teaching english in germany: frequently asked questions

A lot of Click Clack Gorilla readers want to know more about moving to Germany.  About to take the same journey themselves (or trying to match dreams with realities) they (you!) write to me with questions about visas and salaries and job oppurtunites.  I’ve done a FAQ about moving to Germany to answer all of the questions about how I got here and how I got a visa and a job and a place to live.  And here comes the FAQ for the folks who want to come over to teach English.

How did you find a teaching job?

I came back to Germany after a two-month visit to the States, and I started throwing resumes at everything that moved.  Which is to say that I looked up English-language schools in the yellow pages and sent a resume and cover letter (in English) to every single one.  In a big city like Frankfurt, that turned out to be somewhere between 20 and 30.  Two called back: a language school at which I got an interview but no job and inlingua, where I taught for some time.

Before returning to Germany I also had a lead on a job at a start-up language school that I also taught at briefly, but which turned out to be a waste of time with more classes canceled than taught (and paid for).

What kind of experience do you have?  Do I need a TEFL to get hired?

Attention all native English speakers with a college degree: you will not need TEFL, or any other certificate, to get hired.  You need to be personable and a meticulous speaker of English.  Seriously.  That’s all.  (While this is probably not true for every language school, it seems to be true of all the franchises.)

My personal English-classroom-door-opening qualifications include my BA in English Lit and a few years spent tutoring college kids in writing at my college’s writing center where I ended up the head tutor of the ESL division during my senior year.  See?  No teaching certificates, no relevant degree (though it may have English in the title, I promise, being able to analyze a novel will get you nowhere in front of a business English class), and no real teaching experience.

Do I need to be able to speak German?

Absolutely not.  In fact, since most language schools encourage the trial-by-fire method (aka teaching students only in the target language for ultimate furstration, I mean absorption), you will be strictly forbidden to speak it.  Although I occasionally bent the rules with true beginners and students who were utterly lost on subjects of grammar, which was admittedly helpful.

What was the job like, day-to-day?

Most English classes, particularly those of the business English variety, are held before or after office hours.  Which means you’ll usually have to get up early for an 8 o’clock class, and then will have the day free before teaching a second class at 5 or 6.  This irritated the hell out of me—I prefer to get all of my working out of the way at once instead of having it drag me out of bed far too early only to spit me back out after an hour and a half with eight more hours to feel anxious about my next class.

Once in a while I taught daytime numbers that involved four hours with the same group of apathetic adults.  And those irritated me even more.  My favorites were one-on-one classes where I would either go to a student’s home or meet her in a cafe and spend the hour and a half chatting, correcting, and role playing.  You’d be amazed how many people are interested in practicing small talk.  Usually classes were in student’s homes or offices, but once in a while I would teach in the company’s classrooms.

At inlingua, teachers are supplied with all the course material, so all you have to do is figure out a vague lesson plan and follow the dotted lines.  It’s a method that leaves a lot of room for both laziness and creativity.  (And also means you can teach someone how to talk about accounting in English without having a clue about accounting yourself.)

Was it hard to make ends meet?  How much do you get paid? 

Not at all, though of course you should remember that I am a pretty lo-fi person.  I was a very dedicated dumpster diver at the time, though not because I didn’t have the money to buy food.  My main expenses were my apartment (300 euros/month including utilities), health insurance (126 euros/month), and beer (a beer in a bar in Frankfurt is expensive at between 2.50—if you’re lucky—and sky’s the limit, which is why I usually bought mine at the supermarket and drank with friends in the park).  I worked about 20 hours a week and had money to spare at a rate of 18 euros/teaching hour (a teaching hour is actually just 45 minutes).  But!  Don’t forget that as a freelancer, which is how most English teachers are billed, have to foot their own insurance and taxes, so we are talking a pre-tax number here.


A sweet hourly rate for talking to what usually turned out to be very interesting people (and seeing their homes and offices) and a lot of free coffee.  Every day was totally different, which kept things from getting too ho-hum.  Oh, and when a student cancels a class same-day, you don’t have to work, but you get paid anyway.


Weird hours, Saturday classes (four hour blocks blarg!), dress code, apathetic students.

Do you still teach English?

Hell no.  While I loved teaching one-on-one lessons, I don’t have the energy to stand in front of rooms full of apathetic adults who expect to learn English and be entertained on a regular basis.  I much prefer freelance writing, where I don’t need to be “on” ever and can work at home in messy hair and dirty pajamas.

If any of you have any more questions, include them in the comments and I’ll answer them there (and include them in future FAQs).

Monday April 23rd 2012, 9:00 am 6 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,expat life,germany,teaching english

when germans speak english

Once upon a time when I was an English teacher I had a lot of German students intent on mastering small talk. So we would practice talking about nothing. “How’s the weather been lately?” I would ask them in a role play. They would respond, and ask me about my family. What they needed to practice wasn’t so much the English itself, but the art of pointless conversation. Which meaningless subjects were appropriate? Which subjects were taboo? And why the hell would anyone want to waste ten minutes talking about nothing in the first place? It’s a concept a lot of Germans just can’t wrap their heads around.

With the students most intent on practicing small talk, I would start each class with ten or fifteen minutes of chatting (most of my classes were one-on-one sessions). What they had done on the weekend, what I had done on the weekend, what we were both planning on doing the following weekend, how horrible the weather was, that sort of thing. Then we would work our way into a variety of other role plays: telephone calls, business meetings, financial reports, or whatever the student needed to practice for their at-work encounters with people of the English-speaking variety. The subject matter of those lessons tended to be bland, but some of the students’ mistakes were priceless.

A long, long time ago I collected some of my favorites, and then forgot to ever post them. So, wa-la, here they are, unveiled for you at long last. I’m not sharing these because I want to make fun of people who make mistakes when speaking a second language. But I have made enough side-splitting mistakes myself to know that the best thing you can hope to get out of a grammatical fumble is a good, long chuckle. And besides, when you’re an expat learning German, it’s nice to see that no matter who is learning what language, mistakes are made and life goes on.

the baby store

“My friend is getting a baby.”

“Is he adopting?” I would usually ask. This one was too common to even warrant a stifled chuckle. You see, in German you use the verb “to get” when talking about having babies, and so of course everybody just translates it directly. At least the first time. “Is he buying it at the store?”

“Uuuh, no.” Then I would remind them of the difference in verb usage, and they would slap their foreheads and never make the mistake again. But it was always a lovely reminder of how arbitrary language can be. Does saying “having a baby” really make any more sense than saying “getting a baby”? Well, to my English trained brain, yes. But when you really step back and think about it? No, not at all.

funny because it’s not true

“I am very interesting in reading.” For some reason a lot of German folks have trouble getting the difference between expressing their interests (“I am interested in…”) and loudly advertising their personal charms (“I am interesting”). No matter how many times I heard this I never stopped needing to repress a laugh. Often because the people who said it were anything but.

the cross dresser

Almost every beginning foreign language learner is stressed out at the thought of talking on the phone in his/her adopted language. Calling strangers in any language tends to make me nervous, and I still vividly remember the days when the thought of calling someone auf Deutsch to arrange a ride share made me break out in a cold sweat. (The upside: once you can handle that, you can pretty much handle anything.) So, understandably, a lot of my students wanted to practice the telephone calls they expected to have to make with their English-speaking colleagues, and our teaching books were full of prompts for just this sort of role play.

My prompt to the student: “You are on the phone. Describe yourself to someone you are going to meet at the airport so they can recognize you.”

The answer, from the conservative business man with the suit and the $5,000 watch: “I will be wearing a black dress.”

If only it were true. He might have even been able to pull it off. When I explained his mistake, he was embarrassed, but very happy to have gotten it out of the way in the classroom and not in front of his boss.

new age girl

One of the topics covered in every business-English textbook was “agreeing and disagreeing.” This usually involved a list of potentially controversial conversation topics. I would take one of the topics and make a statement like “war is wrong,” and then the student could practice politely agreeing or disagreeing with what I’d said. One of the topics I particularly enjoyed tackling was vegetarianism. And it also led to another amusing mistake.

Me: “Vegetarianism is a healthy lifestyle choice.”

Student: “I agree. Some of my friends are vegetables.”

Me: “I certainly hope not.” At which point the student looked at me quizzically, and I explained that a vegetarian was a person who didn’t eat meat, while a vegetable was a person who was in a coma and hooked up to machines in the hospital. It’s another one of those mistakes you only make once in your life, an unfortunate fact for the comic relief of English speakers everywhere.

and last but not least

From the überhetero macho business dude with the trophy wife, 2.5 kids, and the sports car obsession during a small talk session: “My boyfriend, and I went skiing this weekend.”

“Really? Well, knowing that you have a wife, I’d guess you might want to phrase that differently. You see, the term ‘boyfriend’ in English always refers to a romantic relationship. Did you mean boyfriend?”

“No no no no no no no no NO!” He looked mildly horrified at what he’d said. “Friend! Friend!””

One of my favorite things about the German language is that the words for “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” are the same words that you would use for “platonic friend” (and because German nouns are gendered, you get the information about the partner’s gender within the word itself). But it can easily lead to a misunderstanding, both for Germans translating their thoughts into English, and English speakers trying to tell a story about a platonic friend without confusing the point.

And there you have it, another post from the “Nikki cleans out her overflowing blog drafts folder” series.

Want to read more about my adventures teaching English?

dr. sweet and mr. appletree (tales of two of my most memorable students)

the bloody chain

putting the suit back in pursuit

conjugate a verb for jesus!

germany: where the customer is never right

Tuesday October 11th 2011, 8:00 am 10 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,expat life,germany,teaching english

doctor sweet and mr. appletree

There was only one Saturday English class I ever taught where my student was more hungover than I was. Meet Mr. Appletree. Mr. Appletree loves accounting, his Cambodian mail-order bride, and their son, and he’s writing a science fiction novel about dragons. He has pale, pinkish skin, and I can always hear him coming a few minutes before he arrives because he’s always fifteen minutes late, and he always sprints up the stairs.

On that particular Saturday, he was already 30 miunutes late. I was disappointed to hear his footsteps echoing up the stairwell; after 45 minutes we’re allowed to go home (where we can spend the rest of the lesson’s allotted time getting paid to do the grocery shopping or finish reading that new book). But there he was, in all his plump, pink, number-crunching glory.

“Sorry I’m late,’ he panted, still out of breath from the stairs, “I was at a wedding reception last night until 6 am. Barely got any sleep. Had quite a lot to drink.”

Halfway into a listening exercise in Chapter 3, he fell asleep. I stifled my laughter and waited. It was another ten minutes before he woke up. He’d insisted on coming because if he’d canceled that morning, he still would have had to pay. At least if he showed up, still drunk or not, asleep or not, he could feel like he was getting something for his 42 euros a teaching hour.

For the rest of the Saturday (or Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Thursday, or Friday) classes, the ones where I was too hungover/tired/demotivated/completely over it to bother planning a real lesson, I would use my favorite fall back: the agreeing and disagreeing worksheet.

The worksheet contains a list of supposedly contraversial statements like “the military should be abolished,” “abortion is immoral” (best to avoid that one), and “forcing animals to perform in the circus is wrong” and allows students to practice diplomatically expressing their opinions in English, just like they might someday need to in a business negotiation. (Just imagine it: I have uttered that sentence, out loud, in front of other people, in a sincere, and convicing tone. Feels like another life ago.)

Sometimes “diplomatic” turned into “screaming match,” for example when the woman from Croatia started screaming at the ex-army officer across the table because he says war is necessary, and she says well I’m getting pretty tired of dealing with it on my god damn doorstep. On the good days, though, it kept people talking for the entire hour and a half, without requiring much more from me than nods and grammatical corrections.

During Doctor Sweet’s third class, I pulled out my good old A and D–not out of disinterest, but because I’d been teaching a class of beginers the present tense all day, and I was in dire need of an adult-level conversation.

Meet Doctor Sweet. He has brilliantly blue eyes, three children, and works in insurance. Doctor Sweet doesn’t want to go through the book; he just wants to sit around chatting, practicing small talk and building up his confidence. Doctor Sweet didn’t even care when I was over an hour late to our first lesson. Just the kind of one-on-one lessons I like best.

We’d already gone through “football clubs should be government subsidized” (“I don’t suppose it really matters.”) and “in 25 years there will be an equal number of fathers taking paternity leave as mothers taking maternity leave” (“Probably. I would never take paternity leave, but it seems to be becoming more and more popular.”) when we came to one of my favorites: “Vegetarianism is unhealthy.”

This one caught his attention. “I know, it really is!” he said, his voice becoming more enthusiastic with every syllable. “They have proved that you can’t get all of the vitamins that you need if you don’t eat meat.”

“That’s interesting, because I’ve read the opposite,” I countered, leaning back in my chair, my hands folded on the table in front of me.

“No, no, it’s very bad for you. And there are these people,” he went on, leaning in towards me conspiratorially, his voice slightly lowered, “called vegans“–he emphasized the word vegan as if to say, they are monsters!, seven-headed monsters!, seven-headed, infant-murdering monsters!–”They don’t even eat cheese!”

He went on for a few more minutes, about the horrors of veganism’s malnurished, insane mutant zombie followers before I joined in again.

“You know,” I said, looking down at the table, pausing, then directly into his eyes, “I’m vegan.”

Silence. His cheeks flushed; he slid a few inches down into his chair. I stifled a laugh. This was the man who never showed a second of weekness. The manager of his department, high-paid, in-control, confident and charming, even in a second language. Sitting in a classroom, embarassed by some American with disheveled hair, two years younger than his oldest child.

“Oh.” He laughed. I smiled, raising my eyebrows expectantly. “Really. So what is it that you eat?”

This time I laughed. I’ve met a lot of meat eaters who can’t fathom that a vegan meal could possibly contain enough calories and vitamins to keep a person healthy, let alone enough flavor to keep her happy. Some people seem to think that rice and ketchup are animal products (true story), and that all vegans are militant, malnourished, closed-minded assholes who subsist on iceberg lettuce and twigs. I am happy to report that neither of these things are true.

“The same things you do, probably, just without the cheese and the meat and the fish.”

“Ok, well, what do you eat on an average day then?”

“Ok, well, for breakfast toast and a glass of juice, or maybe musli with soy milk. For lunch a sandwich–”

“But what do you put on the sandwich?”

“Oh I don’t know, roasted vegetables, maybe hummous, or grilled tofu or tomatoes and basil, things like that. Then maybe a salad or some french fries or a chocolate bar. For dinner I like to cook Indian or Asian, curries and stir fries and that sort of thing.”

He considered this for a moment. “And you don’t have an vitamin deficiencies?”

“No, not so far. I get my blood tested every so often, but I’m not missing anything. I’ve heard that there are some people whose bodies can’t absorb everything they need from plants, and if my body couldn’t handle it I would eat animal products again”–at this he looked relieved, as if he had just been contacted by alien life and had finally confirmed that they had come bearing peace–”I don’t think eating meat is wrong necessarily, I just don’t want to support the meat industry, and I figure, if I can live my life without having to take any other lives to do it, I should.”

“You’re very idealistic. I guess I’d just never met anyone who was vegan before. It doesn’t sound as bad as I thought.”

At the end of the our lessons, he took me out to lunch. “Let’s go to that vegan restaraunt you mentioned,” he suggested, “I want to see what it is you eat.”

At the restaraunt we spoke German for the first time–”Now it’s my turn to correct you!” he grinned–and he had his first vegan meal. I don’t think I taught him a damn thing about English in six months of lessons–his speaking skills were already near perfect–but the six months did amount to something: he discovered that every vegan isn’t fucking mental and I discovered that every insurance salesman isn’t fucking boring.

Well look at that. I’ve gone and ended this tale with a nicely packaged little feel-good moral. I promise it’ll never happen again. Next time I’ll tell the conservative insurance salesman that I eat out of the trash, and he’ll never speak to me again.

Wednesday December 17th 2008, 7:20 pm 5 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,teaching english

the bloody chain

“You, umm, how do I say this? It’s always a rather awkward topic.”

I was sitting in the grayish office of The Woman Formerly Known as My Boss. When I had called to say I would be back in Frankfurt and available to work, Former Boss had called brimming with artificial niceties and the suggestion that we meet up for a “little chat” before I started working again.

I had wondered how bad it would be. “Little chat,” after all, is business speak for stern conversation about what you’ve done wrong. I was pretty sure I knew what was coming, so I just sat back with the relaxed smile of someone who’s just spent six months doing just exactly what she wants and watched her try to squirm her criticism out in a polite way. Too bad politeness so often gets in the way of honesty.

“Well, it’s about dress code,” she finally said, choosing her words slowly and running a finger across the edge of the plastic-gray table. “I’ve been cracking down on people about dress code lately.”

Uh-huh. Cracking down on “people.” Ladies and gentleman, I would like to introduce our new prototype. So polite! So kind! So diplomatic! An expert at talking around blame and unpleasantness! Some may call her an artificial coward but we call it state-of-the-art anti-unpleasantness. We’ve dubbed her the Modern Boss. Don’t wait! Place your orders today!

I personally would prefer conversations like this to be loud and honest. Maybe some yelling followed by a gladiator-style battle where we could bash our frustration and aggression out on each other with foam bats and go home friends. At least then we’d all know where we stood. Directness, after all, might lead to negative feelings and decreased productivity. It’s not personal. It’s never personal. It’s just business.

“You sometimes wore,” she went on, drawing out the “o” to buy time to search the database for more neutrally negative adjectives, “combinations that I was a little uncomfortable with.” Translation: You dress like a slob. There are sometimes holes in your pants. You don’t iron. I almost laughed. This had been coming for a long time. The only real surprise was that it had taken her so long to get around to it.

“You don’t have to wear a suit or anything,” she rushed on. “Just business casual. What you have on today is fine. You really don’t have to wear a suit, just because I do. I mean, I personally love suits.”

“Really?” I was incredulous. There can’t really be people who love suits, can there? Oh what people will do for fashion. Including looking like idiots, hookers, and penguins.

“Yeah. I really love them. And besides, I never know when I’ll have to meet a client.” I have never been good at determining when English people are being sincere and when they’re being ironic. Apparently I didn’t watch enough Monty Python as a kid. But doubt aside, I’m fairly sure I’ve never witnessed an authentic moment with this woman. Usually we exchange the banal forced small talk of office inmates and go our separate ways. Could this really be an authentic endorsement of the business suit? I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. She did, after all, meet her husband in church, and I have trouble taking people seriously who believe that a thousands-of-years-old slavery-endorsing pseudo-hippy is going to come back in a ball of fire and brimstone and lead us all to the promised land. I apologize to any Christians reading this. It’s just that we’re from different planets.

The worst of the criticism over, she went on in an attempt to lighten the mood. “Oh god,” she laughed. Her blue pants suit couldn’t manage a laugh and just hung sternly at her side. “I still remember that day you came in with the bruise on your neck from that chain you used wear. Oh my.” She shook her head in bewilderment at the memory.

The previous year I had almost always had the chain on. It was a heavy thick-linked number, fastened at the back with a safety pin. One day I had come into work and Former Boss had passed by with her usual pre-recorded pleasantries. But this time as her eyes wandered to my neck, a look of horror had spread across her face. “Nikki! Oh my god! You have a terrible bruise on your neck! What is that from? Oh my god, it’s from that chain! You shouldn’t sleep in that thing! You could suffocate!” Uh-huh. Suffocation. Neck bruise. Right.

Ever since she’s brought up the subject once every few months, as if she still can’t shake her horror at the thought. I nod and chuckle, wondering if she secretly thinks that bruise is part of some kinky asphixiation fetish.

I’ve never had the heart to tell her it was just dirt.

Sunday April 06th 2008, 12:45 pm 9 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,teaching english

putting the suit back in pursuit

The best thing about teaching business executives English is that they’re usually too busy to actually attend entire lessons.

“Excuse me, I have to take this call,” the executive secretary tells me as she rushes out of the room. Later an accountant apologetically begs to end class fifteen minutes early and the Siemens executive sings “Traffic again!” at me as he arrives half an hour late for the fifteenth week in a row.

I sit at their dreary gray tables in their bland gray meeting rooms (the meeting rooms are always gray) and smile and nod. “Don’t worry about it,” I say. I’ve been daydreaming, I think. Or writing. Or reading. And you’ve been paying me for every minute. Come late, talk on the phone, don’t come at all! Because my students’ firms are paying the bills, it rarely occurs to them that they are throwing away almost a euro a minute on their phone calls and traffic jams.

When students need to leave early, they always try to break the news gently, as if I will be offended or angry with them for cutting the lesson short. “Nikki, we’re really sorry,” a delegate from one of my classes once told me gingerly. “But we have to end a half hour early today. There is an important meeting this afternoon, and we all need to be there. We’re really really sorry.” I almost laughed right in her face. Sorry?! I’m not! Have fun at your meeting! I’ll be laughing all the way to the park, where I’ll sit in the sun and drink beer with my friends, and get paid for it.

In the realm of private language schools the roles of “student” and “teacher” are becoming more and more irrelevant. This is not high school history class. There are no tests, no grades, and no detentions. You don’t need a hall pass, and no one is going to publicly humiliate you if you don’t do your homework. In part this is a positive step for education. More self-directed. More mature. But in part private language training skips over classic educational roles in favor of their capitalistic cousins. We are no longer student and teacher, we’re paying customer and service provider. And until my students notice, they’ll keep being too busy for class, and I’ll keep getting paid to take the afternoon off. It’s not a bad gig if you can stand the suits.

Wednesday April 02nd 2008, 7:34 pm 4 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,teaching english

germany: where the customer is never right, part two

In America I have seen crazed shoppers with Mastercard eyes tear clothing from each other’s hands like rabid animals. Over-weight, over-paid women fighting each other for the privilege of buying $200 pants for $20. You’d think that killing someone over a price difference like that would be legal in America, but apparently the law hasn’t yet been passed. Working at the outlet sales, I’d always hoped I’d see a fist fight or someone pull a shotgun out of an over-sized designer handbag, but I never got to see so much as a bitch slap. Afraid of losing too much face, the customers would restrain themselves to backhanded insults and hateful glances.

Then I moved to Germany. Here, retail shopping is a blood sport.

Retail clerks, not actually obligated to wait on you, tend to treat customers much better than their waitress cousins. In retail stores, it’s not the employees you have to worry about, it’s the other customers. The clerks ignore the shoppers while the shoppers jostle each other out of the way, grab clothing from under each others’ noses, and cut each other in the dressing room lines every chance they get.

At first I thought I’d just had the bad luck of running into the rudest people in the country all in one day. Then it all happened again. And again. And again. And I started to think that maybe it was just normal. There’s certainly a distinct difference in regard for personal space here. That is, there is no regard for personal space. Try walking down a busy shopping street (like, for example, the Zeil in Frankfurt am Main). In America, it’d be considered impolite to jostle a clumsy shopper or a slow pedestrian. Many Germans would agree. But not the shoppers buzzing through Germany’s highly populated shopping districts. There jostling is not only normal, it’s expected, and, once you embrace it, a great way to take out aggression on a Saturday afternoon.

I once had a student who worked in high-end retail. Department stores, then designer jeans, then onto high-priced Italian luggage. He was sweet and witty and flamingly homosexual. We would commiserate about rude customers over cups of coffee and call it an English lesson. His name was Danny.

In German, he told me one morning, they don’t say that the customer is always right, they say that the customer is king. An appropriate metaphor seeing as “the customer” is almost never actually right and often behaves like a moody monarch on a power trip.

Once during his designer jeans days, a customer came in and demanded that Danny take back a pair of pants clearly marked nonreturnable. Danny told him that he was very very sorry, but that it wasn’t going to happen.

“I want to speak to the manager!” the customer shouted.

“I am the manager,” Danny replied calmly.

“But the customer is king!” came the arrogant response.

“Yes, and I’m the queen, and you’re not returning those pants.”

Monday January 21st 2008, 6:34 pm 5 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,germany,teaching english

conjugate a verb for jesus!

My worst nightmare probably involves some combination of hairy spiders, AIDS, and a brigade of machete-wielding circus clowns. But being trapped in a small room with a born again christian for three hours every day for a week might come in close second.

When I asked him what he did for a living, he told me he was “work free.” Sounded pretty good. Not wanting to ask if he had quit or been fired, I asked him what he wanted to do next. “Well, in the fall I will go to bible school. And then I will go to Egypt to teach people about Jesus.”

Uh-oh.  It’s not that I don’t like Jesus.  Maybe if he and I had met we would have really hit it off.  What with him preaching love and turning over the tables at the market and all.  It’s more like I don’t like extremist Christians telling me that I am, in fact, going to burn in eternal damnation.

“And what made you decide to do that?”

“It’s God’s will. He needs me in Egypt.”

Warning! Warning! Alien vessel at 6 o’clock. Keep him on the radar Scotty. We’ll try to make contact, but these fuckers are unpredictable, and I don’t want to risk an attack.

Sometimes teaching requires a level of diplomacy I never knew I was capable of.

For the first hour, it was easy to keep the conversation to less potentially explosive subjects. What do you NEED to use English for? What do you LIKE DOING in your free time.” The usual blah blah blah small talk stuff that turns English teachers into therapists and intensive training courses, at worst, into nightmares.

“What WOULD you do IF an elephant walked into the room right now?”

“If an elephant walked into the room right now, I would sit on him.”

“Would you sit on him?  Or would you ride him?”

“Oh yes, ride him. Into the city.”

A student with a bit of an imagination is a language teacher’s best friend. Especially considering I’ve already asked this question at least fifteen times this week.

“What WOULD happen, IF you didn’t eat for a week?”

“I would be very happy.”

Well that’s a new one. He’s a normal sized guy, so despite a slight fear of an impending “well I throw up all my food anyways” response, I abandon tact and ask why.

He pauses, folding his hands. “When I first find my faith, I not eat for 23 days.”

“When you first FOUND your faith, you DIDN’T eat for 23 days?”

“Yes, I didn’t eat for 23 days. I was very happy.”

Ok. I suppose I can understand that. I hear fasting can have that effect. Besides, he tells me, you’re only hungry for the first two or three days.

But it wasn’t until we got to “might” that the real trouble started. Since he’s not working, I skip over the “Do you think we’ll have a meeting tomorrow? Well, we might…” prompts and start asking him what he thinks might happen with transportation/fashion/government/the environment in the year 2100.

“I think we might have flying cars.”

“I think we might have better health care.”

So far, so good.

Then, almost at the bottom of the prompt list, “What do you think MIGHT happen with family structures? Marriage, divorce, children, that sort of thing,” I ask.

“Well, I think they might be righter.”

Scotty, we’re going to have to raise that alert from orange to red.

Where do you begin correcting a sentence that has thrown both tact and grammar to the wind? With the grammatical structure? With the subjectivity of a right or a wrong when it comes to family structures? Teach him how to say “In accordance with Christian beliefs”? It was obvious where this was going, but I thought, hell, his English isn’t that great, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

“What do you mean exactly by ‘righter’?” I ask, thanking my lucky stars that Jesus needed him in Egypt and not in my English class for the next six months.

“Righter. For example, homosexual marriage is wrong. I think in the year 2100, it might be righter.”

Damn it Ensen, it doesn’t look like there’s going to be an opportunity for peaceful contact. Scotty! Launch the missiles, we’re under attack.

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Saturday March 17th 2007, 6:50 am 1 Comment
Filed under: conspiracies,teaching english