Friday, April 02, 2004

Contrary to what one of my friends (who thinks one of her students is a few words short of a dictionary) says, it is me that teaches The Stupidest Man In The World. (Sometime in, I think, January, I said that “Some students will never speak English well; I feel bad taking their money”. It was this very student, M., that I was thinking of.)

M. wants to do an English exam (the PET, for those that know about these things) this summer. He can’t. He would fail miserably. To contextualise for the British amongst you, it’s wanting to do an AS level in French when you can’t even remember Ou est le poste, s’il vous plait?. He’s only just started to (slowly) learn the past tense, and the exam will probably require him to write 100 words recounting some wacky adventure, in the way language exams are wont to do (students should lose marks for excessive use of the exclamation mark though). I hope they don’t ask him to express something in the future, as he’s never yet studied that. He simply doesn’t know enough grammar or vocab, let alone the necessary speaking and listening skills.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with not speaking a foreign language well (or, indeed, not being that bright), as long as one knows one’s limits. But, by asking to do the PET, M. is showing as much respect for his linguistic limits as the average Italian motorist shows the speed limit. So I did the only thing I could, and told him he wasn’t ready; maybe he could do it in December (I didn’t add “..only if you do a lot more than one hour a week and go to study in England for four weeks in the summer...” although that’s the truth).

Now comes the bit that really pisses me off. When M. came to us in December he did mention that he wanted to do an exam but was remarkably vague about which one, and why. (I would suggest that vagueness was deliberate, but that would be crediting him with a certain nous; some cunning. M. has less cunning than Baldrick.)

Anyway, my boss, after establishing (by deduction) that it was the PET he was refering to, told him he wouldn’t be ready. Still, M. began two one-to-one lessons a week with me. He soon changed to one, but he does work hard, if slowly.

Now, late on Tuesday, after I’d told him he shouldn’t do the exam, his mother phoned the school to, it seems, shout abuse at my boss: “You’ve taken our money under false pretenses” and “M. phoned all the schools and you were the only ones who guaranteed results” (does “You won’t be ready for the exam” sound like guaranteeing results?) were just two choice pieces. I wasn’t there, but my boss reports her as “a vile women” and actually thinks that the “false pretenses” remark is a veiled reference that we should be using the money they’ve given us to pay off the examiners. It turns out that the little fucker told his mum we did make promises, and she’s believed it. But, of course, her boy wouldn’t dare lie, would he? So it must be our fault the lad isn’t fluent after 18 one-hour lessons.

Anyway, despite my boss saying quite clearly that he won’t pass, the mother insisted he get entered for the exam. So entered he has been and I have eight further one hour sessions to teach a goldfish how to fly.

Now, dear reader, what picture do you have of our friend M.? Spotty, pale and timid 14-year-old? Long-haired rebelious gothic-loving late teen? Wrong on both counts, and nowhere near. He’s a 28-year-old fucking man. He’s been an undergraduate for 10 years (and so must have failed several years running) and needs this exam to graduate in November. Of course, like all Italian men who haven’t yet found their wife, he lives under his parent’s roof and wouldn’t know a simmer from a saucepan. So it’s here, it’s now, it’s at this point – when Italian Mummy’s Boys disguised as men would rather lie to their parents than take a hold of their own lives – that I fail to understand Italy, and I’m finally lost for words.

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