Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Lathophobia Once Again

'Just checking through the bleeding obvious, dear.'*

A couple of weeks ago the centre director called me on my mobile as I was leaving the building. There was a business English course starting soon, the appointed teacher had given back-word, how did I fancy it? Business English is far from my favourite branch of English Language Teaching but what the hell, there is little enough work at the moment, so I said yes. I went back into the building to pick up some books and peruse the course outline.

Session 1:
Embracing the differences: High power versus low-power distance relationships. Polychronic cultures versus monochronic cultures: relationship based cultures versus pure business cultures. We will scrutinise the language and paralinguistic features embedded in each of these phenomena.

Seeing my eyebrows rise, M. le Directeur hastened to be reassuring lest I turn the thing down. ‘Don’t worry about all that,’ he said, dismissively. ‘Just do stuff from these,’ indicating a pile of bog-standard business English coursebooks, none less than five years old, which in English language teaching terms makes them really rather quaint. Unconvinced, I dragged them all home with me.

Session 2
Communication in collectivist versus individualist cultures. An examination of associated issues and linguistic features associated with individualistic and collectivist cultures.

Session 8
The history, principles and linguistic features of intercultural mediation and conflict resolution. The language of unionism.

Fuckinelle, I thought. I am vaguely familiar with some of this intercultural stuff, but nowhere near conversant enough just yet to put together a course that can deliver what’s promised in the course outline. Who promised it, and why am I being told I can pretty much ignore it anyway?

Yesterday, having already blundered and busked my way through the first two sessions, I went to see the very sweet and helpful Professor Jiaying Feng, the woman who’s really in charge of the whole thing, to find out what the bloody hell I am really supposed to be doing. Incidentally, it is an indication of the 'low power-distance' ethos of our humanities faculty that my initial e-mail to Professor Feng started ‘Hi Jiaying’, a degree of familiarity that would shock the ten or so Chinese ladies on the course. 'Low power distance culture' is one of the things us cross-cultural communication types talk about a lot, along with 'high context cultures' and um, stuff like that. Anyway, Jiaying was as dismissive as I had expected her to be of Joe’s stack of business English books, which I had not used. She seemed satisfied with what I have done so far, or at least she didn’t scream, 'shit and corruption, you really have blown it, haven’t you?' and order me out of her presence. She outlined her own vision for the course with the intensity of one who really, really loves, nay, adores discourse analysis and pragmatics, and I sat and nodded, feeling more and more like a hospital porter who, surreally, is being briefed on how to remove a waiting patient's appendix. I know what discourse and pragmatics are, but they do not fire me up, and here was Jiaying describing them in the rapt manner I might adopt after a few drinks to convey to someone the joy of a piece of music or the excellent Lebanese meal I had the other evening. I felt such a dull dog, and was overcome, once again, with lathophobic aphasia, reminding me, once again, that my choice of blog title was not the casual decision I initially thought it was. It also explains why Jiaying is a professor and I'm just a part-time lecturer.**

‘You’ve been involved in teacher training’ Jiaying said as she courteously accompanied me to the lift after our meeting. ‘I’m thinking of getting some teacher training courses together later in the year, if you’re interested.’

‘It was pretty basic stuff,’ I said, modestly.

‘Well, this won’t be basic. They’ll be Chinese teachers, very knowledgeable but no idea how to put it into practice.’

Working with knowledgeable people who have no clue how to implement their knowledge in a classroom – that’s what I did in Greece for fifteen years. ‘It was pretty basic stuff.’ Why did I say that? Why the bloody hell did I fucking say that? It was anything but basic stuff, but I never feel that what I do is quite good enough, never quite compares with what everybody else can do, and I live with the perpetual fear of being unmasked as a fraud.

Calm down, dear. I have loads of time to prepare the present course, since I’m down to ten hours a week, and I can borrow books from the library and keep them for the entire academic year. I have hopes that Jiaying’s training courses will happen, and that I will be involved. This is quite an opportunity. I need a slight change of direction, something to restore my sagging self-confidence, and of course, as always, the bloody money.

*Basil to Sybil in Fawlty Towers 'Basil the Rat'
* * In the UK a professor is a senior academic. Lecturers are just the cannon-fodder.


Anonymous said...

Lekka! Business English is cool. I have been doing it for 12 years and I'm a dickhead, so it shouldn't be any problem for you. It is all just blarney anyway. I tell my students (when I have any) that it is all to do with effective successful communication - bugger the Present Perfect. Tell me what you want to tell me, i'll tell you how to say it successfully and effectively and voila! Seriously - really gald this came along and the TT stuf fwill materialise too. Although you say you're fraud (aren't we all?), you have the single most important quality for teaching - you want to do it.

Vilges Suola said...

Turns out it isn't really Business English - it's a course in intercultural communication, hence mainly to do with types of society, e.g.,monochronic and polychronic, high power distance and low,an all vat sorta stuff, yeah? So today was all about back-channelling, pauses, silence and interruption, and how different cultures perceive these. It was quite a larf - makes a change, at least.

Now I've got two hours on bog-standard IELTS essay writing, so must go get a strong black coffee.

Anonymous said...

They say that bullshit walks, but it actually talks. Get into the classroom, ignore the crap and show students the benefit of having a teacher who knows the subject and has a personality.

The knowledgeable and entertaining types can always rise above the pseudo-doublespeak of the anal cardigans that infest lower management. Make them happy with a few buzzwords and get back to real teaching.

Vilges Suola said...

I've never been away from real teaching and don't possess an anal cardigan, but sound advice,no doubt. It's actually going very well.

Fionnchú said...

Glad to hear you've got a gig. It was anything but basic stuff, but I never feel that what I do is quite good enough, never quite compares with what everybody else can do, and I live with the perpetual fear of being unmasked as a fraud. Despite our decades of classroom experience, this seems a common mindset, and for me it'll last until the day I die/retire (probably simultaneously given the lack of job security)!

Vilges Suola said...

@Fionnchu, despite my paranoia, it's going quite well - and I decided that if it proves not to have been up to snuff in the end, then they shouldn't have asked me to do it, when the expert on the subject had sodded off to Taiwan.


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