February 14, 2008

Wall Street English

So, I’ve begun teaching. Thankfully. Blessedly. There has been an immediate shift in my perspective here. Spending my day surrounded by other human beings, regardless of what they say or how they are able to say it, is remedial for me. It is the classic case of the extrovert. When I am alone, my energy is sucked out. When I am surrounded by people, I come back to myself recharged.

Wall Street English. I love it. The other teachers are British or Irish. And all of the students are convinced, no not just convinced – for them, it is undeniable that the English spoken by Americans is simply a substandard language. They say this to me: “You are American.” “Yes.” “So, you speak American, not English.” This is actually something of a unanimous viewpoint. I am pretty sure the British instructors concur.

So perhaps it is true. American, not English. To be sure, I am learning all sorts of things about my own language that I really had no idea about before. For instance: adjective order. There is an order to adjectives: opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, material and then purpose. (e.g. She is a silly, short, 42-year-old, plump, pinkish, American woman). Would I naturally put those descriptors in that order? I dare say yes.

I generally teach 6 classes per day. My favorite is the ‘conversation class,’ in which I get to come up with various topics to converse about. Fancy that. Yesterday, we talked about headlines. American politics was inevitably one of the topics on the list. We talked a bit about the primaries and how they function and then, out of the blue, Jean-Pierre turned to me and asked, “From the very beginning France was right about the war in Iraq. Now, do Americans turn to each other and say, ‘France was right.’?” I sort of giggled as respectfully as possible to this question full of hubris. I responded, “I guess most Americans turn to each other and say, ‘the whole world was right.’ ” I really don’t mean to sneer at France in any way, but the French often think France to be a larger and more significant country than it actually may be.

I appreciate French ideology though. (Even if I may not concur). It surfaces all over the place. In a conversation about social issues, a student said directly, “I believe the government will do a better job of taking care of its people’s needs than the market.” It could not be more succinct than that.

Sometimes I visit the “multimedia center” at the Institute. It is a room full of, as you may have predicted, computers. These are special computers with headphones and microphones though, and the bulk of the students’ learning takes place sitting in front of them. They have hours of multimedia instruction (much cheaper than human instruction and this is an American corporation, after all). In general, they have to repeat what is said on the screen aloud. The room chimes with the Frenchies reciting such phrases as, “Get out of my way!” and “I have to find myself a good man.” Enchanting.

The Wall Street Institute is right next to Gare St. Lazare:

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