The Scamp Wants a Superpower

I don’t think I know anyone who has not wished for a superpower at one point or another. The person sitting in traffic wishing they could fly; the child who lives far from home wishing they could teleport; the slightly pervy guy who wishes he had X-ray vision. Kids who want to be like Batman, Superman, Captain America, or one of the X-Men. No matter what the age, I think that most people can agree that it would be really cool to have a superpower. The challenge for this week (week 43 already? Seriously?!) is to write about what super power I would like to have.

If someone had asked me this question last week, I probably would have said I would like to be able to fly or teleport. I’d love to be able to get to California to see my family for dinner, and then back to work in Edinburgh the next day. My life would be so much easier that way. After this week though, I have a new superpower that I wish I could have. I want the ability to understand and speak any language. I usually teach advanced conversation classes for the language school I work for, but this week, I was with students whose levels of English ranged from basic to intermediate. I thought it would be fun to do a Halloween themed activity, and even had Candy Corn that my mom sent me from the US to share with the students. They were all from Spain, and I know that Halloween is not celebrated there, so I figured it would make for good conversation and would be fun to see what the students thought of the candy.

One of the students I was working with had a very basic understanding of English and was finding it quite difficult to keep up with what was going on in class. I understand Spanish, but it is not good enough, and I am not as confident in my ability to explain concepts to someone who doesn’t understand English. The student was not a fan of my class, and I could see him getting increasingly frustrated as the class went on. Two hours is a long time to sit in a room where you don’t really know what is being said….especially since you are paying to be there. If I had the ability to speak and understand any language, I would have been in a better position to help him enjoy the class, lack of appreciation for the Candy Corn be damned.

This is not the first time this has happened to me while working at the school. Several months ago, a woman came to the school to do her initial assessment, and she spoke no English. We tried to muddle through a conversation while I gaged her skill level, and explained what the classes would entail while she was a member of the school. Somewhere in my explanation, the student thought I was telling her that I was not going to be working with her, not because my boss handles the students’ assignments, but because she was Polish and I didn’t like her. I was mortified. I would never want to do anything to jeopardize the reputation of the language school, but I also never want to offend people on purpose (well, some people, but they are jerks and they deserve it). If I had been able to speak Polish, I would have been able to help her, and help her with the start of her English training.

I’m hoping that one day someone will make this little dream a reality. In the meantime, I am going to try my best to not offend any more people, and brush up on my Spanish skills.



The Substitute Scamp

For the last several days I have been filling for a teacher at small English language school in Edinburgh. It is the first time I have taught in a strictly ESL instance, but the group I was in charge of for the week are all upper intermediate students with a strong command of the English language. Five of the students in the class are from Spain, while the last student is from South Korea. They are all very friendly and very excited about learning, and the rest of the teachers at the school are great (ok, so one is one of my best friends, and another is my landlord),and if this place was hiring teachers, I would definitely apply and be very happy working there.

I thought things were going great. The tasks they have to complete from the book are pretty easy, they are not shy about speaking to me and to each other, and they even liked my idea for a conversation cafe where they offered topics and had a lively debate on the merits of private schools. Today’s lesson was covering things that are annoying, and while sitting in gum and having a bad haircut are certainly things that one would complain about, The students didn’t really feel like those things needed to be discussed, so we talked about things that they would complain about, or be afraid to complain about. One of them mentioned that she would not complain to a person’s face that she could not understand what they are saying, but rather do so to her friends or at home. After a little bit of prodding, she told me that my accent is so hard to understand that she often doesn’t know what I am saying. I was crushed. I thought I was doing such a great job, the students are great, are were not shy about working, but now I know that they are just too polite to tell me they can’t understand me. Boooooooooo.

I grew up in California and always considered myself someone with a very flat accent that was easy to understand. I never thought that I would get to Scotland and be the one with the hard to understand accent. Looks like my career as an ESL teacher is going to end before it ever really has a chance to begin. I am not sure that I have ever been self-conscious about the way I speak, or how I sound to other people, but now, I think that might change.

A major part of my job is meeting with people and talking about my research and the plan I have for their programs. If people cannot understand me, how are they going to take my overhaul of their curriculum as a serious option?