I've just come back from a holiday in Munich. As I've mentioned before, I'm a pretty competent speaker of German, and can express myself easily in all everyday situations. Normally when I go on holiday to a German-speaking country I don't have to make much of an effort to make myself understood in every situation in which I find myself. This time was a little bit different, as I was taken ill while I was there and needed to find and see a doctor. Surprisingly, given that most educated Germans speak English to an extremely high standard, the doctor spoke no English and I felt very vulnerable having to provide some quite unusual but very important information in my second language. I was dopey from having taken painkillers and, to be honest, a bit anxious about being so far from home and in pain. I really struggled to describe exactly what I was experiencing, and discuss with her whether I should see a specialist in Munich or wait until I got home. In the end we agreed on the latter, and luckily the pain subsided enough for me to enjoy the last couple of days of my holiday.
I hope that my international students in Manchester find me sympathetic and understanding when they face illness or other difficulties during their time here, but my experience in Munich was a good reminder to me of the challenges of speaking a foreign language (not to mention dealing with a foreign health service) under pressure. Of course all teachers know only too well how strong students sometimes perform poorly under stress in the IELTS exam, but it does us good to be reminded from time to time that students also have to live here, and negotiate all sorts of bureaucratic situations which we as native speakers might find irritating but they as second language learners find incredibly stressful. It has definitely made me aware of the importance of a holistic attitude to teaching and learning - our students are first and foremost people rather than students, and while it is not my job to accompany them to the doctor, the town hall or the police station, it is my job to enable them to develop the linguistic strategies to cope under pressure.
More about Munich in due course!