The Puglia Diaries

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

Teaching Bambini in Bisceglie

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I’m definitely spreading the English love down here in Puglia. I spend my mornings at the school, doing reading and speaking activities with 16-18 year olds and saying ‘hello, hello, hello’ as I pass them all in the corridors. One of the English teachers said that she likes the way they look at me when I speak: I’m not sure whether she meant admiration or complete bewilderment.

Besides my job as a language assistant, I offer people words in English now and then as points of comparison when someone teaches me new things in Italian. It must be pretty annoying actually. I now know how to say ‘scalpel’, ‘wisdom teeth’ and a variety of vulgar expressions in Italian. I’m absorbing slang and vocabulary like a sponge.

Thursday is a particularly full day as English educating goes because I give private lessons in Bisceglie, a town I have mentioned before, just North of Molfetta. Every week, I hop on the 17.42 train for one stop, and spend an hour and a half in the company of four primary school boys who are having a sneaky bit of tuition with me on top of their official English lessons. I have been informed that their teacher is none too pleased about this but oh well. I follow their school book but also make my own worksheets

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An excuse to draw stuff.

These lessons are overall a pleasurable experience due to the sheer enthusiasm of nine year olds, in comparison to the lethargy of high school students. We’ve talked about Halloween, prepositions, the weather and time. Often, we start from a clean slate: they are always asking me for new words. Yesterday we did all types of food, including mussels and octopus. In the first lesson back in October, the boys were unexpectedly docile but now they have lost that initial shyness. As their concentration span begins to wane, the decibel levels soar. Usually, drawings and activities that they can all do together keeps things under control, but I have been caught in the middle of a paper war before now, and witnessed a full on wrestling match at the stroke of half past seven, when the lesson officially ends. Also the sentence ‘Enrico magic pig’ seems to have stuck as an insult.

As well as giving me a little extra experience and income, these lessons are a way to meet new people: I visit four different houses because they take turns hosting the lessons. Sometimes I have found myself in riotous situations, like being punched by a little brother running round with an iPad and dealing with a terrier that jumped on the table halfway through the lesson. The families are all breathless with shepherding young children around, but for the past two lessons I have been offered home made focaccia, which is my favourite type of bread ever. Sure, eating it impedes the speaking English part a little bit, and I leave with greasy photocopies, but these lessons are supposed to be friendly and fun after all. I have been told that the boys are all fond of me and proud when they know all the answers in their English lessons at school. I always leave Bisceglie happy, having done something constructive and satisfying with my otherwise quiet weekday. I go home and relax watching terrible Italian soap operas, or their version of Deal and No Deal, which bizarrely sometimes includes a box with a crocodile toy inside (I mean, what is up with this) and the weirdest song and dance interludes since the 1980s ended. Noel Edmonds, take note.

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I will not boast about the weather anymore because it’s cold and I spend the afternoon working like this.

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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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