The Puglia Diaries

The thrills and spills of a British Council Language Assistant in Molfetta, Italy

Twenty Italian Boys vs. 1 English girl

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Today is the 1st of October, the day signalling the end of my four-month long summer holiday and the beginning of my duties as a proper paid language assistant. I can happily announce that I have survived my first encounter with a roomful of Italian teenagers and that I have found my inner shouting voice. Who knew I had one.

Last weekend, it was training time in Turin. Although it was great to meet my fellow language assistants from all over Europe, it was pretty exhausting. It entailed hours and hours of theory on how to teach English as a foreign language. Some of the ideas I will take away and use, such as cookery programmes and comic strips. Some of the more bizarre activities I will definitely not use: these included a teacher trying to make us guess her phobia of hens with a series of rather unrelated pictures and another taking us on a trippy experience of learning with our senses. We didn’t get much time to walk around and explore the city, so what I will take away from the weekend is the memory of the horrendous difficulties of travelling on Turin’s public transport. One bus driver shut the door on me and I eventually had to be led to my destination by a tiny little old lady who was as bus-savvy as they come.

Today I finally put all the theory into practice. All the trawling through language assistant handbooks and taking notes from power points finally culminated in one long awaited moment, when I was asked to lead a class for the first time. After feeling a bit nervous and almost dropping the chalk (not cool), I discovered that they actually had quite a good level. They seemed to enjoy looking at pictures of Leeds and one boy even asked to keep the Leeds University Union brochure I brought. Tough luck for the other classes, who will never find about clubs and societies.

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The second class was another experience. The teacher was absent so a supply had stepped in. Apparently, this results in total chaos in Italian school. This particular professor was as useless as a chocolate teapot. I may as well have been in the class alone, as he had very little authority and seemingly barely any English skills. All twenty students were boys, with an overriding interest in football and Playstation games. Among reasonable questions, I was asked what I thought of Berlusconi, if I smoked weed and if I had a boyfriend. One of the boys was quite unimpressed by the UK, proclaiming that people were unfriendly and that they ate potatoes every day. I tried to dispel these negative stereotypes and was unable to give a meteorological explanation when he asked me why it rained all the time.  In any case, they certainly weren’t shy and seemed fairly keen to ask me questions despite their overwhelming noise and their tendency to walk about the classroom whenever they felt like it. To be fair, when I politely yelled ‘CAN YOU SIT DOWN, PLEASE’, they complied.

So far I have only met two out of the twelve classes I am teaching this term and only heard 40 names out of the 160 I will have to learn. After this wild time of free conversation, hopefully things will settle down into more organised activities and more obedient classes. If things continue like this, I estimate that I will have lost my voice in about six days time.

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Swotting up on Phrasal-prepositional verbs

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Author: Elly Cooke

Recent graduate of English Literature and Italian from the University of Leeds. Book lover and part-time Italian speaker.

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