My lower intermediate group had little oral tests today. Each student was asked a few questions about their home town, present studies, leisure activities and plans for the weekend. It’s incredibly frustrating for an adult, articulate in his native language, to be reduced to stumbling through a five minute interview on topics of such mind-numbing banality, and until informed otherwise, most of them thought they had loused it up. In fact, they all did very well. The very things that they think show ineptitude – paraphrasing, coining new words when the right one escapes them, self-correcting – all these are perfectly serviceable strategies for the circumstances, and much to be encouraged. The point at this stage is not to wow the interlocutor with eloquence, since obviously you cannot aspire to this, but merely to assemble more or less the right words, and in the right order near as fuck it. Everyone succeeded, and I take my hat off to them. I take my hat off to me and my two colleagues as well, ‘cos they couldn’t have done it without us.
Before the tests, we did a little work on the /p/ phoneme, non-existent in Arabic. Most Arabic speakers substitute /b/ for /p/, and thus go on Fridays to the mosque to bray, and take strolls in the bark at the weekend. I asked Jamal what he had planned for Saturday. He was going with ferrends for drink any coffee, he said, and afferter was attending some event the bark.
‘What’s happening in the park?’ I asked.
‘This weekend it’s the Porn Fair’ he said.
A Porn Fair in the park, and a good Saudi boy openly announcing his intention to visit it? I don’t think so. I had to request clarification.
‘Yeah, Porn Fair. You know this week, fiffeth Noffember, it’s was be Porn Fair Night, right?’
Gotcha. Now this is in fact an excellent example of progress, although if Jamal knew what he’d said I doubt if he’d think so. Just possibly because of our earlier work on the /p/ /b/ contrast, he’d managed to produce the /p/ phoneme in word initial position bossibly, I peg your bardon, possibly for the first time. OK, so it wasn’t the right phoneme for this occasion, but what the hell, next time it may be, and that’s how you improve.
For non-Brits: the 5th November is ‘Bonfire Night’, celebrated with fires and fireworks.
Apologies to all for the ghastly post title.