so: “I stayed in bed all weekend”.

So when it’s my turn to be the language student, I try and join in and use the communication activities as much as possible. Which is how I found myself a few days ago in the following conversation, having been asked to simulate a shop dialogue. I am the shopkeeper, and I start the conversation:

(I will keep this in English, partly because, well, this is an English-language site and partly because it’s hard to communicate broken, stuttering, poorly pronounced Italian on paper. Or, rather, on a computer screen).

“Good morning.”
“Good morning, how are you?”
“Fine, thank you, fine. And you.”
“Ok. What can I get you.”
“Do you have any oranges?”
“Yes. How many would you like?”
“Yes, one.”
“Ok. Anything else?”
“Yes. Do you have any tomatoes?”
“Yes. How many would you like?”
“One?! Is your family not very hungry today?”
“I don’t live with my family.”
“I don’t live with my family.”
“But you are Italian, you must live with your family.”
“No, I live alone.”
“...” [fingers and thumb together, hand moved back and forth]
“...” [bottom lip projected out, shrugs shoulders]
“...” [body opened towards speaker, palms showing]
“...” [body also opened towards speaker, palms showing]

The conversation had reached an impasse. I was only trying to be realistic. My colleague gave me a look that said “Why do you have to subvert these conversations?”. I looked at my teacher who was looking back at me in a way that suggested she didn’t appreciate, or maybe, worse, didn’t even get the joke. Time to play it straight:

“Would you like anything else?”

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