Friday, 7 December 2018

Campery and Condoms in the Foreign Language Classroom




I'm off sick today. Back, legs, feet, everything south of my waist aches like fuck. Not complaining. I can go to bed when I please, get up when I please, have a doze in the afternoon if I feel like it. I'll be going stir-crazy by Sunday but hope to feel more like getting up at 5.00 and dragging my arse to... No, I'm not going to think about that right now. I'm in bed with coffee at 9.30am, a gale is lashing the windows with rain and I don't want to be anywhere else.


I have at the moment one of the nicest groups of students ever. A group of nine Chinese, Thai and Portuguese graduates grew to twenty earlier this month, with the addition of a few new Chinese and Thais and one each from Saudi, Kuwait and India. It was lovely to see how the new arrivals were welcomed and fitted in so quickly. They make life so easy! You simply set an activity in motion and they run with it. It's more like switching on the telly than managing a classroom. The other day I had to do a reading text from the ineffably tedious IELTS test. It was about moribund languages and how these might be salvaged. As a starter, I proposed that each nationality should teach everyone else in their group how they say their own country, nationality and language. Whay!!! Brilliant idea!!! I might have proposed we all go out on the razz and to hell with lessons. There followed a good twenty minutes of hilarity as Chinese students tried to get their tongues round Arabic and Thai students attempted Chinese. Thai was disappointingly easy, at lest to me: the same word, thai, does duty for country, nationality and language.

'So, I am from Thai, I am man Thai, I'm speak Thai? Wossthiss?' says K, our most voluble Chinese student, in mock-serious deprecation of what strikes him as want of linguistic sophistication. I wish I had chosen some rather more complex items to see how the speakers of four-tone Mandarin might cope with six-tone Thai.

One of the Thai contingent is a very camp young man called Tom, which is one syllable out of a given name that has quite a few more to spare. Early in the course I trotted out that old chestnut 'Alibis' for the millionth time since I first adapted it for large-ish groups circa 1983. As always with this group, the levels of enthusiasm and hilarity grew as the lesson progressed and Tom whooped 'this lesson is sooooooooooooo exCIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIting!'

I can't remember how the item came up, but I had to ask Tom to explain to the class what underwear meant. He stood on his chair, gyrating his pelvis and stroking his packet like a stripper and purred 'is wha you weah for covah you eggs!' The same action pretty much, accompanied with pelvic thrusts, was necessary when he proposed that the most important human invention ever is condoms. Nobody knew the word. 'Is what you wear when you fuck-keeeeeeeeng, so you don't born!'  
  

After this group I have an hour's break before I go to the (to me) detested Fred West building to teach two or three shy and silent Chinese undergrads in a room that could accommodate a performance of Starlight Express. I wish these few young ladies could see my graduate group and realise they need not adopt this mild and modest mien. In my classes, you can stand on your chair and gyrate your hips, shouting 'fuck-keeeeeeeeng!!!'

Well, usually. On Wednesday, Tom was on about condoms again in relation to a task that required students to recall the items they had bought over the week and classify them. I was joking about whether they were for him an impulse buy or a staple. This didn't go down too well with Ahmed from KSA. He didn't say anything but I understood from his facial expression that he found it strange that I should engage in, rather than silence, Tom's campy banter. Perhaps he was right. I don't know. I left work early because I was feeling like death. Ahmed has probably forgotten about the condoms by now.


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