This is the third in my series of Case studies on Advanced students – posts about students I have taught and their English language learning journey. It was a journey I shared with them and I learnt as much from them as, I hope, they did from me!
See the first two posts:
Student 3 – Maria
My third student came to me as an intermediate student. Her name was Maria and she and her family had been relocated to the UK from Chile by her husband’s company.
Maria had three children including a two-month-old baby boy! She was keen to improve her English skills but with a baby so small was unable to attend courses. Her husband had requested that a teacher teach her at home.
I first spoke to Maria’s husband who told me that Maria’s English was very basic and she was worried about how she was going to cope in London. He thought that she might be afraid to pick up the phone and so it would be better for me to call him initially to arrange everything. Before meeting Maria I had a picture in my head of a very timid, diminutive woman bowed down by the cares of the move and struggling with her new life in the UK.
The first lesson.
Imagine my surprise when, having arrived at the house, the door was opened by a very tall, energetic, confident woman holding a small baby! She greeted me in good, if a little hesitant, English. No shrinking violet here!
We agreed that we would build on the strong foundation in English that she already had and would get her speaking more fluently, widen her vocabulary and generally take her English to the next level. We decided to use a traditional course book as a basis as she had time, being in the house with the baby all day, to review and do homework.
During the first few weeks, we spent a lot of time on practical tasks like organising workmen to do various things around her house. We would prepare the calls and then she would do them. I would be ready to leap in and take over if there were any problems. There very rarely were and soon Maria became very confident about all these day to day language uses and we began to concentrate more on language exercises, newspapers and other things she was interested in.
Maria’s two older children attended a UK school and so it wasn’t long before she had a small social circle of English friends. She became involved in activities at school, had children over to play and quite soon had a social life which included people of many different nationalities and all with English as their common language. This improved her fluency and vocabulary and with her continued dedication to her English study she was becoming a very effective and proficient user of English.
Maria’s two school aged children although native Spanish speakers always used English to each other. This was unprompted and simply happened. They used Spanish to Maria and their father and any other Spanish speaking visitors. In the beginning she was unable to follow their conversations and when she tried to join in they made fun of her accent and mistakes (they were 5 and 7). Gradually, however, she was able to follow most of their conversations and although they still considered her accent to be ‘strange’ they corrected her sentences less and less.
About two years after Maria had arrived, she and her husband attended a large public meeting. Throughout the meeting Maria’s husband was giving her a quick summary in Spanish so that she could keep up with the proceedings. At the end of the meeting questions were invited from the floor. Maria put up her hand, her husband, with a look of horror, tried to persuade her not to stand up and ask her question afraid that she would embarrass herself and him! She ignored him and at the appointed time stood up and in good, accurate English asked her question and entered into a short discussion with the speaker. Her husband sat open mouthed and flabbergasted! As they always spoke Spanish at home he had no idea how good her English now was. He felt very proud of her and also admitted that he could not have done it.
Maria and her family stayed in London for 3.5 years before returning to South America. She was so keen to continue the English of her children that they decided to send them to a British school and with the help of one of my colleagues fixed this up while still in the UK. Maria also continued her involvement with the English speaking community and when I was last in touch her English had gone from strength to strength.
Her language learning experience opened doors for her not just here in the UK but wherever else she and her family decide to live.
You might like to see my post on whether some people learn languages more easily than others.