Friday, 6 April 2012

The importance of being patient (and polite)

Steve and I went to London yesterday to see two amazing art exhibitions - one by Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern, and the other by David Hockney at the Royal Academy.  Inbetween the two, we went to the foreign languages bookshop formerly known as Grant and Cutler, which has been swallowed up by Foyles.  I was having a very happy time browsing among the German books and then the IELTS and other English as a Foreign Language books, when something happened to spoil my enjoyment. 

I could not help but overhear a disturbing almost totally one-sided conversation between a middle-aged English teacher and her equally middle-aged Turkish-speaking student.  She spoke to him as though he were a small, annoying child, and the conversation went something like this:

Teacher: Look, this is the book you need.  
Student: Very expensive.
Teacher:  No it's not.  Look, it's only £27.  The one I had to buy was this one with the CDs and that costs £58.  
Student: I not sure.  I ask my friend.
Teacher: No!  The course is finished in three weeks.  You need to buy it today!  And you need a dictionary.
Student: I have dictionary.
Teacher: No you don't.  
Student: In my room.
Teacher: What?  A monolingual one?  No, I think it has Turkish in it too.
Student: Yes! Turkish and English!
Teacher: No, that's no good.  You need one that's only English.  Look, here's one.  It's really cheap - only £10.  
Eventually they went to the till, at which point the teacher got the shop assistant to give HER the points on HER Foyles loyalty card, without asking him if this was ok, and she jabbered away at the assistant about this and that during the whole transaction.  They came away from the till, and this is what she then said to the poor guy:

'I can't believe you didn't say 'thank you'!  I've TOLD you in class so many times that you have to say 'Here you are' when you hand over the money, and then 'Thank you' when they give you the book.  I can't believe you haven't learnt that yet - you sounded so rude!'

I was very, very tempted to say something to her, along the lines of 'How can you expect him to say anything at all when you never shut up?  How can you accuse him of being rude when you are so rude to him?  What sort of impression of English teachers will he take back to his home country?'  

In the event, I said nothing, but I felt very sad that a member of my own profession could be so rude and insensitive to a student who seemed like a very humble and polite guy.  

I very much hope that I have never spoken to a student with so little respect and patience.  It has got me thinking about the character qualities needed in language teachers and language learners, and I will return to this subject in my next post.

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