Monday, 4 April 2011

This post? Mayzer.

I've been meaning to tell these stories for a while.

One day, I was teaching a new class of what we called lower Entry 2 students. This is equivalent to, say, a high beginner level of English. Often, E2 students are there because although they are able to communicate well orally they struggle with writing.

For some reason, I became very fond of this particular class (six years later I can still remember them being class E2e), which contained some real characters. One day, we were doing an exercise on slang and the conversation moved on to accent (very pronounced in that part of Britain) and local dialect. These three are always the most baffling for any language learner.

‘Teacher?’ asked one serious Sudanese student, his face lined with confusion, ‘The people here. Why they call me ‘dog’?’

I felt terrible. For the whole five months he’d spent in my country, he thought that people had called him a dog wherever he went. What a welcome! The people of Stoke-on-Trent tend to be a friendly bunch, and you will very often find yourself addressed as ‘shug’ (sugar) or ‘duck’ in local shops, pubs etc.

Hilarity ensued as I attempted to draw a picture of a duck on the board. I am not sure that really made it any better.....

During another lesson, I asked the students to write something about themselves about which they were proud. A studious Eritrean man wrote 'I can swimming for four hours without landing my leg to the land'.

Another time, I was delivering a lesson on comparatives/superlatives when another student from E2e informed me that 'dogs are more shouty than cats'. Well, indeed.

It is these little gems of insight and on occasion an almost childlike expression which makes me adore teaching. I cetainly don't mean to sound patronising. I think the human struggle to express ideas in an unfamilliar language can render results which are both fascinating and beautiful.

One of the youngest students I ever had at Stoke on Trent College was in that same class. He was a very beautiful fifteen year old Iranian lad called Abdul. He arrived alone, quiet as a mouse for the first few classes, deeply respectful of his teacher and elder students in the class. His spoken English was not bad, he clearly had friends his age with whom he conversed in English – indeed I think that he may have been sent to a local school for a month or two before it was decided he should receive specialist help with English, and was sent to the college three mornings a week.

'Teacher?' He asked me, matter of factly, ‘What’s ‘mayzer?’.

I paused...’Mayzer..’, I repeated. ‘Do you mean maize? That’s a sort of corn, you can eat it. Is that what you mean?’

Abdul shook his head. ‘ know! Mayzer!’. He was sort of jumping around in his chair, big brown eyes shining in an effort to express himself.

I asked him for some context.

He replied, ‘Okay, so you know when you’re with your mates, right, and you’re watching a movie, yeah? And they say, ‘This bit’s mayzer?’

‘Do you mean ‘amazing’, Abdul?'

‘Yes Miss, yes! That’s it! It’s mayzer, innit? Mayzer Miss!’

I smiled at his enthusiasm, ‘Do you know what it means then?’

‘Yes Miss, it’s like ‘wicked’, innit? Or ‘ace’.’

Well, that sorted that one out, then.

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