Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lathophobic Aphasia: EFL Teacher's blog

This greater Birmingham-based EFL teacher reminds me of two other instructors. Mix erudite "Bo" over at "The Expvlsion of the Blatant Beast" and "The Cantos of Mutabilitie" echt-Oxbridge sites (see blog links at right hand bar) with beleaguered me in the polyglot provinces, educationally rusticated if simultaneously consigned a concrete campus in a bleak conurbation. That vocational blend concocts "Vilges Suola"-- his nom-de-plume's from the Sami vocalist Mari Boine's song translated as "white thief." He earns his keep in a classroom honing fine points of grammar; he grinds them into woefully, inevitably clueless greenhorns.

Any difference from me? He's in Britain, with a U.N. roster that I'm not sure comprises students there for the short term, or, as in my Californian case, here for the bachelor's degree. Matriculatory distinctions aside, I laughed out loud (a rare occasion, unless at unintentionally humorous news or my inherited schadenfreude) at his accounts of what it's like to be trapped in a climactically challenged room for hours on end, overeducated and likely underpaid, drilling callow youths with drudge lessons reminding me of Joyce's "is this an umbrella?" Berlitz tutoring in Trieste.

However, just as Joyce met Svevo and earned eventual redemption for his herculean labors, freed if not much richer from his Augean stable mucking, VS-- I was not far off when I thought his moniker was Finnish-- appears to enjoy himself and gets away enough to the Mediterranean. He's a Greek ex-pat (he fooled me-- see comments box for his kind clarification), furthermore, scattering about his blog that different alphabet (translated) alongside explicit art of "handsome males." I admit they are, but I eschewed opening his entries catalogued "homosex."

I did, however, plunge into VS's reflections on uses and abuses of language and teaching. His latest entry that popped up, on Babelfish's misuse, reminded me of Malcolm Bradbury's send-up "Why Come to Slaka?" Such manglings of globalized, agonized English in turn echo those in "Molvania: A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry," a satirical travel guide I reviewed on Amazon US a while back.

I'll leave his entries under "language" and "teaching" for you to savor. They also have what I have never seen: a rating box for both/or "funny" and "interesting" after each blog post. I cast my vote for those classified under teaching or language; some earned both serious and humorous boxes checked.

Chortling aloud from his posts to my wife-- like me she's a former ESL teacher to adults in L.A.U.S.D.-- I distracted her from watching her Billy Wilder film on cable yesterday, "The Fortune Cookie." (I liked the prop, for personal reasons, of a poor box for "unwed mothers" in the hospital.) 1966, but I wasn't expecting Jack Lemmon to yammer "bitch" and "bastard" about his slovenly ex. You know she's a slut when she's filmed in a rumpled bed, hair post-coitally askew like the winningly lacquered Miss Indiana who won later last night our nation's beauty crown. She, the blonde in the film and not the brunette on stage, also smoked, while a man took a shower in the background, his bare bottom faintly discernable behind the frosted door of the open bathroom in her equally dishevelled flat.

VS links to language blogs such as David Crystal's. I wonder if "Bo" has ever met him-- meaning both the eminent linguist and the Greek British instructor of hapless learners-- at Cambridge? Certainly one wonderful feature of ferreting out bloggers like me: trivia. Next visit to Nick the Dentist, fluent first-generation scion from Ikarian parents, I may assert before novocaine: "I have a small dick" in hesitant koine, perhaps. But that'd be a lie. So I'm told, if not by "handsome males."

Illustration: No shots of handsome males. (Already dog-faced Walter Matthau was a year younger than I am now when he filmed this first comedic pairing with Lemmon! He had a heart attack during the making of it, and seems to drop out of the plot for long stretches. The reason I was surfing the Net while the film was on? I'm not a fan of Lemmon, but I kept my wife parlor company with my laptop.)

No stills of Judi West en deshabille appear extant. This is the only image I found of Miss West prominently displayed. Via an Italian blog; maybe you linguists can figure it out, in the absence of tutor Joyce & native Svevo? "Fortune Cookie" poster


vilges suola said...

Hi,thanks for the positive review, it's very flattering! Just one small correction: I'm not Greek, I'm English, but I lived in Greece for fifteen years, hence the total schitzophrenia. These days my students are all Arabic speakers at a university, preparing to do Masters /PhDs: the callow youths are few and far between now, thank God. And for the first time ever in this job I cannot claim to be underpaid, although that was my condition for 25 years prior to landing this.

I haven't met Bo. He sounds like such a nice bloke (British, you see?) but his erudition would intimidate me a bit. Perhaps a lot. My blog's not called 'lathophobic aphasia' for nothing.

Very glad you liked it, though.

Fionnchú said...

And thanks for the correction! Glad to hear that you're not underpaid, and surely you've paid your dues in the teaching trenches. I know what it's like, approaching my 25-year mark in the classroom this autumn. I wonder if having an all-Arabic student cohort helps or hinders your own teaching style after previously such a range of EFL'ers. Tim Mackintosh-Smith has written well in his two travelogues about the intricacies of mastering Arabic.

(Is it a trend or a substantive distinction to say ESL as we tend to in the lower ranks of schools in the US vs the higher-tier tendency towards EFL? A university vs. school use? Academic self-promotion as in teacher vs. educator?)

"Bo" astonishes us both-- and others I sense by the comments box we both frequent-- by his command of such a vast range of donnish lore at such a precocious age. Eheu fugaces, or whatever the Latin tag is/was.

vilges suola said...

I've been used to monolingual classes for quite some time now. I just have to keep reminding them of the Surah: 'He who payeth for English classes, and speaketh but Arabic therein, is like unto he who payeth for a big meal in a restaurant and sneaketh out without eating it.'

I've given up paying much attention to the acronyms in use in English language teaching. I was a teacher trainer in Greece and that had some status, I suppose, in Greek society. Now I get called a 'lecturer', although I never give lectures, just classes in straight EFL for the first two terms and EAP for the summer. To be honest I have had ELT up to the gills, but I feel stuck with it.

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Fionnchú said...

Alanna, please keep reading, comment whenever you'd like, and thanks for your kind words.